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Education Proves Key in Two Diverse Memoirs with Common Threads

west_9780399590504_jkt_all_r2.inddSince writing my own memoir, Tarnished Haloes, Open Hearts in 2008 I’m often drawn to the memoirs of others.  From the moment I began to read Tara Westover’s memoir, Educated, I couldn’t put it down.  I kept thinking:  “The next chapter will be the one here she defies her father’s screwed-up ultimatums.” Instead she repeatedly returned to her dysfunctional family knowing she’d be physically abused by one of her brothers while her parents refused to call his hand.

I’m working on a memoir for Phyllis Edwards Miller, who despite spending her childhood and youth strapped in a family overwhelmed with economic and social barriers, casts her dream of becoming a medical doctor toward her education. From her entry in the first grade onward, Phyllis latches on to education to fulfill her dream of becoming an M.D.

Thus, I have found it intriguing to consider the similarities, as well as the radical differences, on education shared by Phyllis and Tara.

First, let me state my premise. Both women are mentally gifted individuals endowed with strong self-determination goals who find their lives expanded through education.  From that point on their differences abound.

Mr. Westover, Tara’s father, is a Mormon survivalist whose interpretation of Scripture leads him to isolate his family from many things—among them is public education.  Tara is 17 before she steps foot in a classroom!

Mr. Edwards, Phyllis’ father, whose mother taught school, strongly backed the pursuit of education for his children.  Phyllis was like a sponge, absorbing the offerings of academia.

Hospitals and doctors are on Tara’s father’s “bad list”.  Consequently when Tara and other members of her family become sick the only cure they’re offered comes from Tara’s mother, an unlicensed, self-proclaimed midwife.

While the Edwards family welcome doctors and medicine they cringe over the cost of such services.

Tara grew up in rural Idaho where her family, consisting of a mother, daddy and six children, was self-quarantined by her father’s psychotic decrees.

Phyllis’ home turf was an isolated rural community in East Tennessee, consisting of a mother, father, one brother, Aunt Laurie, and a host of relatives.

Both Phyllis and Tara were victims of poverty and social mores.  Tara’s situation was far more debilitating than that which Phyllis experienced.  Tara’s father spoke as God’s prophet.  Phyllis’ mother was the religious anchor in their family with her father giving it lip service only.

The home Phyllis grows up in a family welded together by the love and laughter of her mother and a father who had trouble expressing his feelings.  The home Tara grows up in, while displaying several genuine heart moments, is riddled with mental health issues.

For more than 50 weeks Educated has remained on the New York Times bestseller list.  Educated left me with an annoying conclusion:  How can one girl at 17 educate herself enough to pass the entrance exam to Brigham Young University, get a degree from Cambridge, England, then Yale and back again to Cambridge?  While she is piling up a stack of degrees she still returns home, hoping against hope she may change her family!

Please read Educated and share your thoughts with me.  I’d love to read your reactions to this powerful memoir.

MY HOPES FOR 2019

shutterstock_1238137693I plan to watch less national news coverage and to balance my preferences between my favorite and least favorite commentators.

I plan to maintain an inner core of peace, joy, and hope.  This way I’ll accomplish focusing on the things that matter most to me.

I’ll deepen my relationships with family and friends who share my spiritual and vocational goals.

I’ll intentionally increase my contacts with those in my community who need a hug, a love pat, an encouraging smile, or just someone who will listen to them.shutterstock_1226064001

I’ll use my God-given talent as a writer to magnify the lives of lesser-known people who do extraordinary things for others.

I’ll continue to monitor my Type 2 diabetes with check-ups, medication, diet, exercise, meditation, and laughter.

I’ll intentionally accept the “Glorious Impossibles” of life, believing the things that matter most defies our rational minds.

In all aspects of my life may it be said of me that instead of arriving I’m always moving toward becoming. And when, not if, I falter on any of my above goals I’ll work harder at finding something each day that makes me laugh or heightens my joy.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Giving Back Reflects Bible Story

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Advent, always a moving spiritual journey to me, has been greatly enhanced this year. A card I received from my Alan and Timothy reads:

Merry Christmas, Mom!

We have given $1,000 in your honor to the First Baptist Church of Chattanooga Homeless Brunch for 2018.

Love, Alan and Timothy

They also said: Mom, your service and care for those less fortunate inspires us. We know how much you care about the homeless adults and children in Chattanooga and wanted to honor that noble work!

