Angels Among Us ~~ Rachel

Yesterday I did a favor for Rachel. She recently moved, is still feeling overwhelmed with organizing her new space, and I’m pretty good at organizing. It is the least I could do for this angel … a small repayment for her kindness to me during difficult times in my life.

Rachel

Rachel first appears in my memoir on page 176 in the chapter titled, “Daunted.” It was 1989 and I had just left my marriage of almost twenty-three years. It was moving day and Rachel noticed my daughter and me working hard all day carrying stuff into my new home. We were exhausted, and I had neglected to make plans for dinner.

“As we carted in another load, Rachel came by to welcome us to the neighborhood. She invited us to dinner at her house. … A single parent with two teenage daughters, Rachel lived two doors down. Her invitation felt like a good omen. I hoped a friendlier neighborhood with girls near her age living close would make my daughter more comfortable moving in with me.”

Then she appears ten years later on page 259 in the chapter titled, “Fire Walk.”  Rachel is more extroverted and fun-loving than I am, but our friendship survived my move away from the neighborhood where we first met.

I was even more exhausted and rattled in 1999 than I had been on moving day in 1989. I was in the midst of a crisis with my daughter. She needed appropriate clothes to wear to a funeral and I didn’t have the time or energy to take her shopping.

“Rachel appeared with a bag full of clothes she and her daughters no longer wore. In the bag was a nice dress and shoes for my daughter to wear to the funeral.” 

When Rachel arrived at my home with these clothes, she saw the state I was in. I had so much to do and couldn’t even think straight to get started. Rachel helped keep me focused for the tasks at hand and helped me accomplish them.

Rachel sees a need and jumps in to help. She is known for helping many others. When reminded of her generosity, she is surprised because she has forgotten all about it. That’s just the kind of friend she is.

Yesterday morning as we worked on organizing her kitchen, our conversation deepened as we both reflected on what I wrote in A Long Awakening to Grace. She is not the first friend to note, after reading all that I went through with my children, that they didn’t feel they had been there for me … had not been a good friend.

That has nothing to do with their friendship. When something came out in the open, friends responded, including Rachel. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to write this “Angels Among Us” series. My friends couldn’t know the extent of what I was dealing with because I mostly kept it to myself. When I needed to talk about my family struggles, I saved that for my support group meetings.

When I was with my friends, I wanted to enter fully into our social activities. I wanted and needed a break from family matters. So many friends, including Rachel, are now learning the details. What is meaningful to me is that my story seems to touch some of their own tender places and they now feel free to share with me. Our eyes moistened as Rachel and I bared our souls in her kitchen. And then we did what good friends do, we gave each other a big hug.

Thank you, Rachel, for being an angel in my life … in days long past and currently as well.

Another Welcome Gift of Grace

In my last blog post, I wrote: “For many years as an adult, I hid. I cut myself off from old friends who would have wanted to know what was going on. I didn’t want to tell them.”

When our family moved from Middletown to Kettering, OH in the early 80s, we left behind a whole group of tight-knit church friends. I didn’t include in my memoir the story of the house church some of us founded, a most meaningful experience for us. But that is another story for another time.

This week, I reconnected with one significant friend from my past, LaVerne, my daughter’s first piano teacher. LaVerne, her husband Dick, and their three children Dale, Bruce, and Sandra were active members of The Church of the Continuing Creation, our house church.

After her husband died, LaVerne moved to Houston, TX, to be near her daughter. My memoir brought us back together.

LaVerne

LaVerne and I have been friends on Facebook for awhile, but we hadn’t talked in several years except for a visit I made to her shortly before she moved to Houston. I was still in the process of writing A Long Awakening to Grace. I trusted LaVerne to give me honest feedback about how she experienced me in my relationship with my then husband. She had many opportunities to observe us in the 70s. I wanted to be as candid as possible about my part in our relationship not working.

But because some of what I experienced with my children was still too painful to talk about, I didn’t share much with her about that part of the story. She learned about it through reading my memoir.

It was important to me that someone significant to me from my past know my truth. In fact, a Facebook message I received from another member of the house church when my memoir was first published brought me to tears. Karen was a teenager in the house church and her mother, Wapella, was one of my dearest friends. Unfortunately, Wapella died before my memoir was published. Karen said:

“Linda, I read your book this weekend and was very moved. I smiled at the memories of people from our past and shed a few tears during certain passages. Thank you for sharing your insight and pain.”

When I knew LaVerne, also one of my closest friends, wanted to read my book, I asked her to give me honest feedback after she finished reading.  And thankfully she called me Sunday evening instead of sending a text. We talked for two hours.

“Through memoir people get to know us, the inner details they never knew. Glad you rekindled your relationship!” Linda Joy Myers, founder of the National Association of Memoir Writers and one of my teachers.

