Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Science versus Science

We often hear the debate “Science versus Religion,” as though theologians are on one side of an argument and scientists on the other, but who do we believe when scientists disagree?  There are many examples, but let’s consider the Big Bang Theory. This almost universally-accepted theory states that in a single cosmic explosion the universe that we now inhabit came into existence.

While scanning the heavens with his telescope in 1929, Edwin Hubble, observed red shifts, or elongated wavelengths of light, indicating expansion, or the moving apart of stars and planets.   If there was expansion, then there was a time when the celestial bodies were closer together, and a time before that when there was a “beginning” of the universe. This notion was a radical departure from the centuries-old belief was that the universe was infinite, or “static,” that it had no beginning or end. Earlier, in 1917, Albert Einstein had formulated his theory of relativity claiming that space must be able to expand or contract; but he found this hypothesis so improbable, that he revised his theory to line up with the common belief of the day that the universe was static and motionless.  After Hubble's discoveries of expanding space, Einstein regretted second guessing his original conclusion, and eventually gave an obligatory, though reluctant, nod to what he called "the necessity for a beginning" and eventually to "the presence of a superior reasoning power."

The discovery of cosmic microwave background in 1965 is probably the most conclusive evidence for the Big Bang.  Arno Penzias, who shared the 1978 Nobel Prize for the shattering breakthrough said  “The best data we have are exactly what I would have predicted had I nothing to go on but the five books of Moses, the Psalms, and the Bible as a whole.” 

By the 1980’s most scientists were in agreement with the Big Bang.  But physicist and “Nature” editor Sir John Maddox was not convinced.  In his 1989 “Nature” article titled “Down with the Big Bang,” he wrote, "Apart from being philosophically unacceptable, the Big Bang is an over simple view of how the Universe began, and it is unlikely to survive the decade ahead." Maddox hoped that photos from the Hubble telescope would prove the theory wrong; however, the images sent back to earth did not challenge an expanding universe. 

Wait a minute, “philosophically unacceptable”?  What about scientifically unacceptable? 
Other scientists were uneasy with the implications of the Big Bang that required an ultimate “beginning.”  Arthur Eddington, prominent astrophysicist of the first half of the 20th century, described the idea of a Big Bang as “repugnant,” confessing his desire to find “a genuine loophole” to “allow evolution an infinite time to get started.”   “Repugnant”?  Only if the idea doesn't fit one’s philosophy.   Eddington finally accepted the veracity of the Big Bang, but admitted that “the beginning seems to present insuperable difficulties unless we agree to look at it as frankly supernatural.”  (Italic mine)

Dr. Robert Jastrow, (1925-2008), recipient of the NASA Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement, admitted that although he was agnostic, he was nonetheless fascinated by the implications of modern scientific discoveries,  particularly in regard to the Big Bang. In God and the Universe, he wrote, “For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream.  He has scaled the mountains of ignorance, he is about to conquer the highest peak.  As he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.” 

In his 1992 Los Angeles Times article, science-historian Frederick Burnham wrote, "These findings (concerning the Big Bang), now available, make the idea that God created the universe a more respectable hypothesis today than at any time in the last 100 years."

Theoretical physicist, Steven Hawking, best known for his cosmology work regarding black holes, had this to say in his bestselling book, A Brief History of Time, (in which, by the way, God is the main character), “It would be very difficult to explain why the universe should have begun in just this way, except as the act of a God who intended to create beings like us.”  And “It is quite possible that God acts in ways that cannot be described by scientific laws."

Yet, Steven Weinberg, 1979 winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics, and avowed atheist, claims that some cosmologists endorse theories on the basis that they “nicely avoid the problem of Genesis.” 
And what exactly is the problem with Genesis? 

Is this the “Science” of empirical evidence, or “philosophical” science?  Why are opinions of respected scientists dismissed, ignored, and maligned in certain scientific circles?  In naturalistic science, (the belief  that natural causes alone sufficiently explain everything in the universe, read “no God”), there is a philosophy, a worldview, which is being vehemently protected and advanced, even to the exclusion of new scientific evidence. 

Scientists frequently disagree. Who are we to believe?  Probably the ones whose conclusions most closely match our own philosophy

That the earth began at a fixed time in the past, in a burst of light and energy is sounding strangely like Genesis. 

