“Chevy into a Ford”: a ray of hope

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In the October issue of The Lutheran Witness, a letter to the editor has been published in regard to the article on which I wrote here:

https://eilerspizza.wordpress.com/2017/09/28/dear-lcms-transgender-is-not-like-making-a-chevy-into-a-ford/

As I read the letter, my joy burst forth. While the author did not say that he agrees with transitioning for the Christian, his compassion exuded. First, here’s the letter, then I will let you in on the significance of its author.

I cringed as I read Pastor ____’s article in the August Lutheran Witness, “Can People Really Be Transgender?” To quote 1 Corinthians 12:18 as proof that Paul “anticipated and refutes the claim that some humans are born in the ‘wrong sex,’” is just wrong. 1 Corinthians 12 is about the church. It’s not a commentary on human sexuality. Worse, his article lacked any sense of compassion toward transgender people and their intense, life-long struggles. This is a difficult and complex issue. To attempt to speak to it in five short paragraphs was a bad idea. As we ponder our Christian response to transgenderism, we need to pray, seek God’s wisdom, be quick to listen and slow to speak, avoid overly simplistic responses and, above all, heed the counsel of Colossians 4:6 “Let your conversation be always full of grace . . . so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

The letter was penned by a minister of the LCMS. If I suffered from gender identity issues and he were my pastor, I am confident that everything he preaches and teaches would inform me that his attitude would be such as he wrote in the letter, and should I dare to speak to him about my struggles he would truly hear me. If, however, my pastor’s speech were like that of the man who authored the article, there is no way I would feel that he would have a true listening ear for me, that all I would get from him is judgment and would leave the meeting in as bad a shape, or worse, than before I entered.

Besides the letter-writer pastor’s compassionate attitude, I was doubly pleased that the letter came from one of my seminary classmates. When I knew him at seminary, I found him to be a lovely guy. If this letter is indicative of how he ministers to those members of his who are in difficult situations . . . well, in an online chat I told him exactly what I think, as I wrote, “I bet your members love you.”

In that chat, he was warm and friendly with me, and concerned for Julie and me—exactly the man I knew more than twenty years ago at Concordia Theological Seminary.

I am left to wonder: how did readers of The Lutheran Witness take his letter? I have hope that at least some recognized in it the heart of our Lord Jesus, which is the heart that we are to have for one another. And maybe, just maybe, a few hard hearts have been softened.

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Mrs. Pike: thanks for the lesson

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http://obits.mlive.com/obituaries/muskegon/obituary.aspx?n=helen-m-pike&pid=186932208

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Reading the obituaries from back home, as I do every morning, the name caught my eyes first. I couldn’t believe it. No way was it her.

When my gaze shifted left to see her picture, I knew it was her. Helen Pike. Mrs Pike, when she was my teacher.

I thought, “She must have been 100 years old.” Clicking on her obituary, I soon found out that my reaction was a year off. She’d just turned 101. That means she was in her mid-fifties when I spent a year in her classroom. That made her seven years old than my mother.

Gazing at her picture, I immediately remembered her, especially her eyes. No longer was I sitting before my computer, a sixty-year-old thinking this teacher had already seemed ancient in the early ‘70s, but I was again an eight-grader—or was it seventh grade? And it was history, right, or was it a similar subject? Perhaps, a classmate will read this and confirm or correct my memory—and now I was sitting in the second row from the left, three seats from the front, in a room off the main hall on the south side of Nellie B. Chisholm or, as we called it, the NBC School, dreading the next moment as the rest of the class departed, but this student did not because Mrs. Pike, who had just handed back the most recent test, said, “Greg, please remain in your seat.”

I couldn’t imagine what she was going to say.

I knew exactly why she kept me behind.

Sitting sideways in the desk in front of me so that she could face me, she softly and calmly asked, “Did you study for the test?”

Of course, I hadn’t studied. Not very much, anyway. If the test had only been True & False and Multiple Choice, she might not have found me out. But, no, she had to include an essay question. I hated essay questions. They required real thinking.

Though I was an honor roll student my entire life, I mostly coasted on the smarts I received by way of my parents’ DNA. This time, the coast was not clear. I was out of gas.

I answered Mrs. Pike, replying so quietly that she had to have known I was lying. “Yes, I studied.”

“Did you read the entire chapter?” No, of course I had not read the entire chapter. “Yes,” I croaked lie number two.

