Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Growing Up Baptist: Mrs. DeYoung

Mrs. DeYoung sat in the front right pew of our Baptist church.
The only other person who sat up front was my dad, who played the piano. Mrs. DeYoung, our organist, was tall and thin in an angular sort of way. She had soft brown curly hair and glasses that dangled from a pearl chain around her neck.

Even as a little girl, I admired her meticulously composed outfits. She wore feminine suits and high heels, sometimes even a matching hat. My favorite of her outfits was purple - entirely purple. Mrs. DeYoung was a big believer in matching.

She would wear a classic purple wool suit, matching purple pumps and a small purple hat. Even her earrings, necklace or pin would have flecks of purple among the gold. Best of all, her husband would dress to coordinate with her. This particular time he chose a grey suit with a purple shirt, purple tie, and purple socks. But while Mr. DeYoung dressed to match, he sat a few rows behind his wife. Why, I’m not sure, other than the unwritten rule that Baptists simply don’t sit up front.

Mrs. DeYoung sat up front to be near the organ. She played the organ like she was at a roller skating rink, very oompah, oompah, speeding up with each verse. Between my dad with his rock and roll past, and Mrs. DeYoung’s roller-skating style, we had some very interesting church music.

When I was lucky, Mrs. DeYoung would allow me to sit by her during the service. Sometimes, my friend Janet would get to join me. We always, always wanted to sit by Mrs. DeYoung because she had a purse filled with candy and was willing to share.

I remember trying to open candy during the church service. The merest crackle of turning the paper was sure to attract attention in the silent church, so you had to be very sly. You could twist the wrapper slightly during loud congregational singing, or maybe even when someone coughed or sneezed. But, the candy was worth the patient work. Somehow, letting a hard butterscotch button melt in your mouth made the 40-minute sermons go by more quickly.

As a young child, I believed that Mrs. DeYoung embodied elegance and grace. She was color and festivity. She and Mr. De Young acted like they were young teenagers in love, still courting in the very best and old-fashioned sense of the word.

They had lived through the depression. They had raised chickens and sold eggs to make money when times were tough. Now they lived in a small home decorated with lots of fancy Victorian flourishes like a five-light wrought iron street lamp in front of the small brick home. They were a strange mixture between Dutch frugality and Victorian splendor.

I loved Mrs. DeYoung. She gave me a bit of sweetness – as heart warming as those butterscotch candies – that seemed to make our Baptist world a little bit better.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Chicago Fire and Emma Dryer

This photo of the aftermath of the Great Chicago Fire
hangs on the wall of the Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago.
On the night of October 8th, 1871, the Great Chicago fire began. The sight of the flames spreading as far north and south as they could see was both terrifying and awesome. Emma joined her friends at the window where they could watch the blaze coming ever closer.
“We saw a veering wind, fearing that the fire might be blown one more point westward, and so destroy the entire city,” wrote Emma. The wind held its northward course and the river helped spare the west side of the city. The devastation, however, was widespread.
Among the city’s 300,000 population, as many as 100,000 residents were left homeless by the great fire. Of these, many were the poorest immigrants, already barely able to meet their families’ basic needs before the tragedy. The area of destruction spread four miles and long and nearly one mile wide. One hundred and twenty-five people were confirmed dead – although some thought as many as 300 had perished in the blaze and smoke. The fire raged for three days, finally subsiding only when the heavens opened and a heavy rain fell upon the charred, blackened ruins that had once been Chicago.
Many people, including Emma Dryer, lost everything in the Chicago fire. “Every article of clothing except what I was wearing at the time was burned in the fire,” she wrote. Emma’s home, her books, and her belongings were completely destroyed. Her life, however, was spared.

Rather than being discouraged by the tragedy, the resolute schoolteacher felt a confirmation of God’s call upon her life and immediately headed to work. Chicago’s mayor called together all the women who were available to help. They met at a church on the west side of the city and began to organize the task ahead.
“We were all at once busy, ministering to the homeless, the sick and the suffering,” wrote Emma. With her leadership, the YWCA reorganized itself, temporarily, as the Chicago Women’s Aid Society because of the needs presented by the fire. She designated certain rooms to serve as the distribution headquarters for clothing as donations came in from across the country.
"I was unexpectedly forced into work of various kinds. It crowded us from every side," wrote Emma. Her abilities to organize and conduct schools helped her to react quickly to the overwhelming needs caused by the fire. She founded an employment agency, a women's aid office, a food/clothing and toy bank, and began an industrial education program at the YWCA.
- excerpted from When Others Shuddered: Eight Women Who Refused to Give Up. Available on Amazon February 2014. http://www.amazon.com/When-Others-Shuddered-Eight-Refused/dp/0802410782/ref=sr_sp-atf_title_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1376520053&sr=1-1&keywords=jamie+janosz

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Cold Chicago Morn

After seeing the beautiful mosaic-like cracked ice in the Chicago River, I decided to grab my camera and snap a few shots during my early morning commute. Each day, I make the trip from Northwest Indiana to Chicago. I arrive, via commuter train, at Millenium Station and walk north on Michigan Ave, over the bridge. I zig-zag my way north to Moody Bible Institute. The city looks especially beautiful this time of year. I'm usually bundled in my ugly, but incredibly warm, down coat. My trip is a bit happier when I have a tall cup of Starbuck's in my hand.