Sir Francis Bacon, (1561-1626), English philosopher, statesman, and father of modern scientific thought, said, “A little science estranges a man from God; a lot of science brings him back.”

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Egocentric New World

A compassionate, trusted professional puts her hand on your shoulder. "You don't want him to suffer, do you?" she offers, as you stroke the small, frail figure stretched out beside you. You muffle sobs. "There is nothing more we can do for him," the doctor continues. "A little shot and he will go to sleep. He will feel nothing. It is the most humane thing to do for him."

The caring doctor waiting for the go ahead, syringe poised to react, isn't referring to your beloved canine companion. It is your son moaning on the bed beside you.

A scene out of the Twilight Zone? Rob Serling, creator and narrator of the popular series from 1959 to 1964 that remains in syndication to this day, stoically began each episode, "Imagine if you will . . ." Then the show launched  into nightmarish, futuristic, and bizarre plots which often featured illogical twists and morals.

On February 13, 2014, Belgium Parliament passed a bill allowing for child euthanasia. In this New York Times article, we learn that incurable children in unendurable pain can now be euthanized with the consent of their parents, if they can show a "capacity of discernment," in other words, they understand the consequences of their choice.

First, it is a cruel joke to imagine that a child can comprehend the consequences when his trusted family and doctor advise him of his options. And beyond that, my mind reels with the implications. Beyond my Christian aversion to killing, I have to ask—who makes the decision on who is incurable? Whose life is valuable? I start to think of "death panels." Might there be ulterior motives to declare one class unfit for treatment? Recent history with the IRS scrutinizing members of the Tea Party comes to mind. What if the doctor was a far right Republican? Would that frighten families who post their Left leanings on Facebook. Who could we trust?

What if the illness of the child isn't actually terminal, but extremely expensive? Will insurance companies be willing to spend a million on one sick kid, when that money could be stretched to cover one hundred kids? And orphanages are very costly to operate, with little assurance that the children will leave the institutions as functioning members of society.

Is this starting to sound like gas chambers to anyone else? I wish it were a fictitious episode of The Twilight Zone!

Peter Singer, a prominent professor of ethical philosophy at Princeton University is one of the most influential philosophers today. He has served as an adviser on President Obama's Health Care team. His "quality of life" takes a stand against Christians' "sanctity of life." Ideas have consequences, especially when he is preaching them to the next generation of leaders.  Read the following quotes of Singer.

"I do think that it is sometimes appropriate to kill a human infant. For me, the relevant question is, what makes it so seriously wrong to take a life? Those of you who are not vegetarians are responsible or taking a life every time you ear. Species is no more relevant than race in making these judgments."

"A human being doesn't have value simply in virtue of being human."

"I don't believe in the existence of God, so it makes no sense to me to say that a human being is a creature of God. It's as simple as that."

Singer also believes that health care must be rationed in order to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number of people.  It is ironic that Singer's parents fled Austria in 1938 at avoid Nazi control. His grandparents went into a concentration camp and were never heard from again.

Ideas have consequences. If we think that Belgium is alone in this new "progressive" thinking, we have our heads in the sand. Downs Syndrome  and now autistic preborns are targets for prenatal tests that most often end in abortion. Singer also advocates that parents of these children who make it to birth, have the right to kill them.

Remember Rob Serling always left us thinking about the moral of the story. I am praying for a moral to be taught for this story, disturbing enough to give us eyes to see. I pray that lessons will be learned. Otherwise, we are lost, as we enter The Twilight Zone.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Power of Quiet

A couple of years ago, at a family event, a man related by marriage engaged me in conversation. We live several hundred miles apart and I see him briefly every few years. The man, who I will call "Bubba," in his mid sixties, began telling me what good personalities he and his clone-son, mid thirties, possess. (I can write this post, confident neither will ever read it.)

Being an introvert, I just listened, occasionally day dreaming, processing his claim calmly and slowly. Being an extrovert, he continued to talk, (and talk) telling me bluntly that he considered a "good personality" to be the best attribute a person can have, elevated above all others.

Being conflict-resistant, I timidly offered that I prefer someone with "character," someone trustworthy, sensitive, and gentile.

