Saturday, April 2, 2016

A Tribute to Mom - Margie N. Pruett on the Day before Easter 2016


I have been given the privilege to speak on behalf of my Dad and sisters – a privilege I take very seriously. For each of us was shaped in many ways  by the unconditional and unwavering love of Margie Pruett.
  
There is a book in both our mother’s library -- and mine -- entitled Kneeling in Jerusalem,
in which the writer Ann Weems ends the section called Holy Week with this short poem:
   
                        As we approached Jerusalem
                          the crowd stood at the gate
                          and cried in tear-choked voice:
                        “We are lost in his death.”

                        Upon the hill the angels sang:
                         “We are found in his rising.”

Since the death of our mother last Saturday, I think it is safe to say that each of us has –  in our own way – been lost in her death. How could it be otherwise?

No longer do we have the opportunity to share that thought or idea that pops into our heads…or to phone her each day…or to seek her advice or understanding or to receive the unconditional love and support she showered upon us…No longer can she model for us her absolute determination to be a vessel of change wherever it was needed – in our family, the church, or in the community.

As you might imagine, our hearts are broken. And yet, if I were to leave us with tear-choked voices -- lost in her death -- it is clear that we would be missing out on the best part
of our mother’s remarkable life and great faithfulness!
  
Our mother was, by definition, one of the Easter people – for she believed she had been found and made anew by Jesus’ rising from the dead!” She was so confident in this that from January 10th – the day the words stage four cancer were spoken, changing our family forever – to last Saturday morning, she spoke of being at peace with whatever happened and would not put up with any doom and gloom from those she loved because – to quote one of the Lenten devotionals she wrote -- “No matter our situation, we can depend on God’s grace to pull us through to the other side.”

What you may or may not know about our mother is that she was a woman of great hope – of happy endings! When she watched television shows or movies or read a book,
she wanted these to have happy endings! She wasn’t a Pollyanna in the sense that she thought everyone and everything was good. She simply held out a vision of the future
in which she expected happy endings, believing that God could bring about the impossible!

She didn’t just hold this vision. She lived into it with great determination, not because she was a do-gooder or a fixer but because she genuinely loved people; and constantly sought to widen her circle in order to share with others the love that God had showered upon her.

Her determined spirit did not come from The Little Engine that Could mindset that said,
“I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.” Rather it was grounded in a prayer life that was contagious, caught by many who knew her.

When I was in my 20s, I participated in a young adult class which Mom taught on prayer. It was a transformative moment in my life as I saw the power of praying in all things, for my mother believed there was nothing too small or too big for which to pray. To this day, I even pray for a parking space when going to the beach or shopping or other crowded venues. While some would call this a waste of God’s time, our mother would have said that prayer is – in part – about our reliance on God for everything in our lives. [And in case you’re wondering, I always have a happy ending to my prayer for a parking space.]

In her marriage to our father, she found someone who understood who she was, though according to Dad, not at first. He met Mom when she was in Business College in Bluefield, West VA, where she finished two years of school in 15 months because according to our sister Sandi, “Mom didn’t drink…Mom didn’t smoke…Mom didn’t have fun!” Mom was boarding with her best friend Evelyn’s family – who turned out to be Dad’s relatives!

As first impressions go, neither my Dad or Mom was overly excited about the other. Our father thought her to be meek, mild, and easy going; but, frankly, was not attracted to her –
nor she to him. However, after going back home to Delaware, he thought more about her and wrote her a letter, to which she responded. They began to write on a regular basis because Mom didn’t have a telephone because there were no phone lines in that area. Over time, their attraction blossomed, both feeling that their budding relationship was God-given.

After a whirlwind courtship, our father asked Papa, Mom’s father, for her hand. In her family journal, Mom writes that her soon-to-be inlaws were not too pleased that Dad was interested in a girl they didn’t know a thing about. In fact, his Mom said that she didn’t know any Nunns – our mother’s maiden name – but she did know some Nunleys and none of them were any good!

On December 28ths, 1951, our parents were married in the Methodist Parsonage
in Bluefield, Virginia. As Mom writes, “Big weddings weren’t in [Dad’s] thinking
at that time.” God had a great sense of humor to give him four daughters!

