Friday, January 23, 2015

Wendy and the Billy Goat

This morning as I was plucking a bristle from my chin I thought of my sister Wendy. It’s one of those things that women past a certain age do, but never really discuss. And Wendy actually has a name for it. She calls one of those pesky whiskers a Billy Goat. I don’t know if she invented this or not. I suspect she did because it’s the sort of thing she would come up with. But she may have picked it up somewhere. I often learn new expressions from her. She was the first person I ever saw raise her palm in the air and put it in my face as she said, “Hey, you’re talkin’ to the hand.” In other words, she didn’t want to hear it. She was also the first person I ever heard use the expression, “She just blew up the bathroom.” Again, apt words for the situation.

When we were growing up, I always found my sister annoying. The last summer I went to Camp Luella May, she went, too. She was in her own cabin, so we didn’t have a lot to say to one another because Wendy was in first grade and I was in sixth grade and that’s the way it works. I was going through my ugly duckling phase and basically hated her for being so damn cute. I have to admit she was just about the cutest kid I ever saw. She had curly blond hair and blue eyes with a dimple in her cheek. For the celebrity lookalike contest at camp I thought I was beyond clever when I put a bathing cap on my head and went as Yul Brynner. On the other hand, Wendy did nothing. Absolutely nothing. She went as Shirley Temple and won the prize. I was pissed. Later that week she was swinging on a rafter in her cabin, fell, and broke her nose. She had to wear a hat on her head for the rest of the week that said Don’t touch my nose and I felt guilty because I hadn’t been a very good sister. But hey -- competition, resentment and guilt -- that’s what sisterhood is built on, isn’t it?

I have a history with my sister that I don’t share with any other living soul on this earth. Although we aren’t able to spend much time together, I think of her constantly because my memories of her are triggered by so many common, everyday things. Last week when I was getting my hair cut, I thought of my sister as the hairdresser started snipping around my ears. Once when we were kids I cut Wendy’s hair and accidently took a chunk out of her ear. (She still reminds me of that from time to time.) I think of Wendy whenever I see a cameo pin, an old drop-leaf table, a guinea pig, an OSU football game on TV, a Labrador retriever, a squirrel at my birdfeeder, a Krispy Kreme donut, asparagus…

Yes, asparagus. The sight of it always makes me think of Wendy. Once just the two of us took a trip to the beach. We had eaten one too many Krispy Kreme donuts and needed a good, healthy dinner. So we found a steakhouse. After we sat down to order, we realized that it was outrageously expensive, but we decided to go for it. We could have gotten a side of asparagus for $20 but our bill was already well above $100 and we decided to forgo it. Still, it must have been some unbelievable asparagus for $20, we thought. Then, as someone at a nearby table was being served, Wendy looked at me and whispered, “Nancy! Look at the asparagus!” I looked over and there were two pieces of asparagus. It tickled us so much that we laughed until we cried. “Two pieces of asparagus!” She kept trying to say the words through her laughter, barely able to speak.  We couldn’t stop laughing and could hardly eat our outrageously priced meal. So, yes, I think of Wendy every time I see asparagus.  

The earliest memories that Wendy and I share are connected to our mother. She died when we were in our 20s. By then we were living in different parts of the country and only saw one another once or twice a year. Whenever we got together, it was like a therapy session as we discussed life with Mom and the way she impacted our lives. Mothers and daughters typically go through a process together, as they age, where they work through the complicated mother/daughter relationship. Without our mom, Wendy and I did that with one another. Eventually we worked it out. We came to accept the fact that our mother wasn’t perfect, just as neither of us are perfect. We forgave her for being human and grew up.