Nope, I was wrong. Not being averse to conflict, "Bubba" stood his ground, insisting that "good personality" was the best measure of a man, or woman. Not wanting to argue, because I crave harmony, my lips did not give away the response of my mind, that what one might consider "good personality" another might consider "loud and obnoxious!"

My very extroverted, non conflict-resistant, and by this time "distant" relative pushed further for a response from passive me: "You only have one child with a 'good personality.' Only one of your four kids has a good personality." His eyes almost bulged with his bold pronouncement. Was he angry at me for not producing my share of class clowns?

As stunned and incredulous as I was, I don't think I gave my emotions away. How was I supposed to respond? Should I defend the honor of my children? Three of the four were adults, sensitive and intelligent. The only one I suspected he "approved" of happened to be the most challenging to parent at the time. The only child of mine he thought had a good personality had brought that fabled charisma with him all the way from Russia, and did not share any genetic data with me or my other children. Or with "Bubba."

For some reason this arrogant aggressive man wanted a response from me. We rarely talk, and he hardly knows my children, yet, as best as I could tell, he was insulting us. Being a conflict-resistant person who thinks, processes, and mentally rehearses before I speak, I had little visible reaction. I think he was offended that I was unwilling to have a loud dialogue about his opinion of himself and of my quiet, pensive children. After rehearsing in my head, I thought it best to remain silent. We parted pleasantly, on the surface, but that conversation has replayed many times since in my head.

I detested being shy as a young child. I longed to be bolder. I avoided at all cost being the center of attention. And the attention I did get was mostly positive because I was a rule follower and not a risk taker. I enjoyed being with people, and had close friends, but was more of an observer in groups than an entertainer. I was often content to be alone and express myself with writing. I haven't changed much over the years, except I don't consider myself as shy as I once did.

My children who share my genes are like me, and my husband, who is also a bit of an introvert himself. Imagine how our lives changed dramatically when an extreme dictator extrovert in the small swaggering body of a seven-year-old boy invaded our quiet home almost twelve years ago. (Read our remarkable story in But the Greatest of These is Love)

When I read this article, 23 Signs You're Secretly an Introvert, I was intrigued. It was no secret that I am an introvert. But what did surprise me is, as recently as 2010, "introverted personality" was considered a "disorder" by the American Psychiatric Association. Thirty to fifty percent of the population is considered introverted, but the extreme introvert has a "mental illness" label?  How did the "extroverted" personality become the "Ideal" personality, as "Bubba" so willingly verified for me? Why were we willing to medicate "shy" people?

So I started reading (which accounts for my lack of blog posts lately!) There are volumes of recent studies on the subject. I read Quiet, the Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking, a New York Times Bestseller. (Apparently I am not alone in my interest on the subject.) If you are not sure where you fall on the spectrum, this test might help you. There is also a middle ground, falling between introvert and extrovert status, called "Ambivert."

The book investigates the phenomena of the early Twentieth Century when the extroverted personality was revered above introversion, like "Bubba" pointed out. But as I read, I basked in the glory of being an introvert, a sensitive, harmony-loving "old" soul, a "thinker." For once, I felt "cool" being quiet and introspective, in good company with the likes of Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, Gandhi!
One of my favorite quotes from the book: "There's a word for people who are in their heads too much: thinkers."

But my take-away from the book was not that introverts are better, though I did come away feeling more validated about the way God hard-wired me. The point? There needs to be a delicate balance of all types in order for society to work properly. I know that without my extroverted, "fun" friends, I might take myself too seriously. We might become extinct from boredom. But without introverted friends, extroverts might become . . . like "Bubba"! (I am guessing that "Bubba" doesn't associate often with introverts!)

We need each other. And, as if there were a Master Plan,  personality traits seem to be distributed relatively evenly. After my "research" I better understand myself, my friends, and my children, the introverted ones, and the extroverted one.

I am thankful that a creative God foresaw the need to make us different.

Check out Quiet, and definitely read But the Greatest of These is Love. to get to know my resident extrovert, and the blessing his personality type brought to a quiet, unsuspecting family! 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Downton Abby, for such a time as this

I rarely watch television. Occasionally restlessness or curiosity will drive me back to the idiot box. It seems like such a waste of time. (Unfortunately, it didn't take me long to find alternate activities on which to waste my time.)