Our father says that he went into marriage believing – and I quote – like many men –
that he could be the one who made the decisions, that he would teach his new wife
what he knew. Well….that didn’t exactly turn out the way he thought it would – but somehow they found their way and were married for 64 years in December.

During those years, our father says our mother turned out to be the most determined person he knew. From the start of their marriage, when Dad was serving at Ft. Benning, Georgia, to the birth of Janet, to his return to work at the Seaford DuPont plant, to my birth, to his call into the ordained ministry, something for which my mother did not sign up but eagerly embraced, to four years of college and three of seminary, to the births of Sharon and Sandi, and all the exciting adventures that followed with family and church family and extended family, to loving sacrifices made on the behalf of all of us, our mother grew in wisdom and understanding and determination.
    
Her look was always outward to the next need that showed itself through family, church family, extended family, work or the community. She loved her family without condition and did everything in her power to give us happy endings.

Mom took care of her mother, even when it meant a daily trip after work from Clayton to Milford. She modeled for us generous hospitality as she hosted family gatherings
with tons of food which, almost always, included her homemade yeast rolls. Just so you know, these rolls were so loved that there were times after our children were older that my sisters, me, and our husbands would fight with our children to get the first ones hot out of the oven. Perhaps that was not one of our shining moments!! But Mom’s rolls were the best ever!!

Our mother modeled extravagant, thoughtful giving each Christmas. In our younger days, no matter how exhausted she was, she and granny would make our Easter outfits. And every year at the beginning of school, Mom would see to it that we had quality clothes, even when we didn’t have much money.

As we grew into adulthood and chose our husbands, my mother drew them into the family, showering them with the same unwavering love that we received, hoping that they would love us as Daddy loved her – wanting that happy ending for us!

Our mother had an extremely high work ethic which is instilled in each of her daughters and she encouraged us to do what we had the gifts and talents to do.

When the grandchildren came along, she spent time with them, looked after them when they were sick and we, their parents, needed to be at work, edited school papers, took them to Sunday School and worship, baked cookies with them at Christmas, and decorated eggs for the Easter egg hunts she would hold in their yard – though she could never remember how many eggs had been hidden. (I’m certain that Dad found some later with his lawn mower!) Along the way, they were made privy to who she was and her steadfast, determination that they know they were her beloved grandchildren…

As important as family was, she still had time for her church family, using her gifts of prayer and teaching and counseling; beginning ministries that are still in existence today. As she did, she touched lives and made many life-long friends.
   
Perhaps the most audacious vision given to her by God was the church start called  -- of course – Hope. In this, as in every undertaking, our father – and others – supported our mother in whatever ways they could, as she sought to fulfill her vision of a happy ending for all.

Our father’s assessment of our mother is that she grew into a different – but much better person – than the meek, mild, easy going person he thought he married who would let him make the decisions. Quoting the writer of Proverbs 31, he said that his wife was a woman who was “strong and respected and not afraid of the future…”

As her days were coming to an end, my mother sought to live them just as she had lived her life – with hope for a happy ending – believing the song of the angels that she had been found in Christ’s rising to new life!

There’s not a doubt in our family’s mind that the ending of my mother’s life is a happy one because of the God she loved, the Christ she followed, and the memories of us, of each of you, which she takes with her into her eternal home.

As I was leafing through the family journal which she had been working on for some time, I came across a quote that she had saved from grandson Eric after the death of her mother (Granny). Eric was about four at the time. He told Mom that he had gone to the park the other day with his other Mom Mom (Voshell). Mom asked, “What did you do?” Eric replied, “I swung and swung all the way up to Heaven.” Mom asked, “What did you do then?” Eric said, “I saw Granny and she was a superstar.”

If we could swing  all the way up to heaven today, we would see Granny and Papa and Mom’s brothers and sister, Joe, Woody, Minnie, and all family and friends who have gone before her -- the superstars of our mother’s life! Today she gains superstar status with God and enjoys the happiest ending ever – eternal life!

For this we say “Thanks be to God!”


