Prof Karen Swallow is an amazing teacher. Once I can get all of the class members together I will post a group picture. The gentlemen sitting with Karen in the cafeteria are attendees of the Glen Workshop who aren't in her class this year. At lunch they had some questions about Flannery – which she was happy to answer.
… At the B19 Gate in the Phoenix Airport- American Airlines. Waiting for the flight to Santa Fe to arrive, then from the Santa Fe airport to a shuttle for a ride to St John’s College and check-in for The Glen Workshop. Never expected to be here too early to get into the dorms 😳but it just might happen! (Hope to include pictures of the Glen Workshop experience, but the WordPress mobile platform just crashed! Maybe pics can be edited in later…)
As my husband and I were walking into church on Sunday, I could hear laughter spilling out of the kitchen. Barely in the door, John, my husband, immediately engaged a friend in conversation; I turned toward the laughter. I walked across the spacious, light-filled foyer, past the comfortable couches and clusters of tables and chairs occupied by adults and kids, then glided by the large area where outerwear is hung up, highchairs are stored, and the church pigeon-hole style mailboxes fill an entire wall. Fair warning! If you attend Bethel with any regularity, you will be assigned a mailbox and will regularly be encouraged to fetch out the information.
I swerved deftly into the church kitchen and asked why everyone was laughing. My friend Terri held up a note card.
“A funny ‘Thank You’ note?” I queried.
“Not exactly,” said my friend. “What’s funny is that no one knows who this note is for. It is not addressed to anyone but simply says, ‘I want to thank you for the delicious dinner you brought for our family last week. The kids and I enjoyed it all. Your wonderful meal was a real time saver.Thank you again. Anna’ ”
“I found the note in my mailbox last Sunday, “Terri explained,” but I was not the one who made the meal. I thought, ‘This thank you note must be for Norma; she’s always making meals for others.’ So I put the note in her mailbox.
“When Norma picked up her mail on Tuesday before Coffee Break Bible study she read the note and said, ‘I wonder why I got this? I didn’t make dinner for Anna’s family. It must be Ginny’s.’ And Norma put the note in Ginny’s mailbox.
“Ginny came in on Thursday for prayer group and collected her mail. When she read the thank you letter she said, ‘Oh no! This is in the wrong mailbox! I didn’t help with that meal. It is probably meant for Barb,’ and she slipped the envelope into Barb’s mail slot.
“Barb came in early this morning to attend to the communion trays, spied something in her mailbox, found the thank you note and read it. She considered the situation and decided, ‘This card is not supposed to be in my mail. I better check with the women in the kitchen this morning. They will know who should get this lovely thank you note. ‘ ”
“And whose is it?” I asked.
“No one knows!” burst out Terri. “Did you make a meal for Anna and her family?” she asked me. I shook my head no.
I never did learn who made the meal for Anna and her children, but I love this story. It says so much about the women of Bethel Church:
- They care for those in need.
- They don’t take credit for an act of kindness they didn’t do.
- They assume the charitable act was done by another and want them to receive the thanks for it.
- They see the humor in what might be judged an aggravating situation, and…
- They check their mailboxes!
Once they knew Mara had permission to come to their wedding, Thad and Bailey also understood that Mara would need a dress to wear, so they made a date with her to go dress shopping.
When the day came to pick up Mara for the shopping trip, Thad and Bailey drove to her house only to learn that she and her family had been evicted. Bailey and Thad asked neighbors if they knew where the family had gone. One neighbor had heard the family had taken up residence in a tent on a farm, and gave them directions to the location. When they arrived at the farm, Mara and her family were no longer there. They were told by the farmer that the children, Mara and her two younger siblings, had gone to the home of a shirt-tail relative and her boyfriend, who, seeing that the children were hungry, dirty and suffering, kindly allowed the kids to stay with them in a duplex home on the edge of town. The farmer gave them general directions to the home of the couple. This is where Thad and Bailey found Mara and her brother and sister. The parents had left the children there, and gone on their way. Mara, after all the difficulties of moving from place to place, was very happy and relieved to see Bailey and Thad, and glad they had been able to find her so they could go on the much anticipated clothes shopping date.
The shopping date fell on a hot, sunny day, and as they left the duplex Mara asked where they were going to go look for a dress. “Houghton,” Bailey replied. Houghton is approximately 13 miles from Calumet. It has a small mall with a couple of department stores that would allow for some selection for Mara’s clothes.
“Houghton!” Mara said, “Oh no! We have to walk so far and it’s so hot!”
Taken aback by her dismay, Thad quickly explained, “We don’t have to walk, Mara. We have a car, and the car has air conditioning.”