There was a time when my sister would say the words, “You’re just like Mom” to me and I would get my hackles up. Now I own up to it. Yes, I’m like my mother in a lot of ways. But then, so is Wendy. The older we get, the more I see it. We’re both hyper-sensitive, and yet we have a tendency to blurt out what’s on our mind in a way that can sometimes seem insensitive. We don’t hold back when we feel strongly about something. And we find humor in the weirdness of life, particularly our own lives. Just like Mom. I have come to the place in my life where I truly enjoy being in the company of someone who is also “Just like Mom” in so many ways. Wendy lives in Massachusetts now and I’m in North Carolina, so we don’t have the opportunity to spend as much time together as I’d like. But when we are together I always feel a little more complete than I do when we’re apart.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Pooky's Cone of Shame and Cultivating Compassion

Last week my pug Pooky had a tumor removed from her eyelid. It required surgery and she ended up with some stitches. So she has been wearing an Elizabethan collar, otherwise known as the Cone of Shame as I began calling such things after seeing the movie Up a few years ago. It presents unique challenges to a pug for a couple of reasons. First of all, they have no neck so it’s really easy for her to slip out of it. I learned this from past surgeries where it lasted all of 30 minutes. But this time she has one that laces through her collar, so that problem was easily solved. The other thing about pugs is that their faces are all smooshed in, so it’s a long way from her mouth and nose to the end of the cone. I realized we were going to have to remove it for her to eat and drink, but I was surprised to discover another issue the first morning I took her out to relieve herself. She can’t poop with the collar on! That's because she can't poop without smelling the ground. So she kept walking around scooping up mud and gravel in her cone. It was quite comical in a pathetic sort of way. I had to bring her home, remove the cone, rinse it out and take her back outside unencumbered before business was accomplished.

This made me think about the way certain seemingly unrelated functions are often linked for us. I have a friend wouldn’t be able to talk if you tied her hands up.  I am so dependent on my glasses that, when I have them off, I can’t hear what someone is saying to me. Of course, there are more serious linkings in our lives. Like the way people can look around them and yet fail to see because their hearts are closed.

The problems in the world are overwhelming. You don’t have to look very hard to find abundant evidence of greed, cruelty, injustice, and just plain meanness. And yet, most folks don’t see it. Their eyes aren’t functioning properly because they have a heart problem. There is a definite link between eyes and heart. Just as there is a link between justice and compassion.

Years ago I wrote my doctoral dissertation on "Nurturing a Social Consciousness through Church Education." I had lots of wonderful theories and ideas, and they still make sense to me. But the thing I missed in my dissertation is that justice begins with compassion. I couldn't learn that in a review of literature; I learned it from experience. When people I love are treated unjustly, I am compelled to act. No one with an open heart can fail to act for justice. But how do you open a heart? How do you cultivate compassion? Only God can do that. And yet, God never does anything in a vacuum. That’s where I come in. I pray that I can be a cultivator of compassion. 

Open the eyes of my heart, Lord. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Hearing God in Selma

Instead of writing my sermon on my day off, as I often do on Fridays, last week I decided to procrastinate another day and go see a movie. Selma was my choice.  Of course, Sunday’s texts were on my brain. They were about hearing God speak to us and responding to God’s voice. And, wouldn’t you know it, as I watched the movie, that’s all I could see. So, I ended up spending the afternoon in sermon preparation after all. (It’s the blessing or the curse of being a preacher, depending on how you look at it.) I found myself in a movie theater watching a powerful story about what happens when people listen to God’s voice and act.
Early in the movie, Martin Luther King is preparing to enter into an emotionally charged and potentially violent situation in Alabama. It’s nighttime and he can’t sleep. So he makes a telephone call. We see him waking a woman from her sleep on the other end of the line. When she answers he says, “It’s me.” She knows who that is. And then he tells her that he needs to hear from the Lord. It’s the gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson and she sings “Precious Lord” to him over the telephone. For Dr. King, in that moment, that’s what God’s voice sounded like.

The movie is filled with people who felt called by God, and answered that call. They came from all over the United States: North, South, East, West. People of all colors and backgrounds. All putting their lives on the line for the sake of people who were denied their voting rights because of the color of their skin. All responding to God’s call to do justice.