Saturday, January 24, 2015

Musings on One "Priority School" Leader in Christina


(Written as a letter of support for Stubbs Academy Principal Jeffers Brown)
 

In June of 2012, while sitting in our annual meeting, the seed was planted to form a collaboration with a school in our city. After reflection, I asked a teacher with whom I was acquainted to help us find a school that would welcome Grace Church as a community partner. Around the same time, in one of my weekly messages, I shared a vision for using our talents and abilities to nurture and support the educational growth of the children in our community.

After a close look at the schools in our area, Stubbs Academy seemed the right choice. After trying to contact the former administration, and receiving no response, the suggestion was made by one of our staffers, who had worked briefly in education, that we might begin to forge a relationship by sending goodies once a week for teachers and staff in their break room. Believing that building relationships is a good thing, that’s what we did. Weekly, home baked cookies and cakes were sent over to Stubbs with a note that said we were thinking of them and the important work they do. For some time, that was the extent of our relationship.

Under the creative leadership of Jeffers Brown, we were invited to become a community partner in helping the faculty and administration of Stubbs become more effective in transforming the lives of their students.

I like to say that Mr. Brown, and company, have invited us to do the things that traditionally parent organizations do: providing school supplies and backpacks; staffing the annual back-to-school block party; dipping ice cream at a math night for children and families; providing water ice on a hot Field Day; purchasing a salt water aquarium; funding a spaghetti dinner for an evening event for children and families; mentoring weekly; lending a listening ear; attending Priority School meetings and board meetings to support Stubbs; providing holiday gifts for teachers and staff as a way of saying “thank you;” working with other community partners to provide holiday gifts for children in the school; judging a bakeoff with baked goodies by the fathers of students; attending holiday programs, a civics bee, and graduation; purchasing uniforms for students.

The above list is given as a way of saying that Mr. Brown, and the faculty and staff he has assembled, understand the needs of the students and the families of Stubbs and make every effort to meet them so that the students, and those supporting them, can concentrate on the most important thing: their education.

There is a wonderful line in the book Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking written by  Malcolm Gladwell:

            “The key to good decision making is not knowledge. It is understanding.
             We are swimming in the former. We are desperately lacking in the latter.”
                                                                                                                           
As Principal of an elementary school that has all sorts of sociological conundrums, one of which is the extremely high poverty rate of the students’ families and all the catch-22s that accompany this, Jeffers Brown recognizes that in order to make good decisions for those whose education is under his care, he first has to understand their basic needs, their circumstances, the struggles facing their families, the reasons why they are underachieving in spite of their obvious aptitude.

Anyone who has spent time at Stubbs knows that that an environment has been created, under the leadership of Mr. Brown, in which teachers and staff seek to understand the students and parents with the longer term goal of instilling in them the joy of learning and the desire to excel in that learning, aka in Delaware as raising their test scores.

My heart has broken over the past few months as I watched the decision of September 4th threaten to close Stubbs. Yes, if one looks only at test scores, it appears that the administration and faculty need a real shake-up. However, if one spends time at Stubbs, seeking understanding of what has been happening there over the last year and a half of Mr. Brown’s tenure as Principal, one could come to the conclusion that it does not!!

Jeffers Brown, along with his administration, has built a faculty that now works well together, that loves the students and continually seeks the best education possible for each. Much of the credit for the creation of this healthy environment has to do with this man who is professional, loving, caring, involved, smart, funny, and dedicated; this man who is passionate about his vocation with the children of our city; this man who has sought to understand his students and their families and who has the ability to guide his school into making good decisions for and with them!

 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Why Fit In When You Were Born to Stand Out?

“Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” ~ Dr. Seuss

In 1865, 12 men gathered together, one a pastor, and gave birth to a vision for Grace Methodist Church! Grace branched off amicably from St. Paul's Methodist Church, which was then in the city, and began as a mission outpost in Wilmington for Sunday Schools.
Educating women and children, helping them to learn to read, is at the heart of our DNA. The leaders of this start-up saw it as a calling and, along with those who caught the vision, pursued it with relentless passion.

At its inception, this church's reason for being stood out in this city. It was a timely mission and was instrumental in sharing a gospel of love and compassion that helped the people of Wilmington succeed in their daily endeavors. Lives were touched and improved, transformed, one might even say, as the founders of Grace Church made a conscious and godly decision to stand out in this city as a major player.

