Mom’s Rules for Living

My mom passed away eight years ago on March 6.     I think of her often and appreciate her legacy in the lives of many people.    We compiled the following list just after she died:

Mom’s Rules for Living   A Random Compilation

  • Don’t leave dirty dishes in the sink—they multiply while you’re away
  • Go to church every week, including during vacation
  • Never raise your voice in the house, and never argue with your husband in front of the kids
  • Faithfully visit lonely people in convalescent homes
  • Read books to your children at nap time and bedtime
  • Plant flowers
  • Spend time with God every morning
  • Four kinds of pie after Thanksgiving dinner are better than 3 and two weeks of camping are better than one
  • Teach children to sing—God puts music in every heart
  • Be patriotic—do patriotic readings and songs every July 4th before the picnic and fireworks
  • Eat lunch every Sunday afternoon with as many family and friends as possible
  • Don’t let anyone else’s flakiness reduce your faithfulness
  • Eat meals with your family morning and night
  • Read historic markers with your kids
  • Hug people when they’re hurting
  • Bring a ton of food to church potlucks
  • Celebrate birthdays and holidays—make sure every child and grandchild feels loved
  • Minister every day, and remember that your first ministry is to your family
  • Only fight with your husband when playing Scrabble, and only when he’s winning
  • Say what you think, but if you don’t get your way, go with the program. It’s not about you
  • Tell your husband what you think should happen, but accept his decisions even when you don’t agree
  • Enjoy every sunset
  • Collect shells and pretty specks of glass at the beach with your little girl
  • Contemporary songs can be pretty good, but great music lasts
  • Find a shoulder to cry on, and then move ahead with a life of joy and service
  • Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many daughters have done well, but you excel them all!” Proverbs 31:28-29

Florence Gross Slideshow

Written for her memorial service:  

Mom’s Illness and Passing

Mom had been feeling poorly for months – tiredness, pain in her torso. Her color wasn’t very good. Of course, she kept ministering in her family, school, and church. She had X-Rays and other tests, especially after a sort of mystery injury she suffered that caused severe pain September.\

Since Christmas time, her symptoms became more intense, her skin color wasn’t good, and there were a lot more attempts to get a diagnosis.   In late January and through February, she was so anemic that she needed blood transfusions, and we all became increasingly concerned that there was something really bad going on.The doctors continued to be unsuccessful at determining the cause or causes of her illnesses.

We knew how strong and slow to complain about her pain she was, and we also felt that the doctors were dragging their feet and not taking it seriously enough. Her persistent anemia was particularly worrisome, and we talked in hushed tones about bone marrow problems and the awful word “cancer” was mentioned more frequently.

Mom continued to serve and live as fully as possible, and was worried, but not interested in discussing worst case scenarios. She went with Dad and Bill and Betty Cruver to the A.C.S.I. Administrators Conference near Monterey in mid-February, and she was the pianist and director for 3 performances of our 4th grade Patriotic Program on February 20-21.

In hindsight, we realize she was too ill to be attempting these things, but sometimes ignorance really is bliss, and God knew how much any of us needed to know at that point.As most of you know, she went into septic shock on Wednesday, February 26 and was rushed to the hospital. Her body was not releasing toxins, and she was dying from internal poisons. Her kidneys were failing. Her heart rate slowed, her blood pressure dropped very low, and she was only semi-conscious.

A call for prayer went out in our local community and across the country, and we believe that God preserved her life that night. He granted us another 8 days to shower her with love and gratitude, and to understand and accept God’s perfect plan for her and for our family.On Thursday morning, the oncologist finally had results from bone marrow tests, and he confirmed what we had been fearing—Mom had cancer and it was likely carcinoma, and it was likely widespread throughout her skeleton and now attacking her kidneys. We tried to hold on to any hope that remained for her condition to be treatable.  Further tests and the progress of the disease in made it clear that she would only be with us a short time.

It was a wonderful and awful week. Long hours at the hospital with many small crises and victories. God’s gentle hand helped us through each hour. He sent many friends and extended family members to minister to Mom and to our family. We know He sent His ministering angels and His Holy Spirit to bring us comfort and understanding of His Word and ways. We grew closer to Mom, to each other, and to God.He brought her through the valley of the shadow of death of Sunday night when she was attacked with feelings of doubt and frustration. Dad and Mom started Monday morning in intense prayer and scripture reading—From that point forward, I felt that Satan’s attacks on her were of no effect. She was peaceful, amazingly free of physical pain, and focused on smiling and greeting her many visitors.