Another view of the icy river...

Crossing the bridge over the Chicago River, heading north on Michigan Ave...

The Wrigley Building, which has recently been refurbished, decked for the holidays.

This is the Driehaus offices, housed in one of Chicago's original homes. Always lovely and worth a quick detour on my way.

And here I am, freezing, but happy because I now have my Starbucks... The last shot is the historic archway at Moody Bible Institute - where I have worked for almost 24 years. Merry Christmas everyone!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Christmas at the Turn of the Century

Photo copyright by Library of Congress
Christmas at the turn-of-the-century was a simpler celebration than we know today. Many of the traditions we now enjoy began in the late 1800s.

Families often made Christmas gifts for one another rather than head to the shopping mall or department store. Christmas decorations were typically the natural sort: evergreens, mistletoe, holly, and ivy. Christmas carols were sung in homes with people accompanying on the piano. Imagine a home celebration without the distraction of computers and televisions!

1843 – The first Christmas card was drawn by illustrator John Callcott Horlsley for an English nobleman who wanted to send something different than his typical Christmas letter to his friends.  It was not long before Christmas cards became popular with full-color and embossed illustrations. The first cards were printed in Boston in 1874.

1860 – Thomas Nast, a famous American cartoonist, depicted Santa Claus for Harper’s Weekly. Nast’s Santa was patriotic with stars and stripes on his suit. Nast was also the person told us that Santa lived at the North Pole.

1865 – As Christmas trees became more popular, the manufacturing of Christmas tree ornaments began. Some of the popular ornaments were made of glass, wax, wool and paper. In 1880, Woolworth’s began to sell commercially produced ornaments. Trees were often decorated with strings of popcorn and baskets of sweets.

1880s – Macy’s store introduced elaborately decorated windows filled with dolls and toys from Germany, France, Austria and Switzerland.

1882 – The first electric Christmas tree lights appeared thanks to Thomas Edison. Until then, most people lit their trees with candles.

1889 - Christmas in the White House changed when President Benjamin Harrison’s family put up a Christmas tree. His children and grandchildren decorated the tree with toy soldiers and glass ornaments.

1897 – “Is There A Santa Claus?” An 8-year-old New York City girl wrote to the New York Sun newspaper asking whether or not Santa Clause existed. Her letter made history in this famous editorial response by Francis Pharcellus Church:

“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias.”

1901 – Charity continued to be popular. In a letter to the editor of the Boston Globe, one person wrote:

“Every person purchasing a paper on Christmas Eve should pay the newsboy therefore five cents instead of the customary two. The amount will not be missed by the giver and a great good will result.”

As Christmas became more commercialized, people began to head to stores to purchase gifts for their loved ones. Typical gifts might include: (for mom) a fan, scarf or thimble; (for dad) slippers, an umbrella or cigar case; (for grandma) a bookmark or pomander; (for sister) a muff or doll; and (for brother) a stamp album or toboggan.




Jeffrey, Yvonne. “Christmas in the 1900s.” NetPlaces: Family Christmas.

McNamara, Robert. “The History of Christmas: Many of Our Traditions Began in the 19th Century.” About.com.

“A Victorian Christmas.” The Complete Victorian website. 2005.

 “Victorian Christmas At the Doll’s House Museum.”  Christmas website. 1996-2013. Victoriana Magazine.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Photos with Santa

We’ve all seen those photos of a screaming child sitting on Santa’s lap. In fact, I have one of them.

My daughter was about five years old – and, every Christmas, she had steadfastly refused to get her picture taken with Santa. While she would read Christmas stories about him, write him letters, and even set out cookies by the fireplace, she was terrified by the actual living breathing guy in the red velvet suit. One year, thinking that we were being clever, my husband and I took her to Chicago’s Christkindlmarket – a traditional German festival with small wooden huts and holiday treats for sale.

My husband I learned that one of the huts contained a Santa. As we strolled through the village, we noticed that there was no one in line. Casually, we entered the booth – and my daughter came face to face with Santa. I plopped her on his lap – in what probably was a cruel motherly move – and let the photographer snap the now treasured photo of my cute little girl screaming her head off.

My daughter, now 16, has still not quite forgiven me.

You see, she loved the idea of Santa, she just did not want to meet him up close.

I was thinking about that this frosty December morning, and realizing that this is how many of my friends view God. They like the idea of God, but they are terrified by any kind of personal obligation, any type of one-on-one interaction with the Almighty.

It is true, that an interaction with God can be intimidating, awe-inspiring, and life changing. Look at Moses, who came back from seeing God at the top of a mountain. Scripture says “he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord” (Exodus 34:29)  When the Israelites saw Moses, they were afraid to come near him.

Or Saul, struck blind on the road to Damascus. He was continuing his self-appointed mission in life – persecuting Christians – when he was physically struck by God’s presence. “Suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him…and he fell to the ground.” Scripture says that for “three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything” (Acts 9:8,9) From that day on, he was changed. Once a person who hated Christ followers, he was now himself a follower of Jesus Christ and a passionate proclaimer of the gospel.