“You have a car? And air conditioning?” As soon Mara understood that this trip was going to be comfortable, a look of relief filled her eyes. “OK! Let’s go!”
As they climbed into the car Bailey asked Mara if she was hungry. “Starving,” she answered. So the first stop was lunch at McDonald’s.
After lunch came the trip to JC Penney. Mara had never been to a retail clothing store before. Almost all of her clothes were from the Community Free Store in Calumet, so this was an exciting time, and Mara was in awe of everything she saw at Penneys. The three eventually made their way to the dress department, which had a broad selection of clothing in Mara’s size. As Mara picked out dresses to try on, Bailey became puzzled over Mara’s choices. None of the dresses she tried on were really suitable for a wedding. Eventually Bailey guessed that the reason Mara was so smitten with those particular dresses was that each one had an inexpensive decorative necklace attached to the collar – and jewelry was something that the little girl loved but didn’t own. Bailey confirmed with Mara that it was the necklace that she liked best about the dresses, then said, “Let’s find a different dress that will be nice to wear to the wedding, and you can find a necklace to go with it, OK?” Mara agreed. They found a dress and necklace that pleased Bailey, Mara and Thad, too, whose approval was sought by Mara when she came twirling out of the changing room as she tried on each dress. A pair of new shoes completed the ensemble. The threesome then went to the check-out center to pay for the purchases. When Mara saw the total cost of the items flash up on the cash register, she was distraught.
“No you can’t do that,” she cried. “It’s too expensive! I will put the necklace back!”
Thad and Bailey took Mara aside and quietly assured her that everything was fine, that they were very happy to purchase the items she had picked out and not to worry about the cost, which was not very much at all. It took some time to convince her, but eventually Mara was able to receive and enjoy the clothing that she would soon wear to the wedding.
As the wedding date came closer, Mara asked about the cake topper, and was curious to see a picture of it on the wedding cake. Bailey explained that there wasn’t anything to see yet because the cake was almost the last thing to be done for the wedding since it needed to be freshly baked and decorated for the big day. This answer seemed to satisfy Mara, but privately, Bailey wondered what solution Sheila had found for Mara’s gift of the 1970’s cake topper. Time was passing quickly. Mara had endured a lot of disappointments in her young life, and Bailey hoped the gift of the cake topper would not be another one.
Several years ago Bailey Takala, an almost 20-something, met Mara Jarl , a friendly, tow-headed, blue-eyed first grader. Bailey was attending university then, but made it a priority to volunteer at a local Calumet, Michigan elementary school in an afterhours program called Great Explorations. Bailey had been a volunteer for the program since her high school years. Mara was one of the students enrolled in Great Explorations, and after their initial meeting at GE, Mara and Bailey became fast friends. When Mara learned that Bailey lived close to her house, she rode her bike over to visit Bailey almost every afternoon. On one of her visits to Bailey’s, Mara spotted a candy dispensing machine that had M&Ms in it. She was fascinated by the device – a type of gumball machine – and loved to turn the handle, watch the candy tumble down and eat a few M&Ms while she was visiting. “How did they get those M&Ms in there?” was a frequent question and a great mystery to the 6 year old. Initially Bailey strictly limited the number of M&M’s Mara ate so that the candy would not ruin her appetite for supper, but it wasn’t long before Bailey and Jan, Bailey ‘s mother, realized that whatever Mara ate at their house might be the only food she would get for the rest of the day. Over time Takala ‘s began to realize how destitute Mara’s family was, and they started to offer Mara nourishing food in generous amounts, which Mara never turned down. But seeing that the candy was a special treat, Takala ‘s made sure that the candy machine was always full of M&Ms for Mara.
About 4 years after Mara and Bailey struck up their friendship, Bailey became engaged to her high school sweetheart, Thad Johnson, whom Mara had come to know through his many visits to Takala’s. Bailey spoke often of her upcoming wedding, and Mara was always excited to hear about the plans for Bailey and Thad’s big day, which was going to be at the height of summer – a very beautiful time of year in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Because Mara was so interested in all the wedding discussion, Bailey invited Mara to the wedding, and to her bridal shower, also. Mara was extremely happy to be included in the momentous occasions, and looked forward to them both as only a child can.
On the day of the bridal shower Bailey and Mara had time to talk about what a shower was, who would be attending and what kinds of things happen at a shower. During the festivities Mara enjoyed meeting Bailey ‘s extended family and friends, and eating the wonderful food that was prepared for the guests. Mara also watched with great interest as Bailey opened her shower gifts, but the highlight of the afternoon for Mara was the cup of M&M’s that she got to eat all by herself.
