Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Power of Language

Words have power.

Consider which you would rather be known as: famous or notorious. Both mean approximately the same thing: being widely known for a trait, a skill, or a characteristic. Most of us would prefer famous to notorious though my grandmother would probably have told you that her preference depended upon who was offering the descriptor. That was not my first acquaintance with the power of language though.

My mother's family was known for their ability to tell great stories and conversation was a form of entertainment. The easiest way to start a brouhaha was to try to tell a story for which some other member of the family was known. You would be given an immediate invitation to repent: "Nobody tells that story like Bob does." Failure to repent would result in specific instructions to "get your own story."

Even before I was exposed to the family's stories, my fourth grade teacher (Miss Eva Saxon) really focused my attention on the power of words. One of my previous teachers had described me as "chatty." Miss Eva saw me as having "strong verbal skills which we need to channel to her advantage." Decades later, when I taught, I tried to emulate her focus on the positive. In the younger grades, when a parent would apologize for their child talking too much in class (a description they shared with me from previous teachers), I would tell them how important a child's oral language was as a foundation for learning to read.

Miss Eva was one of three maiden sisters who taught in our district. One had already retired and the other taught me in high school. All three sisters were known for their no nonsense demeanor and their wardrobes. They wore business suits in rather drab colors with a single splash of color.

Miss Annabelle (the algebra teacher) always wore a very colorful blouse or it may have been just a dickey. We never knew which because she never removed her jacket. The oldest of the sisters wore a business suit and a bright scarf the only time I ever saw her (in the grocery store). Miss Eva had a plethora of colorful handkerchiefs, one of which she pinned with a cameo on her left shoulder when she entered the school building and removed when she left.  The one time I saw her outside of school was in the grocery store and I didn't recognize her without the handkerchief.

She also taught me how to use the words "acceptable" and "appropriate" in the classroom. When we broke a rule, she would quietly say, "That's really not acceptable behavior at school." If our behavior didn't break a rule but did disrupt class, she would sweetly say, "That's not appropriate here or now." The way she said it was enough to make the devil himself repent. Neither of the sisters I knew ever raised their voices. I followed that lead in my classrooms as well.

My junior year of high school, I had two great language masters as teachers. Miss Ethel Thompson taught English literature. The summer before she taught me, she had broken both hips but she insisted upon teaching that last year to match her mother's and her sister's record of 60 years of teaching. Her dresses came almost to the floor and her shoes were clunky, chunky two inch heels. Her walk was very stilted with tiny little steps. Only years later did I realize why.

Every day she met us at the door and welcomed us in. She would then shuffle over to the straight backed wooden chair by her desk. Our class assignment was on the board when we entered as was our homework assignment for the next day. She would sit in her chair, back ramrod straight, both feet firmly on the floor, hands clasped gracefully in her lap. As soon as she did that, everyone sat absolutely still and every mouth closed. She would take out her grade book, look around the room, noting who was there and who was not. Not a word was spoken. She would look up at the class, seeming to make eye contact with each of us.

Then, without a book in hand, she would say softly, "Let us begin" and she would conduct the entire class sans book quoting whole chapters it seemed. No one dared make a move or a sound for fear of losing some pearl of knowledge from her lips. Well.....not really. It wasn't so much the pearls of knowledge we feared to lose.

There was a legend that a few years before, a class clown had not been quiet during her class. After several glances of reproof, she had stood up and carried her chair to the hallway, closing the door behind her. She returned to the class five minutes before the end of class and  replaced the homework assignment with "Prepare for an exam over chapters 3-5. "

When the class erupted in protest, she held up one spindly little hand, smiled sweetly, and said, "I know you are already prepared since you did not require instruction today. Good day." She walked to the door, opened it, and dismissed class.

Clyde went to her that afternoon, after having been harassed by his classmates for most of the day,
and begged her not to give the test. She firmly held her ground. She gave the test and no one knew until they got their final grade that it had not counted. But, none of us wanted to take any chances.

The second great language master was Miss Sandra Worthington who taught speech and drama and coached the debate team. She looked like a fashion model: tall, slim, skin like porcelain, and always elegantly dressed. She also wore the tallest heels of the day. Her Introduction to Public Speaking class was a requirement of ninth grade English. She taught us diction, enunciation, and pronunciation.