The most dramatic part of the story came when the protesters tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge to get outside Selma. The first time they tried, law enforcement was waiting for them on the other side of the bridge. As they approached, they were gassed and beaten. Dr. King was not with them that time. The next time they tried to cross the bridge, Dr. King was with them, and they had amassed thousands of people who had come from all over the country to join them. This time, as they approached the other side of the bridge, again, the Sheriff and his men were waiting for them. Suddenly, they stepped aside so the protesters could pass. Dr. King stopped. He knelt and prayed. And then he turned around and walked back. They didn’t pass over the bridge that day. He got a lot of flak for that. But he said he would rather people be angry at him than see them attacked and killed. Some considered this an act of a cowardice, but it took great courage to listen to God’s voice and follow it as a leader, even when he knew it wasn’t going to be popular. Dr. King took time to pray his way through what was ahead, and God told him this wasn’t the time to go forward.

The next time they crossed over the bridge was God's time. Over 3,000 people marched from Selma and by the time they arrived in Montgomery, there were 25,000.

Throughout the movie, the cloud of death hangs heavy. The risk and sacrifice of those who answered God’s call to march for justice was never forgotten. There were those who lost their lives in the fight. Martin Luther King was one of them, but he was not alone. Seeing other humans treated like something less than human always brings me to tears, whether I’m witnessing it firsthand or in a movie. The brutality in Selma took me through my stash of Kleenex before we had gotten to the half-way mark. Since I was a little girl when this happened and I only remember catching glimpses of it on T.V., it was hard to comprehend how all this was going on while I was riding my bike and climbing trees in Hamilton, Ohio without a care in the world. I was especially moved by those whites who were a part of the movement and were killed for their actions. I didn’t know about them. And I had to wonder if I would have had that kind of courage. I have stood on the side of justice and participated in peaceful protests many times, but I never thought it could result in the loss of my life. I’d like to believe I would have been there with them in Alabama, but I doubt that I have that kind of conviction and courage. Some of my tears during Selma were tears of humility and contrition.

You might say that it was a religious experience for me because I heard God speaking to me through this story from my history that I never really knew. And God also spoke to me about how God speaks. The voice of God demands a response. How will I be changed? And how will I respond?

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Holding on for Dear Life

When I go to see my grandbaby Nicholas, I give his parents a date night so they can spend some time alone together while I stay home and babysit. (It’s quite a sacrifice on my part.) What they may not realize is that this isn’t really about them. It’s about ME. They think it’s their date night, but that’s really just a ruse to get them out of the way for MY date night with Nick.

Well, on my last date night with three-month-old Nick, he was fussing about going to sleep, as usual. I held him and rocked him singing my go-to lullaby for the babies in my life, “Silent Night.” When I got to, “…sleep in heavenly peace”, he was doing just that. So I stopped singing and studied the sweet angel sleeping in my arms. Filled with love to overflowing, I couldn’t contain it all, and that love spilled out through my eyes and ran down my cheeks.

Suddenly, Nick’s eyes popped open and he gave me a huge smile from ear to ear. Well, that just made the tears flow all the more. Then, I saw him taking a closer look at me and, for some reason, the sight of Nana with tears tickled him and he let out one of those delight-filled baby belly laughs. Which, of course made me laugh. And then Nick laughed back at me. Which made me laugh. And Nick laughed back at me again. And then he closed his eyes and resumed sleeping in heavenly peace. 

Oh, my! The two of us shared an incredible moment of joy. He won’t remember it, but I will, for the rest of my life. Sometimes these days when life seems to be getting the best of me, I’ll stop and think of that moment of joy with Nick and I can’t help but smile. (If you’ve seen me randomly smiling lately and you’ve wondered -- what’s up with that?-- now you know.)

Joy is such a gift for us, isn’t it? It’s not the same thing as happiness. Happiness is fleeting, it comes and goes depending on the circumstances of our lives. But joy runs deep. Joy abides within us. Joy pulls us through turmoil and trouble, struggle and sorrow.