Perhaps my friends are right to worry. What if they truly acknowledged God and entered His presence? Would their lives ever be the same?

A 1990s alternative rock song, titled “What if God Was One of Us?” by Joan Osborne asks the question: “If God had a face, what would it look like? And would you want to see if seeing meant that you would have to believe in things like heaven and in Jesus and the saints and all the prophets?”

Osborne ponders the reality of God – our inability our unwillingness to face that big, awesome, life-changing question, to step into His presence and to let our lives be forever changed.

If you are someone who likes the idea of God, but who has never allowed yourself to know Him in a personal way – I challenge you this Christmas season. As we approach this holy time of the year, open your heart to an encounter with the Almighty. It is both terrifying and life-changing, but I promise that you will never be the same.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

12 Ways to Know You Grew Up Baptist

If you grew up attending a Baptist church, you should recognize most of these.
Can you add more?
1) You know what an Awana circle is.

2) You always hold a hankie over your nose when you go under water.

3) You can name at least five different kinds of Jello salad.

4) As a child, you “marched in the infantry.”

5) You know what it means to pray for “unspokens.”

6) Campfires always make you break out in song.

7) When it is six o’clock on a Sunday evening, you get ready for church, again.

8) You’ve passed a concern over the prayer chain.

9) You know that sword drills have nothing to do with sharp objects.

10) The word “potluck” makes you salivate.

11) You can quote John 3:16 word for word.

12) You fellowship with the best of them.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Growing Up Baptist

My dad, Neil Storms, was the piano player at the First Baptist Church of South Holland. He played the glossy black grand piano wedged into the front left corner near the pulpit. When he was not at the piano, my dad always sat in the first pew.

At First Baptist, no one else sat in the front row, except for the organist, who also sat in the front pew on the right side. The first three pews were always empty. Baptists are known for sitting in the back of the church. Our church sanctuary was one long rectangular room with an unfashionable suspended ceiling. On each side of the auditorium were long pews upholstered in nubby red fabric. The carpet was also red, and the church walls were covered in brown paneling.

The red pews and carpet, which looked rather festive at Christmastime, was often a problem for other occasions. I knew of many brides who moved their wedding ceremonies to another church because the red theme clashed with their chosen colors. The piano and organ resided on either side of the front platform. Behind the pulpit and the platform was a small three-rowed choir loft. Behind that was what we call the “baptismal.”

Baptists believe in adult baptism, where you are dunked or immersed into a tub of water by the pastor as a testimony of your faith and commitment to Jesus. Our baptismal (which looked like a tall hot tub room) was located up front where it could easily be viewed. When someone was baptized, they would flip on the light in that room and the pastor would enter the baptismal in wading boots and a white choir robe to begin the ceremony.

Although there was nothing too out of the ordinary about our sanctuary, there was one major difference between our Baptist church and others I’ve visited. My dad played piano like no other Baptist musician I knew. The tiled floor underneath the piano was literally indented a good inch down from his foot, from when my dad would tap out a beat to our favorite old hymns. A mild-mannered junior high school social studies teacher during the week, on Sundays my dad became the Jerry Lee Lewis of the Baptists.

As a college student, Dad had played in an early rock and roll band called Freddy and the Wildcats. He transferred that same sense of rhythm to Amazing Grace and Blest Be the Tie that Binds. At my church, we sang every hymn up-tempo and with great rhythm and syncopation. One time, during a particularly rousing rendition of Victory in Jesus, Dad had the entire congregation on their feet – almost like we were Pentecostals.

My mom, my brother and sister, and I sat two-thirds of the way back, also on the left side of the church. That was our regular spot. We always sat in the same place, just in front of the high school group, and just behind Mr.and Mrs. Hodges, who were always surrounded by a troop of squirmy grandkids.

I grew up in that Baptist church--I was there, literally, all the time. No exaggeration. We would typically arrive at 9 am on Sunday mornings and were among the last people to leave, about 12:30 pm. We’d return again for Sunday evening service from 5:30 until 7 pm. Every Wednesday evening was family night with kid’s Bible clubs and adult prayer meeting. Thursday night was choir rehearsal. Friday night was youth group. We were there so much, my parents had their own set of keys.

The kids I went to church with had grown up with me. Janet and Rick and Bev and Scott and Julie. We knew each other as babies, as Sunday School classmates, and as high schoolers. We had spent hours together in the church nursery. We had eaten from the same box of animal crackers. We had played with the same toys.

 Our parents had all joined the church in the early 1960s. South Holland was a young suburban Chicago town, Dutch in tradition and conservatism. My parents lived in the neighboring town of Thornton – mainly known for smaller homes and the world’s largest limestone quarry. Although I grew up in Thornton, most of my life was spent in South Holland.

My mom and dad were a part of a church group called the “new marrieds”: Jan and Neil (my parents), Chuck and Ruelene, Dick and Marge, Harold and Bev. They prayed together, played together, and then had babies together. I knew some of my friend’s parents almost as well as I knew my own. They were as much a part of the church as the building itself. My family made church attendance a priority. We even attended strange churches when were out of town on vacation.

