The Language of Tenacity by Christy Foldenauer

I’ve been learning the language of tenacity in seminary this year. I’m enrolled in ancient Greek.

Many of you will understand when I tell you that two things make me crazy. The first is when a friend or well-meaning person says jokingly, “It’s all Greek to me!” The other is when I meet someone who actually has found the Greek language to be a breeze. Recently I met someone who makes his Christmas lists in Greek to keep his family from knowing what he is purchasing. Never mind that he took the language a decade ago. People like that confound me.

I am somewhere in the middle with this language. It’s not “all Greek” to me, but Greek has certainly not come with ease. As I prepare to enter a second semester, I’ve realized that my first semester of Greek taught me much more than just the language. It turns out that learning Greek is making me a better person, and a better mom.

If you are scratching your head at that one, let me first paint the picture of just how difficult the language has been for me. I remember sometime around the third week. I realized that I wasn’t “getting” any of what I’d read or learned so far. Nothing was taking root for me. I started to doubt my ability to succeed.

Week four brought my most embarrassing moment as a seminarian (to date), when I raised my hand to ask the translation of a word I hadn’t been able to decipher, despite my best efforts. The answer? Jesus. Seriously, the answer was Jesus. (Go ahead and laugh; it’s funny.) At this point, I decided Greek was really not going well.

I vividly remember a conversation with my husband about six weeks in to class. As I drove to school, I fought the urge to turn around. “I cannot do this anymore,” I told my husband, my voice laced with desperation. He assured me that not only could I do it, but I should. “This is not the time to give up,” he urged. I consented. I love that man.

There was the day that a sweet friend asked me at break how I was doing. Unable to control my own feelings of potential disastrous outcomes, I cried. Right there, in the third row of the classroom, sandwiched in between a young guy who had Greek undergrad and was floating through (he probably made his Christmas list in Greek, for all I know) and a man well past sixty who might have had an even harder time with the language than me, I got teary-eyed on my friend. I know she’s sorry she asked. That’s the thing about seminary–you can’t go there feeling anything but great and leave without being asked. Ministers-to-be have a homing device for hurting people. And I was hurting– suffering under the mighty weight of Greek.

But I gutted it out. And I’m going back for more. In the end, my grade proved that my round-the-clock study and hard work was worth the effort, and I am so much richer for taking on something that proved almost impossible.

For starters, I am a far more empathetic parent when my child struggles with a concept. My oldest child finds math as hard as I find Greek, but we’ve been bonding over our inadequacies. When I told him about the day I cried in class, he looked at me with new eyes. “Really??” he asked. “Really, yep, I did. I got that frustrated. Do you ever feel that way?” What followed was a heart understanding that would never have existed without Greek.

This experience has also been a chance to model for my kids that moms can (and should!) try difficult things. My daughter sees me managing our family dynamic and challenging school work. I wonder if one day she will do the same. My mother did, and I still remember grad school projects that consumed some of her evenings. Having goals and going for them is part of being a strong woman and a good example for my kids, as long as I can maintain some semblance of balance between home and school.

At the close of my first year of seminary, on my last paper in Old Testament, my professor noted that she appreciated my tenacity. How I’ve treasured those words. I hid them away in my heart, like Mary.

You see, I’ve thought of myself as audacious many times, but not really a tenacious woman. This professor helped to redefine the way I see my call and gifts, and learning Greek has continued to develop my tenacity.

So I am learning ancient Greek, and Greek is teaching me the language of tenacity. And those two new languages make all the effort worthwhile.

Christy Foldenauer is a speaker for retreats and services and a student at Baptist Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia. Learn about her ministry and read her blog.

Addressed by Nikki Finkelstein-Blair

At the turn of a calendar page–be it month or year–I am inclined to fits of organization. This month, when the year changed, I had a list ready:  kitchen cabinets (the ancient crusty skillets, the untouched pastry shaper, the stacks of plastic takeaway kiddie cups); closet (the stay-at-home-mom Frump Girl wardrobe); and the address book (the pages of scribbled-out and rewritten snail-mail addys). Purge, purge, purge.

I couldn’t just pitch my address book without replacing it, so I found a new one with nice big pages, clever “correspondence” quotations, and cool vintage graphics. I dutifully sat down with my old book and the new one and braved the traumas of carpal-tunnel to rewrite the names and numbers and streets and cities of our friends. Many of them are military families, who, like us, move house every two or three years, and my ten-year-old book was beginning to look like a pen-and-ink tornado had swept through it.