Not only did LaVerne not know the inner details of my life, she knew little of the outer details. She seemed to hardly know how to respond. She just kept saying “Wow!” She also told me that she talked with her children about reading my book, telling them, “I lost touch with Linda a long time ago and her life just kept getting worse.” She wondered how I am “still standing.”

As Linda Joy, author of two memoirs, Don’t Call Me Mother and Song of the Plains, and several books on writing memoir, knows … it is the inner details that most interest friends.

Most of the conversation with LaVerne centered around the deep, inner details of our lives. She didn’t seem to recognize her musical talents as gifts that are every bit as spiritual as my contemplative writing and involvement in groups that delve deep into soul. But by the end of our conversation, she seemed pleased to appreciate that fact at a deeper level.

LaVerne is an extrovert with a great sense of humor. She finds people fascinating and loves to interact, often initiating contact through humor. People enjoy and trust her almost immediately. That is a gift I wish I had. While I find people as intriguing as she does, I have a much more difficult time initiating conversation.

And, now that, in LaVerne’s words,  “…we broke the barrier we’ll talk often to check up on each other.” Before we ended the call, we reaffirmed our friendship and love for each other. What a blessing. Another gift of grace that has come as a result of publishing A Long Awakening to Grace. I am once more filled with gratitude.

 

Angels Among Us ~~ Phyllis

“A tall stately woman in her late fifties, Phyllis’s presence made an impression. Soft white curls framed her face. Her dark, deep-set eyes regarded others intently as she listened to discover the values that guided their life choices. When she was delighted, a huge smile lit up her face. When troubled, her thick eyebrows furrowed and her generous lips tightened. I hoped she wouldn’t find any reason to furrow her brows or tighten her lips while observing our group.” ~excerpt from A Long Awakening to Grace

I wish I could reconnect with Phyllis and insert her picture here holding my memoir, but Phyllis died in October of 2004, thirteen years before the publication of A Long Awakening to Grace and five years before I became serious about writing my story in something more public than my journals.

Phyllis was an extraordinary woman. For over fifty years, she dedicated her life to ministry and being an active volunteer in the community. She served several churches as their director of Christian education. She and her soulmate and husband, Norbert,  pioneered mission work in Kentucky’s mountains and Middletown’s inner city.

St. Paul’s United Church of Christ Middletown, Ohio

In the early 70s, Phyllis began serving as the Director of Christian Education for the church in which I was an active member. She asked to observe a group I facilitated in my home. Fortunately for me, she didn’t furrow her brow. In fact, when I turned around after ushering the last group member out the door, a huge smile lit her face. Her words thrilled me.

“Wow, I’m surprised at the depth of sharing tonight. The group went very well. I’m impressed with the strength of your leadership. You have gifts as a small-group leader.” excerpt from A Long Awakening to Grace

Phyllis saw something in me that needed to be nurtured. A few weeks later, she suggested I pursue a career in the church. Alice, the parish worker from my home church, was the first person to make such a proposal. Alice made her’s as I prepared for my 1960 high school graduation.

For many reasons, I didn’t heed Alice’s advice. With Phyllis’s urging, I decided to at least explore the possibility. But it took a third prompting for me to get serious about it. That one came in response to a letter I sent to Ruby, the Director of Christian Education preceding Phyllis, seeking her advice. At first I thought Ruby’s counsel outlandish. Because I already had a bachelors in education and four-years teaching experience, she recommended I pursue a master of divinity degree in seminary.

I resisted. I just couldn’t fathom my being “holy” enough to associate with the “saints” I would surely find in seminary. But when others didn’t seem to think it was crazy, I decided to explore further.

I enrolled in Dayton, Ohio’s United Theological Seminary for their fall quarter, 1975. Phyllis gave me a butterfly pin with a card that read, “Now you can fly.”

After sharing with my classmates in the first course I took about the pin Phyllis gave me, they dubbed me, “Emerging Butterfly.”

“That’s a perfect name for you,” my classmates enthused. The butterfly became my favorite symbol for resurrection and transformation — and after graduation, the symbol for my retreat ministry titled Emergings.” excerpt from A Long Awakening to Grace

I still had a lot of growing and changing to do after I entered  and graduated from seminary. Phyllis didn’t get to witness it all. However, I will always be grateful for the role she played in smoothing out some of my rough edges and believing more in me than I was able to believe in myself.

Phyllis definitely served as a significant angel in my life and I regret not spending more time with her toward the end of her life to thank her for the important role she played in my life. Let that be a lesson to you. If there is someone who has been pivotal in your life, let them know before it is too late.

I did eventually learn to fly, as my awakening to grace testifies. I will always be grateful to Phyllis for her part in giving me wings. I like to think she would approve of my flight path.

