What I Deserve

…of whom the world was not worthy…
Hebrews 11:38a

I have actually started typing this post seven or eight times, and I’ve begun it in my head countless times.  It is hard to write.  Not because I don’t know what to say.  But rather because there is so much left to say.

There remain countless women who were teachers, mentors, family members, friends, colleagues who remain unmentioned but who have a lasting impact on my life.  

I would have loved to write a post this month celebrating…

  • …my childhood Sunday School teachers.   These faithful women who were the first outside of my home to tell me of God’s great love and help me fall in love with the stories of the Bible.
  • …Flannery O’Conner, whose short stories inspire me to be a better story teller, a better preacher, but  most importantly a better person because a good man is hard to find.
  • Perpetua and Felicity.  If you are a Christian and don’t know their stories…  Well, then shame on all of us; stop reading this blog and google their names or click on their names above to at least read their Wikipedia page (After you’re done reading about them, please come back and finish reading this post, follow my site, and share on your social media).
  • …Mary the mother of Jesus, who was favored by God.  In a world where our daughters need positive role models, why are we NOT celebrating Mary in our evangelical protestant churches!  

The list of possible posts, goes on and on!  We need more than a month!  Of course, that’s the point, right?

Until we realize that far too often the roles of women have been forgotten, overlooked, minimized; until we realize the unbelievable impact that they have had on Christianity and the world; until we realize that they are listed alongside the men of old of whom the world was not worthy; until we realize that these women are truly a gift from God; well until then, we need a day, a month, a reminder, that we don’t deserve them either.

Of all the things — and believe me when I tell you that they are too numerous to count — of all the things that I have learned from my wife, Stace, the most important is that I don’t deserve the best things that I have in my life.  She, like the rest of the best, is a gift from God.

I am privileged to walk through life with her — I wouldn’t want to walk it without her.  I am privileged for the women (and men) who have gone before us on this road.  And I am excited to see those who are coming behind us with their own adventures.

Me and Stace walking awayAs this series concludes, my hope for myself and all who read it is that it will simply serve as an ongoing reminder that we, like the rest of the world, are not worthy of their faithfulness, their strength, or their inspiration.  And because we don’t deserve it, we will remain forever grateful. 

 

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My Daughter Taught me to Speak

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels,
but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  
–1 Corinthians 13:1

Family
Our Family in 2000 (Beth is the mature one with her tongue sticking out!)

Elizabeth Kathleen Bender was born on January 24, 1996, four weeks to the day before she was due and years before her mother and I had planned.

She continues to be one of the greatest joys of my life!

Even in her arrival, Beth was teaching me.  Her first lesson for me was that God’s timing is always more perfect than our own.

It’s almost impossible for me to believe that she is 21 years old now, and she continues to teach me in ways that I never imagined.

Of all the lessons that my daughter has taught me, however, it is her generosity that challenges, inspires, and teaches me the most. 

Though she struggles with a medical condition that saps her of strength and energy, she does not hesitate to help others or even to avoid burdening them with the details of her struggles.  In so many ways, she often is putting the needs of others before hers.

It is in the application of her convictions, however, that I am most challenged by her generosity.  Beth has strong Biblical convictions. The types of convictions that often place people at odds with one another.

But even those that would disagree with Beth most vehemently cannot argue or rail against her sincere compassion, against her generous orthodoxy, against a love that comes from her faith in One that taught us to love by laying down His life for her, for me, for you.

It always surprises me that in many ways Beth’s convictions are as strong and even stronger than mine – yet Beth is not interested in winning fights, or arguments, or debates. She is interested in winning friends, colleagues, and hearts.  She does this without compromise or surrender; she does it with a language shown to us by God, expounded by Paul, and lived – not just spoken – by any who would follow Christ.

Too often my own convictions are like a clanging cymbal – an annoyance not a comfort.  It seems that we live in a world where this is true of a growing number of people. But Beth continues to speak into this cacophony of noise with actions of love and generosity; she continues to teach me how to speak with the language of God.  Thank you, Biffer!

I’ve asked Beth to write tomorrow’s post concerning a class that she took at Baylor University last semester.  I trust that you will be blessed by her words.  But it will be in meeting her, if you ever have the privilege to do so, that you will learn the most from her and be the most blessed by the woman God has made her to be.