Christmas joy comes to us every year when the earth is dark and cold, just when we need it the most. We fix our eyes on a baby in a cradle, surrounded by cows and sheep. His adoring parents watch his every breath. On a starry night, he is greeted by shepherds and angels. What could be more joyful than this holy moment filled with promise?

And yet, if we know how the rest of the story goes, we also know that this child’s story isn’t all sweetness and light.

A couple years ago, Clarkie’s dads noticed that he was distraught over the birth of Jesus at Christmas. Clarkie is a tender-hearted child and he couldn’t bear the thought of it. “Why is Jesus going to be born again? Then they’re just going to kill him all over again!” It was too much for him and he was in tears. Clarkie was right. Beneath the radiant joy, shadows of sorrow are lurking.

As I hold my new grandson in my arms, I try to imagine all that he will experience in his life. Maybe he’ll be smart, or athletic, or funny. He may grow up to have a little boy of his own. He may be successful or famous. But I know that his life will also be like any other life and it will include pain, and heartbreak, and death. I can’t bring myself to think of it for more than a millisecond.

But life does include sorrow, as well as joy. And that’s exactly why Christmas joy is so important.

Have you ever seen one of those old cowboy movies where they’re out on a cattle drive and the cowboy leads the way only to discover that he’s stepped into quicksand? He thought everything was fine and all of a sudden he’s sinking fast.

Have you ever felt like that in your life? Like you’re going along fine and then all of a sudden it feels like you’re sinking? You’re going down and there doesn’t seem to be any way out. Things are desperate. They may even feel hopeless.

Well, in the old cowboy movies, they always throw the one who is sinking a rope. The cowboy grabs hold of that rope and hangs on for dear life as he’s pulled to safety. That’s what joy is for us. When we’re sinking in quicksand, it’s a rope for us to grab onto and hold on for dear life.

Thank God for the gift of joy that comes to us at Christmas. It’s a joy that we can hang onto all the way through the cross. For the story of salvation is bookended with joy, isn’t it? At the end of our worship service on Christmas Eve, Ron played the “Hallelujah” chorus from Handel’s Messiah. The last time we heard it at Holy Trinity was when he played it at Easter. There is joy in the manger that carries us through the pain and sorrow of the cross and brings us at the last to the joy of the empty tomb.

Joy is God’s gift to us at Christmas. Grab onto it, and hold on for dear life!

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Truth about Lies

Preached at Holy Trinity on December 7, 2014.

“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God…” That’s how Mark begins his gospel. For the first people who read these words, it packed a wallop. That word for good news was typically used when the Empire announced its decrees. And the label Son of God was reserved for Caesar. “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” was a gutsy statement. And it told the readers of the earliest gospel in our Bible that this is the story of someone who didn’t live by the rules of the Empire. He didn’t go with the flow and fit into his culture. He lived his own way in the world, which was God’s way.

There is no story of the birth of a baby in Mark. Instead, Mark’s gospel account begins with John the Baptist. He links John to the prophet Elijah, the one whose return would be a sign that the Messiah is about to make an entrance.

John is aligned with the Old Testament prophets. So, in order to get John, we need to get Old Testament prophets. From our modern usage of the word prophet, we often think of them as fortune-tellers. But that’s actually not what prophets do in the Bible. Prophets don’t predict the future, they analyze the present for the sake of moving toward a different future. In other words, they say, Folks, this is what you’re doing. And if you keep doing it, here’s what you can expect. There are consequences for the way you’re living. If you want a different future, you need to make some adjustments to your present. So, the most important thing the prophet does is tell it like it is. Prophets are truth-tellers. Of course, that’s why prophets don’t get invited to a lot of parties. I mean, really, who wants to be around someone who’s telling you the truth all the time?

Have you heard about all the controversy that’s been going on regarding the curriculum of Advanced Placement history classes taught in high school? In these AP classes, students are encouraged to take a critical approach to US history. So there is no white-washing of the truth. Yes, our country has accomplished some amazing things and we can all be proud of that. But our forbearers were flawed. Our country’s motives haven’t always been pure. And there are those who are so offended by the very thought of it that they’re convinced exposing students to this curriculum threatens to destroy America. But isn’t it only destroying the lies about America?