In 2010, my daughters independently suggested I give Downton Abby a try. The new PBS Masterpiece series had captured their imagination and reminded them of staying up late during their high school years watching almost six consecutive hours of A&E's production of Pride and Prejudice borrowed from our public library. We always vowed to watch one episode at a sitting, but rarely could discipline ourselves to that ideal. "One more episode" was usually muttered during the closing music, usually by me, and was met by no arguments.) (Colin Firth in lace collars is not to be missed!) True, Jane Austin's period novel precedes Downton Abby by a hundred years, but there are many similarities.

As Season One progressed in the life of the Crowley family, I kept forgetting to tune in on Sunday nights. Once the season was over, it was too late to jump in. For my birthday last month, my youngest daughter sent me the boxed set of the first three seasons. She was that convinced I would approve of and enjoy the program.

My daughters know me well. I went on strike from television years ago when the programs became idiotic. Downton Abby is not an "idiotic" show. It is sophisticated and intelligent. I have been watching two episodes an evening, when possible. I just finished season two, and I am wary of googling any information for this post for fear of spoilers!  I love Downton Abby for the same reasons I love Pride and Prejudice. The the scenery is beautiful, the costumes exquisite. The music, refined. And the characters have, well, character. They are people of integrity. When they act badly, they try to make things right. Of course Thomas and Mrs. O'Brien present artful antagonists, but they are real, in a literary and human sense.  The show is a refreshing alternative to the junk shows that drove me away from TV in the first place. I would like to believe that the enormous international popularity of Downton Abby signals a turning away from crass, crude, vulgar, and silly shows.

I admire Excellence. Watching the Crawley family and friends gives me a longing to return to a time when self-respect and respect for others was a way of life, even the respect of a perceived enemy. And to a work ethic, that drives one to do one's best, no matter how lowly the job, as we might identify service jobs of maids and butlers. To think of someone else's need more than ourselves is a high form of integrity. As is keeping oneself morally and sexually pure. These are archaic ideas in this era of "Self" being elevated above all else.

Does Downton Abby idealize the Victorian Era? Maybe. But my favorite writers from that era paint a similar picture of the the gentile worldview embraced at the time. In this Discovery article, Victorian Brits Were Smarter than Us, researchers describe the Victorian era as "an explosion of innovation and genius, per capita rates of which appear to have declined subsequently." In a former post, Unpopular Christian Virtues I found this same article valuable.

When I compare the sophistication and gentile manners of Downton Abby with some of current favorite movies, TV shows, in my humble opinion, the contrast confirms the Discovery article. I recently learned of these popular games this holiday season that add sad examples of our decline: Doggy Doo. (Really? So this is what we have come to?) and Gooey Louie. (Luckily, these games do not appear on the Christmas lists of my grandchildren!)

Trash in, trash out. Literally.

Maybe the success of Downton Abby signals a swing of the pendulum from the absurd toward Integrity. Maybe it will affect raising the bar of Excellence—excellence in media programming and excellence in personal integrity. It is up to us.

It is worth remembering Paul's admonition in Philippians 4:8:
"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things."

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Free download days

Don't forget to download on Amazon for free on National Adoption Day, 11/23 through Sunday 11/24. Currently ranked number three for Inspirational books! Read it free this weekend! 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Fifty years after C. S. Lewis

On November 22, 1963, John F. Kennedy was assassinated. His untimely death understandably overshadowed the deaths of two other famous men on that date: Aldous Huxley, author of the futuristic novel, Brave New World, and Clive Staples Lewis, Irish novelist, scholar, and reluctant Christian apologist.

C. S. Lewis, or "Jack" to his friends, revolutionized the understanding of Christian faith—starting with his own. Raised in the Church of Ireland, Lewis became an atheist at age 15, when he expressed an anger with God for not existing. The young intellectual quoted Roman Epicurean poet Lucretius, who he believed had the strongest argument for atheism, "Had God designed the world, it would not be a world so frail and faulty as we see."

But Lewis was a seeker of the Truth. It was inevitable that he would find it. And his ability to articulate that Truth would change lives. Even fifty years after his death just before his 65th birthday, his writings continue to challenge people to new and deeper faith.