 In my house, Sunday mornings were sacred in their tradition and timing. Every Sunday morning my dad cooked scrambled eggs, and alternated between bacon and sausage. He would wake us at 8 a.m., making sure we were scrubbed, dressed, and ready for breakfast. Dad had already been up for hours, and was the designated breakfast maker at our house. Tim, Julie and I dressed up for church – skirts for my sister and I. The much-hated pale blue, short-sleeved shirt, tie and jacket for Tim.

We would pile into one of our early 70s station wagons, the kind with the wood paneling on the sides and leave the house promptly at 9 am for the 10 minute drive to church.

We arrived at church just after the pastor. Dad always had to be there early to practice his piano accompaniment for the day’s service. Mom would make her way up to the nursery or Sunday school classroom to prepare for the kids. I remember running back and forth in the still darkened hallways, waiting for everyone to arrive. I liked the church in those early hours - it seemed cooler, quieter, a place waiting to come alive.

9:30 am was Sunday School for everyone from babies to adults. We met in every corner of the church. Since there were not enough rooms, we made spaces in the cement basement with giant rolling wooden partitions. The adults met in the sanctuary.

When Sunday School ended, we would head upstairs to the foyer, and get ready for church. Dad would be busy, practicing with the church choir, so I would find mom. Gathering all of our Sunday School material, and colleting my sister from the nursery, we would make our way down to our favorite sitting spot.

There was always a lot of visiting. Before services, the church sanctuary would be humming with hellos, hugs, and whispered news: who was sick, who had a baby, what was planned for the week, who was in the hospital.

The Baptist church viewed itself as one large family. From the nursery to the grave, we were enfolded into one another as one cohesive unit. Like family, we didn’t always get along. Like family, there were those strange odd members who you weren’t quite sure about.
Yet, we hung together. Through thick and thin we cared about each other and really, really knew each other. I felt as at home in that Baptist cinderblock church as I did in any place I ever lived.
It was not only my church, it was truly my home.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Day I Was Swedish

When I was little, I wanted to be ethnic.

I wanted a strong, proud, national heritage, something other than the United States of America. My own family was a mix of European descent. My dad’s side, Storms, was predominantly German. On my mom’s side, we were a mixture of English, Irish, and a smattering of other things thrown in. My mom and uncle always claimed we are a little bit Native American – but I had my doubts.

Even though I later learned of the dominant German genetic, I did not realize that in first grade. We were all-American in every sense of the word. I grew up in a 1960s suburban ranch home. We ate jello salads with our dinner and cheeseburger upside down pie made with Bisquick. My dad drove a station wagon with wooden sides, and we had a swing set in the back yard.

The problem came when my first grade teacher asked each of us to prepare and bring in one of our family’s traditional ethnic dishes. Confused, I looked to see what my other friends would do. Jill Smith and her twin brother Jack were Czechoslovakian. While we could barely spell their country’s name, they did have a pretty flag.

Everybody seemed to know their country of origin. The Italian students were bringing spaghetti and pizza. One Irish student was bringing soda bread. I was stumped. What country made Bisquick? Our job was to write a report on the country, make a crayon-colored replica of the flag, and then bring in a traditional dish to share for the school open house.

I sat at my little desk deliberating a bit.
Then, I chose Sweden.

I’m not sure why I chose that country. I did like the flag. It was nice and clean, blue with a yellow cross, and easy to color. I also knew for certain that one time my mom had made Swedish meatballs with a recipe from the Betty Crocker cookbook.

The night of the open house, I was ready. The blue and yellow paper flag swung proudly over my formica-wooden covered school desk. “Swedish” it proudly proclaimed. That was me!

My mom brought in her pyrex bowl of Swedish meatballs and set it on my desk along with my report on my country. “What is this?” she asked.

I showed off my handiwork to my surprised parents. Slowly they read the report and looked again at the flag.

“You do know that we’re not Swedish,” said my mom, “right?” But for the rest of the night, I felt a little bit Swedish. I could almost imagine my dark brown hair becoming blonder, neatly plaited into braids. Maybe I could even wear clogs.

Many years later, I married a man who is 100 percent Polish. His mom makes us “golumpki” (cabbage rolls), and I even tried my hand at homemade pierogi. For Christmas one year, I celebrated in the Polish tradition with a baby Jesus in the center of the table and a wafer cookie, “oplatek”, that you use to break and say “I love you” to those near and dear.

But, I still made my family a jello salad.

Because, after all, I guess I’m just plain-old American. That’s my ethnicity.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Vintage Chicago Dining

Step inside the doorways of these charming Chicago restaurants, and you will be transported back in time. This was Chicago before north Michigan Avenue was magnificent and the John Hancock was dwarfed by other skyscrapers.

Many of Chicago’s original restaurants have disappeared, but a few remain operational. Walk by those chain venues that you can find in any city and visit one of our original Chicago icons.

The Italian Village has been in Chicago since 1927, and their website claims they are the oldest continual operating restaurant in the city. This place is pure charm – I have loved it since I was a little girl. When you enter, walk up the narrow steep staircase to the Village (one of the the buildings three restaurants). The Village – perched at the very top – is decorated to resemble a little outdoor Italian city with the fake facades of buildings and twinkling lights that are strung crisscrossed around the room. Old school male waiters might scold you if you don’t finish your enormous plate of pasta.

