Have you entered the storehouses of the snow...Job 38:22

Friday, April 30, 2010

The Most Dangerous Question of All

The last few days have been largely uneventful. I am reminded of the beauty of ordinary days. Even though they are boring, when appreciated you realize that life changes in an instant. I had lunch with someone yesterday and we talked about how life changes in an instant. Everything familiar can become a mocking reality of what has been taken or lost.

I’ve been thinking a lot about loss the last few days. I am experiencing the lost of yet another dream, of a plan gone bad. I am so tired of this. I am too old for this. At this point in my life, life should have less wrinkles. It should be pressed smooth. It has already had great pressure and heat. Isn't that supposed to smooth the wrinkles? I should be able to say, yes, I am doing this. Or no, I am not doing that. It should have some definitiveness.

I’ve written before about my sadness about leaving the seminary. I’ve talked about plan A, B, C, and whatever this latest plan is – the plan to get an EdD. Sometimes I wonder if I should just stop and be an old person. Maybe I could just be a granny and take trips to visit grandchildren. Or be content to just be a good wife who gets up every morning, no matter how much I want to sleep and fixes oatmeal for her husband. (I really do that.) My husband never wants for clean clothes or a hot meal. I smell up the kitchen routinely with fresh curry dishes for him for lunch. He is a spoiled man.

my husband's favorite dish, Aloo Gobi

I’d like to go off on a tangent now and talk about how I would like to be a spoiled woman. However, that would make this blog just about personal whining. That is never productive for any of us. But for the record, I’d like to know what it is like to be spoiled.  Maybe that is another loss as well since I doubt I’ll ever know. Yes, that’s sarcasm.

I was watching Oprah the other day. I don’t watch her all the time because if I did, then I’d really feel like someone with no life. This day she had Queen Rania from Jordan. She was there to promote her new children’s book. I wonder why a Queen would need to promote her book? Strikingly attractive and articulate, the Queen shared she was about to turn forty. Oprah assured her that the 40’s are wonderful and said wait until you get to your 50’s! It's wonderful!

In some ways, I agree with Oprah. Life is different after 50. All of a sudden, it is like some wisdom switch turns on and you understand things that you never really did before. It’s hard to explain. Your body isn’t what it used to be and sometimes it gives you trouble. But you feel the same inside as you did when you were 20. Best of all, your mind, your understanding is alive with all sorts of new insight.  A friend recently said that at this age she felt the ripest.

I feel that way. I am free from the constraints of raising children (and of that I did more than my share). While I deeply feel the lost of my mother, I no longer have concerns about her care. South Dakota could be a place where I reinvent myself and give of my wisdom to better life here. And yet, once again, everywhere I turn, I am faced with loss of dreams. Even my offerings of knowledge, faith, understanding, gifts and intelligence are set aside by decisions of others.

I realize I am now at the stage of anger in this grief process.  We are so afraid of saying we are angry. An old boss at a mental health center where I worked used to always ask the patients, are you mad, glad, sad or scared? Mostly the answer was sad. They dealt with deep issues. Nevertheless, usually the prevailing emotion, admitted or not, sometimes deeply hidden underneath, was mad.

I’m mad. I know there is nothing wrong with anger. It is a human emotion. What you do with your anger determines its correctness. Right now, I want to express my anger in some vengeful way toward the person that I have now perceived as the person who took this dream away. He is clueless to the level of pain and disappointment he has caused. But that is always the way, isn’t it? People go on with their lives, they have made decisions, spread discouragement, not offering help and they just go on. Unaffected by their decision their life is the same. Their paycheck is the same. Their dreams continue. Yours are shattered.

Once again, one of my dreams has become a nightmare robbing two years from the quickly diminishing years remaining.  Once fruit is ripe, it can rot much faster. There is an urgency to my timetable that wasn’t there when I was 20 or 30 or even 40. So I scramble to move on.  I have a new plan. Hopefully it will be the final plan leading to contributions of my substance. Yet, still, I wonder why the brightest spot in my South Dakota life, dreams I hoped to be fullfilled at Sioux Falls Seminary had to die.

Why? The most dangerous and unproductive question of all. 

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

I Love Something in South Dakota!