The passage of four-and-a-half decades don’t allow me to recall the exact words of the rest of the conversation, but I sure remember that it went like this:

“I don’t think you read it. Your essay is a few sentences that say nothing at all. It is obvious to me that you didn’t apply yourself. You can do better. You’re a smart boy, but you have to do the work.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

And I was off, to catch up with my classmates.

I must have pondered this conversation for weeks. It upset me. I was a kid who never got into trouble with teachers. I had never been called out by one, except for something good . . . or something funny. Mr. Kemp, my sixth grade home room teacher, when seeing shortest-boy-in-the-class me carrying a tuba for marching band, in front of the entire class called me “Little Big Horn.”

My classmates giggled.  I ate it up.

Even more, being netted by Mrs. Pike upset me because it meant that my coasting days were over. Soon, I would be in high school. Tests would only get harder; essay questions only more plentiful; teachers only more savvy.

This gotcha came during years that I was learning about lying. I was a prodigious prevaricator when I was little. Whatever the situation—especially when I did something like broke the latest you-name-it because I wasn’t using my head—I was quick to whip up a whopper, usually finding a way to pin my malfeasance on my youngest brother, Mark.

The middle school years were a reformation period for me. Also in eighth grade, I learned to stop picking fights. I was still short—all of 4’11” and then 5’1″ as a freshman, I wouldn’t sprout until I was a junior—and scrawny best described my physique. But I was a quick-tempered hothead. Close calls in baseball games and missed catches in football had me launching into “I was safe!” and “The ball hit the ground!” immediately followed by my launching myself into the other boy.

And then he would pummel me.

Every time.

And I never learned that I never won a fight.

One lovely spring day in 1971, our gym class went out to play softball. Something took our teacher back to the NBC School. Did we have a gym cadet watching us? I don’t recall. In 1971, teachers might very well have left a couple of dozen thirteen- and fourteen-year-old boys alone on a ball field.

The teacher, whose name escapes me, had barely left when there was a close play with which I did not agree. Too bad for me, it involved Dan Smith. Dan was a head taller than me and was pure muscle.  No matter, my temper took over and I went after him.

With one punch, Dan put me down. With that one punch, I finally said to myself, “Greg, you’ve never won a fight. This punch hurt like crazy. You gotta stop picking fights. Get control of your temper.”

And I did. I never again picked another fight in a ball game or anywhere else.

And I stopped lying in order to get myself out of trouble. From then on, when I did the wrong thing I owned up to it.

Fight-picking. Lying. Coasting. Learning about these things either form us, or they don’t. I am thankful that I had enough parent-provided brains and God-given sense to have paid attention. Chill out. Stop fighting. Don’t be a coaster. You can’t fool people. Lying is no way to live.

Mrs. Pike knew exactly how to hook this fish.

Thank you, Mrs. Pike, for not letting me coast. I wish I could have told you how important you were to my growing up.

SRS: six months post-op

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October 11 marks six months since I underwent sex reassignment/gender affirmation surgery. After posting a few times soon after surgery, I waited for the six month mark to write again in the hopes that I would be fully healed, or nearly completely so.

I am pleased to report that I have, indeed, met this goal.

I feel good. I have no pain, whatsoever. As I sit, typing at my computer, I am completely comfortable. If I did not know I had surgery, I, um, would not know I had surgery.

As I healed, sitting up, pain free, on hard chairs and in the car took the longest to come around. Sitting up puts all of one’s weight right smack where I was healing, and it was not until I was essentially fully healed that I could sit for long periods.

Two events speak best to this. The beginning of August, nearly four months post-op, I drove home to West Michigan, a nearly five hour trip. I handled it well until the last twenty miles, when I got uncomfortable. Then, I sat far too much as I visited friends. I was in a lot of pain. I had to take great care on my return trip, which, surprisingly and thankfully, went okay. Only a month later, almost five months post-op, Julie and I went to Iowa, which, with a few stops mixed in, takes eleven hours. To my joy-filled amazement, I experienced no pain, not a bit of discomfort. What a difference that month made in finishing up my healing.

Even more important than being pain-free is that this surgery feels correct for me. Whether looking at myself or pondering the new configuration of my genitals, I have a good reaction. And, because of Dr. Gallagher’s supreme skills, not only does the surgery area look nice, it is virtually indistinguishable from a genetic female’s.  Even more, everything functions properly.

