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.