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March is International Women’s Month!  It is my hope that you will join me over the course of the rest of March in celebrating the women who have had a significant role in influencing me.  I will post daily blog-posts — some of these posts will be from me talking about the women who have had a significant role in influencing me and some of the posts will be from these women themselves, childhood friends, mentors, teachers, co-workers, etc.  

My hope is that this series, “Celebrating Women,” will accomplish three things:  

  1. to serve in a small way as a “Thank You” to all the women who have influenced me
  2.  that you will gain wisdom from those who have spoken wisdom into my life
  3. that it will serve as a reminder to say thank you and to recognize all the amazing women in your one life

Click here to see all of the posts related to “Celebrating Women.”

Church Yesterday

Jesus-Feminist-insta
image from Sarah Bessey’s site, “instagram credit @kenberd”

I had the privilege of hearing Sarah Bessey preach yesterday at UBC (University Baptist Church) in Waco, TX.  As of yesterday, I didn’t know about Sarah, but since the message yesterday, I have read several of her blog posts and am looking forward to reading her book, Jesus Feminist.

It’s pretty clear that Sarah and I wouldn’t agree about everything; that being said, isn’t that true about everyone?

After hearing her preach and reading several of her blog posts, I wanted to include her in this series “Celebrating Women” for International Women’s Month (only 4 more days after today!).

The main reason I want to include her is because I have been trying to put words to a thought that has been stuck in my head.  I have been wanting to describe:

  • that one can be both authentically Christian and a feminist (whether you are a man or a woman),
  • that you don’t have to be a feminist inspite of your Christian convictions, but that you should be a feminist because of your Christian convictions,
  • that some who proclaim the themselves mostly loudly as Christians and feminists do things that embarrass me as a Christian and feminist, and
  • that I feel both of these terms, Christian and feminist, have been hijacked, but that I am unwilling to give either of them up!

In Sarah, I found someone that for years has been putting words to feelings and thoughts that I have been having for years.  Therefore, today’s post simply points to a blog post that she wrote earlier this year.  I hope you enjoy it, I hope it challenges you, and I hope to hear your thoughts in the comment section.

Even though I have only known about Sarah for a short time, she is one of the women for whom I am thankful.   Who deserves to be celebrated whether you are a Christian or feminist — or if you have the good fortune of realizing that you are both.

Here is the post:  “On Being a Christian and a Feminist:  And Belonging Nowhere.”

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March is International Women’s Month!  It is my hope that you will join me over the course of the rest of March in celebrating the women who have had a significant role in influencing me.  I will post daily blog-posts — some of these posts will be from me talking about the women who have had a significant role in influencing me and some of the posts will be from these women themselves, childhood friends, mentors, teachers, co-workers, etc.  

My hope is that this series, “Celebrating Women,” will accomplish three things:  

  1. to serve in a small way as a “Thank You” to all the women who have influenced me
  2.  that you will gain wisdom from those who have spoken wisdom into my life
  3. that it will serve as a reminder to say thank you and to recognize all the amazing women in your one life

Click here to see all of the posts related to “Celebrating Women.”

My Other Mother

motherI have had the privilege of having some amazing women influence my life.  One of them I had the privilege to call “mother” because she gave birth to me and raised me.  She introduced me to God and was the first to demonstrate what a strong devotional life should look like.  To read more about her you can click on the following post title and read “God’s Voice Sounds Like My Mother” from this series.  She continues to be an example of a woman who spends time with her Lord daily.

I also had the privilege of calling Von Schreier “mother.”  She was my mother through marriage.  Though she passed away over a decade ago, her life and words continue to form who I am.  To read a piece that I wrote in honor of her for this series click on the following title, “My Barnabas Was a Woman.”  I had learned so much from her and in many ways she was the original “blogger” long before blogging was a thing.  She had a list of over a hundred names that she would email with words of encouragement.  Because she is no longer with us, however, I asked my wife Stacy to write a post last week about something both she and I learned from her mom; you can read that post by clicking “Seeking Stillness.”

Both of these women had and have a tremendous influence on my life.  There is, however, another mother that was a mother to me.  A woman not related to me by blood or marriage — JoAnne Tschetter.

JoAnne was “the pastor’s wife” when I was growing up, and she did that well, but she was SO MUCH MORE!  To me, she was the director of Vacation Bible School, she was the story teller, she was the infectious laugh in the room, she was a source of never ending encouragement, she was a second mother to me.