When one makes a decision about a life-changing thing, the hope is for the outcome to match the desire. This surgery was long-coming for me, and I had hoped I was reading myself correctly in opting for it, yet I could never know how I would react to it until I actually lived it.

I’ve previously written that my immediate reaction was, “What have I done to myself?” This was more a response to the intense pain, mixed with the knowledge that I faced a long recovery, as it was to the fact of what the surgery did in changing me. My spirits were buoyed when Dr. G said that every one of her patients has experienced this reaction. Whew.

I have, however, experienced times of regret. Mostly, the lament has been that I never will be able to be the husband whom Julie deserves in me, whom I always wanted to be. I’ve had to remind myself that it wasn’t like I had ever been that man, that romance always was problematic for me, that I experienced terrible negatives in what should have been a union of only positives with my wife.

So, here I am, six months down a road I never dreamed I would travel, and I feel good. I feel right. I am pleased to have had the surgery. Everything is healing perfectly. Despite the difficulties I had—especially the shooting nerve pain and pesky pelvic muscles not liking me dilating—I jumped those short-term hurdles.

I continue to be amazed and dumbfounded that this is a reality. This is something I always wanted, yet never wanted to have to come to pass; that I dreamed about, yet could never imagine.

I continue to move forward.  The Lord blesses me physically and spiritually.  I rejoice in His gifts of creation and salvation, which I possess both now and forever.

“Chevy into a Ford” follow-up

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The top of the page of the article in question, from the August, 2017, issue of The Lutheran Witness.

The day after posting my critique to The Lutheran Witness article, “Vive la difference!”—found here:

https://eilerspizza.wordpress.com/2017/09/28/dear-lcms-transgender-is-not-like-making-a-chevy-into-a-ford/

—I emailed LW’s managing editor and the pastor who authored the article. I have received replies from both.

This is my letter to the editor, which I copied to the pastor:

Gender dysphoria, the condition which transgender people suffer, is such a nagging, baffling, misunderstood malady that two of every five sufferers will attempt suicide. We Christians who are stricken with this do not deny that the Lord made humans male and female. Rather, we bear one of the many terrible marks of the fall into sin and seek to find some measure of earthly healing as we await the permanent, perfect wholeness which the Lord will provide at the resurrection.

Sadly, August’s article “Vive la difference!” answered the question, “Can people really be transgender?” with such brevity and levity that this Lutheran, who takes seriously confessing correct doctrine and living it, fears the LCMS dismisses trans folks as kooks, with no interest in understanding us or compassionately hearing us.

I signed my letter “Gina Eilers,” but because of the sensitivity of this issue, and since I am now known by many in the LCMS, I indicated that if they want to print my letter, but hesitate because it is from me, I would be okay with them putting “name withheld.”

In my short email to the pastor, I said that I would be interested in speaking with him. Soon, I received his reply, in which he addressed me as “Greg.” He expressed sadness for my situation, but found that because I have had “extensive conversations about this with many individuals,” he doubted he would have anything to add.

My reaction was to write back to him, pointing out that it is not what he could add that interested me, but what I might add to his knowledge of the topic. I did not write that email. Instead, because I find it likely that I would go nowhere if I sought to do any more, I simply wrote, “Thank you for your reply.”

I received a longer reply from the editor. I would love to copy it in total, but find that would be inappropriate. Suffice it to say, I appreciated her response.

Finally, besides the public comments on this blog post and to my Facebook link, I received a number of private messages and emails. All but one were of a positive nature, expressing support for my desire to have the LCMS take more seriously—or, it would be more fair to say, provide evidence that it takes seriously—gender dysphoria and transgender Christians.

One pastor, referring to my critique, found my key thought here:

I wonder whether the LCMS so fears the humanistic spirit of the day that any topic which has any appearance of being part of that—and if transgender doesn’t, nothing does—that it believes it has to take a completely hands off, doors closed, walls erected stance, lest it give an inch and find its doors beaten down by every unwanted issue.

As for the one person who expressed negative concerns, she did not write about the LCMS stance on transgender Christians, but asked me why I became a minister when I struggled with gender issues. I told her that when I decided to go to seminary, I never dreamed that I would find the need to transition and, indeed, hoped that becoming a minister would help me squash my desires of being a female. I perceived that she thought I should not have become a minister because of my struggles, so I spoke to the common malady of all humans, that no one is exempt from the many and various trials caused by our living in a fallen nature and fractured world, thus if every man elected not to go into the ministry because of his specific trials and temptations then no men would ever become ministers.