She was able to come home on Tuesday night, and we were able to love her 24 hours a day through Thursday night when she soared to be with her Lord and the Master of Music. We are thrilled to think of her restored voice, worship ministry, and ministry to children in the kingdom of Heaven.

God’s word in Zephaniah 3:17 says,“The Lord your God in your midst, the Mighty One will save. He will rejoice over you with gladness! He will quiet you with His love. He will rejoice over You with singing”

God is GOOD!

Obituary for the local paper:

Florence Gross, 67, Goes Home to Heaven A memorial service will be held at First Baptist Church of San Francisco on March 15 at 2:00 p.m. for Florence Eleanor Gross, who died at home on March 6 after a brief hospitalization.

Florence, a native of Colorado, came to Pacifica with her husband Joseph Gross and young sons Joseph and David in 1963 to work at Alma Heights Christian Academy, where she started the kindergarten program. During the next 40 years, she taught music to countless students from kindergarten to high school, directed school children in patriotic and religious musicals, gave piano lessons, taught World History and Church History, and helped to found Alma Heights Christian Fellowship. She also added five daughters to the Gross family: Rebecca, Rachel, Mary, Joanna and Sarah.

She was a member of Alma Heights Christian Fellowship, where she served as an ordained Deaconess, Sunday School teacher, and pianist for many years. Florence faithfully visited convalescent hospitals both in Pacifica and San Francisco, bringing music and cheer to the patients, often accompanied by her husband, children and grandchildren. Her home was always open to guests, and her hospitality was famous.

She will be missed by the many people she touched during her lifetime, whether family, school children, school parents, or fellow churchgoers. Her absence leaves a deep sense of loss. However, because Florence had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, we are confident that she is in heaven, face to face with God, whom she loved and served.She is survived by her husband, her seven children and their spouses, and 27 grandchildren.

Donations may be made in Florence Gross’ name to Alma Heights Christian Academy, 1295 Seville Drive, Pacifica 94044, to support the building of the new Library and Science center that will be named in her honor.

Email messages to loved ones while Mom was dying

Thursday, February 27My mom nearly died of toxic shock last night.   When I got to the hospital, her blood pressure was 80/40, pulse weakening, and everything appeared to be shutting off.   Extreme prayer and medical intervention during the next hours got her through the crisis.   She’s in intensive care, and maybe the hospital will take her situation a little more seriously and get the tests run that she needs.   We still don’t know the cause.  Cancer gets mentioned a lot, but some tests seem to indicate that it could be a pulmonary embolism or a weird infection or something.   Thank the Zarephath community for their prayers!  My Uncle Mark’s report to my dad about the intercession there was really encouraging, and God brought mom back to us last night!My dad’s been awesome through the whole thing, but he needs your prayers, as well.  Pretty exhausted in various ways.  Thanks for your care and prayer.David

Friday, February 28 AMWe got what we asked for:  a diagnosis.  However, the diagnosis is about the worst possible.   Without Divine intervention, she won’t be with us much
longer.   Extensive, aggressive cancer in her bone marrow.  
Thanks for your prayers.   God is good whether He heals her here or there,
but it’s kind of hard for the rest of us.

Friday, February 28, PM

Greetings from Florence to all!  
Mom sends her love and thanks for all your prayers on her behalf.  She
wishes she could let you all know in person.
Tough night last night with increasing pain.   They are adjusting her pain
medication, and our family will be doing anything we can to get her out of
ICU and into hospice care at home as soon as it is safe.   Her sister,
Beatrice, has already come to see her, and all of her children and
grandchildren are close by or on their way.   She doesn’t get to see
grandchildren until she’s out of ICU, so please pray that her condition
stabilizes enough for hospice care.
We are continuing to pray that if it’s possible, God would let her be with
us longer.   She told her sister last night that she’s planning on “some
more years.”   This is a medical impossibility, but there is a lot more to
reality than the physical aspects.
Some really great times talking, singing, and laughing together with mom
yesterday.   We are so grateful that God brought her through the septic
shock crisis the other night.   Every day is precious.    This is another
day that God has made.   We will rejoice and be glad in it!
Uncle Mark’s e-mail list is the closest thing I have to a comprehensive list
of her friends around the globe.   Please feel free to forward these
messages to others who will pray and care for Mom.
Love to all,   David Gross