In Romans 16, Paul has a list of people that he thanks and sends special greetings to in the church of Rome.  This is more than just a list and you can read a post that I wrote about this by clicking “More Than a List” which introduced the series “Celebrating Women.”  In this list Paul names numerous women, and one of them he addresses as “mother.”

“Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother,
who has been a mother to me as well.”
Romans 16:13

No one could ever replace my mom, and I cannot imagine having a more encouraging and godly mother-in-law than, Von.  There is something, however, that is amazing about having someone that invests in you like a mother when there is no “blood” or “marriage” responsibility to do so.  For me, that was JoAnne.

JoAnne died from ALS in 2000.  I remember visiting her fairly late in her battle against ALS.  She couldn’t walk and she struggled even with speech.  What I remember about that visit the most, however, is that she still encouraged, she still told stories, she still was the infectious laugh in the room.  She was an amazing woman, and the legacy of her encouragement, storytelling, devotion to God, and so much more lives on in the lives of her own two daughters and others of us to whom she was also mother.

Like Paul, I’ve had the privilege of some amazing women in my life.  And like Paul, I’ve been blessed by a woman “who has been a mother to me as well.”  I’ve asked one of JoAnne’s daughters to write tomorrow’s blog about the idea of “second mothers.”  If you’ve been following this blog, you have met her already she wrote “The Power of Childhood Friends.”  You will be blessed by her post tomorrow as many of you were by her previous post.

I would encourage each of you this weekend to thank the women who have been “mother” to you.  If they are no long living, continue their legacy of care and nurturing by reaching out to some else that needs encouragement.

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March is International Women’s Month!  It is my hope that you will join me over the course of the rest of March in celebrating the women who have had a significant role in influencing me.  I will post daily blog-posts — some of these posts will be from me talking about the women who have had a significant role in influencing me and some of the posts will be from these women themselves, childhood friends, mentors, teachers, co-workers, etc.  

My hope is that this series, “Celebrating Women,” will accomplish three things:  

  1. to serve in a small way as a “Thank You” to all the women who have influenced me
  2.  that you will gain wisdom from those who have spoken wisdom into my life
  3. that it will serve as a reminder to say thank you and to recognize all the amazing women in your one life

Click here to see all of the posts related to “Celebrating Women.”

On Mentoring and Leadership

myraAbout today’s author:
Myra Watts and her husband Gary recently transplanted to Spokane, Washington, to be closer to family. Myra is currently working part-time in Adult Ministry at First Presbyterian Church of Spokane as well as adjunct teaching in the leadership program at Gonzaga University. Prior to their move, Myra was the Director of the Character in Leadership program and assistant professor in the Religion and Philosophy Department at the University of Jamestown in North Dakota. Gary and Myra have three children and four grandchildren.

You can read more about how Kerry knows Myra and why he is celebrating her during International Women’s Month by reading yesterday’s post by clicking on “Seeing God’s Work in Others.

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After being a prisoner in Auschwitz during World War II, the medical doctor/psychiatrist Viktor Frankl wrote the now famous book Man’s Search for Meaning.  Frankl was a gifted observer of his fellow prisoners, always curious as to the various responses of different individuals as they faced the dire circumstances of life in a concentration camp.  After all of his experience, Frankl concludes that love is the most powerful human force and the only way to truly know another person.  Here is what he says:

“Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality.  No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him.  By his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized.”

My insight into mentoring—and indeed to leadership more broadly and to life entirely—is based on this same conclusion, that love is the most powerful human force.  It is the encapsulation of any worthy or notable theory regarding becoming a mentor or leader.  Love.  One simple word. And yet it seems to take a lifetime to engage the nuances and difficulties within the meaning of this word. 

In the framework of mentoring, love means seeing the potential of another person in a way that allows that person to call that potential forth into reality.  As I say this, I imagine the description of the creation of Narnia in C. S. Lewis’ book The Magician’s Nephew as Aslan sings the world into being.  Are we able to participate in the transformational process of another person and be part of “singing into being” that which is the other person’s best, though it may still hidden.