Finally, it is possible that LW will print my letter. If so, I will be heartened. The article struck me hard, so hard that it took me more than two weeks to be able to compose my thoughts, finding myself at my computer every day but unable to begin typing.

The article angered, frustrated, exasperated, and saddened me. I can’t believe that the church body I love, the one where I find myself in agreement with its understanding of the Holy Bible, would take such an attitude toward this subject that it would print this unhelpful, even potentially harmful article.

Sadly, in my efforts to educate I find myself experiencing way more frustration than elation. Friends continue to encourage me, finding that change will likely not occur at the level of the LCMS leadership but from the ground up, with more and more ministers and church members able to truly listen and learn.

I will keep on keeping on, making and taking every opportunity to educate, always remaining in the same prayer, that the Lord Jesus would guide me in His good and gracious will.

Dear LCMS: transgender is not like making a Chevy into a Ford

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The top of the page of the article in question, from the August, 2017, issue of The Lutheran Witness.

Once again, The Lutheran Witness (LW), the magazine for the lay folks of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), has given attention to the topic of transgender, this time devoting a full, though very short article to it.

Each article in the August issue of LW addressed a question. “Vive la difference!” is the title of the essay in answer to, “Can people really be transgender?”

I cannot read the mind or motives of the pastor who wrote the article; I can only tell you how I reacted to this. Overall, I found the author not to have adequately answered the question. Worse than that, I felt that he made fun of the topic. By the conclusion, I was offended. I was left wondering how the LCMS can print something so short and flippant regarding a subject which is so deep and serious.

Here is what I mean by flippant, from the opening paragraph: “The changes those who ‘transition’ undergo, even if surgically or with artificial hormones, are merely superficial and cosmetic. It’s like putting Ford nameplates and logos on a Chevrolet, then claiming it ‘transitioned’ to being a Ford!”

No, pastor, it’s not even close to the same. And that you made such a wise-cracking comparison leaves me wondering if you have ever sat across from a human being who is struggling with issues of gender identity, who longs to find comfort in her or his birth sex but hates the person in the mirror and the female or male life which is expected of that person, who hesitates telling even one soul about the battle being waged inside for fear of rejection, even the ridicule which might be returned for the revelation, who is plagued by suicidal ideation, of finding comfort in the thought that it can all go away if she just takes enough pills, if he can gather the courage to hang the noose.

The author spent most of the balance of the article discussing how God made us male and female—no arguments here—only touching on the actual question which this piece was to be answering, when he wrote, “Apart from very rare genetic defects, humans universally have been and continue to be made male or female.” Actually, he referred not to transgender, but to one type of intersex condition, of which there are several. Transgender specifically refers to a person whose identity does not match his or her birth sex. A person could be intersex and never be transgender.

After sketching how God made us male and female, and that Eve was made for Adam as his helper, the pastor concluded, “The French have a cheekier way of saying it: Vive la difference!” Again, this felt like making fun in the midst of a deadly serious matter.

What if a Christian were reading this article, who is suffering from gender dysphoria (or a family member or close friend of such a person)? Do you think she or he might decide that, if the LCMS magazine printed this, then it must be how the entire LCMS sees the subject, which might be the way his or her pastor sees it, and therefore this Christian would never dare speak with the very person who is supposed to be there to minister to Christ’s flock, and to be especially compassionate to one who is in the hardest of times?

From the three references to transgender, which I found in 2017 issues of LW, I am concerned about many things regarding the church body which I continue to call my church family. I see a latent assumption that anyone who is favorable to transgender also then does not affirm correct doctrine. Because of the minimal manner in which transgender is cited in these articles, the sense I have is that the LCMS believes the issue is nothing more than as with telling the person who lies, “God says lying is a sin, so don’t lie,” as if there is not a confounding malady behind a person’s struggling with his or her gender identity.

Because I am in my third year of blogging, and since my name became widespread in the LCMS a year ago, a number of Christians, including Lutherans, have contacted me, people who profess sound doctrine and strive to live godly lives, but who are utterly befuddled by a condition which they did not ask to have plague them, which they are trying to address in a God-pleasing manner.