Saturday, March 1

Mom has had a pretty hard but good day.   Some wonderful times together with
family and friends.  We praise God that the doctor approved moving her to a room where we can be with her 24 hours a day and where her grandchildren can visit.   Several are
with her right now.
She needs a lot of morphine for the pain and is a little frustrated that her
brain is not working as sharp as she’d like.   God’s grace continues to be
sufficient and His power is evident thoughout.
Love from Mom,
David for Florence Gross and family

Sunday, March 2
This is another day the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it.  
I must admit feeling torn writing that verse this morning.    As you
know, in the past few days we have gone from feeling frustrated and worried
about my mom’s many symptoms and lack of diagnosis, to very nearly losing
her in the emergency room on Wednesday night, to finding out that a most
deadly and pervasive cancer was the cause.   Since then, we have shared some
good times with her while seeing her pain grow at an alarming rate.
Wednesday night I prayed that God would somehow preserve her for us so that
loved ones could share some more time.  God graciously has granted that, but
we are finding it so hard to let go even this fast.   Yesterday, we pushed
the hospital to do anything to get us more access to visit with her, and we
pushed for stronger pain medication.   Now she is very heavily sedated and
barely able to be with us.   I want her to be with us, but I don’t want her
to suffer.
God, is there some way you can let us have both today?
Please pray.   Mark is coming this evening, and many of the little ones
haven’t been able to see mom’s smile or hear her words of reassurance.  For
them, she just disappeared this last week, and they’ve only seen her in a
strange place unable to talk with them and looking really scary.
Whenever mom was awake yesterday and last night, she continued to minister
comfort to her family.  God has given her incredible courage, and she told
us of His closeness to her.
Love to all,
David, for Florence and family

Tuesday, March 4  
Most of you have received previous notes or otherwise heard about my
mom, Florence Gross’ condition.    She has been having pain for some time,
and in the past month she developed severe anemia and required transfusions.
She had every medical test I’ve ever heard, but her condition puzzled the doctors.  By last week, she was scheduled for tests on her bone marrow.
They took marrow on Tuesday–a very painful procedure.  New symptoms
were developing, some of them a lot like the flu, and we had some trips to
emergency which invariably resulted in more tests or repeats of ones
already taken.   She must have had chest x-rays a half dozen times.   On
Wednesday morning, her fever spiked and by lunch time, she was looking really bad.
She was rushed to emergency (again).  This time, however, her condition
was very grave.   She had developed septic shock–her body was not filtering
or releasing toxic things.   Our extended family rushed to be at her side,
and the doctor informed us about what a critical situation it was.
A host of people were called and joined in prayer for her, and she
survived and was taken to intensive care.   Thursday morning, the oncologist
informed us that the bone marrow tests showed a severe form of cancer–most
likely carcinoma, and he said that the test plus a global look at her symptoms
indicated it likely had spread throughout the large bones of her torso.
She was still struggling desperately to recover from the septic shock,
and we found later that the shock had caused a heart attack sometime
Wednesday evening or night.   It’s amazing that she was still alive.
She regained a measure of strength and was moved from intensive care on
Saturday.   We were thrilled, because all 25 grandchildren and her 7
children and their spouses wanted to be able to be with her.  At the
same time, her pain became severe.   The oncologist indicated that this was
to be expected with severe bone cancer.   They gave her a lot of morphine.
Her pain abated, but now her visits with frightened little loved ones became
rather a nightmare.   Many of us (and I know many of you united in
prayer that she would be relieved of the pain, but would be able continue her
ministry of love to her children and grandchildren.
GOD IS SO GOOD!   He granted this request that same night.   She hasn’t
needed morphine since, and she has blessed so many people who have
visited.
Monday morning she was attacked spiritually, and my dear dad spent some
wonderful hours in prayer and scripture with her.   She has come out of
this valley with peace and a smile for every guest in her hospital room.
Her kidneys are failing, and she is fading.   However, she continues to
come out of sleepiness recognizing her visitors and smiling at them.   It’s
very difficult for her to stay awake and talk.
Our family is suffering terribly and is being blessed incredibly.   I’m
sure many of you know what I mean.
Keep praying and praising.   God is good, and He know He Heals us in His
way and time.
My mom would want you all to know that she thinks all the attention she
is getting is ridiculous, and she would want you all to follow Jesus all
the way.
Love to all,
David