You don’t really go to the Italian Village for the food – yes, the pasta is good and pizza is not bad – but the atmosphere will delight you. My parents would go here to celebrate their anniversary after their marriage in 1962. It is a place where time has almost stood still. Romantic, cozy, and full of vintage charm.

Italian Village – 71 W. Monroe, Chicago, IL

La Creperie on north Clark Street is a Parisian style crepe restaurant. The restaurant, which has been in its same location since 1972, has a dark-wooded interior with uneven floors, wooden furniture and travel posters. In the far back, there is a tiny patio with vine-covered walls and a burbling fountain.

This place, in the words of one reviewer, makes you think you are in a 1960s French film. Quaint and simple. No avant-garde French fusion here. Order the chicken and mushroom crepe with a house salad. Save room for a chocolate and banana crepe for dessert and a coffee.

When a family member died, La Creperie shuttered its doors. But, the recent word in Chicago is that the place has been bought and will reopen in its original location and with nothing substantial changed. C'est magnifique!!!

La Creperie - 2845 N. Clark, Chicago, IL

Billy Goat Tavern is a Chicago journalism icon. Newspaper writers and editors from the Chicago Tribune and Sun Times would gather in the back room to argue, eat greasy hamburgers, and have a beer. To find Billy Goat, you have to climb the stairs below Michigan Ave. (just north of the river). In the dark underbelly of lower Michigan, the neon glow of the Billy Goat sign will greet you.

The hamburger joint was immortalized by John Belushi and Dan Akroyd on Saturday Night Live. You order at the counter, and the only real choice is a double cheeseburger and a coke. “No fries, chips.” The burgers are excellent with home-baked buns and thick-cut pickles, but it is the lingering scent of grease and the smoke-stained walls that make this a Chicago icon.

Recent news has suggested that the location is threatened to close due to renovation on Michigan Ave. I, for one, will be sad if this place ever shutters its doors. Chicago will not be the same!

Billy Goat Tavern, 430 N. Michigan Ave. (lower level), Chicago, IL

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

On the Eve of my 48th Birthday: 48 Things I Know

1. Buying a new mattress can change your world.

2. Taking a long walk is a sure cure for a foul mood.

3. Never send an angry email without waiting one day.

4. Guys say a lot of things they don’t mean when they are trying to meet women.

5. I should drink more water, but I don’t like it.

6. You really shouldn’t keep every childhood memento.

7. Memorizing the Bible works better when you are young.

8. Sweet potatoes are horrible.

9. Getting a dog is a major responsibility.

10. It is fine to go to bed angry when you need time to think and calm down.

11. Most situations look better in the morning.

12. Handwritten birthday cards should never go out of style.

13. Hugs are the best medicine.

14. Prayer changes us.

15. Raising a child is both exhausting and rewarding.

16. Raising a teenager has moments of sheer joy and unexpected friendship.

17. It is better if you wash dishes the same day you use them.

18. Not all stains come out.

19. Don’t buy dry clean only clothing.

20. Only one-third of your dinner plate should contain meat.

21. Try a little bit of everything before you say you don’t like it.

22. Friends are worth keeping.

23. Not everything can be easily forgiven.

24. Disappointments can lead to unexpected opportunities.

25. God is good. All the time.

26. People won’t stay with us forever.

27. Just because something is new, doesn’t mean it is better.

28. Don’t tell a salesman how much you want your car payments to be.

29. Shop resale.

30. If shoes are uncomfortable when you buy them, they probably won’t get better.

31. Get rid of those pants that almost fit.

32. Cut down a Christmas tree if you live near a tree farm.

33. Pick daffodils and put them on your spring time table.

34. Cookies from scratch are worth the effort.

35. Nutella is the perfect condiment.

36. Starbucks is on every corner for a reason.

37. Travel to as many places as you can.

38. When you’re on vacation, stop and take a mental picture. Stop. Breathe. Remember.

39. Give generously.

40. Laugh with your whole heart.

41. The Bible is completely applicable to modern day life.

42. All of Taco Bells menu items are basically the same thing in different shapes.

43. Toe socks are unnecessary and annoying.

44. Holding hands with your husband keeps romance alive.

45. Family matters.

46. Don’t burn bridges – disembark gracefully.

47. When you argue, and you will, always fight fair.

48. Love one another.


Thursday, October 31, 2013

Mystery Date

When I was about 10 years old, in the 1970s, my favorite board game was called “Mystery Date.” The game was centered around two things that fascinated me: creating outfits and dating.

Each player was given a little cardboard cut-out of a girl dressed in a pastel nightgown that she would move around the board. Each token had long, straight hair, 70s style, nicely parted in the middle. Her hair color varied, as didthe color of her night gown. The gowns were pink, purple, pale blue, and yellow. I always chose the girl in the purple nightgown with dark brown hair.

During the game, the players move their pastel-garbed girl around the board in search of the perfect date outfit, and, ultimately, the perfect date. You would pick up and discard cards that pictured parts of four different dating outfits: prom, beach, picnic/biking and skiing. Since I am not at all outdoorsy – I always wanted to be the prom girl. Plus, her outfit included long, elbow-length gloves and pearls.

When you collected all the parts of any outfit, and landed on a space marked “Open the Door”, your magic moment had arrived. It was time to go on a date.