I know someone who likes to tease me that I should be employed by the Tourism Department of the state of South Dakota. She knows I have struggled a lot with living here. She knows that most of the time something negative will come out of my mouth. However, what she doesn’t realize is that I could be hired as an ambassador for the city of Sioux Falls.

I love Sioux Falls. Yes, you heard me right. I actually said there is something in South Dakota (besides my husband) to love. If I lived in Sioux Falls, I’d have no problem living in South Dakota. It is a very nice small city. It isn’t just that they have two Targets or a TJ Maxx and a decent mall. It isn’t just that they have some really good restaurant choices or that they have well stocked grocery stores.  Although I don’t follow their politics, it seems to be a well-planned and administered city.

I found myself interested in their recent election. A 47 year old banker won in a run-off election to a 62 year old politicians who was known as the “no” guy. I understand the 47 year old ran a really energetic grass-roots campaign. I saw the 62 year old on the television with his grandson a lot. As I watched from a distance, I thought a lot about my own brushes with politics.

As it is in most places, news emanates out of the major city. In this case, it is of course, Sioux Falls. On my way to class I usually listen to talk radio. No, it isn’t because I am a flaming conservative. It is just that I like talk better than music when I am bored. Music can put me to sleep. Plus even though much of the chatter I disagree with, it is more entertaining. Sometimes views expressed make me mad and then I can talk to the radio. Other times I might cheer and say Yeah, that’s right! Talk radio is just more interactive.

The trivia question contest sponsored by HuHot Mongolian Grill always comes on as I turn on 28th Street. I usually know the answer and wonder how people are so stupid. Today the question was:

On this day in 1789, what was the name of the British ship captained by a man named Bligh that was mutinied?

Not surprisingly, that question was answered on the first call. That one was almost too easy. It always reminds me of when my husband and I were first married. We knew we’d have to be almost ready to go out the door to school and work when we heard Quickie Quiz come on KFRU radio in Columbia MO. We can both still sing the jingle – it’s time for quickie quiz, a quickie quiz, come on and play our game, we’ll bet you’ll be a winner. All you guys and gals… I actually called once and won free chicken from KFC.

I usually hear an ad for Jumpy Monkey coffee when I am around Dell Rapids. I keep thinking I’ll get some Jumpy Monkey coffee as I like the concept of supporting a good cause by purchasing something I like, like coffee. A woman named Gloria tells us all about how she loves her job at Jumpy Monkey and the best part is putting the coffee in bags. I would like that too – smelling coffee is enough to get me excited. Gloria has a disability of some sort. Jumpy Monkey supplies jobs for people with disabilities. She likes Blueberry Cobbler coffee. I don’t like Blueberry coffee but they do have Snickerdoodle and Cinnamon Sticky Bun coffee which makes want to go buy some right away.

In between the ad for Jumpy Monkey and the HuHot quiz, I heard a PSA this morning. It was for the Center for Active Generations in Sioux Falls. I’ve visited this place. It is an amazing example of a great Senior Center, something near and dear to my heart. Until visiting this Center, I had never seen anything that I thought compared to the Newington Senior and Disabled Center where I was Director for nearly ten years.

I started a flashback, a bittersweet flashback of the years in Connecticut. Like me, the director of Active Generation is doing a big event during the month of May. While they didn’t mention that May is Older American’s Month, I suspect that this went into the thinking of planning their Active Living Expo during May. The PSA went on to highlight free health screenings, entertainment, snacks, etc. I started the same event in Newington, we called it the Senior Expo. I would illicit sponsors to provide freebies to our clientele. Usually that day we would have about 60 vendors with about 10,000 seniors come through our doors.

The Sioux Falls event is early in May. Ours was always the cap to a full month of activities. We would have a Dial-A-Ride Dinner. A time for our transportation staff to be thanked and honored. All our riders loved a meal out in the evening. We usually had about 100 people there.

I see on the Center for Active Generations website that they have April as Volunteer Month. During May we would have our Volunteer Recognition Breakfast. We served breakfast to several hundred people. At this event, a volunteer or two were honored and their photograph forever mounted on a wall of honor. I wonder if those photographs are still there.

Ahh, those were the days. See, I once had a full life. I don’t mean for this to sound as negative as I suppose it sounds. I sound like an old woman whining about bye-gone days.  I just can’t help reflect on what was when I hear that my ideas are now being replicated all over the country.