Thursday, March 6
Since I wrote on Tuesday, God has helped us in many ways.  Some specifics:
The oncologist said that he would be able to release mom from the hospital
for care at home by Thursday (today).   We asked him to do whatever he
could to expedite her return home, and he made arrangements for Wednesday.   The
hospice equipment was delivered so punctually that we called the doctor
back and asked if we could have her home Tuesday evening.   He quickly made the
arrangements, and mom has been home since 7:30 on Tuesday.   Now we are
able to take turns being with her throughout the day and night, and my
exhausted Dad can at least have the opportunity for some rest.   Pray that God will
rest his broken heart as well as his tired body.
God has also provided some dear friends to help in a variety of ways.
Elaine Sharp and Yvonne are here with us all the way from Colorado, and a
nurse whose children were Mom’s students has given some very timely and
comforting advice.
Hospice care is being provided, and the nurse is helping my dad with
details even as I write.
My brother’s car broke down on his long drive with 6 kids back to
Williams, CA., but God provided a mechanic and funds for repairs the next morning,
and Joe has been back with us since Wednesday morning.   His deep spirituality
and ability to provide practical, loving care to Mom has been such a
blessing. My brother wants to share with all of you a verse from Lamentations 3.

Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions
fail not.  They are new every morning;  Great is Your faithfulness.  “The Lord
is my portion.”  says my soul, “Therefore I hope in Him!”   The Lord is good
to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him.  It is good that one
should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.

I got up early Wednesday morning to sit with mom and looked past her bed
and out her dining room window at the early dawn sky.   A very bright star
faded gradually from view as the blue of the morning hid it from my view.   That
star was actually no smaller or dimmer, and my inability to see it changed
nothing about its reality.
Mommy is fading.   We can’t communicate clearly with her, as her voice and
vision have been lost.   We hope she senses our voices and touch, and we
are trusting that God’s ministering angels are reaching her in her places of
deepest need.   We continue to rejoice that her time of severe pain was so
short, and we are so glad that she is home.   We are learning to love the
thought of her soaring to her permanent Home.   It’s only our inability to
see, our tendency to cling to the temporal, and the joy and love that Mom
has given us that makes it hard.
Whenever I am able to understand what is really happening, I am full of
joy at the thought of Mom getting to hear the music of God’s voice and the
restoration and perfection of her voice.
Pianos in heaven?    If so, I ‘m sure they are GRAND!!   Children in
heaven?  Zillions of them!   Mom’s going to be so happy!
Love to all,
David for Florence and family
Friday, March 7

Friday, March 7

Our dear Mother went to heaven last night just before 10 o’clock.   She was

at home, surrounded by her family, and her room was filled with scriptures

and with songs of praise, encouragement, and faith throughout the day.   Dad

has been extraordinarily courageous and loving to her throughout.

We will hold a memorial celebration at First Baptist Church in San Francisco

on the 15th.   It is a beautiful, old, domed church that will do justice to

the music being planned, and to the music of Mom’s life.   Mom’s body will

be buried in her family plot at Belleview, Colorado near the Rocky Mountains

she loved so much.   There will be a service at the Belleview chapel.   The

date of this service is to be determined.

She starts every day with a hymn.   Her hymn for yesterday was

    There is a Balm in Gilead

    To make the wounded whole;

    There is a balm in Gilead

    To heal the sin-sick soul.

    Sometimes I feel discouraged,

    And think my work’s in vain,

    But then the Holy Spirit

    Revives my soul again.

    If you cannot preach like Peter,

    If you cannot pray like Paul,

    You can tell the love of Jesus,

    And say, “He died for all.”

    There is a balm in Gilead

    To make the wounded whole;

    There is a balm in Gilead

    To heal the sin-sick soul.

Beautiful, but not so beautiful as her hymn for today, both described and

written in Revelation 7:9-12:

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one

could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before

the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches

in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying,

“Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living

creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God,

saying:

       “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom,

       Thanksgiving and honor and power and might,

       Be to our God forever and ever.

       Amen.”