You would swivel the door knob of a plastic door and then carefully open it. Depending on your “luck” – you would get the date who matched your outfit. Only then could you go on a date and win the game.

Opening the door was the highlight of the game. As you twisted the little plastic knob, you would hold your breath in anticipation: Would it be prom guy with a bouquet of flowers? Or maybe beach guy with his surf board and sunglasses? I always hoped for prom guy – but I had to admit that picnic guy was kind of cute.

What you absolutely did NOT want – was the Nerd. If you opened the door to find the nerd, adorned with glasses and carrying a stack of books – you lost your turn and your outfit. Disaster!!!

The funny thing is that the nerd was probably the best choice for me. I was a bit of a nerd myself. Despite not wearing glasses, I always had my nose in a book and was decidedly uncoordinated. I had trouble learning to ride a bike and avoided any sports activity where my feet weren’t planted firmly on the ground. Skiing guy would definitely have been a problem.

Despite my passion for Mystery Date, my conservative parents had a rule that I would not be allowed to date until I turned 16. At the time, I thought they were unfair. Some of my friends had been “going out” with boys since they turned 12. How could I possibly wait until 16?

My sweet sixteen birthday was special. My parents took our family out for dinner to one of my favorite places, Yesteryear – a nice restaurant set in an old historic Frank Lloyd Wright mansion. When we arrived back home, my dad could not open our door. For some reason, his key did not work.

I noticed that my parents were looking inside and muttering to one another. Then, my dad went to the neighbors house to “get an extra key.” What I did not know that he was calling our house, to ask those waiting inside to open the door.

Unbeknownst to me, my parents had arranged a surprise party. In the basement of our suburban ranch-style home, a dozen of my childhood friends were waiting. When the deadbolt on the door was finally unlatched from within, my parents sent me downstairs to the waiting crowd. My heart was filled with the presence of so many girls who I loved.

While most of my 16th birthday was picture perfect, one part was not. Despite my worries that my parents no-dating rule was cramping my love life, when I turned 16, the phone remained strangely silent. No boys started lining up to ask me for a date, no skiing guy, no picnic guy, no beach guy, and certainly not prom guy. Not even the nerd.

Apparently, they hadn’t gotten the memo that dating Jamie was now permitted.

I was terribly disappointed.

Dating was a mystery to me then, and I still think it is a confusing, but necessary, process. Without it, I would never have found my husband. Now, as a mother of a 16-year-old, I try to offer her cautious advice.

There are a few things I learned since my Mystery Date days:

1) Yes, the right outfit is important. But, the right guy is important, too.

2) The dating activity isn’t nearly as important as the person. No fancy restaurant makes up for a bad companion. And, being with the right person makes even a simple walk enjoyable.

3) Most of us, in our older age, would gives those nerds a chance. We’ve discovered that intelligence and kindness often hide behind glasses and stacks of books.

4) You might have to open that door many, many times, but don’t give up.  Someone once told me that dating is a matter of timing. You have to be the right person, at the right time and place in your own life, when you meet the right person.

5) Be patient. Life is not a game. Love takes time.

And, finally...

6) It is always a good idea to be wearing a cute outfit.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Frustration of Failing Eyesight

I am one of those people who likes, maybe even needs, to see everything clearly.
I  like my future planned out neatly before me.
When I was younger, I had my future planned out. I was going to be a writer. I was going to get married and have a child or two. Before I married, I wanted to have an apartment of my own in Chicago. I wanted to go to Europe, specifically Paris. I wanted to earn my graduate degree.

And, I did most of those things.
But, as I walk through middle age, things are not quite as clear as they once were.

My eyesight, for one, is shot. Things began to appear significantly fuzzier in my early 40s. I remember eating out in a dimly-lit restaurant and not being able to read the menu. I fumbled for the tiny key-chain flashlight in my purse and muttered, “Why do they print things so tiny!?” When the flashlight didn’t appear, I held the candle inches from the print and squinted.
My husband Milt remembers one night when, due to my failing eyesight, I ordered a $29.99 appetizer, thinking it was only $7.99. When the bill came with the huge sum, I was outraged. “They overcharged us!” I protested.

“No,” he pointed out. “It’s right there, on the menu.”
It was clearly printed on the menu I could no longer read without wearing glasses.

This year, after several years of wearing reading glasses 24/7, I gave in and purchased a pair of progressive lenses. This, apparently, is the new fancy word for bifocals. They are working, but I am still adjusting to the fact that I need them for everyday tasks.
Yes, I’m getting older, and life is getting fuzzier.

My future is also less clear. I don’t always know what is around the bend. I can’t control outcomes. I can't prepare for everything. It feels like I have more to worry about – my family, my career, our health, our finances. There is more at stake, and it seems like there is also less certainty in what comes next.

This grey, fuzziness is connected to our faith. There are so many times when we can’t see clearly – and it frustrates us. Anne Lamott once compared God’s guidance to the frustration of driving through dense fog. The car lights only shine a few yards ahead of us.