Over the generations, the church stopped its outpost Sunday Schools and the center of much of its educational ministry shifted to the church building at 9th and West Streets. As it did, slowly but surely, it lost its educational mission to the city, the reason upon which it was founded, and began to educate primarily those who walked through its doors. This proved to be a great success for many, many years and was used as a tool to invite new people to Grace Church. And the church continued to stand out in the city -- as a place to discuss the social issues of the day in an environment that was conducive to learning!

In the 1960s and 1970s, there was a noticable decline in the willingness of people within the church to participate in this sort of education venture. Attendance in these began to dwindle. By the beginning of the 21st century, this style of education was almost non-existent with only a small group or two in place.  For a church like Grace, which has education at the heart of our DNA, this felt devastating. No longer did it feel as if the church was on the cutting edge, as if it was born to stand out! It seemed as if it simply fit in with all the other churches in the city, one of many.

As the numbers in our Sunday morning attendance have continued to decline, it is easy to lament the changes that have taken place since Grace's spectacular beginnings. Yet if we return to our roots, to the heart of our DNA, if we remember that this church was born not to fit in but to stand out, I believe that we can recapture the God-given vision of those who started Grace, invest ourselves in it, and sing songs of celebration and joy instead of songs of lament.

Just as Grace began outpost Sunday Schools in order to help women and children learn to read, doesn't it follow that we need to be out there in the city, working with those who are in the business of educating the children of our city? Isn't that what our relationship with Stubbs Academy (Elementary) is all about? Aren't we trying to be agents of change through educating children as we  partner with Stubbs? Mr. Brown and the staff/teachers of Stubbs have welcomed us into the school with open arms - as the Church!! They know who we are and are happy we are in the adventure with them! Isn't it a good thing to give of ourselves to the children of this city, to build relationships with them, to participate in their education, so that they can become what they dream of becoming? So that they can know they are God's beloved children? This church was born to stand out in educating the children of this city! What is your role in this? What is God calling you to do?

Beyond our relationship with Stubbs, people like Paul Miller are working with other areas of education. Talk with him about the Delaware Design-Lab High School opening a few blocks away from Grace Church in 2015. Youth of our city will have the chance to attend this innovative school! It's another way in which we can be involved in educating the youth of our city!

With the closing of our preschool after 50 years, there is talk of starting a new learning center in Grace Church for preschoolers that would utilize storytelling, other arts, and technology. There has been conversation with Stubbs that it might be a starting place to help prepare those children who would feed into the school as well as for children in the church family and of those working downtown.

God did not call Grace Church to fit in the city; God called Grace Church to stand out in it! Standing out out takes prayer and purpose and passion and participation! This church was started with these! And from its beginnings, it stood out!

 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

I Know That My Tomorrow Will Be Promising!

This morning I wandered over to Stubbs Academy around 9 am for the 5th grade graduation. Two of the youth I have been mentoring this year were graduating.  My expectations for the event were fairly low but I wanted to support both the youth and the wonderful staff at Stubbs, so I went!

As the parents and grandparents began filling the auditorium, and the conversation level began increasing, it had the feel of community gathering.  Across the aisle from me were a group of first graders who, I discovered later, were there to perform. Amazingly, they were waiting quietly and patiently, a tribute to their teacher! Anticipation was in the air as the fifth graders entered to Pomp and Circumstance.

The ceremony was very well done and received by all. A highlight of the ceremony were the speeches of the young salutatorian and valedictorian. Both were well spoken. One of the sound bites in the valedictorian's speech that stuck with me was this: "I know that my tomorrow will be promising thanks to my teachers!" Her words were an incredible tribute to the teachers she has had at Stubbs! The fifth grade team clearly is invested in the education of their students and is concerned about the worth of each. They have made a great impact on these youth who come from varied backgrounds.