The thought of my Mom singing with that multitude is too wonderful for me to

comprehend, but there is a truth about Mom’s day today that is even more

wonderful!   Today she gets to hear the voice of God rejoicing over her in

song.   

Zephaniah 3:17:

The LORD your God in your midst,

       The Mighty One, will save;

       He will rejoice over you with gladness,

       He will quiet you with His love,

       He will rejoice over you with singing.”

This is the day that the Lord has made.   We will rejoice and be glad in it!

Love to all,

David for Florence and family

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Late Winter Flowers

The plum trees are the first to celebrate the end of winter.  They burst into bloom with the first mild weather in January.


Our plum trees include some old pink ornamental plums with red foliage.   The dark bark has lichens on the north side.   There are also a couple of varieties of native plums with red/green or light green leaves and white blossoms and small fruit.

Next come the daffadils and some other early bulbs.

Our climate is so mild that some of the perennial shrubs are in bloom and will continue for most of the year. Mexican sage and several varieties of lavender are loaded with purple blossoms.     

It isn’t warm enough for most citrus, but lemons do well  and are setting on new blossoms while still carrying mature fruit from last year. 

Our cala lilies are also very early and prolific this year after good rains and then a warm January.   I love seeing the lilies and daffodils in bright light just after the rain, except when they get so loaded with water that they bend down and become breakfast for slugs.

 

The Holy Woman

Every once in a while, my Dad or I meet someone with an unusual question. It usually goes something like, “What happened to that holy woman who lived at Alma Heights?  A long time ago, she walked down from the school one night and prayed for me.  I’ll never forget her.”  Then the person will recount a night from the 1970’s when they were partying on the lawn in front of the school, perhaps in the deep shadows of the big cypress trees.

Our family lived on the campus, in the white house up the hill above the school.  My brother Joe and I were aware of the guys, usually older teens, who would sit in the dark down there. We called them “hippies,” a catch-all term replaced by “stoners”  a few years later. Miss Stetson, our serene school principal, paid us a dollar each week for picking up bags of trash in front of the school. Sometimes we found beers cans that weren’t empty. I would pour out the nasty liquid, curious and fearful at the thought that someone like me could learn to enjoy something so vile. 

We recognized the favorite spots of the “hippies” by the quality and quantity of the trash left behind. Usually it was down near the street under the cypress, but sometimes they must have wanted more privacy, because we would find evidence left further up the hill. There was a dark area hidden by a willow thicket with a tangle of blackberry thorns, poison oak, and an old native plum tree. We climbed the rickety tree to pick handfuls of the small fruit and sometimes paid for it with some stickers in hands and a poison oak rash the next day.

Just above the thicket was a steep bank with a small gap between young cypress that Dad had planted near our house.    One summer, Dad set up an old green tent trailer from the WWII era in the front lawn and let Joe and me live out there so we could paint our bedroom. The painting went along at a snail’s pace. The longer it took us to finish, the longer we could sleep outside. Sometimes our wildest young friends, Scott and Nick, would stay over. We didn’t always get a lot of sleep those nights.

Scott had an amazing gift that kept us in somewhat of an uproar.  It’s still a mystery to me, but Scott could apparently summon up an unlimited supply of farts. I was a little in awe of him. I would try to eat things that would help me match his output, but I’d have to fake flatulence by blowing on my forearm. Joe and Nick couldn’t do much better.

One night out in the tent trailer, we got a little more adventuresome as we considered the problem of the large supply of banana squash that my father kept stored in the firewood shed. Dad had a garden, and he planted lots of things we were glad to eat.  He also planted okra one year, and Pastor Cather, Joe, and I conspired to divert the water away from the okra patch to prevent it from ever reaching our dinner table.

The second worst thing Dad planted was banana squash. Those squash were enormous.    They fit in nicely with the firewood logs in the wood shed. We were a large family, but when Mom opened up one of those gigantic squash, she had a solid source of nutrition that could last us for days and days. She put slabs on a cookie sheet and baked them with a bit of butter and brown sugar on top. It smelled really nice in the oven, but it was a hard to eat a whole piece. 

Joe and my little sisters complained about the banana squash, so Mom and Dad would require them to take a nice chunk and  watch them fight through it. I was a little sneakier, so I pleased my parents by cheerfully taking large pieces of squash.  The trick was to eat the sweet layer on top and then get the chunk into my pocket during an exciting part of the meal. I would then excuse myself to use the bathroom or to check outside for the newspaper or something. Even on warm evenings, I would tend to wear a loose-fitting jacket to dinner if I smelled banana squash baking.