I remember, as a child, being on a family road trip when a dense fog rolled in. The highway became a mass of grey swirling clouds. It was night, and my dad was getting nervous. We couldn't see the side of the road. We couldn't see the exits. We could vaguely make out headlights on the two-lane highway - but it was getting treacherous. My mom was nervous, and my dad slowed the car down to a crawl.
He opened the driver's side door just a bit and kept his eye on the center line. We crept along slowly until we made it safely to our destination. The fog was blinding and bewildering.
Mentally, we struggle with driving through the fog. We want to see the whole road. Yet, the murky, soupy fog blocks that vision. We can only see what is directly ahead. Yet, we have that much.
God doesn’t always reveal the full plans for our lives. Even though I know He holds my future, I can get frustrated when I'm not in on the plan. He gives us just a bit of vision. And, for now, that has to be enough.
I don’t like fuzziness. I don’t like to see things this way, but it is the realistic limitation of our earthly existence.

One of my favorite verses in the Bible talks about this and sheds a bit of hope on the situation – I like the King James version best:

“For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then I shall know even as also I am known.” I Cor. 13:12
Looking at our life can sometimes be like peering at that menu in the dim restaurant. We can’t see clearly. The mirror is old and dim and dark. But, we can rest assured that this lack of vision won’t be our fate forever.

God gives us hope.
We will see and be seen.
We will know and be known.

We will cast off our earthly glasses and see everything, clearly, at last.


Friday, July 19, 2013

Meeting the Man in Black

I had the privilege of meeting Johnny Cash many years ago.
My dad had always been a big fan of the Man in Black. So, when I heard he was in Chicago, signing copies of his book Man in White at the downtown Kroch’s and Brentano’s, I stood in a long line to get his autograph.
He seemed bigger and more weathered in person. Johnny was wearing his signature black and signing book after book. When my turn came, I mustered up my courage and asked if he could address it to my dad. “Could you write, ‘To Neil: Another great musician?’”
Johnny looked up at me, and he grinned.
The second time I saw Johnny was at a concert at Chicago’s Cubby Bear venue. The place was packed with an odd assortment of people: punks, little old ladies, hard-core motorcycle dudes, and assorted country people wearing cowboy hats. Standing room only.
My dad pushed to the front of the stage to see the man he so admired. I stood a bit back with my mom where it was less claustrophobic.
The crowd began to chant, “Johnny, Johnny, Johnny…” A few band members took the stage, and everyone went wild.
When Johnny finally walked on stage, the place exploded. He couldn’t even say his signature line: “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash,” it was simply too loud. He started laughing.
Finally, he picked up a guitar and started singing. June was there as well. What a night it was . . . I’ll never forget it.
Johnny is in heaven now, and so is my dad. I hope they finally had a chance to shake hands and maybe make a little music together.

Last week, I had the opportunity to visit the Johnny Cash Museum – just opened in Nashville, TN. The entrance fee is modest – about $14 a person – to see a collection of Johnny’s memorabilia.

They have his black suit and his guitar with a dollar bill folded in the strings to make that raspy percussion sound.


They have the original stone wall, transplanted from their home that burned to the ground.  They have his high school photos – adorable. I loved the personal mementos, like this valentine heart from Johnny to June.
They have his manuscripts and his Bible.
What some might not know that while Johnny Cash was a great musician, he was also a man of great faith.
After I watched his biography, I realized how human he was. He was an addict and unfaithful in marriage. He had a temper. He crashed and burned. He hurt his children.
He was also redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. Johnny knew he couldn’t pick himself up. He needed God. To the end of his life, he declared himself (like the apostle Paul) a man completely transformed only by God’s power.
At the end of the museum, they are playing a video of his recording of the Nine Inch Nail's song “Hurt.” He talks about the fact that all of this – all the human evidence of fame and glory – will one day end.
Only who he was in God would endure.
The song says: “What have I become, My sweetest friend?
Everyone I know, Goes away in the end.
You could have it all, My empire of dirt,
I will let you down, I will make you hurt.”
Johnny realized that everything he had accomplished was only temporary. Both his triumph and his pain would ultimately fade in light of eternity.
Although the museum held a wonderful collection, I was a bit sad as I left. It made me miss the Man in Black. It made me miss my dad.
I know they are both in heaven. This is not the end of the story.
I am thankful that in this museum paying tribute to a great country star, it also pays tribute to our God who changes lives and promises us forever.

Friday, May 24, 2013

A Thank You to Teachers

I come from a long line of school teachers. My grandmother, Elsie Benson Storms, taught in a one-room country schoolhouse in Iowa. She continued teaching well into her late 30s, which delayed her marriage to my grandfather.
In the early part of the 1900s teachers signed contracts that required them to abide by the following set of strict rules:
  1. You will not marry during the term of your contract. You are not to keep company with men.
  2. You must be home between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless attending a school function.
  3. You may not loiter downtown in any ice cream stores.
  4. You may not travel beyond the city limits unless you have the permission of the chairman of the board.
  5. You may not smoke cigarettes.
  6. You may not under any circumstances dye your hair.
  7. You may not dress in bright colors.
  8. You may not ride in a carriage or automobile with any man unless he is your father or brother.
  9. You must wear at least two petticoats.
  10. Your dresses must not be any shorter than two inches above the ankle.
While this list seems amusing and amazingly restrictive to our modern day minds, it stemmed from the way society viewed teachers. In that rural landscape, teachers were held in high regard – and expected to be role models for the children.