Two weeks before the wedding, Mara came over to Bailey ‘s with a plastic bag that was rather balloon-shaped and presented it to Bailey as a gift for her and Thad. Bailey was very touched at Mara’s generosity. She said, “Thank you Mara! But you didn’t have to get us anything for our wedding.” Mara ignored Bailey ‘s concerns and insisted that she put the gift down carefully on the table and open it, which Bailey did. What Bailey found inside was a wedding cake topper circa 1970, complete with a large domed circular base sporting a plastic bride and groom standing in front of a big, lacey plastic heart. It also appeared that the topper still had remnants of frosting from the cake it had adorned so many years ago. As Mara and Bailey gazed at the plastic decoration, Mara offered a brief explanation for her choice of a wedding gift: “Just in case you get to have a cake at your wedding.” Bailey again tried to gently tell Mara that she shouldn’t have used the little money she had to buy a wedding gift, but Mara said, “No problem, Bailey! It’s from the Community Free Store!”
Mara went happily home, confident that she had chosen just the right gift for Bailey and Thad’s wedding. Bailey, on the other hand, had a dilemma: how could she honor the gift from her little friend but not actually use it on the cake since she had already chosen and paid for a cake topper herself? Bailey called Sheila Thompson, the woman who was making her wedding cake. Sheila worked at the school, knew many of the kids in the GE program, and understood how important it would be for Mara to have her cake topper used at the wedding reception.
“Don’t worry, Bailey,” Sheila said, “I will think of something. It will work out just fine.” Sheila was both compassionate and capable, and Bailey trusted her with finding the best answer to the cake topper challenge.
Have you ever experienced an event that was perfect from start to finish? Dr Stephen Maturin, one of the main characters in Patrick O’Brian’s spectacular naval series “Master and Commander”, uses a particular phrase when one of his tricky espionage escapades, difficult emergency surgeries, or challenging nature observations succeeds without a flaw; he says, “It was the completest thing.”
Last Friday night was just such an event for me. Several weeks ago a friend, Tracey Finck, told me that writer and speaker Eric Metaxas, author of Bonhoeffer – Pastor,Martyr,Prophet, Spy was going to be at Bethlehem Baptist church in Minneapolis, and she asked me if I would be interested in attending. I think I jumped out of my chair, yelled “Yes! and circled the date on my calendar before Tracey had finished speaking. There was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to hear this excellent writer speak about a man who was one of the most outspoken opponents to Hitler during the Third Reich. Both Tracey and I had read Metaxas’s book, and had been amazed at how in-depth the biography was, and how powerfully the author had conveyed the role that family, education, faith in Jesus and courage had played in Bonhoeffer’s life. (Read Tracey’s comments on the book here: www.traceyfinck.com)
The evening would have been wonderful if all we had done was attend the lecture, but we had also been invited to have dinner before-hand with Ben and Betsy Alle, Tracey’s daughter and son-in law, who attend Bethlehem Baptist and were the first to pass on the information about the upcoming event. Plus, the “we” had grown to include Becky Hagstrom, a friend of Tracey’s – so the evening became kaleidoscopic, and was turned into a beautiful, multifaceted celebration of making new friends, enjoying a delicious home-cooked meal (lasagna,salad,homemade bread,individual mini chocolate-molten-lava-cakes with whipped cream and espresso!) and gracious conversation, topped by an incredible lecture that was as funny as it was profound and challenging.
We also had the honor of meeting the delightful Mr. Metaxas.We spoke with him briefly, had a book signed, and took a few Kodak-moment pictures – along with the 1300 other people who were at the lecture. Metaxas said he would stay until midnight if that’s what was needed to greet those who wanted to meet him. I wonder how late the meet and greet went? We were fortunate to be almost at the head of the line, and saw Metaxas sprint from the front of the church to the table where the signing took place – in the back of the church, of course. Eric Metaxas embodies energy, humility, wit and intelligence wrapped up in a life committed to furthering the Kingdom of Jesus Christ – it was inspiring to see and to be a participant in the Bonhoeffer Tour.
But was this all? No. On the way home there were cold coffee drinks and snacks – a drive-home picnic prepared by Tracey – plus we discussed the lecture and associated subjects on the hour-long commute. Oh, and did I mention it was a lovely winter night with a full moon?
God’s favor and blessing were wonderfully evident that evening, and I will always treasure the memory of it. Plus, I also think that now I truly understand what Dr Stephen Maturin means when he says, “It was the completest thing.”