I don’t remember which boy had the brilliant idea one night out in the tent trailer. It was an idea that solved a number of problems. We were annoyed with the hippies who left lots of trash down on the hillside by the school. We were annoyed with the banana squash. We were in need of something to do that was more entertaining than waiting for Scott to “rip another rouser.” 

The inspiring solution was to take a banana squash or two from the shed, cut off ammunition-sized chunks, sneak over to the gap in the cypress trees, and fling the pieces over the willow thicket into the cluster of hippies. For added impact, we got out Taco, our little black dog with the big bark, to come out to chase the banana squash chunks.

I’ve tried to imagine what it might have felt like to be one of those hippies that night. I would guess that they weren’t really having all that much fun. They probably did not get to sleep out in tent trailers at night, and they probably were not required to eat home-grown banana squash by hard-working and devoted parents. They probably needed prayer. But we delivered chunks of squash and a crazy little dog that you could never quite see in the dark.

There was some cursing and then a rapid exodus from the target zone. Taco bounded joyfully up the hill, and the four of us were choking back excited bursts of laughter. I remember wondering if the hippies might get mad at us and counterattack.   They seemed to embody everything evil, and we thought of ourselves as courageous to be taking them on at night with just some banana squash and a small dog.  What if they came to find us?  We couldn’t  get Dad. He would find out about the squash.

The hippies must be in their 50’s or 60’s by now, and none of them have returned with stories about the night they were frightened off by a demon dog and somebody throwing vegetables.  The story is of a holy woman and her prayers.

Miss Stetson knew about the kids, their substance abuse, and all the trash they left behind. Sometimes she would get a group of us children together on a Saturday morning. Then she would lead us around the campus, picking up bags of trash and praying for the “young people” who obviously needed to know Christ and His love.

One man recounted to Dad that he had frequently come with his friends to party on the hillside, and that a holy woman had suddenly but quietly arrived among their circle and asked, “Now wouldn’t it be good for us to read some Bible verses together?”  She had opened the scriptures and read in her serene voice, and then she had prayed, and the prayer had a power that was something this guy had never known. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

e remembered it decades later, and he was still alive in spite of a rough start, He believed that God had heard this holy woman’s prayer. Now he’s a Dad who prays with his daughter, and his daughter is the chaplain in our high school. She loves to pray with other students, some who have no one praying with them in their homes. 

When I was a Child, not Dancing during Revival Week

I Corinthians 13:11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.

Reverend William Portune was a white-haired, wiry, and fiery evangelist who visited Pacifica once a year during the week before Easter.   He dressed all in black, except for a small patch of white peeking through a strange rectangle in his collar.   We eagerly anticipated Easter vacation because there was no school.   At best, we had mixed feelings about having revival services with Brother Portune speaking every evening from Sunday through Good Friday.  But, there was the Easter egg hunt to look forward to on Saturday morning, and the revival services promised to bring a stimulating balance of conviction and entertainment.

Brother Portune was a holiness preacher.  We could count on him to deliver a vigorous sermon each night, challenging us to consider our great need for salvation and sanctification.   There were opportunities for all of us to experience either or both works of grace, since the potential for a fall from grace was also available to all.   Previous experiences of grace did not preclude us from additional experiences, due to the likelihood of a return to sin in between.

I knew of one lady, Mrs. Mabel Higgins, who testified to receiving both salvation and sanctification during the first service she attended at our church.   She was now efficiently credentialed, but we would have all been glad if she had continued to make some spiritual progress thereafter.

I don’t remember ever thinking that Miss Stetson or my parents or Mr. and Mrs. Cather might fall from grace.  They were steady.   On the other hand, I knew for certain i was sinful, and that my brother and sisters and the Cather girls were sinful.   Our sins were pretty obvious.   Joe and I teased the girls too much, and we delayed doing our chores, and we punched each other, and we were beginning to have thoughts we were not sure we should  have.

I also knew the girls were sinful.   They would fuss and fight, and they would tell on us in various despicable ways.   I was really annoyed when they would whine, just loud enough for Mom to hear, “David, stop it!” especially when I was doing something nice and funny that they should have been able to appreciate.    Joe and I never told on people.  It was against our manly code of honor.   We would commiserate with each other and reinforce the code with the simple summary statement, “Girls fuss!”