Oh, I am not saying they stole my ideas. I know better. I know having an expo for seniors was really not new to me. But it was new for Newington. It was something that grew and grew and brought vital information, screenings and joy to seniors and people with disabilities in the town of Newington. I miss those days.

Sioux Falls is a great city. It has so much to offer including one of the best senior centers I’ve ever seen.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Brave Cowboy

I have a new hero. Well, maybe that is an exaggeration. For me a hero would be someone who took me on a long trip, found a great job for me, made me wealthy enough that my husband and I could just retire and get away from South Dakota. Nevertheless, I met a neat guy yesterday.

I didn’t really talk to him personally. I probably could have but I just didn’t. I feared that if we talked he’d never stop. He was a talker. He had a lot to say. He is also a politician so that adds to the chatter.

He is from the western part of South Dakota and looked like it. If you don’t know what I mean, read Cowgirl.  He wasn’t a physically big man. By the time we were finished that day, he stood feet talker in my estimation.  

He wore a huge cowboy hat, a western cut sport coat, tight jeans complete with a huge belt buckle and around his neck was a beaded bolo tie. Probably in his 60’s, he was a remarkable sight, all my stereotypic attitudes jumped into place.

Then I found out he was a state legislator. I thought man they’ll let anyone run in South Dakota. My husband told me he was a Republican. He is but he isn’t. Here in South Dakota politicians have been known to change party affiliations as well as alternate between the House and Senate in order to beat the term limit rules. Where there is a rule, people will find a loophole.

His district includes one of the reservations. I am still unsure whether he is Native or not. My husband said he wasn’t. He didn’t look like he was but looks are deceiving. He referred to Natives as our people or my people.

I was in Pierre yesterday to attend a roundtable on Native issues. My husband was actually the person who was supposed to be there, but since he knew I am interested in these issues and that I plan to write a dissertation on these issues, I tagged along.  There were about 50 people in attendance, 3 were legislators, the rest professionals of one sort or another interested in the topic. Then there was me.

Lots of issues, lots of talk, I wonder what will be done. Like the water issues meeting last week, I always wonder what all this talk accomplishes. Nothing seems to change. What was it though about this unusual man that impressed me? What did he bring to the table that spoke volumes? He did not have any great words of wisdom really. He knew the issues, he spoke with knowledge and authority. He spoke the truth.

This Senator, a Republican only because he couldn’t run again as a Democrat I suppose, spoke the truth. Not only did he speak the truth about some of the issues of Natives, the harsh reality of inequities, injustices and indifference, he spoke the truth of his life.

People in the public eye often want you to think they are better than you are – they have all the answers but often their life does not resemble anything of yours. Even if they have deep family issues, they are hidden behind a glossy smile, slick words and arrogance. This guy was different.

At first glance, I made certain judgments about him. I was reminded once again that it is dangerous to judge by appearance. When he first got up to speak, I thought oh boy, what does this cowboy know about anything? He knows a lot.

There was the topic of the disproportionate number of Natives in prison. He knew about that. No he hadn’t read a study about it. He knew it because he has family members who have had the experience including his wife and his son-in-law who was arrested and now in prison for DUI.  There are children who now miss their dad. He must have had children who missed their mom, his wife, as well. He knows that prison does not just affect the person incarcerated, it affects a family, a community. He knows that most of the people in the prisons are not bad people, they are people like you and me who make mistakes. He knows first hand the ache in your heart as you loved one is taken away. He knows that the legislation he helps make, affect real people like his own family.

The good Senator told us that real life effects his stand on issues. With great poignancy he told about voting on a DUI bill. Opposing a bill  that required swift punishment for a first offence, he asked his fellow legislators if they had ever had someone killed by a drunk driver. They hadn't. Then he share that his son was killed by one and how he held him in his arms as he died in his front yard. Reality collided with legislation affecting his voting. He knew that while the death of his son was tragic, the solution was prevention, education and intervention before a person makes the deadly mistake of driving while intoxicated. He knew, he knew first hand.

The cowboy clothes made me think he was arrogant. He was far from it. He was humble, honest and truthful. I'd probably vote for him if I lived in his district. I am not even registered to vote in South Dakota, preferring to remain a voter in Tennessee. A man like this might change my mind causing me to invest in South Dakota. I don't care whether he was a Democrat or a Republican. I suspect the people of his district feel the same way.