Diction, according to her, was the "elegant choice of just the right word or phrase." Enunciation was the "proper execution of each sound" in the word and pronunciation was the combination of enunciation and proper accent in the word. As Henny Youngman might have said if he had known her, "She could tell you to go to the privy and make it sound like such an elegant place to go." The combination of the three, according to her, would result in eloquence.

Besides being a stickler for details, she also expected hard work of the debate team and drama casts and crews. We did not get Christmas holidays off  if we were members of the team, cast, or crew. Instead, the debate team met weekly to turn in assignments and receive new ones. The drama casts and crews had three rehearsals a week. None of us did much dating during the season. I was very grateful my senior year when she allowed me to take a four day trip to Virginia with my father and his wife to visit my grandparents and brother. Never mind that she gave me double assignments.

In addition to the hardships, she kept a sharp eye for talent. No matter how meager one's natural attributes might be, she always made time to discuss our "strengths and needs." We never had weaknesses. We just "needed some work." Because of her, my scholarships to college were delivered to me in January before I filed my application to the college in August.

In each of these instances, I learned the power of language. Words can break a spirit or foster a dream but, either way, the power of language is exhibited. These three teachers healed my broken spirit and made me believe I could do anything I set my mind to and I have.

The Double-edged Sword of Rote Memory

While there are those who would disparage the use of rote memory in worship, there is evidence that memorization can play an important part in worship. There is a notion that every time rote memory is engaged, it devalues that worship to mindless ritual. But, what neuroscience has discovered about the types of memory and how each is acquired tells us differently.

Unless you are one of those people who has a photographic memory, establishing a rote memory requires multiple recitations. Each recitation stores only a fragment of the whole of the targeted information, thus creating a sort of concordance. That concordance is important because it makes the essence of the memory available under different circumstances and for varied purposes.

For that reason, Scriptures and prayers that are memorized become available in varied situations for varied reasons. That knowledge helped me to understand the difference between suffering the loss of rote memory and enduring that loss.

The loss of rote memory happened to me, as it does to many people, as the result of a closed head injury. Although my therapist had assured me that I would eventually be able to access the memory, though not in whole, I panicked in disbelief. After several years of working to re-establish the mundane items one normally knows (mathematical items such as telephone numbers, social security numbers, and basic math facts), I found I was able to access Scriptures, poems, and prayers using the essence of the meaning of those data. Words to songs are less easy to access. I've learned to use my “personal concordance” to help me access information memorized decades ago.

Fortunately, I was trained by my Sunday School and VBS teachers to memorize Scriptures. We were also taught to “pray the Scriptures,” using them as the basis of prayers. An interesting outcome of this is the Gloria Patria which I memorized in the 1970s. I still can access that prayer in only one circumstance. When I am praying fervently for some emergency or in such emergency, the Gloria comes to me in whole when the prayer is being answered. I have learned, when that happens, to act on that assurance as though I can see it with my natural senses. I find that fascinating but reassuring.

Having shared these circumstances, I'll share also the plight of those with photographic memories. Though they are able to recite passages (prayers, poetry, Scriptures), those passages have no meaning except the sequence of the words and, so, no “personal concordance” is built. How sad that the great truths and the great beauties of all those memorized passages are lost to them!

One of the best things that happened to me in my doctoral studies was the course on Neuropsychology which transformed what I had considered suffering into enduring. At the time, I thought the course was useless but the Lord had other Ideas and I'm so glad He did.

Friday, February 20, 2015


Parenting is the only job you will ever have where ALL the training is "on the job." Some technical schools call it "just in time training." I wish I could assure you that your parenting training will always be "just in time." However, there is a way to beat that problem. Look at the parents and teachers you have known whom you admired. Since parents are the first teachers a child has, I copied, without apology, the positive examples and learned from the negative examples.

I had a wonderful fourth grade teacher who saw "Chatty Cathies" as children with "strong verbal skills which should be channeled to their advantage." Research decades later supported her supposition that "strong verbal skills" contribute to becoming good readers. She saw stubborn children not as willlful but as persistent and said that made them be "persistent to task." Again, research decades later supporter her. Miss Annabelle would probably have seen children whom others call "stupid" as "having undeveloped potential." To this day (60 yrs later) I still appreciate this woman and, when I parented and when I taught, I tried to emulate her. 