I had prayed for salvation many times.  Sanctification, a somewhat more solid condition characterized by a holy life, didn’t really seem like a good fit.   I don’t remember praying for it, despite Brother Portune’s annual urging.   It seemed more reasonable and less presumptuous to just renew my prayers for salvation.   Easter revival services provided a good opportunity for me to receive the first work of grace again, as needed.  I also can distinctly remember realizing my need for salvation during scary car rides on the more dangerous roads in the area, Sharp Park and “Devil’s Slide.”

I remember fighting with Joe in the back seat of the car on a curvy road, and Dad took his eyes off the road long enough to stare back us and scare us sufficiently to cause an immediate mini revival service right there in the back seat.  Joe and I begged Dad to pay attention to his driving, and we replaced our punching with praying.   We knew we were not ready to meet our Maker.

The real highlight of the revival services was not the preaching or the prayer time.   It was the dancing.   It was a blessed irony that in our Holiness church, which frowned on all secular dance, dancing was not only allowed during revival services, it was strongly encouraged.  Brother Portune challenged us to dance as an authentication of our sanctification.  People could even dance with each other, as long as the partners were of the same gender.   At any time, especially during the song service, Brother Portune would rouse himself or be roused, jump up out his seat on the stage, and lead the faithful in marching and dancing to the Lord.

The requirement to dance seemed another reason not to seek the second work of grace.   The last thing I wanted to do was to dance in church, and it seemed safer to aspire to a lesser spiritual condition in order to reduce the pressure to dance.   Joe and I never discussed this, but I think he had reached this same conclusion.    If Joe had gotten sanctified and taken up dancing, maybe it would have become more palatable for me.    The fact that my Dad seemed to dance only with great moderation under the urging of Brother Portune was reassuring.   I knew that my Dad was a saint, and if he only danced slightly, then surely God wouldn’t expect much of Joe and me.

We certainly did not want to join the dancing,  but we delighted in watching it from the pews.     Usually, the form the dance took was a sort of hybrid between a parade and a line dance.   The dancers could choose their individual moves, but more often than not, they moved together in a circle around the chapel.   Miss Stetson’s dance seemed pure.   Her face was radiant, her eyes lifted up, and her right hand, cupped open toward heaven, pumped gently above her, as she glided gracefully around the chapel.

The best dance I remember was when Brother Portune took both of Mr. Cather’s hands in his, and the evangelist and the pastor  spun about together on the stage above the prayer altars.   Brother Portune was probably twice as old as Mr. Cather, but he was adequately lithe and very enthusiastic.   Mr. Cather was pretty enthusiastic, but he also looked liked he might be feeling just a little silly.    We understood his dilemma.   As the church pastor, he had to cooperate with the traveling evangelist, but we knew there was no need to worry that we’d be pressured to dance during the other 51 weeks of the year.

My mom was off the hook, occupied either with the piano or an infant or both.   I was usually the first in line for babysitting duties, so with a bit of luck, I could be holding a baby sister while mom played the piano, and I would be adequately honorable, though not dancing.   Joe escaped a lot of scrutiny by passively supervising me.  These were important jobs that perhaps gave us some jewels in our heavenly crowns, even though we never danced.

Cheryl Cather was an interesting example for us younger children.  She was a few years older and had a boyfriend named Bob Brooks.   We were pretty sure that they may have done some unauthorized kissing, but Cheryl still seemed a little more inclined toward sanctification and some corresponding dancing during revival week.   It was hard to know what to make of it.

My younger sisters and their friends, Yvonne, Cindy, and Brenda Cather, were known to join the line dance most evenings.   They were a little more free-spirited than Joe and I, plus they were probably more likely to succumb to the pressure to join in without realizing the theological implications.   I enjoyed seeing them dance, and I’m fairly sure that I never teased them about it later.   I felt a twinge of conscience for not dancing, and I certainly did not want to inhibit their spiritual development.    There was much to be considered.