We need more honest, real people who live real lives, affected by pain, suffering and the harsh realities of life making decisions that affect our lives. His response to his realities is to serve in public office. His response was to be brave, speak the truth about his life and say because of this, I care about issues. 

My response to the harsh realities of my life is to write.  He gave me me courage to speak the truth. He gave me courage to continue to blog on Sounds of Hope. I am doing a series there about my youth, about molestation, domestic violence, welfare, food stamps and all manner of topics that people want to hide. Thank you Senator for being brave and helping me be brave as well.

Friday, April 23, 2010

No Good Pizza In Brookings

You’d think I’d like living in a small town. It seems most people say they do. In some ways, I grew up in a small town. My block, 53rd Street between 4th and 5th Avenue in Brooklyn NY had all the elements of a small town. We had neighbors who looked out for you, knew your name, who your parents were and where you lived. Like other small town inhabitants, they had no problem correcting your behavior and sharing your antics with your parents.

Without crossing the street I could go to the candy store, the drug store, a delicatessen, a clothing store, a bank, a variety store (5 and dime store, remember those?) and more. Also without crossing the street, I could board the bus or descend into the subway. The world was literally steps away.

On our block, we had all manner of people except people of color. Eventually that changed as well. We had a Jewish woman, a single mother, who had the tattoo markings of a German concentration camp. People spoke in whispers about her perhaps fearing her pain.

We even had a bad neighborhood on our block. My mother would hold more tightly to my hand when we walked passed 3-4 apartment houses that she called the “tenements.”  I was admonished to never play with any of the children who lived in these apartments. That always seemed sad to me because there were so many children. Always on the stoop without supervision, they seemed to have lots of fun. They must have been told things about me as well, as they were the ones who made fun of those of us who lived a few doors down in apartments, rather than tenements.

What does this have to do with South Dakota living? Nothing. Today it is colder, grayer and windier than yesterday. Yesterday was beautiful; today it is just dull. We are waiting for rain.

I live in an apartment again. I don’t think they have any tenements to avoid here in Brookings. I am not even sure there are really bad neighborhoods here.  But if I walk out of my door here, there are no friendly faces, no one knows my name. I can’t walk to a corner for a slice of pizza fresh out of the oven dripping with olive oil served by a guy named Sal.

I should be studying but I can’t focus. My heart is somewhere else. I wish I could travel back in time to those days when my world was 53rd Street.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

I've Seen the Daffodils, I Still Want More

The trip back from Rapid City the other day was particularly long. My mood was not the best. I was neither angry nor upset. Rather I was a sad and reflective. Long periods of silence were interrupted with tears.

Someone asked me if I had seen a lot of wildlife. Sometimes we do, and I still marvel at it when I do.  I was asked particularly about wild turkeys. I thought about the very large wild turkey I saw coming up the driveway at our home in Tennessee the last time I was there. I was quite amazed, through the brush to see him strutting around. I so wanted to take a picture of him.

As I thought about Tennessee, I wondered if my rhododendron bush was in bloom. I wondered if I’d miss it like I did the daffodils in my front yard. I don’t love rhododendrons as much as daffodils, but I do love them. I am sure I had seen them as a child. They are common in the Northeast. Nevertheless, it was our first year in Connecticut that I noticed them for the very first time. We first visited Connecticut prior to our move there in the early spring. I was in awe of them. They reminded me a bit of an orchid.

Last years blooms in my yard in Tennessee

I did notice some blossoms on trees, the greening of the prairie grass, the verdant blanket of wheat and the occasional whiffs of manure. Cows have been calving. We always comment on the calves. So little, they follow their mothers with great devotion. Desolation is being replaced with delicate life.

Yesterday, I noticed more and more daffodils in Sioux Falls. The tulips are also in bloom. While not common, a yellow burst of forsythia dots a yard. I wish I lived in Sioux Falls. It well deserves its #1 ranking by Forbes magazine. Although not to the level of rejuvenation I feel when I return to TN, a short trip to Sioux Falls is renewing. If it is coupled by a bargain find at a store, or a leisurely lunch with a friend, it can transform my mood to positive.