There are many examples, but I will use perhaps the most prominent American scientist today. As a pioneer geneticist and present head of National Institute for Health, Francis Collins, credits Lewis with his religious enlightenment. He wrote in The Language of God, that when once asked about his faith, he confessed that he had none. That realization set him on a quest to discover if there was any rational basis for spiritual belief. He questioned a minister who lived down the street who handed him a book to read. That book was Mere Christianity.

Collins writes, "In the next few days, as I turned its pages, struggling to absorb the breadth and depth of the intellectual arguments laid down by this legendary Oxford scholar, I realized that all of my constructs against the plausibility of faith were those of a schoolboy . . . Lewis seemed to know all of my objections, sometimes even before I had quite formulated them. He invariably addressed them within a page of two. When I learned that Lewis had himself been an atheist, who had set out to disprove faith on the  basis of logical argument, I recognized how he could be so insightful about my path. It had been his path as well."

Mere Christianity was adapted from a series of BBC radio shows aired between 1942 and 1944, commissioned to sooth an anxious populace, much like Roosevelt's "Fireside Chats" in America. Christianity Today voted it best book of the twentieth century in 2000. Due to his skeptical approach to faith, and his dramatic conversion, he has been called "Apostle to the Skeptics." His influence and popularity has only increased in the fifty years since his death.

I have always professed a Christian belief. But not until I experienced God's presence in my adoption journey,which is documented in my book But the Greatest of These is Love, did I begin to understand what I had NOT previously grasped. I describe the experience as "scales falling off my eyes." I couldn't understand then how many layers are still left to be pealed away. It is a process until death. Another layer sloughed off when I read Mere Christianity. Here is a passage that almost stood out in bold print as I read.

"If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered to us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."

There is nothing easy about reading C.S. Lewis, especially in the 21st Century when we are more familiar with Orwellian "New Speak." It requires concentration and feeling the words in one's heart. I tried reading Mere Christianity when I was younger, and my eyes glazed over. But reading it now, with life experience, and knowing God on a richer, fuller level, yet still immature, I am finally starting to get this mystery called Christianity. I will read it again. And again.

One last quote from my favorite Oxford Don reveals the Power behind Lewis' words. "I never exactly made a book. It's rather like taking dictation. I was given things to say."

Monday, November 18, 2013

For National Adoption Month, Chapter Two of But the Greatest of These is Love

Chapter Two

               “Do not be afraid—I will save you.
              I have called you by name—
                   you are mine.
               When you pass through deep
                   waters, I will be with you;
          your troubles will not overwhelm you.”        

                               Isaiah 43:1–2 (GNT)

I better start at the beginning, though I am not sure I can identify the exact moment of truth, or insight, or panic that signaled this turning point in my life. I could not recognize at the beginning of this journey that I had stepped out on a few safe stones in a gentle stream. Those stones would eventually become slippery and wobbly, sometimes submerging altogether to leave me stranded and crying out for help. A vague path seemed to be emerging before me, but to what destination and why? When the loose stones first shifted uncomfortably beneath my wary feet, I became alert, but I was helpless to return to the complacency of the shore. I could hear the roar of the waterfalls ahead and see the rapids covering the stones at times. The fear of being pulled down stream was terrifying. I could not walk on water, but I knew of Someone who could. My 2002 journey to the airport and ultimately half way around the world started in 1999. A series of seemingly unconnected events, those stepping stones, set me in a direction that appeared innocuous, even alluring, until I was so far down the path I could not retreat. Ironically, in retrospect, one tragic incident stands out as a catalyst for the many changes that were to come.

In May, 1999, a favorite high school teacher of both my daughters lost her husband unexpectedly. Mrs. Inge was one of my favorite people. My association with her at that point had been limited to my attending school conferences and chaperoning art field trips. She was one of those rare types who exude warmth and friendliness, drawing new acquaintances immediately into her circle of friendship as if she had loved them all her life. And she adored my girls. How could I not love her?

Heather, a senior, and Kellie, a freshman, were heartbroken for their beloved mentor. Although they didn’t know Ed Inge, they were desperate to soothe his wounded wife. We called her, visited her, sent flowers and a card. Even I was compelled to do more. I had an idea: I would offer to help with her classes while she took some much needed personal leave. She taught drawing and painting classes, and I had a drawing and painting degree. Instead of a random substitute teacher covering her classes, I could help for the few remaining weeks of the school year so she wouldn’t have to worry about her students’ unfinished masterpieces. The grieving teacher was touched and pleased with my idea.