There came a year when we heard that Reverend Portune would not be up to making the trip out to California for Revival Week, and I think we were genuinely disappointed.  While we liked the idea of more free time during Easter vacation, we knew that something good had been lost.    The lack of services every night gave the adults, and especially my Mom, more time to put into the Easter egg hunt on Saturday morning and more preparation for the Good Friday and Easter services.   We began to think more about neighbors from our community, and we began inviting other children to come to the Easter egg hunt.   More people from our community would attend better prepared Easter Sunday services.   The Good Friday service became a cooperative service involving several small local churches, even some Baptists with their strange ideas about the eternal security of the believers.

Secular dancing is still generally frowned upon in our denomination, and I don’t remember much, if any, sacred dancing happening again in our little chapel, except perhaps an occasional few moments of blessing led by Lois Stetson and another saint or two.   A couple of ancient gentlemen, Brother John Fairly and Brother James McRobbie, joined our gathering in the following years, and they were comfortable with shouting out praises and marching about.

My Dad was actually a very enthusiastic dancer in the privacy of our home, and especially under the influence of the gospel music of the Bill Gaither Trio.   We loved watching him dance, wearing Mom’s white plush bathrobe, to the Gaither classic “Get All Excited.”    It was the real thing, but a little too wild for church.  We never doubted that he really did “get all excited . . . that Jesus Christ is still the King of Kings,” and it was a relief to know that he could let us in on some of his excitement, but would not be acting goofy in public.

I still am a bit uncomfortable in my skin during church services.   The songs that are designed to inspire physical displays such as hand raising feel manipulative.  “I stand, I stand, in awe of You” always makes me think of all the passages where the awe of the Almighty leads one to adopt a more lowly posture.   A newer song, “The Stand” has  a general lack of clarity and seems intended primarily to inspire standing and raising of arms.   I suppose that I should want to do these things.

At present, I’m content to follow my Dad’s example, keeping my behavior in public worship rather understated, while slipping into more freedom in the privacy of my own home.   My children enjoy mimicking my dancing, and they did all they could to convince me to dance at my niece’s wedding reception.  Not too long after I hit the dance floor and showed a few of my better moves, they were encouraging me to sit back down.   My grown children follow Christ, and are able to hold their own while dancing at wedding receptions, but they do not participate in sacred dance, as far as I know.  It’s really quite intriguing.

My daughter would like me to make a little progress in my dancing prior to a potential father/daughter dance at her wedding someday.  It would be fun to sneak in some dance lessons without anyone knowing.   My family would be amazed to see Emily and me moving gracefully together across the floor together on her special day.  I’d enjoy setting the bar really high for her groom.   Maybe in such a glorious moment, my inhibitions will fade, and I’ll discover some delightful integration of  the secular and sacred in my life.  Maybe I’ll just be alive, loving my daughter, knowing the delight of my wife and children, and feeling the smiles of my Dad and of my Heavenly Father.

Grades are like Money

Grades are the currency of the academic world.   Like money, they can be useful.   Like money, they can help us become evil if we love them.   The scriptures remind us that “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”   Like money, grades should not become an end in themselves, nor should they be seen as the key resource needed for progress.   A student who piles up good grades in her transcript without seeking knowledge is like a miser who collects and adds up his gold coins in order to admire them.    She is likely to become yet another boring and aimless adult who is the proud owner of a great G.P.A.

A beautiful transcript filled with A’s is no guarantee of future success in academics or in life. On the other hand, a beautiful transcript filled with A’s can be one great indicator that a student has learned well, has been growing in diligence, and has learned to understand how to work well with other people.   

Learning is the end of education, and so grades are used in most schools to support learning.   To the extent that they support learning, they are useful.   They become a problem to the extent that they undermine learning.   Grades potentially motivate students to just cram for tests, to cheat, to take shortcuts, to satisfy others’ expectations, and to beat the system.    They also can also be a tool that a wise teacher uses to track student learning, that a student uses to help evaluate her own progress, and that helps both teachers and students identify the next priorities for learning.  

I believe that it harms students to get a good grade in a course without learning the skills and knowledge that are the purpose for the course.    A teacher is responsible to assess students on actual learning, not just on completion of assignments, test taking skills, and short-term memory of facts.   A student is responsible to become a learner and needs curiousity, determination, gratitude and a growing joy in gaining skills and knowledge.   This is the path of learning, and it leads a student toward success in college, a flourishing life, and toward the God, the Source of life, truth, and every good thing.

Stories, opinions, photos, and whatever else I decide to add