Sioux Falls Seminary (SFS) has also served to renew and transform me. I received a letter the other day from the Dean. It is time for a progress review. A year ago, I was excitingly anticipating my first classes at Sioux Falls Seminary. I loved those first two classes. I felt like at last, I have something to do of purpose in South Dakota.

While I felt oriented, I was required to go to an orientation last fall. I received this large 3-ring binder and was told this would be used for my progress review. It would be reviewed at the half way mark in my academic career at SFS. A recommendation based on progress would determine if I went further.

It’s that time. Yet, I am leaving again. All the hopes and dreams I had for my career at SFS have been dashed by the reality of accreditation policies. I was told I could never get into the Doctor of Ministry program without a ministry placement.  While my grades are all A’s and I have proved myself more than capable of the work, without a place of service, I was unacceptable.

Visits, pleadings, prayer, requests for help in finding a placement, led nowhere. Ultimately, I am moving on to another path for the doctoral degree. I am excited about the new path, but feel very sad to be leaving the seminary. I am also sad that I have lost another valuable year of my life pursuing what I thought was a great plan.

I have gifts. I know that. I know they are gifts from God. I am not saying I am great, I am saying God has blessed me. He has given me a great mind to learn, exegete and preach the word of God. Yet, here in the Storehouses of Snow, there is no place for me to serve.

I don’t know if I’ll turn in my notebook for review. There is little point. My advisor was clear that I had no hope for a doctoral degree at Sioux Falls Seminary. His exact words were “I am not optimistic you can find a ministry placement.” His pessimism brought reality in view.

I’m thankful for all I’ve learned there. It will always be close to my heart. I have two classes to finish this semester. I am sad to leave.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

What's Love Got To Do With It?

Yesterday we celebrated our two years in Brookings with a return trip to the Sons of Norway Waffle Feed. The event is held in the place where they serve congregate meals in Brookings. It’s called 60 plus dining. I doesn’t appear to be a fully fledged Senior Center. Just one large room is all I have seen.

As we came in the smell of baking waffles filled the air. I didn’t count but it appeared that there were about 20 waffle irons. I know those kind of waffle irons well as I used two in the coffee shop I once operated. These were basic, but good waffles. When I had the coffee shop my favorite to make were Pecan Pumpkin Waffles topped with cinnamon butter. Alas, there was no variety in the waffles. There was plenty of variety in the syrups.

No allusions to “real” butter, a gallon size jug of butter substituted was available, along with your choice of 7 or 8 different flavored syrups as well as some small cups of defrosted frozen strawberries to top with whipped cream. I chose blueberry. My husband chose the strawberries and cream but I think added some maple syrup. We passed over the sausage.

I made the mistake to ask for a fork since I had not seen them. I was rather scolded as if I were looking to take one too many. I know from my days as a Senior Center director that people do take these things home with them. They were on the tables. Next time, I’ll remember. We opted to sit at a table alone. We’ve had the experience of trying to butt in on tables to be friendly. It is usually met with the same reaction as when you take someone’s seat at church.

As with our first experience at the Waffle Feed, the same person made conversation interesting. The first year we were here, she was the president of the lodge. She greeted us warmly. We had a pleasant chat. She even sat and kept us company while we ate.

Our first year, we were in Brookings there was snow on the ground. A heavy wet snow was piled high. I wondered if the Feed would be cancelled but was told no this is South Dakota and those Norwegians are a very hardy bunch. That day, two years ago, would be capped off by the rodeo.

I was not aware that rodeo could be a university sport.  For reasons I have never been able to figure out, my husband likes rodeos. Maybe it is a male thing. I don’t think there is anything in his background that would compare to a rodeo. I’ve already shared with you that I wanted to be a cowgirl when I was little. Now I was no so interested in an evening of rodeo.

There were real cowgirls at this rodeo. They had pink cowgirl outfits on with lots of fringe and a bit of sequins.  One cowgirl, I think she was a queen, princess, or something, would make a majestic ride through the arena. As with all college sports, it opened with the National Anthem. She carried the American flag as we stood for the Star-Spangled Banner.

They roped calves, rode bucking horses and bulls. It was quite the show. I am not a member of PETA nor did I think that the animals suffered greatly. I really don’t know whether the animals enjoy the competition. For the humans however, it is as if you can smell the testosterone in the air. As I have so many times over the last two years, I asked myself how in the world I had gotten here.