None of them wants to, or wanted to, transition, to live in the sex opposite their birth sex. Some have transitioned, as I have, hoping it gives them a measure of earthly healing, as they await eternal wholeness in the resurrection of the flesh, when Jesus Christ returns in glory and, in His everlasting New Creation, there will be no more gender dysphoria. Some anticipate transitioning, but they long not to destroy their marriages, or hurt their families, or experience any of the other fallout from being transgender, and so they bide their time. One (Robert, of whom I have previously written), is even taking cross-sex hormones, with the hope that increasing his estrogen and decreasing his testosterone will allow him to remain male. (Despite the changes to his body, which he knew would occur, after fifteen month he continues to be succeeding as a male.) All have this in common: the desire to strive in correct doctrine and to live as God-fearing Christians.

Since, last year, the accusation was made about me that I want to introduce the entire LGBTQ agenda into the LCMS (I don’t), I wonder whether the LCMS so fears the humanistic spirit of the day that any topic which has any appearance of being part of that—and if transgender doesn’t, nothing does—that it believes it has to take a completely hands off, doors closed, walls erected stance, lest it give an inch and find its doors beaten down by every unwanted issue.

I don’t know that any of this is the case, and I have been striving since 2013, and writing now, in such a manner so as not to sin against the Eighth Commandment (“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor”), and so I assume that I know nothing for sure, but am trying to learn from the evidence I have, from LW articles, from the reactions of LCMS pastors and lay people which I have read and received, and from LCMS ministers with whom I have met.

President Trump is regularly criticized for pandering to his base, as with his recent condemning of NFL players who are taking a knee during the national anthem. Mr. Trump knows how to speak to his supporters, to rally them to his side, and he makes hay in his speeches and tweets.

The LCMS has its own pulpit, with LW and many other periodicals, websites, and other outlets. It knows who its base is, especially its leadership—the ministers and other church workers, and the lay folks who are in leadership positions in its congregations—and how to rally the membership. Overall, these are biblically traditional and politically conservative Christians. For the majority of them to be easily appalled at anything transgender is no leap of the imagination. Articles, such as “Vive la difference!” can work just as a Trump tweet does with his base.

If the LCMS wants to keep a distance from transgender, articles such as “Vive la difference!” can do exactly what President Trump’s words toward the NFL have been doing. The difference, however, is not whether a person is properly reverent to our flag and loyal to our nation, but the eternal lives of human beings who are being torn apart by one of the myriad of maladies which are common to we who suffer the fallen nature, which every human born of a man and woman must endure.

Is gender dysphoria a tough topic to handle? You bet, it is. Is having transgender women and men worshiping and communing in a traditional church body, as the LCMS is, a challenging thought? Again, you bet. Is this a topic, and are we as fellow humans—equally sinful and equally saved—worthy of the LCMS’ full, serious concern? Lord, have mercy, if it is not and we are not.

Would you help me find my birth mother?

When I received the email, I was skeptical.

From the beginning of my being a minister, I had received phone calls, letters, and emails asking for historical information.  Who knew that baptismal records could substantiate one’s history in the procuring of Social Security benefits?  I went into the church record books a number of times for that purpose.  Other folks were searchers of branches on the family tree.  I was always glad to help.

This request was way different from those.  They never told us at seminary that we might field stuff like this.

Elaine (not her real name; I will provide no real names or specific details as to people and places, so as not to give away information which has remained private), wrote that she had found an obituary, which she thought might be that of her birth mother, and I had officiated the funeral.  She wanted to know if she could ask me some questions.

Elaine had been on an off-and-on search for her birth parents for years, not because she lacked at all in life—she would come to tell me of wonderful folks who adopted her—but, well, you have to be an adopted person to truly understand the gnawing curiosity. Finally, this felt like the lead she needed to have an answer regarding her birth mother. She had exhausted every legal avenue, having learned at one time that the adoption record had been sealed, and at another time that the adoption service no longer existed.

Her email felt legitimate, so I replied.  Soon, she emailed me some questions and, before long, we were talking on the phone.  From the sketchy information she had, and the information I could supply, we both felt that we had a match.

Elaine’s likely birth mother came from a family of local Lutherans.  She had several siblings, some of whom were still alive, and one, Martha, was a member of my church. Even more, if we had the correct woman, Elaine had half-siblings.

I knew Martha well enough that I felt comfortable giving her a call.  Elaine wanted to visit our area, even if only to see the former home and grave of her birth mother. Not wanting Elaine and her husband to make a long drive without more concrete information, I called Elaine’s probable aunt and asked questions that Martha never thought she’d hear.