This past week, the most destructive lie in our nation’s history has been smacking us in the face. And if we don’t recognize the truth about ourselves, things are only going to get worse. The fact is, we pride ourselves on being a nation where all are created equal, but we have never operated that way. Our nation was founded by an elite class that owned land. Land that produced wealth for them on the backs of slaves. All people may have been created equal by God, but they were not treated equally by other people. And that hasn’t changed. The racism that created slavery lives on, despite the fact that we would like to believe otherwise. It’s something that is always boiling beneath the surface in our country, waiting to blow.

I have a white friend who is totally baffled by all the anger over the grand jury decision in Ferguson. Her point is that the grand jury did their job. The evidence presented wasn’t enough to bring the police officer to trial. Those are the facts and it makes no sense to see how angry people have become over this. She thinks this is all about one court case. The way I see it, she just doesn’t get it. The court cases in Ferguson, Brooklyn, Staten Island, and Cleveland have become flashpoints. Never mind whether the decisions in those cases were justified or not. That’s not really the point. The point is, people in this country are angry. Racism is pervasive and it’s real. It’s been with our nation from its birth and we’ve never dealt with it, so it’s not going to go away. That’s the truth.

The black people I know can tell you all about it if you ask them. (They might tell you even if you don’t.) But most of the white people I know don’t see racism as a major problem. What they see as a problem is the way black people have been acting. But racism is not a problem for them. I suspect that’s because it seems to be working for them. And now I need to stop talking about them and start talking about us, because I’m as white as they come. And with my white status come certain privileges. As a white mother with a white son, I have never worried about my son being denied any opportunity because of the color of his skin. I have never worried about my son being arrested for something he didn’t do. I have never worried about my son being shot in the street. I certainly have never worried about my son being killed by a police officer.

So, am I a racist? I’m a liberal who grew up in the 60s. I have marched with the NAACP. I pastor a church where all are welcome. I have dear friends who are black. I voted for Obama… both times. Surely, I’m not a racist!

Have you ever noticed how quick we white folk are to say, I’m not a racist? Well, I want you to know the truth about me. I am a racist. It took me a long time to realize that and then even longer to admit it, but it’s true. I grew up in the upper Midwest where racism was more subtle than it was in the South. And that’s what made it dangerous. I knew it wasn’t nice to use the N word. I was polite to the black students in my classes and liked to believe that I treated them just like everybody else. But I didn’t. They weren’t welcome at my table in the school cafeteria. I would never have considered dating one of them. They lived in a different part of town. They had their world and I had mine.

I am convinced that it’s pert near impossible for a white person growing up in this country not to be affected by racism on some level. It’s in our wiring. The only way we can deal with it is by admitting that we have a problem and then entering into the recovery process. We can never say, “I’m not a racist any more” in much the same way that an alcoholic can never say “I’m not an alcoholic anymore.” When it’s in your wiring, it’s always who you are. There are no former alcoholics, only recovering alcoholics. There are no former racists, only recovering racists. Nothing is going to change until we can be honest about the lies that we carry around inside us.

Now, this truth about lies doesn’t only apply to racism. There are a lot of other lies we use to prop ourselves up, lies that keep us from the authentic lives we were created to live. But racism has been in our face this week. And it happens to be the second week of Advent when we’re focused on the message of John the Baptist, calling us to prepare the way of the Lord through repentance. So it seems pretty clear to me that, as God’s people, on this day, we are being called to confront the truth about race for us. I hope you will spend some time doing that if you haven’t already.

“John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness…” The wilderness. A wild place. A lawless place. A place where the going is difficult, but anything is possible. “John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” It wasn’t baptism the way we practice it today in the church. It was a baptism of cleansing, of washing the old life away, so you could begin again. That’s where repentance takes us. It means to change the direction of our lives. To be headed one way and then realize, Wait a minute, I’m going the wrong way. So we turn around and begin again, headed a new way. The key to repentance is that turning point, when we realize we’re going the wrong way. That can only happen when we’re honest with ourselves. We can live a lie and continue the way we’ve always gone. But in the end, we probably aren’t going to be real happy with where that way takes us. Or we can face the truth. We can repent.