Remember the song from the Sound of Music, where Maria sings,

Somewhere in my youth or childhood days I must have done something good.

When I lived in Connecticut and life was good, I used to sing that in my mind, as it was intended. Life was good. Now I wonder what I didn’t do that condemns me to places I’d rather not be. It was never a life long dream of mine to attend a college rodeo in South Dakota nor live here.

As I’ve been sharing my memories of that first week in South Dakota, it has occurred to me that you may be thinking that I’ve regressed. That my determination to find what God has for me in South Dakota has dissipated. It has not. These are my reactions, my first lasting impressions of South Dakota. They continue to color and perhaps even distort all reactions to this day.

I am on a journey to find my place in the Storehouses of Snow. I will find it. I see clearer glimpses of it every day. I am reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians:

We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We'll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! (1Corinthians 13:12 The Message)

You see, I am here because of love. I am here because I love my husband. I am here because I believe God joined us as one flesh. As I look at what else Paul has to say about love, in this magnificent passage, I realize I have fallen short of that type of love. Yet, I am here. I am here because of love. Moreover, I am here because God has led us here, for what purpose? I have no idea.

Love never gives up. 
Love cares more for others than for self. 
Love doesn't want what it doesn't have. 
Love doesn't strut, 
Doesn't have a swelled head, 
Doesn't force itself on others, 
Isn't always "me first," 
Doesn't fly off the handle, 
Doesn't keep score of the sins of others, 
Doesn't revel when others grovel, 
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, 
Puts up with anything, 
Trusts God always, 
Always looks for the best, 
Never looks back, 
But keeps going to the end.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Lasting First Impressions... Part 2

I was here for a week that first visit to South Dakota. I spent many hours alone in the hotel room, a dark dismal room that fit my mood. While my husband was escorted to meet the people who would become an integral part of his professional life, I watched TV, browsed the internet and read. I also watched the mounting snow wondering how I came to be in what I now call the Storehouses of Snow.

One day an employee of the university who someone thought had a story similar to mine picked me up. He had been in the ministry, a Norwegian and Lutheran. I suppose no one in South Dakota could imagine that I could be Norwegian, be in ministry and not be Lutheran. Born and raised in rural South Dakota our similarities were slim. Further, he now had a PhD in Sociology from South Dakota State. I suppose the intentions were good.

He didn’t understand how I could be Norwegian and have been raised Pentecostal. That I could be a good Norwegian and not grow up in the upper Midwest a Lutheran was way beyond his grasp. We visited for an hour or so. He picked up the tab for lunch muttering something about being reimbursed by the Dean. Obviously, he did not enjoy our lunch meeting any more than I did.

I was looking forward to the Sons of Norway Waffle Feed. Now for those of you not from the upper Midwest, I suppose you wonder what is a feed? More accustomed to words like Waffle Breakfast, I did. I suppose the choice of words comes from the farming background of most of the inhabitants of South Dakota. Feeding the cattle, pigs, and other livestock evidently is synonymous with feeding people as well. Livestock are fed "feed" so are people.

We had never been part of Sons of Norway in Brooklyn. They drank and had bars in their lodges. Like the VFW or American Legion, they owned their own buildings and were known for their drinking and partying. Good Pentecostals did not engage nor desire to be seen in such places. However, a Waffle Feed seemed harmless. I’ve since learned that the Sons of Norway folk here usually do not have their own buildings, do not have bars and do not serve alcohol at their meetings.

My husband’s glee continued even at the Sons of Norway feed. He saw important people. I suppose he had yet to realize that Brookings is a relatively small town.  Many of the leaders are Norwegian. Plus it is always good politics to be seen supporting community events.

I didn’t expect to be served true delightful Norwegian waffles, and I was not disappointed. Standard waffle fair was served with a side of pork that we do not eat. Surprisingly, the Norwegians here do not make delicious authentic Norwegian waffles, nor do they know what they are... how strange?! Equally strange the people though it was strange to see us at their community event.  Nevertheless, my husband pursued and found the then president of the lodge who is a delightful person. She did her best to make us welcome; we joined the lodge by the internet that weekend.