Another great teacher I had was my Sunday School teacher, Mrs. Anita Garrison. She taught us that obeying our parents was training for obeying God. She taught us that obeying them was not a one at a time decision but a commitment. She explained that if we just made the decision that we would be obedient, we would have a much easier time obeying them than if we looked at everything they told us to do as a decision we had to make. I didn't understand that for a very long time. But, when I made the commitment to follow Jesus, I didn't have to make a decision for every choice (or temptation) I faced because I had already made that decision once and for all time. Once I made the decision to "do it as unto the Lord," that all made more sense.

When we got our first foster children, those discussions came back to me. That's when I realized what an awesome job parenting is. It's up to parents to deal with their children with the same consistency that God deals with us. That's how we train them to expect consistency from God and that helps them to know how to recognize temptation.

It's a lot like using a yardstick to measure inches and feet. The distance between each inch and the number of inches in each foot and the number of feet in each yard will always be the same. That's how it is with God's expectations of us. They are consistent and knowable and reliable.

Why are all these lessons so important?

Every interaction a parent has with a child is a lesson we are teaching. That means what we do as well as what we say is a lesson for them. When our actions don't match our words, that too is a lesson. It's a lesson in unfaithfulness. They may never process it in that manner but they will imitate it.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Each of us battles our own personal hypocrite

When I worked with children and young adults with disabilities, I had one iron clad rule. Never avoid or accommodate limitations which should be confronted. And, yet, recently I found myself doing exactly the thing I forbade them to do.

A little over three years ago, I took a hard fall on my right arm on a tile floor. For a few days, it was just sore. Then, it became sharp stabbing pains. As I relinquished to it, the pain dulled. After several months, I asked our parish nurse to recommend an orthopedist. She gave me the name of several. When I asked her to tell me about them, I quickly realized they were orthopedic surgeons and, just as quickly, I crossed them off my "to do" list.

As time went by, I began to limit more and more activities as each one became either more difficult or more painful. It wasn't until we had returned to our former house in NC and needed help dressing that I realized I needed help.

Fear of the likelihood of its being a torn rotator cuff drove me to an orthopedist up here whom I already knew. His office referred me to the sports medicine specialist there. He gave me a shot and scheduled me for physical therapy three times a week. The therapist group are very good. They have "homework" assignments.

Yesterday was a milestone! I took my pea coat on and off without any help! Not once but three times! This was the first time in well over a year that I had been able to do that. In fact, I have only two blouses with set-in sleeves that I can put on alone.

As I mentally congratulated myself on my progress, I realized that all those students whom I had held to that higher standard now had every right to call me a hypocrite. I had expected them to confront their limitations before avoiding or accommodating them but I had not.

Lesson learned. If confrontation does not produce success; then, and only then, should we try to avoid or accommodate the limitation. I put this in writing so I will be reminded and, if it aids you, even better.

Our Value in God's Eyes

This morning in Sunday School, our teacher Theresa Z Arnold was teaching from Psalms and she reminded me of something I heard when we were at Bethany Christian Church.

 A preacher named Tommy Oaks was talking about our insignificance in the broad scheme of things. He told us to imagine a thick black line all the way around the ceiling of the room. (For BCC members, we were in the original sanctuary before it was expanded.)

He said, "Now, imagine that line is printed in dot matrix. For those of you who are not into computers, a dot matrix printer prints what looks to the human eye like a solid line. But, it's not. It's really thousands of tiny dots crammed together so close that the human eye can't perceive the individual dots. Each of us is but a dot on a dot on a dot within that line. As insignificant as each of those dots is, we are even less....except in God's Eye. And, yet, to Him we were important enough for Him to sacrifice His Own Son for our sins."

 His use of the word "perceive" reminded me of something that had happened several years before when we lived in Marietta.
Renee Wright was visiting us and we were all three in the front yard looking up at a beautiful starry sky.

It was such a bright night that all three of us lay in the grass looking up. David pointed out various constellations. And, then it hit me!

I said, "Before the light from the fartherest of those stars left on its journey to where we now stand, God already had a plan for our lives and wanted to know us and see us fulfill that plan." As I think about it now, I know that before God set that star in its place, He already knew me and that takes my breath away.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Guarding our Eyes

We have had two pastors who talked a lot about "guarding" our eyes. This phrase certainly came to mind last night as the half time show of the Super Bowl was aired. That, in turn, reminded me of a book by Albert E. Day: "Discipline and Discovery." I have had an outline of that book in the front pages of every Bible I have owned since I read the book. [Note a previous posting: "Six steps to Purity."]