“Martha, is there any chance that your sister, Edna, had a child before she married Alvin, and gave the baby away?  Did your folks ever send her away to have a baby, because it would have been a scandal in those days?  Did Edna ever tell you?”  Martha, not a young woman, was taken aback by the question; not offended, but certainly flustered.  She struggled to give answers.  They went something like this:

  • No, her parents never sent Edna away.
  • Edna did, however, leave home quite young to find work.
  • She dated a lot.
  • Edna had never revealed to Martha that she had a secret pregnancy.

I felt like Martha had an inkling about her sister that she did not want to embrace.  This was, after all, a decent, God-fearing family of people, and respected in the community. Though we were talking about events of more than fifty years earlier, not to mention that her sister was no longer living, I heard between the words that the possible besmirching of Edna’s name disturbed Martha.

Gently, I asked my questions, rephrasing things, prodding Martha’s memory.  Finally, a breakthrough.  Yes, admitted, this sounded possible.  The time frame fit.  There always was a mysterious air around Edna during those years.  Even more, she thought she knew who the birth father was.  She didn’t know if Edna ever told Alvin, who now was deceased, but she didn’t think so.  She was confident that their children did not know.

Martha now wanted to hear what I knew.  When I told her of Elaine, she was interested, even excited, to meet her.  Whew!  I was hoping for that, rather than what I feared, that Martha would not want to get any further into this.

Soon, Elaine and her husband, Bob, would be making the trip to our town.  I drove them by the home that Alvin and Edna had made, then we were onto the cemetery and, finally, to visit with Martha.

This story now seemed as much about Martha’s entire family as it did about Edna.  Yes, Martha said, looking at Elaine she saw her sister in her face.  (We all had.) Martha explained about the young man she suspected to be the father, told what she knew about his life, and that, sadly, he, too, was no longer living.  She pulled out a photo album, and Martha used the pictures to help us to get to know young Edna.

I must have asked Martha a dozen times how Edna’s secret never came out.  “I’ve come to know you as a close-knit family.  How could no one ever have known?”  Martha was equally baffled.  “She was my younger sister.  I was as close to her as anyone.  She never told me, and I really never knew.”

Confident that we had made a correct connection, we spoke about the children Edna had with Alvin.  How did Martha feel regarding telling them about Elaine?  Some lived in the area.  Martha was in regular contact.  It would be easy to talk to them.

Martha decided that she wanted to get the opinion of a niece.  I urged her to stress that this needed to remain top secret.  I knew the niece; I believed she wouldn’t blab so that soon the half-siblings would find out about their mother.

Our visit concluded, Elaine and Bob were on their way home.  Martha was quick about contacting her niece, who then called me.  We all agreed that if Edna had never told her secret, it was not our job to reveal it.

I thought this was the end of the story.  Not.  Even.  Close.

A bit of time went by, then I received a new batch of emails from Elaine.  She had found a new avenue for finding court records regarding her adoption.  She copied documents into her emails so that I could read them.

Something wasn’t jibing.  The father and mother were correct.  Other information lined up regarding them.  But the date of the baby’s birth wasn’t right.  This female had been born more than a year later than Elaine’s birth date.

Had Edna given birth to a second daughter before marrying Alvin, also giving her up for adoption?  With the information Elaine now had, the answer seemed undeniable.  Yes, she had.

And she had been able to keep from her family not one, but two births.

Upon hearing this second revelation, Martha shook her head in amazement.

Nowadays, Edna’s two pregnancies without being married would cause no more than a bit of chatter in a family such as hers.  In the days in which she was a young woman, however, one such pregnancy would have been scandalous, and a second might have permanently branded her a wanton woman.

We, who now were in the know, decided that we needed to leave this information among only us.

A couple of years later, I moved on from that church.  Sure, with email and now social media, I could reach out to Elaine, a lovely woman with whom I had formed a friendly relationship, but I decided to leave it alone; let her contact me if she wanted, or to tell me of new developments.

Since no one else in the family ever contacted me, I am confident the half-siblings have not learned about the two girls their mother had before their parents were married.  I hope so.

Elaine and Bob told me that they were satisfied.  They learned enough.  The long-cold trail finally led to the destination Elaine was seeking.  They were content to leave it there.

I was impressed that Elaine felt more strongly not to risk upsetting Edna’s other children than to get to meet them. Sure, Elaine wanted to know her half-siblings, but this is one case where the wise choice was to let Edna take this secret to her grave.

There’s the lesson for all of us.  When someone prefers to keep private their personal business, it’s our job to do the same.