I hadn’t even made it off the ABC page when I had to stop. The very first page of my old book contained the dear names of parents and siblings; friends from high school, college, seminary, my first real job; and families from our overseas duty station in London. DEF included the crossed-out contact information for friends who are now divorced, and a British family from our childbirth-prep class in the U.K. when I was expecting our older son. GHI had my grandma’s address–she went to her true Home last summer. (Oh, how I wish the post office delivered there!)

JKL reminded me that the young people I used to know are now adults; from my book I can see how they’ve moved from their parents’ homes, into college dorms, and now into their own first apartments. MNO was friends we’ve lost touch with entirely; the Irish lady who was Sam’s first babysitter in England; and my young cousin’s address from her boot camp days. PQR was my husband’s grandparents, who also passed away in 2011; STU had several new babies (who are now big kids!) jotted into the margins. VWX was all of the above: a snapshot of my life and relationships all on one page, with friends from decades ago, and from across the globe.

I didn’t write all those addresses into my new book. It’s part of the reorganization: get rid of what doesn’t work, what no longer fits, what sits in disuse. I certainly don’t need all those old addresses, those No-One-By-That-Name-Lives-Here-Anymore bits of information. I don’t need to keep on keeping the postal codes and street names of people who were in our lives only for a season–as lovely a season as it may have been–but who, like us, have moved on.

And yet I couldn’t quite bring myself to throw the old book into the bin. As I sat flipping through its pages, deciding whose name and address I’d use again, who should make it into the new book, I felt like I was looking at a scrapbook of our life over the past years. Though I didn’t feel inspired to reconnect with every one of them, each name brought memories of places, of times, of shared histories. They’re the past now, and that’s fine, but are they really disposable?

It got me thinking: Isn’t that just like life? We move on, we cut some ties and let others dissolve naturally. We grow up, grow old, need more space, go a new direction . . .  find ourselves relocating. We spend our lives sending and receiving “change of address” notifications, as our street addresses, our relationships, our vocations, our inclinations change and change and change again. When God calls us–as individuals, as churches, as women–to a new place in life, when God calls us to be new people and to be with new people, it can make for a messy address book. It makes us reorganize our expectations, and it makes us choose wisely: Who will be our constant contacts? Who will receive the yearly update of Christmas cards? And who will stay fondly (or perhaps not-so-fondly) in our past?

I lift a prayer of gratitude for that old book and for the people whose phones I once called, whose addresses I once wrote. I’m deeply thankful for the friends whose names have begun to fill the lines of the new book. And I’m already glad–and so curious!–to discover the new friends for this new season, who will be added to the pages. I’m ready.

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is an ordained Baptist minister, at-home mom, and military spouse living in San Antonio, Texas. She blogs at One Faithful Step and Ordinary Times.

Feed Yourself by Tammy Abee Blom

I swung into the parking lot of the grocery store and switched on my favorite radio station. I stabbed the straw in the to-go cup and unwrapped the burger. It was lunch time. I had exactly twelve minutes to eat because I needed forty five minutes to purchase groceries and then high tail it to school to pick up the girls on time. Without much enthusiasm, I ate my burger and looked around the parking lot. With surprise, I noted I was one of four women eating lunch in her car. As I ate the burger that I had purchased for convenience not preference, I caught the irony of my situation.

I respect my family enough to purchase fresh vegetables and fruits as well as whole grain breads, but I don’t respect myself enough to sit down in a restaurant and eat the salad that I desired. Instead I was shortchanging myself. My goal for this errand was to feed others, but I wasn’t respectfully feeding myself.

The word “respect” stuck with me as I loaded the groceries into the van and then headed to school. Not surprisingly I found myself singing along with Aretha Franklin “R-E-S-P-E-C-T  . . .  find out what it means to me.”  What does it mean to me that I provide for others and don’t do so for myself? What happened to making sure I am fed?

And of course I don’t just mean eating the salad I want. Getting fed embodies all areas of my life. Respecting myself means taking time to do the things that energize me. It means spending time with people who know me and know God. My goal for January is to respect myself. When I find myself impatient and flustered because of the demands of the schedule, I mentally ask, “Are you respecting yourself? Are you treating yourself the way you expect others to treat you?” If the answer is no, I stop the activity. All of us are created in the image of God. Our worth is assured through our creation. Because we answered the call to help feed others (literally and spiritually) we must honor our work by respecting ourselves. Respect. What does it mean to you?

Tammy Abee Blom is an ordained Baptist minister, regular contributor to BWIM’s blog, mother of two amazing daughters, teacher for children’s Sunday School, and lives in Columbia, South Carolina.