Thinking that joining Sons of Norway would be a way to meet people in Brookings has been a disappointment. Hoping to connect with Norwegian roots has not materialized either. Mostly older people, they still wonder what this Pakistani and American couple are doing in their midst. I’ve offered to speak on Growing Up Norwegian in Brooklyn at their meetings but they have chosen people to speak about Poland instead. I may not renew my membership this year.

We headed south that day, then west. I had seen the signs for the Corn Palace and we drove to Mitchell. If you haven’t seen the Corn Palace, it is an interesting structure. I thought about Mount Rushmore, still a childhood dream of mine, but knew it was too far. Snow still covered the barren landscape as we drove back to Brookings.
It was time for Rodeo. I’d never been to a Rodeo and can’t say it was ever an ambition of mine. 

Let me pick this up the next time. We’ll explore the world of the Rodeo through the eyes of a girl from Brooklyn.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Lasting First Impressions...

It is two years this week since I first stepped foot in South Dakota. Two years! Two LONG years… The day I stepped on the plane, I had my last class for my MA at Trevecca Nazarene University. It had been a long road, almost done; comprehensives would be in the Fall.  Lots of hugs and see you at graduation, well wishes for  the comprehensive and off I went to the airport. A short flight to Cincinnati, a sandwich waiting for the plane to Sioux Falls then boarded I sat in my seat.

An ominous feeling came over me. I had prayed so hard my husband would not accept the job in South Dakota. I didn’t want my life to change. Things were finally looking better in my life. It had been quite a while since I felt that way. I had a plan. I was transferring all my credits to Lipscomb, had been awarded a 60% merit scholarship and was going to transfer into their Masters of Divinity program. I was excited.

Then the call came, on our 30th wedding anniversary no less, offering him his long desired job. While South Dakota had never been on our radar screen, it offered to make his dream a reality. How could he not accept it? Nonetheless, I prayed he would not at the same time trying to be supportive.

Family meetings with our two children still living with us proved futile. Finally he said yes and left for South Dakota for attendance at unpaid meetings. Two years ago this week, he worked hard to prove himself as that right choice. That he did an excellent job then and through out his time here in South Dakota is beyond question.

A night flight is often very quiet. The lights dimmed. Many people sleeping. The flight was not crowded. Usually no one talks to me so I sat in silence trying to read a book. I now had some decisions to make. Decisions I did not want to be in the position to make.

I could stay in Tennessee and follow the plans that seemed so enticing.  Two daughters, a son, a mother and a granddaughter made that choice very appealing. All more important than my plans for school or continuing to pastor the church I planted. Nonetheless, I wasn’t sure I wanted to give those up either. My husband was oblivious to my pain as he basked in the glow of his new position. Could I, did I want to, live in another state from my husband and only be a visitor in his life?

It was very dark. It was very cold. The bitter wind almost swept me off my feet as I arrived in Sioux Falls. The small airport in Sioux Falls was absent of life and sound other than the conveyor belt with my luggage.  I asked him how his meetings were going. He was ecstatic. Yet, we didn’t talk much because most things out of my mouth were not surprisingly sarcastic. I was in pain. I was angry that I had to be plucked out of my life to satisfy his life.

Shadows of putting advance degrees on hold while he finished his. Shadows of waiting as one child, then two, three, finally five more children were born. All the time waiting, waiting for my turn to finish my dreams. Now so near, they were evaporating once again.

The first day in South Dakota it was still very cold. I heard on the news that a blizzard was forecasted. It was April! Never in any place that I had lived, even in the cold Northeast with its mountains of snow, had I seen snow in April. I went to meet with the then head of the Sociology department. The only PhD offered at South Dakota State that even remotely fit my interests and qualifications was that. 

It was a very unproductive disheartening meeting. I tried my best to be upbeat and I succeeded. Nonetheless, the department head had no interest in my becoming a student in her department. Her cluttered desk and demeanor told me this was a waste of my time. She was scattered and focused on her own upcoming retirement. After being treated so well at Lipscomb, the difference was both stark and discouraging.

I looked out the window. It was snowing. Big, large flakes of snow were pouring from the sky. I joined my husband at his meeting. I was introduced as his wife, as a minister and as a Norwegian. The only thing that might have given me capital here was the Norwegian part. I have since learned that to be Norwegian from Brooklyn is not well accepted by the Norwegians of the Dakotas.

Since I have so much more to say about this experience of arriving in South Dakota, I think a several part series would be good. So I will stop here and finish in the subsequent days. It might be one day, it might be two or more. I don’t know at this point.