And that’s how we prepare the way of the Lord. That’s how we open ourselves to follow the Jesus Way in the world. It’s the way of one who didn’t live by the rules of the Empire. He didn’t go with the flow and fit into his culture. He didn’t prop himself up with lies, but lived authentically before God.

May the Jesus Way be our way. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

So, my life is a snoozer?

I was in such a deep pit of pain that I felt like I would never be able to climb to the top and return to the land of the living. Carrying the heavy burden of my grief every moment of every day was exhausting. I couldn’t do it anymore. All I wanted to do was cry and sleep. Well, that’s not entirely true. All I wanted to do was fade away from everyone and everything, but that wasn’t possible. So I cried and slept. When I slept I prayed that I wouldn’t wake up, but I always did. How long will this go on? I wondered. I wanted the pain to end and it didn’t seem to be going away on its own. 

I knew it was time for me to find a counselor, but I was new to the area and wasn’t sure who to see. Several people I knew had gone to see Dr. M and he helped them, so I decided to make an appointment and get started. 
When Dr. M met me at the door to his office, I could see that he was a gentle soul, advanced in years. He showed me to a comfy chair opposite his own. After some preliminary chit-chat, he asked me to tell him about my life. I started right in. I told him about all the tragic twists my life had taken. I cried. I bit my lip, and I pressed on. I didn’t want to leave anything out. I wanted him to know about all the pain I had endured. Occasionally he said, “Yes” or “I see” or he grunted. As I spoke, he nodded, which was all I needed to feel affirmed, so I continued. I was telling my story, with all the sordid details, and he was listening. He cared. He was going to help me live again.

About half-way into our session, I assumed Dr. M was nodding when his chin fell down to his chest. Quickly, his head snapped up and for a moment I wondered if he was having trouble staying awake. But how could anyone possibly sleep during the riveting re-telling of my life story? Again his head fell forward and slowly his eyelids closed. Perhaps he is concentrating, I thought. His eyes are closed to block out all distractions, so he can hone in on my words. So I continued to open my woundedness to him, trusting that he would receive the secrets I shared with compassion and wisdom.

And then I heard it. Snoring. He was snoring. Snoring! My life, my pain, my drama had lulled the man to sleep!

I stopped talking for a bit to see if he would notice. But this was no cat nap; he was heavy with sleep. So I quietly gathered my purse and let myself out.

At the time I was livid. How dare that man fall asleep during the story of my life! It may have been lacking in a lot of ways, but no one could say that it hadn’t at least been interesting! I was hurt. I risked opening myself up to a complete stranger, I shared thoughts and feelings I had never shared with anyone, and he swept them into the dust bin. 

Last night over dinner I told this story to a friend and I laughed to the point of tears. About 15 years have gone by since this incident with Dr. M and, remembering it now, I find the entire episode hysterical. The man fell asleep during the story of my life! Isn’t that great?

He had probably heard it all before. I wasn’t that usual after all. Every day he met with people whose lives had taken a nose-dive into the crapper. People like me, who experienced excruciating grief. People  so depressed they didn’t think they were ever going to survive. It happened all the time. Here I thought that, in the entire history of the universe, there had never been any grief like mine. But to Dr. M I was just another woman telling her tale of woe. And the man fell asleep!

The real beauty of this memory is that in the retelling of it, it has become one of the funniest things that ever happened to me. He fell asleep. I think it’s just perfect. Perfect because I lived to tell the story. And my tears have been replaced with laughter. If that’s not healing, I don’t know what is.   