The Minister of Good News by Pam Durso

My church, Cornerstone Church in Grayson, Georgia, will soon move into a new building–the very first building to be owned by our congregation. We began dreaming of having a permanent place to settle well over a year ago, and after lots of prayer and conversation and after losing one potential property, last August we found a perfect building–an unoccupied Presbyterian church in Snellville. And oh, the church building is so perfect–a white church with a steeple set in the middle of a wooded area. It is that “little church in the wildwood.”

The only hold back on the building was that it cost money–and money is something our small, six-year-old church doesn’t have too much of.  But again, we prayed and dreamed and began looking for ways to raise money to purchase the building, and a wonderful story of grace and generosity began unfolding. Our congregation began giving, and then friends of Cornerstone living in Texas gave us $10,000.00. And then a foundation sent money, and Baptist churches across Georgia began sending checks. Then the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Georgia provided a contribution.

Meanwhile, I had somehow been given the job of making announcements on Sunday mornings. So every Sunday during worship I stood before our congregation and told them that more money had come in–that people and churches and organizations believed in the work we were doing, shared our vision. And just let me tell you–making such announcements in my church results in loud applause, some shouting, and lots of “Hallelujahs” and “Thank You, Jesus!” Good news gets a very enthusiastic response at Cornerstone, which means making these announcements was a lot of fun.

One morning as I stood to make a new announcement some unplanned words came out of my mouth (and if you know me–you know that I plan pretty much every word that I say so this was one of those rare moments of spontaneity for me). The words I spoke: “I stand before you today as the minister of good news!”

And indeed I have been blessed to be the bearer of good news at my church–good news of the kindness of others, good news of financial support from unexpected sources, and good news of the purchase of a building that we will soon move into. I have been so blessed to be able to share the good news.

But as I have thought through my unplanned remarks I have realized that we are all ministers of good news. We all are called to share the good news of God’s love and the good news of how God is working in the world. And the world would surely be a better place if the good news was as enthusiastically received everywhere as it is at Cornerstone.

There are more stories to tell about Cornerstone and our journey. There is more good news in our future–and I hope to share those stories along the way.

Pam Durso is executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry in Atlanta, Georgia, and member of Cornerstone Church–soon to be in its new church building in Snellville, Georgia!   

My Necklace by Tammy Abee Blom

Sometimes we stumble upon the things that make all the difference. While shopping with a friend, I saw a necklace with a gold outline of a leaf. To my delight, the leaf concealed a quotation by Emily Dickinson, “That it will never come again is what makes life so sweet.” I left the shop with the necklace securely fastened around my neck.

At that point in my life, my family had just moved to South Carolina, and I chose to be the full-time at-home parent. I wanted to use that first year to help my four-year-old daughter prepare for kindergarten. I knew she needed to participate in a preschool program as well as pursue speech therapy. Also my youngest daughter was just eighteen months old, and I wanted to keep her close during her toddler years. When I made the decision to be full-time at-home, I didn’t know I would need a daily dose of comfort and hope. This is where the necklace came in.

You have heard it said of mothers that the “days are long but the years are short.” I am here to tell you the days are long. The hardest part of my role was the constant interruptions. I could not unload the dishwasher without filling a sippy cup, locating a lost crayon, or helping settle a squabble. I felt like I couldn’t think because I never got to complete a thought. My fingers would reach for the necklace, and I would remind myself, “This is only a season of your life. That it only comes once makes it sweet.”

Then there were the moments of sheer joy. Watching Audrey swing as high as she could and then squeal, “Momma. Look Me!” Or clapping with delight as Eve made her first clear /k/ sound. Hearing her say, “cookie” rather than “tookie.” Seeing the triumph in her eyes were magical. In those moments, my fingers would travel to the necklace, and I would remember, “The girls are only four and two once. I am so lucky to be here for these moments.”

Instinctively, I purchased the necklace knowing it spoke to me in some way. I had no idea that I would count on it as a physical reminder of comfort and hope during a year of transition. And now, I am in another year of transition.

Audrey is a kindergartener, and Eve is a third grader. I am no longer the parent of preschoolers.  I am the parent of school aged kids. Again, my role is in transition. Robert Wicks in Snow Falling on Snow suggests choosing a word to live with during transition. As 2012 begins, I am discerning my word. I want a word that is multifaceted, intrigues me enough to hold onto it for a year, and connects with my journey. Of course I would love to discern the word in a moment of clarity, but as often happens, I expect to stumble upon it.

Tammy Abee Blom is an ordained Baptist minister, regular contributor to BWIM’s blog, mother of two amazing daughters, teacher for children’s Sunday School, and lives in Columbia, South Carolina.