On a trip to Florence, Italy, I had the good fortune to visit the Academia Gallery where Michelangelo’s statue of David is housed.  There’s a fairly long and circuitous path one walks to get to the statue of David.  Along the way, there are many beautiful statues – so many, in fact, that they all start to look alike.  But when I arrived at the portico where the statue of David stands, everything changed.  As I stepped into the sunlit room, I came to a complete stop, overwhelmed with emotion.  The statue of David is a true masterpiece.  Fourteen feet of carved marble on a pedestal, it towers over everyone in the room.  The statue of David is a spectacular presence.

It is said of Michelangelo that when he looked at a piece of marble, he envisioned the statue within the block of stone.  Then he carved away everything that was not part of his vision.  In other words, Michelangelo distinguished the form of David within the marble and then “sang it into being” – using his sculpting tools of course.

The challenge of mentoring is to love another individual enough to actually see the “spectacular presence” of what lies within and then to inspire and coax it forth into reality.  

I want to be careful that I do not appear to suggest that I have mastered any of this.  I have not.  I never set out to be a mentor.  But I have experienced what it is to have various mentors in my life, to have others love me enough to see me not only for who I am but who I might become. And I have had the joyful privilege of helping to “sing into being” the hidden potential in others.

Mentoring and leadership are both about the power of love in the lives of other people.  To mentor another person is to desire the best for that person and to be willing to do all within one’s power to see that the person receives it.  That is also the definition of love.  

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March is International Women’s Month!  It is my hope that you will join me over the course of the rest of March in celebrating the women who have had a significant role in influencing me.  I will post daily blog-posts — some of these posts will be from me talking about the women who have had a significant role in influencing me and some of the posts will be from these women themselves, childhood friends, mentors, teachers, co-workers, etc.  

My hope is that this series, “Celebrating Women,” will accomplish three things:  

  1. to serve in a small way as a “Thank You” to all the women who have influenced me
  2.  that you will gain wisdom from those who have spoken wisdom into my life
  3. that it will serve as a reminder to say thank you and to recognize all the amazing women in your one life

Click here to see all of the posts related to “Celebrating Women.”

Women’s Work

As a child, I hated group projects in school.  My grade?  Dependent on someone else’s lack of motivation?  NO THANK YOU!

I have to admit that my view of group projects hasn’t improved much since becoming an adult.  There is always a slacker — or someone who has their own ideas — how annoying!

But Paul understood the importance of group projects, of working together, of fellow workers in Christ.

Because of this, Paul’s letters are filled with lists of group project members, requests for the presence and help of others, and praise for those who were fellow workers in Christ.

Phoebe is one of the women who makes Paul’s list of fellow workers — of a group project member.  As a matter of fact, Phoebe receives a special honor.  In Romans 16:1, she is described by Paul as a “sister” and as a “deacon” or “minister” in the church at Cenchreae.  This is a huge deal!  Paul, in the first century, a former Pharisee, coming out a patriarchal system, lists a woman as a minister or as an official office holder in the life of the Church!

Of course, Phoebe’s position as a deacon is passionately debated; if you don’t believe me, just Google it.  The word that Paul uses for “deacon,” the Greek of which is “diakonos,” is a word that can mean servant in general when translated.

The early Church adopts this general term and impregnates it with special meaning, so it can mean servant for the early Church.  However, it can also mean a specific office, the office of “deacon,” within the life of the Church.  Therefore, many english translations choose to translate this term as “servant” instead of “deacon” to describe Phoebe.  This would mean that she was not an office holder in the early Church but rather a simple servant of the Church.

But let me briefly put forward four quick arguments to see Phoebe as a deacon:

  1. Paul’s use of this Greek word is primarily, if not exclusively, tied to being a minister in the work of God, not a general servant.
  2. Paul ties this particular instance of this word to a local church — strengthening the argument that this is an office or at least a specific ministry.
  3. The early church (late 3rd/early 4th century) saw Phoebe as a “deacon” listing a woman named “Sophia” as a deacon and as a “second Phoebe” (for a full discussion of this see Elizabeth McCabe’s Society of Biblical Literature article, A Reexamination of Phoebe as “Diakonos” and “Prostatis”).
  4. If Phoebe had been a man, I wouldn’t have needed reasons 1-3.

I recognize that some readers may disagree with this position and that a quick Google search will provide enough ammunition to share in the comments; however, I think that Phoebe’s record — both by Paul’s own words and the view of the early Church — speaks for itself.