I called the school to see if I could volunteer to be her substitute. The secretary in the office told me the only way I could teach her classes was to register with the county school system as a substitute teacher. I didn’t want to be a sub. I just wanted to help in a voluntary capacity; nevertheless, the high school directed me to the Frederick County Public Schools substitute coordinator said it was too late in the school year to become a substitute. The department would offer no more orientations for subs until the fall. I was instructed to contact them in August. I would not be allowed to help Anne Inge; her classes had already been assigned a substitute for the remainder of the school year. When school started in the fall of 1999, Kellie, then a tenth grader, continued to pursue the subbing idea. Anne Inge, back in her classroom, didn’t need me anymore, but substitute teachers were in short supply, especially at the high school level.

“I really think you would love it, Mom,” Kellie would coax.

I did not want to be a sub, but the option did have some benefits. Heather had just left for her freshman year at Maryland Institute, College of Art, in Baltimore. Kellie had three years left of high school. My son, Taylor, was in the fifth grade. I had not worked at a full-time job since the kids were born. I was reluctant to start again, but substitute teaching was part-time. I wouldn’t have to accept assignments every day. I could still be home when my children were home.

I have to admit I have always enjoyed teenagers in small groups. At neighborhood, school, and church events, I usually migrate away from the adults toward the teenagers to hear about the challenges and dramas that fill their lives with both angst and excitement. Their energy and optimism are magnetic; their needs unleashed the most empathetic listener in me. As I thought about my fondness for adolescents, I decided I might try it. I would apply . . . later. I spent the fall immersed in my own art—preparing my one-of-a-kind, hand sculpted Santas, elves, and angels for the Maryland Christmas Show.

My sculpting ability had not been encouraged or appreciated when I was younger. As a senior in college, I had taken sculpting as an elective in summer school. To my utter surprise and dismay, I failed the class. Failure didn’t come easily to me. I didn’t believe I deserved an F. We sculpted from live models, and I thought mine looked as much like the model as anyone else’s, and more so than most. But apparently realism was not the goal in a class where abstract expressionism was revered. I had given up my sculpting tools and any desire to create three-dimensional art. For almost twenty years, I didn’t touch a piece of clay. In 1995, I had picked up a carton of the new polymer clay and a doll magazine. After my family had retired for the evening (so there would be no witnesses if I failed again), I sculpted a face. I was thrilled when the tiny, detailed face seemed to grow out of the clay almost without my efforts. I left the shrunken head on the kitchen table for my family to discover at breakfast. I delighted in their wide-eyed astonishment.

The next week I cautiously sculpted three more, every time fearing it was an accident, and I would not be able to create another. My sculpting teacher was wrong; I did have some talent! I lovingly built bodies for them out of wire and quilt batting, dressed them and put them into environments on boards with toys, antiques, or other props. At a local doll shop, the finished vignettes attracted quite of bit of attention. I was encouraged, though they were so labor-intensive, I knew I would never make much money from their sales. But some was better than none, and I was vindicated, as far as a twenty-year-old memory of failure in sculpture class was concerned. After the holidays, Kellie resumed her mission, eliciting Bruce’s help this time, in her quest to convince me to substitute teach. Even Taylor suggested that I could sub in his class at the elementary school. Now everyone in my family thought this was a great idea. With one child in college and another preparing to go, Bruce was ready for me to be employed, and he could be extremely persuasive. Having not worked for so many years, I felt that Bruce might have to pry my fingers from the door jambs to make me leave my snug and comfortable home. I did not like the pressure I felt my family putting on me. And I suddenly felt “uncalled” to teach at a public high school. I could teach art, maybe, but what about algebra, or physics, or Spanish? I had taken five years of French in high school, but French spoken with a southern accent might be an altogether different foreign language to these Yankees in Maryland!