Like my grandmother, my parents were both school teachers. My dad taught junior high social studies for 30 years, and my mom is now retired after a long career in the field of special education. My sister carries on the family tradition by teaching second grade. I am a college professor, teaching print media.

As a child, I knew my parents worked hard. They would bring home tall stacks of papers to grade in the evenings. I remember helping my dad average end of term grades, and preparing bulletin boards and craft projects for my mom’s class.

Through my family’s example and through the many teachers who have impacted my own life, I have seen that teaching is an honorable profession. It is a job that promises little financial reward and demands great effort, discipline and patience. Teachers must smile every day, whether they are feeling well or not. They have to deal with students who don’t behave, who don’t listen, and who don’t always learn. They are asked to be patient, creative, kind, and faithful.

Teachers grade endless papers, checking for the same mistakes. They review the same curriculum year after year, helping each generation of young people learn the names of the same 50 states and the correct way to construct a paragraph. Although they are now allowed to marry and frequent ice cream shops, they are still expected to be role models for those they teach.

The National Education Association reports that almost 4 million teachers will be needed by the year 2014. And, they estimate, almost half of the new teachers hired will leave the profession in the first five years of teaching due to working conditions and low salaries.

Take time today to thank the teachers you know. Remember also those teachers who have been instrumental in your own life – the ones who gave you words of encouragement or who pointed you toward the profession you do today.

Remember to express your gratitude to your children’s teachers – to those men and women who patiently serve your child on a daily basis.

Donald Quinn once wrote that “If a doctor, lawyer, or dentist had 40 people in his office at one time, all of whom had different needs, and some of whom didn't want to be there and were causing trouble, and the doctor, lawyer, or dentist, without assistance, had to treat them all with professional excellence for nine months, then he might have some conception of the classroom teacher's job.”

To the teachers who have changed my own life (Mrs. Hart, Mrs. Grossner, Mrs. Devane, Mrs. McElry, Mr. Pitts, Mrs. Jankowski, Mr. Gansauer, Dr. De Rosset, Dr. James, to name just a few...) thank you for the many ways you have made a difference in my life.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Plain Dress: Women, Clothing and Personal Identity

I've been reading a great deal about women and clothing lately. First, I picked up the book Talking from 9 to 5: Women and Men at Work by Deborah Tannen. Years earlier, I had read Tannen's book You Just Don't Understand: Men, Women and Conversation and found the differences between the ways men and women communicate fascinating.

In this later book, she shifts the discussion to gender differences in the workplace.

She discusses the idea that women are always "marked" in the workplace by their clothing choices. In other words, there is no standard style to which women can conform - other than to adop the men's style. For some women, wearing a grey, navy, or black business suit allows them to fit in with the men at their office. They crop their hair or pull it back into a bun. They look: "professional."

Other women wrestle each day with clothing choices. Is my skirt too short? Is my outfit too "sexy" or "dowdy" or "trendy" or "professional"? Even how we style and cut our hair says something about us. It always feels like we are making a statement by how we look.

Tannen describes how, at a recent business conference, she noticed all the men from her office were dressed alike. They all had variations of the same outfit - dark pants, light colored shirt, tie, brown or black shoes. They even had basically the same haircut. By conforming to expectation, they are "unmarked."

Then, she looked at her female colleagues. One looked overtly sexy with tossled hair and high heels. The second looked somewhat matronly with comfort shoes and slacks. The third, a decided feminist had limited makeup and chose earthy fabrics. Each, by her style, was making a distinctive statement about who she was. She was "marked."

Oh the pressure!

In a Christian workplace, the choice is even more bewildering - with added moral pressure. Not only are we to look professional - but godly - the Proverbs 31 woman at the office. We are to look feminine, but not too sexual. Many women, I've noticed, solve this by adopting a more masculine, asexual style. They wear short, cropped hair, dark colors, and conservative clothing choices.

A biography of early Christian workers shows that, to be taken seriously, many of them began to wear the Plain style of the Quakers or Friends. They work dark, simple, floor length dresses. They wore plain dark bonnets. They avoided any frills or fashionable detials. They wanted to be "unmarked" in a sense - but were actually "marking" themselves as set apart from other women - more serious about God and life.

For Amanda Berry Smith (pictured above) - this choice of the Plain style was intentional - I wanted to be a "consistent, downright, outright Christian," she wrote. Many women in Amish and Quaker orders continue this style today - although it makes them distinctively "marked" when they leave their unique and isolated communities.
How are women to dress? Should we care about our clothing? Should we try to be "unmarked" in the office? What do our outward choices of style say about our inward character and identity? Heavy questions.
I don't think I could ever be a Quaker. I love shopping and clothing and style too much. But, right or wrong, I have learned to adapt (somewhat) to my surroundings, to set aside frills when I want to be taken seriously.
I remember one day, when I slipped a bit and wore a leopard-printed skirt to a mainly male-attended business meeting. As I took notes using a pink pen, one of my male colleagues said to me, "What are you doing? Legally Blonde?"
I'm not blonde - not even close - but I had let my feminine self surface in the midst of the sea of navy blue business suits. Most of the time, I keep it in check.
What do your style choices say about you?