It’s tragic that the translators of many English translations consistently translate Paul’s use of “diakonos” as “deacon” or “minister,” but translate  the same Greek word in Romans 16:1, referring to Phoebe, as “servant.”  It is equally tragic when we “translate” or view the work of men and women with the same lenses within the Church today — valuing one as ministry and the other simply as service.  I realize that this is a nuance, but nuances are important!

This is not an argument for women to be pastors or elders, nor is it an argument opposed to that — that can be a topic for another day.  It is simply an argument that we should see the ministry of women, the work of women within the church, and the offices that they hold within the life of the Church with the same respect, honor, and appreciation that we have for the ministry and offices that men hold.

womens-equality-dayAt the end of the day, there is no “women’s work” or “men’s work;” there is only the work of Christ that must be done to demonstrate his love to the world!

I have had the privilege of working with some amazing women who are workers, servants, ministers, office holders, whatever you want to call them.  They are amazing people, and they have my utmost respect.  To try to list them all would be impossible — from the women that taught me Sunday School, to my college mentors, to professors at seminary, to the women that strived for the Kingdom of God with me in the churches at which I have had the privilege to work.

We worked on constitutions and bylaws together.

We cleaned the sanctuary together.

We wrote Sunday School curriculum for children and adults together.

We planned worshipped services together.

We folded bulletins together.

We prepared church meals together.

We went on mission trips together.

We served on teams, committees, and boards together.

The list could go on and on, and the benefit and knowledge that I have gained from the women with whom I had the privilege of serving alongside — well, that continues to go on and on as well.

For tomorrow, I have asked one of these women, Jen Woyke, to write a blog post about being a co-worker in Christ.  I had the privilege of working alongside Jen in numerous capacities, and I have had the opportunity to take a Church History Sunday School class from her that rivaled any class I took in college and seminary.  We served on boards together and went on a mission trip to Cameroon together.  Upon returning from that trip, she preached a Sunday morning sermon that I am not ashamed to say was one of the best sermons preached during my time at Faith Baptist Church.

Her hard work, commitment, and knowledge has benefited me and the Kingdom in countless ways.  And she is only one of scores of women that I have had the privilege to minister beside.  Any of them could have written tomorrow’s post, and those who read it would have benefited tremendously from it.  I hope that each of these women will sense my deep appreciation for them as they read this post and tomorrow’s post.

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March is International Women’s Month!  It is my hope that you will join me over the course of the rest of March in celebrating the women who have had a significant role in influencing me.  I will post daily blog-posts — some of these posts will be from me talking about the women who have had a significant role in influencing me and some of the posts will be from these women themselves, childhood friends, mentors, teachers, co-workers, etc.  

My hope is that this series, “Celebrating Women,” will accomplish three things:  

  1. to serve in a small way as a “Thank You” to all the women who have influenced me
  2.  that you will gain wisdom from those who have spoken wisdom into my life
  3. that it will serve as a reminder to say thank you and to recognize all the amazing women in your one life

Click here to see all of the posts related to “Celebrating Women.”

You are the writer today!

thank youWe have reached close to the midpoint of this series “Celebrating Women” during  International Women’s Month.  It is a series where I have written about some of the women who have influenced and formed me, but more importantly, it’s been an opportunity to hear from these women themselves.  I hope you have enjoyed it so far, and there are some great blogs to come from some of the guest bloggers.

If you came here today to read something, I want to say thank you and I am sorry.

I am not going to write anything today.  Instead, I would like you to take the next 3-5 minutes, the amount of time it would have taken you to read a blog post, and — instead of reading — call or write a note to a woman who deserves your thanks today.

Thanks again for reading this series.  Please take the time to follow my blog.

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March is International Women’s Month!  It is my hope that you will join me over the course of the rest of March in celebrating the women who have had a significant role in influencing me.  I will post daily blog-posts — some of these posts will be from me talking about the women who have had a significant role in influencing me and some of the posts will be from these women themselves, childhood friends, mentors, teachers, co-workers, etc.  

My hope is that this series, “Celebrating Women,” will accomplish three things:  

  1. to serve in a small way as a “Thank You” to all the women who have influenced me
  2.  that you will gain wisdom from those who have spoken wisdom into my life
  3. that it will serve as a reminder to say thank you and to recognize all the amazing women in your one life

Click here to see all of the posts related to “Celebrating Women.”