Originally, I had just wanted to help Anne Inge. Until her husband died, the idea of being a substitute teacher had never crossed my mind. The prospect was so outside my comfort zone, I no longer wanted to consider it. My family’s persistence sent me into retreat mode. I burrowed in at home, determined not to venture into the high school realm. I might enjoy young people, one on one, but I did not like being the center of attention nor speaking in front of groups. I always declined invitations to talk at school meetings, or art clubs, or even to read scripture at church on Sunday morning. “That is not my gift,” I had grown comfortable repeating and justified in declining. I had convinced myself that my aversion to public speaking was less of a fear and more of a personality trait. I would leave the lime light for those who thrived there. I much preferred the shadows of backstage.

Reality presented another stepping stone in my path. The dwindling of Heather’s college savings after only one semester became an incentive I could not ignore. I had earned a small fraction of her tuition with my hand-sculpted dolls. People loved them at the show; my booth was like a museum—people came through and marveled, but few purchased. And my new craft was seasonal. I needed something regular.

Kellie’s gently persistent pep talks encouraged me that I might possess adequate skills to monitor a high school class. Her love inspired me because she wanted me to be at her school, among her friends. Infused with Kellie’s confidence in me, I attended the orientation for substitutes at the end of January 2000—with no obligation, I reminded myself. I was fingerprinted, completed the requisite paperwork, and ordered my transcripts. My procrastination was aided by bureaucratic bumbling. My transcripts got lost. The college sent them under my maiden name, so the board of education filed them away in the vast bureaucratic vacuum where lost papers reside. After a few weeks, the problem was solved; finally, I was registered in the Frederick County Substitute Information Management System. I waited for the phone to ring. Weeks went by, but no one seemed to need me after all.

 About the time I was surrendering to the subbing suggestion, I heard that small-group Bible studies were starting at my church. The text, Experiencing God, by Henry Blackaby, had come highly recommended by two women in my Sunday school class. I expressed a slight interest. I was cautious because I never participated in Bible studies. I rarely read anymore, except an occasional magazine article, or headlines in the daily newspaper. I didn’t meet in groups that might cause me discomfort. I attended church and adult Sunday school on Sundays, every Sunday, with my family, and that was enough. I was on a few committees at church that took about as much time as I could spare. I prayed, sometimes. As survey polls suggest, like the majority of Americans, I considered myself a Christian.

Experiencing God arrangements were made, and suddenly I didn’t have time to back out. I was swept up in a Bible study. Carol and Sarah, the advocates of the book, had raved about it. It was “life changing” they had said with wide eyes. I didn’t tell them, but I didn’t want my life to change. It was perfect.
I halfheartedly read my first week’s lesson, but I was immediately intrigued by what I read in the book’s preface. The text almost leaped from the page. It said, “We do not find God’s will; it is revealed. God always takes the initiative.” Besides sounding like less work for me, this philosophy sounded fascinating, even magical. But at our first meeting, our leader directed our attention to a paragraph that read: “If I do everything He says, I will be in the center of His will when He wants to use me for a special assignment.” I turned to Teri, a woman for whom I had considerable respect, and whispered, unashamed, “I don’t want an assignment!”

“I don’t either,” she answered matter-of-factly.

Big assignments were for other people, for those who felt “called.” I had never felt “called,” didn’t want to be called. My life was just fine. More than fine; it was wonderful.

Two weeks into our Wednesday morning study, Bruce suggested I attend one of the evening study groups instead, so that when I started to get calls to sub, I would be available. Daytime meetings had been a habit for me, so I could be home in the evenings with my family. Bruce’s suggestion had merit, and having an evening out sounded exciting. The kids were older with interests and activities of their own. Seeing me involved with my own interests would be beneficial to them, especially a church activity. I wanted them to have some “religion” in their lives.

I learned two women were starting a nighttime study of Experiencing God. One was a close friend, and I looked forward to doing anything with her. Her name was also Debbie, and we had worked on several decorating jobs and stage sets around the church and community. The other woman, Gretta, was a newcomer to my Sunday school class. Both of these ladies exuded “fun.” I wanted in on that! I saw them at church on Sunday morning and asked if I might join them.

The new millennium had brought changes to my world—I was no longer a stay-at-home mom where my entire existence had revolved around raising three children and being available for my family. I was about to launch a new job and an evening out, even if it was disguised as a Bible study. Neither the job nor the lesson reading appeared to be too taxing; I still maintained a measure of control.