Alan and Timothy were referring to the 12th brunch First Baptist Church, Chattanooga provided for the needy in our midst. I would estimate that, this year, at least 150 of our church members were actively involved in making this venture a huge success. We ministered to well over 300 people despite inclement weather. It was particularly moving to see young children delivering biscuits covered in gravy or handing out orange juice to our guests.

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Me, helping pack bags for clients

Table hostesses, like myself, saw to it that everyone felt welcomed and that no one went away hungry. Volunteers had pre-packed bright red goody bags for the guests that included easy-to-open cans of meat and fruit, socks, body care tools, and even toilet paper. It gave me deep joy to know that all of the $1,000 donated in my behalf went into the goody bag contents.

More than 60 sacks of books and goodies also were given away. A highlight of the brunch was when a pre-teen girl came to my table and handed me a copy of my book, Trailblazer, Part One, asking, “Would you please sign this for me?” All I can say is, “WOW!”

Other brunch-time activities involved the visitors having their picture taken with Santa, gifts being given to each child, and musical offerings were played throughout the morning. Of course, the day involved lots and lots of hugs too!

In Matthew 25: 31-46 Jesus tells a story of what it will be like in the final days. The characters in the story are Jesus, sheep, goats, and massive groups of people in dire circumstances. The King is identifying certain good and bad traits of what he refers to as “Kingdom people.” His distinguishing markers are:

I was hungry and you fed me.
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink.
I was homeless and you gave me clothes.
I was sick and you stopped to visit.
I was in prison and you came to me.

Then Jesus adds the compelling statement, Inasmuch as you did to one of the least of these you did it to Me!

It strikes me quite powerfully that this passage offers no biblical requirements for entry, but it simply addresses a life that responds in loving deeds to the plight of mankind.

G A T E W A Y

photos of the community Christmas Brunch from the weekly Gateway publication

I’M THANKFUL

For my family and friends, both far away and nearby

For meaningful work that makes demands on my mind, heart and physical stamina

For questions that defy simple answers

I’m grateful for the sacred privilege of voting in America, even when my vote fails to win a majority. Expressing my choices is important to my mental health.

For shared laughs and engaging conversations

For worship hymns: those that comfort me; those that confront me

For my host of encouragers

For the indomitable energy of children and youth

For my adult friends who in the midst of great pain express joy

For Signal Mountain vistas that has my heart clapping for joy

For quiet moments I share with God.


Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. ~ Philippians 4:6
I thank my God upon every remembrance of you. ~Philippians 1:3

TIME OUT!

While I enjoy the craft of writing, I find that taking short breaks from such a demanding professional task to be most helpful. My breaks include physical and mental exercises, gardening, and people tending.

My favorite exercise is water aerobics. The group’s camaraderie as we splash through the water is invigorating. In our gym I get serious as I huff and puff on our stair master machine. Once a week I top off my exercise regime by bowling with a small group of friends.
 
I also combine taking long walks with rehashing segments of a manuscript, communing with nature, and meditating on God’s goodness.

For additional mental and spiritual breaks, I lean toward competing against my computer in a game of Scrabble and sipping my morning coffee from my patio as I contemplate Scripture. From this vantage point I drink in the beauty of my flower garden and the bounty of its surroundings.

the garden in summer

My mom was super great at growing flowers, as likewise was her mother before her. In my mid-adult years I never envisioned myself as a gardener. However, today, as a senior adult, I’ve found my flower garden, adjacent to my patio, to be an unexpected and welcome joy.

Now, every May I begin dressing my patio in pink and white Mandevilla and crimson carnations and begin soaking in the beauty provided by three knock-out rose bushes, hydrangeas, rhododendrons, and a variety of plants designated to attract monarch butterflies. My two bird feeders and one hummingbird feeder are in constant use. Nearby is a birdhouse that is currently empty, but it provided a home for two bluebird families this past spring.

GOD’S CLOWN; MY ENABLER

Eloise, smiling as usual

Fans are to a writer what blood is to life.  From my first book, Tarnished Haloes, Open Hearts, through my Trailblazer trilogy, my dear friend Eloise Litz was my enduring enabler.  Her notes to me were always an ode to joy, filled with affirmations.

Eloise spent her life pursuing excellence as a wife and mother, a music educator and encouraging all of us to take ourselves a little less seriously.  She must have had a jillion pithy sayings through laughter.