Virginia Finkel—stalwart of St. John

 

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She was, in a word, faithful.

Faithful to her work. Faithful to her community. Faithful to her congregation. Faithful to her family and friends. Faithful to the Lord.

Faithfulness and much more lead me to label Virginia Finkel a stalwart. A stalwart is steadfast, sturdy, strongly built. Virginia proved herself to be all of these.

When I arrived in tiny Port Hope, Michigan, in 2001, Virginia had already been the church secretary for thirty-four years. Since she was well into her sixties, I never could have guessed that she had ten more years in her, so that in 2011 we finally were able to throw the big retirement party that she had earned.

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At her retirement party, Virginia is flanked by sons Larry, right, and Ray.

At her retirement, Virginia stood as the second-longest serving person of St. John, falling just short of Rev. Emil Berner.

Virginia was employed by the congregation at fifteen hours per week. I am confident that never once in my ten years with her did she only work fifteen hours in a week.

Part of it was the workload. Some of it was that she was so sociable, making conversation with any and all visitors in the office, whether they were strangers who were in town looking for information about the grave of a long-lost family member, or they were members of the congregation making their rounds—in Port Hope, that was post office, bank, convenience store, and church office—or it was the pastor stopping in with the latest thing to hand off to her and the two of them caught up on the news or got into a discussion of theology.

As this former pastor can attest, Virginia could hold her own in theological conversation.

Returning to the long hours Virginia spent at her desk in St. John’s church-school office, another part of it was that she didn’t work as fast as she used to. She certainly was not the quick hare, but the steady turtle. You do, of course, recall who won the race between those two. Turtles are stalwarts.

And, make no mistake, Virginia could have taken more advantage of computer technology. The day after she retired in 2011, I began emailing to the new church secretary, Andrea Piotter, my weekly stuff for the bulletin, which I had always printed out to hand-deliver to Virginia, which she then had to retype for the bulletin.

Virginia did her best with much of modern technology.  Some of it did its best with her.

Finally, as Virginia would admit, she simply liked being at her desk, in the office, among its traffic, interacting with folks. The October before I arrived, Virginia’s beloved husband, Norm, had died suddenly. Virginia’s work became even more precious, and her need to be home less so. This, of course, was a win/win situation. Virginia benefited from being around the people she loved, and we had her where we needed her with our incessant questions.

If I have not yet built my case that Virginia had been a stalwart, I move onto the practicing of her faith in the Lord Jesus. She worshiped every Sunday and every holy day. She was in Bible class every Sunday. She hated when something—an illness or the weather—kept her from being in the Lord’s house, receiving His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation.

As already mentioned, she proved that she was paying attention. Many a conversation between us began, “Pastor, I don’t understand how . . .” and then she would bring up something going on in the world that did not match up with the Word of the Lord, which we would flesh out for the next ten minutes.

Virginia served on the Ladies Aid until that group of women simply grew unable to carry on. She attended every church event, from the kids’ basketball games, to choral concerts, to the Christmas program, to you-name-it. Her faithfulness extended to the public school of Port Hope and the village. This was her lifelong home, and she was its beloved daughter and sister.

She and Norm were blessed with two sons and a daughter, and the kids gave them the grandkids of which Virginia spoke to me often. Son Larry didn’t marry, remained in Port Hope, and proved an essential blessing to Mom, especially after Dad died.

My Julie got to know Virginia for herself. Julie served as the school secretary for a couple of years, which had the two of them sitting in the office across from each other. In 2007, to mark Virginia’s reaching forty years as church secretary, Julie put to use her former career—newspaper writer—to pen the lovely tribute which was printed in the local paper.

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Thanks to daughter-in-law, Jane, for this and the picture from Virginia’s retirement party.

Ultimately, even stalwarts like Virginia give out. Her health failed over the past few years. Finally, on September 5, at the age of eighty-four, she fell asleep in Christ.

Because the Lord Jesus is The Faithful One, we trust that He fulfilled every promise to Virginia upon which she relied during her earthly pilgrimage, and that her soul is before Christ’s throne in heaven, praising the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and that on the day of His return to the earth He will resurrect Virginia from her grave, give her a new and imperishable body, and with all of the faithful she will enjoy the eternal heaven-on-earth paradise.

Until that day, we who remain thank the Lord for Virginia. Even more, we do well to follow her example as faithful stalwarts in our homes and churches and jobs.