Angels Among Us ~~ Karen

Probably one of my greatest fears growing up was being rejected and judged as inferior. That fear was front and center for me in 1999. I had been searching for twenty-two years for the reason behind my children’s puzzling behavior and had given up all hope of ever knowing its cause. As most parents do, I blamed myself. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was about to experience a miracle that would reveal the origin of their behavior.

Professionally, I offered Imago Relationship Therapy and relationship coaching as an outreach ministry of a local church. Because of my embarrassment about my children’s behavior and my fear of how members of the congregation would react if they knew, I didn’t talk about my children at church. I kept secrets.

“No one at church knew much about my personal life. They knew I had adult children but didn’t ask about them, and I offered nothing about their circumstances.” ~excerpt from A Long Awakening to Grace

To my horror, my secret became known in a very public way. I prepared myself for the judgment against me that I was sure would follow. I served on the Christian Nurture Committee, and the next time they met, I braced myself for their disapproval. I was so very wrong. They gave me nothing but compassion. From that I learned that I was projecting my judgment of myself onto them … and many others … something I probably still do far too often today.

I had lunch yesterday with Karen, one of those committee members who has remained a friend all these years later. She has most definitely been an angel in my life.

Karen

“We’ll pray for you. We’ll add your names to our prayer group.”

 

“‘And I have a friend with a prayer group at her church. I’ll get you on her list, too,’ Karen chuckled. ‘In fact, we’ll see to it that every prayer group in town puts you and your daughter on their list. We’ll cover all the bases.’ She gave me a reassuring hug.” ~excerpts from A Long Awakening to Grace

Karen is an extraordinary woman who is an angel in many lives. She makes a difference in her family and in our community, utilizing her many skills as a volunteer. A retired teacher, she currently tutors at the literacy center. She told me over lunch about helping a man learn to read the Bible so he could do that in church, helping a woman learn to read children’s books to her grandchildren, and a woman learn to read so she can upgrade her work skills. That’s just the kind of woman Karen is.

Karen exudes enthusiasm for life and one of her favorite activities is having dinner with friends. She became so engrossed in reading my memoir, in order to finish, she turned down a dinner invitation. As soon as she turned the last page, she called me. “I just had to talk with you.”

She told me about her rejected dinner invitation. “Now you know, I never turn down a dinner invitation,” she chuckled. She went on to share how moving she found my story and how she felt for me with all I went through with my children. We made a date for lunch.

Over lunch yesterday, I enjoyed catching up with what is going on in Karen’s life and hearing about people from that congregation who I rarely see anymore. They are still very special to me. Karen wanted to know about how my daughter is doing and about my life these days.

After lunch, she had to rush off to take a neighbor woman in her 90s to the doctor. Like I said, that’s just who Karen is. As we prepared to leave, we made a pledge not to wait so long to schedule another lunch. I am so blessed.

Angels Among Us ~~ Miss George

Miss George appears first in our lives in 1982 and in my memoir, A Long Awakening to Grace, on page 93. She accompanies us on our journey for a year and through page 95.

She was the best teacher my son ever had. And that is significant because in all the schools he attended, most of the teacher’s only expressed frustration or worse with him. School was traumatic for Doug and for our family.

These excerpts from my memoir will give you a sense of Miss George’s quality as a human being and a teacher.

“…when it came time for my first parent-teacher conference, I braced myself. I suffered pounding tension headaches every time I entered a school building, even if just to watch one of my children perform in a program.” 

When I called Kettering City Schools three years ago to find her, I was told that I was not the only parent who had called looking for her. Miss George was an outstanding teacher loved by many parents and students.

This next excerpt from my memoir will show why I love her.

“She said, ‘Doug’s making good progress in his studies. He’s pleasant and cooperative in the classroom.’

I burst into tears. 

Miss George leaned toward me, a puzzled look on her face. 

… ‘This is the first time I’ve heard anything good about my son from a teacher in years.'”

 

The kindness she extended to our family will always be appreciated.

“After our conference, Miss George sent home ‘Happy News Telegrams’ and lengthy notes about improvement in Doug’s behavior and work. She often wrote, ‘I’m very pleased with him, and you should be, too.'”

Unfortunately, because of a serious health condition, after twenty-three years of teaching, Miss George had to give up the job she loved. Teaching defined her life and was the purpose for which she lived. Now she struggles with living day to day. But that has not dampened her spirit and attitude.

Saturday, I had lunch with her to gift her with a copy of my book.

Miss George

When I told her she was in the book, her eyes brightened and she asked, “Can you show me where?” I opened the book to page 93 and she read those two pages where she appears.

She was so excited and kept thanking me. In truth, she is the one who deserved my gratitude. She was an angel and a bright spot in our life. And when we are going through a rough time, we need such angels.

Saturday I could see that I was a bright spot in her difficult life. I’m grateful I had the opportunity to repay her in some small way for the enormous gift of grace she extended to us so long ago.