Two of the major premises of that book came to mind: (1) Set a watch on the door of your eyes, and (2) Guard your imagination. That, in turn, reminded me of King David and his experience with Bathsheba II Samuel 11 ff.

"One evening David got up from his bed and strolled around on the roof of the palace. From the roof, he saw a woman bathing-a very beautiful woman. David send someone to inquire about her and he reported, "This is Bathsheba, daughter of Eliam and wife of Uriah the Hitite. David send messengers to get her and when she came to him, he slept with her."

Notice the progression:
(1) mindless idleness (He got up from bed and began to stroll aimlessly around.)
(2) he turned his eyes where he should not
(3) he pursued the object of his attentions
(4) he used his authority to engage her
(5) he sinned
(6) he engaged others in sinning to cover up his own sins.

The story goes on. The outcome of what began as aimlessness soon became focused. First, he focused on how he could cover up his sin by blaming the outcome on someone else. Then, he added murder to his cover up abusing his authority to get the deed done.

The Lord told David that his entire family will bear consequences from his sin. They were not being punished for David's sin. Instead, they were caught up in the natural consequences of being related to a sinful father. To David's credit, he recognized his sin, repents, and sought to serve the Lord for the rest of his days even while continuing to bear the consequences of his sins.

And, it all started when he failed to guard his eyes.

Out of our Comfort Zone

The way it came to me was as David and I were driving along the beach road talking about all the extraordinary events we have experienced together and the wonderful people we have met along the way. At almost the same time, it hit both of us that none of that began until we were willing to "step out of our comfort zone" and leave Rome where we knew so many people and were well known, trusting that God was indeed leading us to do that.

We drove on for several minutes pondering what we had just realized. The ferry came to my mind's eye and I described it to him. Later as I was talking with one of our pastors about this epiphany, he pointed out that the part of the ship under water is that which causes it to float and to move. He suggested I bring it up at house church, which I did.

One of our members is a lifelong sailor (as in sailing ships). He pointed out that not only does flotation and mobility come from below the waterline but so does stability in storms (because that's where the ballast is). So, as we have shared this with prayer partners (remember the part about "withstands the scrutiny of other prayerful Christians" as being a part of testing decisionmaking for God's Will as contrasted with our own), more of the meaning has been revealed.

Lessons From The Roman Circus

As I watched the Opening Ceremonies from the 2012 Olympics in London, I was reminded once again of the Roman Circuses. For hundreds of years, the Roman Empire dominated the world, bringing back more and more exotic animals and foreign customs. In spite of the contributions the Empire gave the world (the Appian Way, aquaducts, a uniform highway system, "representation" in government and a universal currency to name only a few), other contributions were not so positive.
As the cost of all this centralization rose, "representation" became more focused on the elite than on the common citizen and taxes became more repressive to the poor. The elite became so wealthy and their appetites so excessive that soon they were jaded. The circuses were the answer both to the oppressors and to the oppressed.

The circuses began with displays of conquered people and the native animals of exotic lands. The spectators soon tired of these so gladiators were added. While the gladiators added to the excitement and offered an adrenalin rush, they were also a subtle reminder of the "might that was Rome." The elite became jaded quickly and unrest about a strange new religion called Christianity fueled the fires of an unhappy populace. The official religions of Rome were not sufficient as more and more people began to adopt Christianity and, in so doing, developed a peace that was not the Peace of Rome. Emperors added Christians to the gladiators' battles but they proved to lack the excitement since the Christians were willing to die rather than kill. Lions soon replaced the gladiators and the gore they produced as they tore the Christians apart titillated for a while until the observers began to wonder why these victims looked more like winners. Not long after, the spectacle of the Roman Circuses no longer distracted the populace from their oppressions.
The same pattern was repeated in China, Russia, Germany, and others. Even England was not immune as the landed gentry's excesses grew. The Magna Carta and later the addition of a Parliamentry government were the first attempts to hold down the masses. World War I and World War II both helped to provide England with a reprise from unrest.

Six Generations of Gardeners

The women in my mother's family are known for their gardens.I am (at least) the sixth generation of gardeners in my mother's family. I've only known three generations other than myself and each of us has a different philosophy....or maybe just a progression of philosophies.