As a Music Teacher

About today’s author: 
Mary is a widowed mother of two and would never had made it without her faith, family, friends, and a good sense of humor. She has taught music for most of her working career but also a bit of German. She has dragged (or been dragged by) her family around the world from ND to Germany to Massachusetts to Okinawa, Japan, and next fall they will be in England. She loves her calling as an Elementary Music Specialist in the DoDEA (Overseas Military) school system.

You can read more about how Kerry knows Mary and why he is celebrating her during International Women’s Month by reading yesterday’s post by clicking on “Accidental Education.”

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As a music teacher, some concepts that I have to try and get across to my lovely elementary students are, at times, a bit on the abstract side. Several years ago I was trying to explain to a group of 2nd graders the workings of a coda sign. How they need to sing to a place in the song where one coda sign is and then skip part of the song to find the other coda sign. One of my wonderful little “treasures” in this particular class yells out, “It’s a magic portal! You go through one and come out on the other!” I stared at the young gentleman and said, “Yes, you are absolutely right and I am so going to steal that.” He was the proudest guy. I still use that in my class when I teach the coda sign.

This is what is called an “Aha Moment.” It may be a bit of a cliché; however, this is one of the reasons I teach. Sometimes the moment, as in my story, is about the subject matter but sometimes it is about how to go on. Go on with their day, go on with their assignment, go on with my class, go on with just being themselves. Many times the moment never occurs but if I wait and work with the kiddos, it will come again.

And now my second reason for loving my job. There is nothing that makes a teacher’s heart take flight or validate them and their job than when a former student let you know you made a difference. Since the invention of social media, I have received several messages and requests from my former students. They have told me that I made a difference in their lives in different ways. I have also “met up” with some of my teachers and expressed the same feelings to them. This is why I teach. By the way, as far as I know only one of my former students became a music teacher.

I didn’t stay in my home state. As a matter of fact, I didn’t stay in the country. I moved to Germany to work in the DoDEA system. I have for 25 years taught the children of the Military stationed overseas on two continents. Children are unique in any situation but the military child has to be extremely flexible every day. In the DoDEA school system, on average, the entire population of most schools changes every 3 years. The amount of children that I impact during a single school year can be very humbling. For some of my students, school is one of the only stable things in their constantly changing lives.

The importance of a teacher for a student is as different as the students themselves. It could be the “Aha Moment”. It might be cornering a student and telling them to focus. It could be as simple as greeting a student with a true smile and a familiar song when their life is in flux.

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March is International Women’s Month!  It is my hope that you will join me over the course of the rest of March in celebrating the women who have had a significant role in influencing me.  I will post daily blog-posts — some of these posts will be from me talking about the women who have had a significant role in influencing me and some of the posts will be from these women themselves, childhood friends, mentors, teachers, co-workers, etc.  

My hope is that this series, “Celebrating Women,” will accomplish three things:  

  1. to serve in a small way as a “Thank You” to all the women who have influenced me
  2.  that you will gain wisdom from those who have spoken wisdom into my life
  3. that it will serve as a reminder to say thank you and to recognize all the amazing women in your one life

Click here to see all of the posts related to “Celebrating Women.”

Accidental Education

I apologize in advance for the next six lines.

“What is all the fuss?”
“Teachers help all of us.”

“No more rhymes, and I mean it!”
“Does anybody want a peanut?”

“Are there struggles ahead?”
“Well without our teachers, we all be dead.”

educationMary Wax Goldsborough (or Miss Wax as I knew her back in the day) deserves my unending appreciation if for no other reason than because she introduced me to the Princess Bride. So thank you!

Mary taught me a lot about music as well.  She was the music teacher at my school when I was growing up.  I learned about motif, repeating themes, and much more that has made Star Wars, Les Miserables, and life as a whole more interesting and meaningful.  She taught me an appreciation for Mozart as well as jazz.  Because of her relentless passion and her ability to throw things at my head while directing, I learned correct posture while playing saxophone.  Seriously, because of her passion I made it into college choir and band, and singing and playing saxophone is a joy still for me today.

But like so many great teachers in my life, the greatest educational lessons with Mary were not moments of intentional instruction but rather moments of accidental education.