As our church has partnered with Stubbs this year, in order to help the youth attending there have promising futures, I have had the joy of getting to know this group of educators who works overtime to help the youth and their parents be successful! The tone is set by Mr. Brown, the Principal, who supports the teachers and staff in doing what needs to be done in order to provide an education that will prepare and support. I feel so privileged that he and others on staff have allowed our church family to join them in this venture.  We want every youth at Stubbs to be able to say: "I know my tomorrow's will be promising" thanks to something or someone at the school.

In a city labelled the most violent of its size in the nation, what if everyone recognized the value of what a good education will do for the youth who live here? If we do, maybe more youth will come to the end of a school year and say: "I know that my tomorrow will be promising, thanks to - someone from Stubbs!"

Monday, June 9, 2014

We Got the Apartment!

In my "Hangouts" app today I saw this message that warmed my heart:  "We got the apartment!" It means that, come July 1st, our daughter will have a place to live! The decision to move from her current apartment was put into motion when her Con Ed bills this past winter were over $600 monthly in a 400 and something square ft. apartment! As she started looking for an apartment, I told her I would pray that she would find the "right" one in a timely fashion.  Today that prayer was answered! An apartment in a co-op in Forest Hills, Queens, twice the square footage of her current apartment, will be her new home hopefully for a long time to come!

"We got the apartment!" is a testimony to the faithfulness of God and friends who joined us in praying for Jessica's housing needs. I am grateful for the circle of friends, family, and colleagues who are always willing to put their prayers with mine. What a blessing!

"Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Let your petitions be made known to God through prayers and requests, with thanksgiving." Philippians 4:6

About what are you anxious? Instead of spending your days worrying, consider praying and inviting others to pray with you! I can testify to the power of people praying together! It's amazing amd life-changing!

In response to God's affirmative response to our daughter's need for a new apartment, I say "Thank you, God! Thank you!"




Friday, May 4, 2012

Really?

There is a conversation in a favorite writing from my childhood between two characters, Cheshire Cat and Alice, that seems appropriate on this final day of General Conference.  It goes like this:

Cheshire Cat:  Oh, by the way, if you'd really like to know, he went that way.
Alice: Who did?
Cheshire Cat: The White Rabbit.
Alice:  He did?
Cheshire Cat:  He did what?
Alice:  Went that way.
Cheshire Cat:  Who did?
Alice:  The White Rabbit.
Cheshire Cat:  What rabbit?
Alice:  But didn't you just say - I mean - Oh, dear.
Cheshire Cat:  Can you stand on your head?
Alice: Oh!

As I write this, I continue to listen to General Conference via live streaming and I wonder when it was that we lost our focus as Christ's Church known as United Methodists.  When did we begin having conversations that talk "around" each other instead of "to" one another?  When did we begin skillfully switching the subject so we did not have to deal with the real subject at hand?  Like the Cheshire Cat, we have become adept at this.  As the Cheshire Cats of General Conference ask "Can you stand on your head?", the Alices, confused by the change in the direction of the conversation, simply say:  "Oh!"

This is an acceptable way for the legislative body of our church to act on our behalf?  Really? 

















Sunday, January 29, 2012

Through the Eyes of a Child

My uncle Woody died yesterday. I received the news in a text from my mother, his sister. Interesting way to receive the news about the death of a family member - even one I have had no contact with for many years. Funny how that happens! For years, I saw my Uncle annually when we made the trip to the Bluefield area where my grandparents and my mother's siblings lived. After my grandfather died and Granny moved to Delaware to live with our family, I saw him infrequently, only when a significant celebration was held for my grandmother. I guess notification by text seemed fair enough.

On this day after, here are my initial memories, all fond: Uncle Woody was always an earthy kind of guy, a coal miner, who smoked cigars. He was the first adult in my life to tease me. He loved teasing all his nieces and nephews. Some of us gave him the response he wanted, while others ignored him; but all of us knew that he loved us! As ancient as these memories are, they are still clear, even today.

By text I have learned that Uncle Woody's funeral will be held on Tuesday, most likely. With no clear idea of when the service will be, I cannot even consider attending; so between now and then, I plan on doing what I would do if I were officiating at such a service. I will reflect upon my memories of my Uncle's life, consider what scripture I would use, and write something in memory of him. Even though I am 57, it will be written through the eyes of a child, a child who loved her Uncle Woody.