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Missy the Great

The day after Missy was born, the doctor told her mother, Lib, that she had Down syndrome. This was 50 years ago, back in a time when children like Missy were often hidden away and what little the general population knew about Down syndrome was often wrong. One of Lib's friends insisted, “She’ll outgrow it.” Her sister told her to put Missy into an institution immediately, to never bring her home from the hospital.
Missy’s parents and her four sisters had a better idea. They received her as the newest member of their family and went about including her in their lives. There were challenges, to be sure, but they learned that the blessings far outweighed any struggles along the way. From Missy, Lib says she has learned that “imperfection is beauty.” She stands in awe of her daughter’s compassion and her wisdom. 
When Missy was a young adult, she worked for seven years at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte in food services making salads, then for a short while at the Marriott making beds. When she lost that job, there was no more work to be found. Opportunities for people with special needs over the age of 21 were scarce. So, Missy’s parents decided to take matters into their own hands.
Because Missy had always enjoyed getting dirty, Lib thought, “Why not pottery?” She enrolled in a class and took Missy to learn with her. Those classes were followed by another class at the University where the instructor gave Missy and Lib their own studio for a while. Then Missy’s dad said, “Let’s build our own studio,” and that’s what they did.
Missy sells her pottery at shows. Its childlike, primitive quality with colorful creatures painted on the sides give her work a style all its own. I happen to have several Missy Moss Creations in my home and at my office; people always admire them and they want to know about the potter who created them.
Missy’s favorite thing to paint on her pottery is butterflies. They have whimsical, big eyes and their wings are spread to fly. Butterflies are one of her passions. She works at a nature museum, where she gets to feed them. She also is a friend to the turtles there and serves them gourmet salads that she creates especially for them. 
When I hear about all the activities that Missy is involved with, it makes me dizzy. At one of the local churches she goes to dances and plays bingo. She attends art classes. She participates in her “Circle of Friends” with over 200 developmentally delayed people from all around the city. At church she enjoys cooking and cleaning up. Her obsessive-compulsive tendencies come in handy because she has a knack for keeping everything in its place.
At night, Missy has a ritual of putting things to bed because she doesn’t like anything staring at her while she sleeps. So she’ll turn her pictures to face the wall every night. Interestingly, she doesn’t mind being up front during worship, where she clearly has the attention of everyone in the church. All eyes are upon her whenever she serves as an acolyte.  
Lighting the altar candles is a challenge for Missy because she has some issues with her eyes that leave her with no depth perception. Have you ever tried to light a candle with one of those long candle lighters and you can’t tell exactly how far away the candle is? It ain’t easy! When Missy first began serving as an acolyte, she took the candle lighter home to practice, but on Sunday mornings, she rarely hits her mark. We learned that the best way to handle this is to have another person stand behind her and help guide her arm toward the candlewick, if necessary.  I am always watching and hoping that she won't need the help, but she pretty much always does.
On the Sunday after Missy’s 50th birthday, she was serving as acolyte. Before the service, as she pulled her robe over her head I noticed she was flushed and a little teary. “Are you all right, Missy?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said. “I just love it! I love it so much!”
When it came time for her to light the first candle, Missy struggled to get the flame near the wick. First she was short, then she was long. She went to the right of the candle, then to the left. So the assisting minister who was standing behind her gently touched her arm and guided her to the right spot.
Missy bowed at the altar and moved to the second candle. This time she slowly and deliberately moved the candle lighter in the direction of the altar candle. She touched the fire to the tip of the wick, and a flame popped up on top of the candle. As soon as she saw it, she looked over at me and I gave her a thumps up. She smiled smugly in a way that said, Of course I lit the candle, that's what I do; I'm an acolyte! and then she gave me a big thumbs up of her own. It was a moment of absolute triumph and joy. Nothing else that followed in the worship service that morning could top it.
After worship, when I greeted Missy, I told her, “You did a great job lighting those candles today!”
Missy hugged me and said, “I did GREAT!”
That’s the way she saw the day. She did great! There were two candles on the altar. She lit them both. One, with some assistance. And the other, all on her own.  Yes, she did great. And she knew it. The meaning of her deep wisdom for my own life was not lost on me.