I do know that South Dakota made a very poor first impression. I am working hard to overcome that first impression. Nevertheless, first impressions are lasting impressions.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

2800 Miles in a Week

In case you’ve missed me, I’ve been traveling a lot. During Holy Week, we hosted my husband’s brother and the daughter of another one of his brothers for a brief visit to South Dakota and then Tennessee. It was an interesting way to spend Holy Week.

On Monday last, my husband and I drove to Minneapolis to pick them up from the airport. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this area, that is a 3 ½-4 hour drive each way. We were late meeting them. Having a propensity for lateness in such activities, all was forgiven quickly. We took them for a short trip inside Mall of America. One cannot visit the cities without seeing this capitalist icon. Monday we logged 430 miles.

Tuesday we started late. We picked up a rental car to save the miles on my husband’s prize possession. Then a brief stop to show my relatives where I go to school. Next stop, was a visit with some friends at Fort Thompson SD.  I’d love to digress into a long story about this visit. It was unusual to say the least. I did write about playing with Destiny after the visit. Like our never-ending travels, I will just keep going.

By nightfall, we were safely in Rapid City having supper at the 24-hour Perkins Restaurant having logged another 400 miles. A brief sleep and it was on to Mount Rushmore. I like going to Mount Rushmore. I remember the first time I went the excitement of the little girl who used to look longingly at the picture of Mount Rushmore in her Social Studies book returned. It was a childhood dream comes true. Having seen it about 5 times now, the excitement has waned but the awe has not. No trip to SD is complete without a stop at Wall Drug. After eating there, we journeyed through the surreal landscape known as the Badlands. By the time we reached Brookings that night at midnight, we had logged another 500 plus miles.

Having begged my husband to reconsider his plan of leaving at 6 a.m. on Thursday morning, we left at 2:00 p.m. for Tennessee. Opting for a saner two-day trip, we arrived in Columbia Missouri at midnight.  Mileage log for that day was 550 miles. A quick breakfast with my son, a trip to the cemetery to see my mother’s date of death engraved on the stone, a whirlwind visit to our alma mater for the sake of the relatives, we finally arrived at our home in Kingston Springs TN at about 7:30 p.m.  Passing the Arch in St. Louis, we completed that day having driven 475 miles.

It was delightful in Tennessee during Easter weekend. It was warm. The daffodils were finished in my front yard, but the peach tree and the pear tree were blossoming. The view from the front of the house was breathtakingly beautiful as white blossoms covered the trees and the vibrancy of the forsythia was striking this year.

Easter Sunday, I attended the church I had visited for Ash Wednesday. I remembered the pastor’s admonition to remember I was dust, even when dressed in my Easter best. The service filled me with hope for my daughter and her family. They had found a good place to worship. My granddaughter sang about having Jesus down in her heart. I took home the lily we had purchased in memory of my mother. It is now planted in the front of my home in Tennessee.

Sadly, by 3:00 p.m. on Easter Sunday we were on our way back to South Dakota. Leaving the relatives to visit with others in Tennessee, we traveled together. The further north we traveled, the more the temperature dropped and we saw no signs of spring. I was sad. It was so good to feel the heat on your face, to see trees in bloom, and smell spring. Over two days, we traveled another 1000 miles plus. Monday night after a supper visit to Taco John’s we returned to our quiet apartment in Brookings.

Yesterday I saw some daffodils in Sioux Falls. The surprise of seeing bright yellow caused my breath to stop. I don’t remember seeing daffodils last year. Perhaps I did. Probably I did. But this time I really saw them.  I am seeing more beauty and purpose here in South Dakota. I will get to have two springs this year. One brief in Tennessee and perhaps one longer, here in South Dakota.

When I next return to Tennessee, it will be to start my doctoral program at Trevecca. It will be the middle of May. I will be glad to return. It will be the beginning of a new chapter in my life. As I’ve thought about writing a dissertation, something about South Dakota has taken root in my life. I have a passion for  the original people, the first nations, of South Dakota. I am thinking to write my dissertation on some issues that might benefit these true South Dakotans.  Maybe I’ve found my reason for being in South Dakota. It has taken a while, but there is hope. After all, I did see daffodils in South Dakota.