Mary lived in a small house near the school, but she would invite the entire band to her house for an annual party.  Now granted, my graduating class from Zeeland Public High School was 12, so the band didn’t have 100 students in it, but she invited all of us.  We ate in the garage because it was the only room big enough for us all (but we spread out throughout her house).  She also invited me to her house for a meal when she found out I was stuck in town between school and a basketball game later that evening.  She made me a hamburger, gave me a Coke, and introduced me to the Princess Bride — I’m pretty sure I laughed so hard I had Coke come out of my nose.

Mary taught me a lot in the classroom.  More importantly, however, in moments of accidental education, Mary taught me that teaching others isn’t just about what happens between a lectern and a seat, but also about what happens around a table — especially if it’s the teacher’s table.

In other moments of accidental education, Mary also taught me that the most important lessons a teacher can teach are seldom about the subject matter but about life.

I was a bit of an awkward junior high student.  Had we been wealthy, I could have been eccentric; however, because our family was not wealthy, I was basically “weird.”  I suppose every junior high or middle school student feels this way, and I probably wasn’t as uniquely weird as a felt; nevertheless, I didn’t feel like I fit in.  I dealt with this by messing around and trying to be funny — key word “trying.”

On one particular day — I think during music appreciation, a class that in my experience failed to help most students appreciate anything other than AC/DC or Guns-N-Roses — I was messing around quite a bit in the band room.  Mary grabbed my attention, looked sternly at me, and said, “You could be great at something if you just focused!”

I still remember where I was standing when she said that — mostly because I didn’t think she was on the same side of our split classroom when I was messing around.  Her words didn’t launch me into a successful music career or, for that matter, bring me great success in the eyes of the world in any particular career.  What it did do, however, was let me know that someone believed that I was capable of doing anything of substance.  It was a word of encouragement to a student who felt ill equipped to do anything but mess around and try to be a clown.

There were probably a lot of factors that played into it (like my mom telling me I could watch Bonanza reruns at 10:30PM if I got on the “A” honor roll), but I went from being a mediocre junior high student to excelling academically in high school, college, and beyond.  Part of that transformation was due to a moment of accidental education thanks to Mary Wax Goldsborough.

Mary is far from the only teacher who did this for me.  Through the years, I have been fortunate to have some pretty amazing teachers in elementary school all the way through graduate school.  Many of them, like Mary, taught me as much out of the classroom as they did in the classroom — as much about life as they did about their particular subject matter.  I hope that each of them, in reading this, hears echoes of my deep appreciation for them as well.

I also hope that each of us will take time to be teachers for others — recognizing that sometimes the most important lessons are taught accidentally.  Accidentally does need to mean unintentionally.

Be intentional about creating space for life’s most important lessons to be taught accidentally to a new generation.

I’ve asked Mary to write tomorrow’s post about being a teacher.  I hope that you will learn from her as I have.

_____

March is International Women’s Month!  It is my hope that you will join me over the course of the rest of March in celebrating the women who have had a significant role in influencing me.  I will post daily blog-posts — some of these posts will be from me talking about the women who have had a significant role in influencing me and some of the posts will be from these women themselves, childhood friends, mentors, teachers, co-workers, etc.  

My hope is that this series, “Celebrating Women,” will accomplish three things:  

  1. to serve in a small way as a “Thank You” to all the women who have influenced me
  2.  that you will gain wisdom from those who have spoken wisdom into my life
  3. that it will serve as a reminder to say thank you and to recognize all the amazing women in your one life

Click here to see all of the posts related to “Celebrating Women.”

The Story of a Christian/Muslim Friendship

Marilyn R. Gardner is an adult third culture kid who grew up in Pakistan and then lived as an adult in Pakistan and Egypt. She birthed 5 kids on 3 continents and went on to raise them in Pakistan and Egypt before moving to the United States. She currently lives in Cambridge, MA, just 15 minutes from the international terminal where she flies to the Middle East & Pakistan as often as possible. She is the author of Between Worlds: Essays on Culture & Belonging, and her newest memoir, Passages Through Pakistan: An American Girl’s Journey of Faith (click on the titles to check out the books at Amazon). Because of her passion for the Middle East, 50% of all royalties for any purchase of Passages goes towards refugee work there. She is also a prolific blogger at Communicating Across Boundaries (click on the blog title to check out Marilyn’s blog).

