Tuesday, May 17, 2011

How Great Thou Art

Have you ever heard of a bride standing in her wedding dress, facing up a staircase, and leading a choir?

Now you have because that’s what I did the afternoon I got married.

In those days, in the fifties and sixties, overseas missions had almost no high schools on the field, so most teenagers had to attend boarding schools in their home countries. To help meet that need, for ten years my parents made a home for our mission’s teenagers in Wheaton, Illinois. Because of all the maple trees on the two and a half-acre property and because our mission was Mid-Missions, we named the home Mid-Maples. Many years, we had twenty or so around our two large dining tables for every meal. During the early years, I was attending college there in town, so I was part of that large family.

We were a mission operation, and the imagination of many folks and churches was captured by those young people who were separated from their parents, at least for one year and some for as many as four. The year my parents furnished the home, before the arrival of the teens, churches got the vision to supply the mountain of linens that would be needed, and each year at Christmas they asked for sizes and wish lists and sent boxes and boxes of gifts.

When we had an invitation to visit one of these interested churches, we decided to put together a program. The young people from different countries dressed in typical clothing of their countries and sang in the languages they had grown up with. We wanted to use our theme song, “It Will Be Worth It All,” so we prepared it as a group number with the young people singing parts. I became the designated choir director, and we ended up many Sunday evenings traveling to churches within driving distance to present our program. In time, we added other musical numbers. One of those was a song fairly new to America in the 1950s—“How Great Thou Art.” My dad would close the meetings with a meditation on godly young people.

I was a senior in college the year serious romance and a diamond ring came into my life. Because most of the young people stayed right through the summer, our August wedding became a huge family affair—especially since we decided to hold it right there in the large Mid-Maples house. In my wedding dress I came down the front stairs with my Daddy, and Fred and I said our vows said in front of the big picture window with the bamboo-print curtains. Some of the guys served as ushers, other directed traffic outside the house, two of them lit the candles, and three of the girls served the cake and refreshments in the big side yard afterwards.

I don’t remember whose idea it was to use “How Great Thou Art” as one of the music numbers for the service. The kids gathered in the front hall at the top of the stairs, and I stood in my wedding dress facing up the stairs, unseen from the seventy-five people in the living room and dining room below. From there I led them in singing, and it turned out pretty well.

That hymn would probably have meant a lot to me all these years even if we hadn’t used it like that in our wedding, but because we did, it has meant even more. It is a great song with great truth and has become an icon of music for many in our Christian faith.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Memorial Sunday for Last Year's Flood

We had a special and touching church service this morning. It was framed as a memorial to the big flood a year ago this weekend when we had fifteen inches of rain in 48 hours. The pastor told how a year ago about fifteen people (that included us) had made it to church when he realized they needed to cancel it. Fifty families in our church alone were affected to some degree, at least half of them losing everything.

In the children's sermon he held up the visual he had planned to use for the children that Sunday a year ago--it was a framed picture of Noah's Ark. The point he made with it is that the first thing Noah did after coming out of the ark and that traumatic experience was to worship the Lord.

We had two testimonials--one from the lady who ended up organizing much of the effort as our church served for a month as a disaster-relief center for the community. She said she never got over the joy of watching someone leave with a smile after they had come in completely beaten down. The other came from a couple who lost everything in the flood (I don't mind telling you there were tears with that one).

The choir sang a thrilling arrangement of the song, "The Anchor Holds."
The anchor holds though the ship is battered;
The anchor holds though the sails are torn;
I have fallen on my knees as I faced the raging seas.
The anchor holds in spite of the storm.

We sang "Great Is Thy Faithfulness."

Our pastor brought an excellent message from Ps. 40:1-3 and Ps. 93, including these verses: “He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.”

Especially in light of what has happened to so many in our same part of the country this past week (over 350 dead from tornados), it was touching, sobering, and a powerful reminder that our Anchor does hold in the face of the storms that come our way in this earthly journey.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

New Challenges (Part 5)

When we turned up a school year without enough kindergarteners to justify a full teacher just for them, I was offered the opportunity to “float.” A number of my previous class of kindergarteners needed speech therapy; would I continue the work I had begun with them the year before? Sure. Because of my interest in writing (I don’t remember how they knew about that), would I be willing to teach a time slot three days a week of creative writing to the fifth and sixth graders? I would. Besides, interestingly enough, I had taught several of them in kindergarten a few years before. In addition, I could be available to be something that was a luxury to that setting—a substitute teacher within the school system itself.

That year worked out well, and in the course of it I substituted in almost every grade, including what we then called junior high. Meanwhile, the visa situation became tighter, and it didn’t look hopeful for securing enough teachers for the following year. During break times in the teachers’ room, we would joke about the first grade teacher covering K-2, the one who then had 3-4 would cover 3-5—and Esther Gross would cover 6-8! We all laughed together.

Then one day our principle (by then a personal friend, of course) called me in privately and said, “We’ve been joking about taking different classes next year. Would you consider teaching 7-8?” She wasn’t kidding. I said I’d have to think about it.

My teaching certificate covered K-8, so no problem there. But those two grades were different from kindergarten in more than just student ages. For one thing, they were a double grade. Both grades were taught in the same room by the same teacher. That of course was not a new concept in American education, but I had no experience with it. When I had subbed in those classes, I did okay. Maybe . . . If they could find someone else to teach math and science, I could probably handle English, social studies (ancient and American history), and Bible.

But . . . but . . . what if I couldn’t handle it? What if I “blew it”? What if I did a horrible job? As I thought and prayed about it, God had a message for my heart. If this was something He wanted me to do, then my task was to obey and do it. The consequences—how it turned out—were His problem. So I agreed.

Remember the kindergarteners I had again in grades 5-6 for creative writing? Many of them were now in junior high, so I taught them once again—and at the end of the school year, the principal gave me the pleasure of handing them their eighth-grade diplomas.

I don’t remember when I noticed that God again “grew me into” the job He had for me. I had decided to become a kindergarten teacher after I had children of my own that age. And what did I have now? Children of the age I was being asked to teach. My youngest would be an eighth grader in my class. Junior highers were not the terror to me that they had been years before when my only experience was with little ones.

And what that rule that students had to call their teacher “Mrs.” even if she was their mother? I remember fretting some about that over the summer. How hard would be it be get my son to do that? It wasn’t that he was a difficult kid, but I never found the courage even to mention it to him. The new school year started. A couple of times, Don Paul called me Mom, but no one paid any attention.

Then one day he wanted my attention and couldn’t get it. After calling me Mom a couple of times, he tried “Mrs. Gross.” His classmates busted out laughing. So . . . that was the way it was, was it? Apparently at that age, his classmates expected him to call me “Mom.” Anything else was strange and comical. The rest of the year proceeded without any further attention to the matter, and I never breathed a word about it to the principal. I wonder if now, thirty years later, I should refer her to this blog . . . .

After nine school years in Colombia, we ended up back in the U.S. for good. I continued working with the Children’s Education Department another sixteen years, writing curriculum and later doing layout and editing of newsletters that went to our people overseas. I did some moonlighting teaching English skills to students in a community college, and eventually I taught fellow missionaries in many workshops.

So my teaching career ended up (with the exception of high school) spanning from kindergarten through adults. It has been humbling to watch God lead me step by step and give me joy all along the way. I enjoyed each thing I did, yet when God nudged me on to something else, I never looked back with regrets.

And to think I started out not knowing I would like to be a teacher!