Eloise came into my life after I joined First Baptist of Chattanooga over 20 years ago, shortly after I’d shared with a few people “My Pillow’s Secret.”  I don’t know how she found out about my article, but what I do remember is that she was quick to affirm both my son and me.

Through the intervening years our friendship grew by leaps and bounds. One sweltering summer, we traversed Chickamauga National Park, visited the arts center in downtown Chattanooga and explored Chattanooga’s riverfront vista from the Delta Queen as members of The International Support group at First Baptist, along with our Kurdistan friend and her children.

My beloved Eloise passed away this week at age 98.  Music was her alter ego.  The snippet taken from a hymn is how I picture Eloise when she arrives at her new abode.

And when from death I‘m free I’ll sing on I’ll sing on
And when from death I’m free I’ll sing on
And when from death I’m free I’ll sing and joyful be
And through eternity I will sing on, sing on

Gabriel, get ready to sound your trumpet.  Eloise is on her way.  You’re going to love Eloise.

Me?  I’m lonesome.  I’m sad.  Eloise wouldn’t want me wallow in my loss, but to get on with living this abundant life!


The stanzas above are from the lovely hymn What Wondrous Love Is This.

Seeking Inclusion, Authenticity in My Faith Journey

When I graduated from Southwestern Seminary in 1956 I was proud of my alma mater’s academic leadership. In stark contrast 60 years later I am left speechless when I learn that some leaders of that same institution have used biblical jargon to argue that women, if abused, must endure silently. This blows my mind! Women should always speak out when they are harassed or sexually abused. Shame on male authority figures who have the audacity to tell women to suffer in silence. I suppose I should not be surprised given how the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) shifted from its roots in the 1980s. Let me give you my view on that change now, more than 40 years ago.

When I was a teen in the 1940s, I thought anything coming from the SBC was pure gold. This escalated during my college years at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor when I became part of a summer working team aligned with what Texas Baptists called “The Invincibles.” We were asked to find places in our home state of Texas that were not planning to offer a vacation bible school. After a week of intensive training we were ready to accept anything except no for an answer.While working on my master’s of religious education degree at Southwestern Seminary, I spent my summers directing bible schools and camp activities. During my summer work I delighted in creating biblical characters that keep children who attended spellbound. I was proud to be a Southern Baptist, a missionary, and an educator.ee14b-screen2bshot2b2018-06-282bat2b2-30-452bpm

In the 1970s, however, turmoil erupted within the Southern Baptist Convention. By then I was a pastor’s wife and public school teacher. I couldn’t believe how political and divided our convention was becoming under the leadership of some of the same people who have been in the news in 2018. The controversy had become full-blown by the time I attended a critical 1985 SBC in Dallas. The fundamentalist leadership of the SBC, with strong ties to the Moral Majority political movement, was successful in gaining control of the SBC. My Southern Baptist moderate pride lay shattered, and I sensed our convention would never include both moderates and fundamentalists again. The fundamentalists had taken control.

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At CBF convention in 2017

Even so, it was a difficult decision for me to leave the SBC in the early 1990s. I had many friends on both sides of the controversy, and my deceased husband’s church was still aligned with the SBC. Ultimately I began identifying with the newly formed progressive group called the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF). The SBC’s increasing shift toward a conventional and narrow view of what it meant to be Christian challenged me to have the courage to follow my core religious beliefs about inclusive love toward a new faith community, leaving behind a group that had nurtured and formed me for decades.

12e54-fbc2bwelcomesMake a final fast forward move and you’ll find me as a member of First Baptist Church (FBC) of Chattanooga, proudly aligned with the CBF. Out of my CBF ties I acquired a special friend in Dr. John Pierce. While he served as interim pastor of our FBC of Chattanooga, I touched base with him about a manuscript I was working on about my relationship to the LGBTQ community and my own faith. John immediately took me under his wing and helped me organize my thoughts into a coherent format. When I completed Tarnished Haloes, Open Hearts, John, who was the executive director of Baptists Today, an independent news publication, shared with me that Baptist Today was establishing its own publication company. WOW! My son, Alan, and his partner, Timothy, helped fund my initial publication, and the rest is history. This past spring Nurturing Faith published my fifth book, Trailblazer, Part Two. Trailblazer, Part Three is in the final editing stage this summer.

Despite the disappearance of the SBC of my childhood, I have found alternatives that allow me to be authentic in my spiritual journey in a climate of honesty and humility.

To find out more about:

 

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