You can read more about how Kerry knows Marilyn and why he is celebrating her during International Women’s Month by reading yesterday’s post by clicking on “Loving the ‘Other.’

marilyn

Every September, when cool breezes off the Nile River replaced the sweltering heat of summer, the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt would reunite. Most employers planned a variety of activities to introduce any newcomers to Egypt in general, and the gigantic city of Cairo in particular.

Our employer, the American University of Cairo, put together an orientation week full of events and talks all designed to ease these overwhelmed rookies into life in both the city and the university. It was during orientation week that I met Lubna for the first time.

On the first day, I noticed Lubna standing alone at the break. I ignored my conscience and left her alone. On the second day, the internal nudge was too strong to ignore. I felt compelled to go and speak with her. I was nervous. Lubna was fully veiled. She wore both the abbaya (long black coat) and a niqab, the veil that covered all but her eyes. While I was used to communicating with women in the hijab (head covering), I had no friends who wore the full veil and I felt my discomfort acutely. I stumbled a bit as I asked her how long she had been in Cairo.

After seconds, we were engrossed in a dynamic conversation and within minutes found significant commonalities. Raised in Canada by an Egyptian family, she had married a Tunisian man who had immigrated to Canada just a few years before. She had one child, a baby girl.

A couple of weeks later, Lubna invited me to her home. Until this time, I had only seen her at outside events and I looked forward to being able to sit with her over tea and get to know her better. I arrived at her apartment around 10 minutes late – a little early for a Middle Eastern visit. I knocked on the door and a beautiful woman with long, dark hair that curled around her face answered the door. With exquisite make up and a chic outfit, she was lovely. I stared at her and in a halting voice explained that I was there to visit with Lubna. Was she available? The woman burst into laughter. “It’s me, Marilyn!” She laughed. “I can’t believe you didn’t recognize me!”

I had already seen Lubna numerous times, fully veiled with only her eyes showing. I was stunned at the contrast. As we laughed, she vowed she would never let me forget this first reaction.

Lubna and her husband were conservative Muslims. The niqab was the visual evidence of this, but this was really only one piece of the whole. Islam was a way of life, not just a religion of words. Lubna and her husband ordered their lives according to Islam, from the Call of Prayer (azzan) at the first light of dawn to the last echo heard across the city before bed, this was who they were.

Our commonalities were significant, our interactions over everything from faith to family were rich and interesting. But as our friendship developed, a curious side effect emerged. I experienced a crisis of faith. I had always imagined my faith to be far deeper and stronger than those who did not adhere to my truth claims. While I could acknowledge the faith of another, in my mind their faith was not as strong, not as binding.

As I grew to know and love Lubna, I entered into a new understanding of faith. Her faith was zealous and sure, providing her with a cement foundation not easily moved. I struggled as I watched her. How could her faith be just as strong as mine? As a Christian didn’t I have a market on faith?

It was through Lubna that I learned I didn’t and I don’t have a market on faith. It was through Lubna I learned that I could hold fast to my truth claims, yet still develop a deep friendship with another – not compromising, not betraying what I believe, but connecting within relationship. The orthodoxy of our faith defined our truth claims and the goal was not that we would agree – the goal was that we would communicate, that we would become friends without strings attached.

It’s been many years since Lubna and I shared tea and life together, but many others like her have come into my life; others who have taught me valuable lessons on connecting and offering friendship without compromising on truth claims. With each of them I have remembered what Lubna taught me about listening and loving, learning and enjoying. And I remember that this isn’t about forcing a faith, it’s about forging a friendship.

—–

March is International Women’s Month!  It is my hope that you will join me over the course of the rest of March in celebrating the women who have had a significant role in influencing me.  I will post daily blog-posts — some of these posts will be from me talking about the women who have had a significant role in influencing me and some of the posts will be from these women themselves, childhood friends, mentors, teachers, co-workers, etc.  

My hope is that this series, “Celebrating Women,” will accomplish three things:  

  1. to serve in a small way as a “Thank You” to all the women who have influenced me
  2.  that you will gain wisdom from those who have spoken wisdom into my life
  3. that it will serve as a reminder to say thank you and to recognize all the amazing women in your one life

Click here to see all of the posts related to “Celebrating Women.”