Ministry Encounters

It’s Lent, and there’s a lot to do.  Extra worship services to plan, speakers to organize, and the usual rundown of Bible studies, personnel matters, sermons, hospital visits, and conversations about The Future.

Tucked in between all the usual last week were discussions and prayers around suicide, addiction, and gender identity.  Each of these huge societal issues had come home to roost in the form of individuals and families in crisis.

I am guilty to some extent of looking at the neighborhood in which my congregation is located and wondering: What could go wrong?  Of course, I know better than that, from my own family, friends, acquaintances, and colleagues.  Affluence, physical security, employment, the care of loved ones, privilege of race and ethnicity and gender ~ none of these is a bulwark against human frailty and outright catastrophe.

I took today off, completely.  I did some laundry and I chipped away at the overwhelming project of ridding our house of papers and books and I read, and read, and read.  And in another day . . .  back to the ministry of presence and prayer.

The Long Winter: A Book Review

 

long winter

When I was a little girl, I read and re-read The Little House books so many times that I don’t know how they didn’t disintegrate.  In high school, I re-discovered them and, with one of my best boarding school friends, re-read them all again.  I probably still have a couple of copies somewhere; we gave them to each other and inscribed the inside covers.  In the evenings, hiking back and forth through deep snow to the campus library, we sophisticated (or so we thought) teenagers pretended that we were Laura and Mary Ingalls out on the Dakota prairie.

A couple of weeks ago, I got it into my head to re-read The Long Winter, which I remembered as my favorite of the series, and which was the source for our high school imaginary trips across the Dakota landscape.  What a harrowing narrative!  It had already occurred to me in high school that much had been left out of the books ~ all of the personal and maternity care for which we use warm bathrooms and hospitals, for instance, and the tremendous sorrow that must have accompanied the leaving behind of household furnishings and personal items and family and friends every time a move was made.  But, in fact, The Long Winter, read from an adult viewpoint, does indeed relate the terror of a lonely and isolated winter in which a hundred people or so nearly starved to death in their remote settlement.  As a child and teen, I didn’t grasp how close to the edge the Ingalls Family and their neighbors lived, but the book portrays their hardships in chilling detail.  Food nearly gone, father and daughters twisting straw to try to create a slow-burning fuel, fear every time someone stepped out the door in the midst of a blizzard, whether to care for animals or to try to cross the street.  The near-loss of the entire school of children one blinding afternoon, and the heroism and foolhardiness of two young men crossing the plains in search of a farmer rumored to have wheat stored for spring planting.

The book is structured across the seasons, opening with Pa’s comment, as he and Laura make hay late in the summer, that signs warning of a hard winter coming abound,  and closing with the feasting and music that follow the arrival of a train filled with supplies eight months later.  Characters from past and future novels in the series re-appear and appear, and the entire book is shaped to reflect pioneer courage and determination in the face of almost insurmountable odds.

As I was reading, I recalled having seen something of a new biography of Laura published in the last couple of years, and so I started reading that as well.  It addresses some of the issues that have followed the original publication of the series: Did Laura really write the books, or was her daughter her ghostwriter?  Are the books fictional or autobiographical?  And what about the casually racist attitudes toward the Native Americans displaced by the European settlers?  Stay tuned for another review!

Nana ~ 3

Grandparents ~ the stabilizing influence for a young family, in ideal circumstances.

When I was small, my grandmothers were the poles upon which our own little world depended.  Dodo, grandmother-in-town (all of two miles away, but a different world with its houses close together and its stores and churches and schools), worked some distance away and was not accessible to us except by car, and thus was the grandmother of weekly occasions.  We would gather for dinner around the small formica table in her living room, she would pay me a dime to wash the dishes afterward, and then we would re-gather around the television to watch The Lawrence Welk Show.  My plan was to grow up, style my hair in short curls, re-name myself “Peggy,” and sing on Lawrence Welk.  I have absolutely straight hair and can’t sing two notes in a row without wandering off key, so that was quite an ambitious plan.

Nana, grandmother-next-door, placed herself entirely at our disposal, and lived a quick walk from our own house,  so was the grandmother of everyday routine.  She would read to us for hours and play endlessly-running games of Old Maid and Go Fish, but she also permitted us the freedom that several acres of grass and woods and creek afforded.  If she ever worried about our safety, she did not let on.   We ran in and out of her house all day as if it were our own, and on summer evenings the adults would relax on her back porch while we children chased fireflies across the top of the hill.

Decades later, when I had three small children of my own in a city far from extended family, I would understand what it might mean to have two sets of grandparents nearby.  Kids sick, mom sick, too many places to be at once, errands to run, house to clean, time with each other?  My own parents had theirs, eager to participate and to be of assistance, and all desiring relationships with their grandchildren.  When I was a young mother and the debate over quality versus quantity parental time erupted, I knew from experience that quality was in part dependent upon quantity and the presence during the ordinary that it provides.  The grandmother who is right there, listening, even as she bakes a loaf of bread or sweeps a porch, and has the time to put everything aside for an hour of games, is the grandmother who builds a wall of security around a child and her family.

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