My great grandmother and grandmother lived with us for about six months before Granny decided she wanted to spend her final days at her son's farm. So, she and Bebe moved to the farm. I spent my weekends, holidays, and summer with them on the farm. I learned a lot from Granny about plants. She would describe a plant to me and tell me how to look for it. I would then spend hours looking for it and take her the leaf to verify my find.

Granny said you could look at a person's yard and tell the condition of that family. If they grew vegetables, she said they had hope. If they grew fruit, they had a sense of permanence. If they grew flowers, they had joy. I think of that so often when I drive through an area of homes.

After Granny died, Bebe moved back in with my mother and me and lived with us until I married. Bebe's philosophy had a bit different focus. She was a very practical person and her philosophy reflected that. She said it was a foolish person who would buy commercial fertilizers when God gives us so much natural fertilizer. I never heard her use the word compost. Instead she used the verb forms: composting, composted, composts. When I complained once that I couldn't grow ferns, she said if you want to have a green thumb, just learn what you can grow well and grow lots of it. Then, people will think you have a green thumb and before long, so will you.

My mother always said only edible plants should be brought inside though she made exception for Christmas cactus, one of her favorites. She also had a soft spot for amaryllis and mandevilla. She had an eight foot by four foot window installed in her basement so she could bring them inside for the winter. Until her eightieth birthday, she refused to have cut flowers in the house. A friend, at her eightieth birthday party, violated Mother's ban against cut flowers and brought her a dozen red roses. Mother accepted them graciously, later saying she wondered why she had never like cut flowers. I didn't remind her that she had always equated them with funerals.

My philosophy toward gardening includes some of their ideas with a twist of my own. I have a very obedient garden. When I plant a seed or a plant, I lovingly put them in the ground and then I say, “Live or die, durn you!” And, they always or the other. If they live, they become a plant. If they die, they become compost. Either way, they add to the success of my garden and give me the feeling I might actually be learning something about gardening!

So, my dears, ponder how you feel about gardening. Is it something other people do? If you do garden, what do you grow and why?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

"Of an age"

We have just returned from the memorial service for Abbie Anderegg (brother Jim's widow) out in Tucson, AZ. The service was truly a celebration of her life. All four children, two of the three grandchildren, David, and I were in attendance. Brother Richard had come to see Abbie a few months ago when his wife was in better health. Unfortunately, Abbie probably was not certain of who he was.

It was noted during one of our meals together that David was the patriarch of that gathering. That reminder made me think of a phrase which my great grandmother, grandmother, and mother were all fond of. They would say, "You are now of an age" to do whatever the new task at hand was. That memory made me think that, indeed, it was appropriate that we make every effort to celebrate the passing of each of our generation.

That is important because it is one of our dwindling opportunities for passing to the next generations an oral history of our generation. During the meals together, we were able to share stories of our generation to the next generation and their children. Those experiences reminded me of when I was growing up when family members would gather to break bread together and afterwards to hear the generation ahead of relate stories of their youth.

Another aspect of those gatherings is the ability to celebrate the Salvation we share with them through the Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that sharing, we can celebrate their life on this earth and their victory over death because of Jesus' sacrifice for us. Having known people who died without that assurance, I am struck by the contrast between their memorials and those of believers.

That brought back a memory of Josh's preschool years. We had taken Josh to VA to meet my grandmother in her last year of life. He had heard stories of her beautiful blue eyes which had closed due to ptosis when she was in her early sixties. When Josh met her, she was blind, almost deaf, and partially paralyzed from a stroke. Despite that, she was cheerful and funny.

When we got the news of her death, I wondered how to break the news to him. I started by reminding him of his meeting her. He contributed the things he remembered from that meeting. Then, I said, "I'm glad you got to meet her but I'm sorry to tell you but Granncie has died."

His reaction was unexpected and one I think I shall never forget. "Hot dog!" he said. "Now, she has her new body and she can see and hear and she can go anywhere she wants to without Miss Katherine's help!"

I was so taken aback! He had grasped the reality that death of the body is a victory if we know Jesus.  He knew, as only a child can, that we were being selfish in our tears because we were thinking--not of her but--of ourselves and the loss we were experiencing.

Dad and I are "of an age" to be able to celebrate that victory for those we love and for ourselves. God is still in control. Our salvation through Jesus supercedes all other events and the separation from our loved ones is only temporary. We will rejoin them in worship of our God in what, in the face of eternity, is a short time.

Love and blessings to all of you! We pray you will celebrate when we come of that age to go to be with Jesus.