I pulled into the driveway of a little house that looked as if it had been lifted out of Northern Ireland and dropped, unscathed, into the hills of Pennsylvania. The ceilings were low, the windows were small and cute and the stone fireplace had been built by hand.
On one side of the house was a cow pasture and on the other a tiny, century-old cemetery with a sign on the metal gate that read “Enter At Your Own Risk.”
I blew my nose as I parked and began to rehearse what I would say to the elderly Irishman inside, determined to not let him talk me into staying for tea. I did not want tea. I wanted to go home, lay down and fall asleep after a long day of work at the local weekly newspaper and catching a cold that had only gotten worse as the day went on.
I would simply tell Rev. Charles Reynolds, the aforementioned Irishman, that I was too ill to come in, but would stop again another day when I was feeling better.
The door swung open and a man with blond-white hair, glasses slipping down his nose, stood there in a button up dress shirt and a pair of dress pants, his traditional garb for as long as I had known him; as if he had just returned from church.
“Hello, Rev. Reynolds, I’m sorry I can’t stay long, but I seem to have a cold and I don’t want to get you and Maud sick,” I steeled my resolve to not be swayed by his Celtic charm.
“Come, come. Have a cup of tea,” his Irish brogue was thick. “Maude, put the kettle on. We’ll have some tea and Lisa will feel better.”
“But I -”
He was already walking away from me, gesturing for me to close the door.
Maude, his gray-haired wife, had dutifully shuffled into the kitchen, off to the left of the front door, and placed the kettle on the stove.
“Yes, Paddy.” She nodded curtly at her husband, like a soldier to a superior.
Her tone hovered somewhere between affection and sarcasm.
I sat at the kitchen table and waited for the whistle of the kettle as cookies, crackers, plates, tea cups, a bowl of sugar cubes and cream was placed on the table before me. water was poured into a teapot filled with loose tea and steam rose as it was poured into my cup and bits of the leaves settled at the bottom.
Rev. Reynolds leaned over the table and added a cube of sugar to my cup. Two, round white horse pills pills showed up next.
“There now. That will be just what you need. Tea and vitamin c.”
Rev. Reynolds’ had a doctorate but sometimes he seemed to forget it was in theology.
The dainty tea cup covered in blue patterns was warm in my hand and clinked against the plate when I set it down. Being served tea this way was a far cry from tea at my house, served in a mug with a tea bag after pulling it from the microwave.
“So, have you talked to Ian lately?”
I marveled at how Rev. Reynolds had the worst timing and the least tact of almost anyone I knew, other than my former editor.
I had no interest in talking about my former editor. My departure from the daily newspaper I had once worked at hadn’t been pleasant.
But if it hadn’t been for that job, my first in newspapers, I wouldn’t have met Rev. Reynolds.
“Hey, Lisa – this is Rev. Reynolds.”
Ian was the editor of the local daily I had started working at while still in college. He had a slight nasal tone when he spoke, like he had a permanent stuffed nose.
“He’s from Northern Ireland and would be a great source for a story about all the drama going on over there. We can localize an AP story. Interview him and give me 15 inches for the front page tomorrow.”
Localizing, or “adding local color” to a national or international story, was a favorite pass time of Ian, or as Rev. Reynolds would often call him “eeeeeahn”. The concept of localizing involved using an interview or information from a local resident and adding it to a story we had pulled off the Associated Press wire. Ian wanted me to add Rev. Reynolds’ comments to a story about the possible peace deal being negotiated between the Irish Republican Army and the United Kingdom.
“Oh, you’re Irish! Do you speak Gaelic?”
The elderly man with a slightly bulbous nose and holding a stack of papers, looked indignant.
“Noooo!” he cried in a drawn-out Irish accent. “That is the language of the rebels!”
I had no idea who “the rebels” were. Had we just switched to talking Star Wars? I didn’t know, but for the basis of needing to write a story for the next day’s paper, I needed to know.
Even after we talked I was a bewildered by it all. to this day I remain bewildered. It wasn’t until later I started to connect that rebels appeared to be synonymous with “Catholics.” In the world of Rev. Reynolds. As a Protestant, Rev. Reynolds had been raised in a family who supported Northern Ireland remaining within the United Kingdom. Most of those who supported the province remaining within Great Britain were protestant and those who wanted to break off and be part of the Republic of Ireland were Catholics. That’s about all I can explain because even after he explained it to me, wrote a book about it and told me to read it, and I looked it up online, I still can’t wrap my head around why there is an Ireland and a Northern Ireland.
In some sort of ironic twist straight out of a Hollywood script, Rev. Reynolds ended up in the hospital at one point after our friendship grew and his roommate was a local priest, who was well known to my husband and I. Not only did a friendship develop between the two but through him Rev. Reynolds developed a friendship with an Indian priest who was serving as an assistant priest at our local Catholic Church. I remember Rev. Reynolds inviting my family, including my parents, and the local priests to dinner at a local restaurant where he spoke about his life coming full circle – from a distrust of Catholics at a young age to an affection for members of the church he had come to call friends.
From that day at the paper, I became the contact for Rev. Reynolds for his various projects. And he always had a project underway. A fundraiser for an Indian village damaged by a tsunami; a new book he was writing and wanted publicity on; a need to bring awareness to the need for more women in the medical field in India. They were all worthy causes but sometimes it was hard to keep up with his ever-growing list of charitable pursuits.
“Tea has healing properties,” Rev. Reynolds slipped another cube of sugar into my tea.
The tea came from a 50-year old stash in the shed across the dirt road that they’d brought back from India during their time as missionaries. Rev. Reynolds pulled back a tarp one time to show me the small, square white and green boxes stacked high, each full of traditional, loose leaf Indian tea. They’d had it shipped to them from India and knowing Rev. Reynolds he’d found a way to get it there at little to no cost to him. Rev. Reynolds had a way of convincing people they wanted to help him.
I began to realize my headache and body chills were fading. Maybe Rev. Reynolds was right about the healing properties of tea after all.
It was often hard for me to imagine this man, sitting across from me at the table, now in his mid-70s, as a young man living in Northern Ireland. During World War II he joined the Royal Air Force and was stationed in India, where he fell in love with the Indian people, but also with a young woman from a little farming village in Pennsylvania who was in the country as a missionary. After the war he and Maud became missionaries to the country for 20 years. Maud had been an only child who had grown up on a farm and had been taught how to do anything a man could do – including fixing cars and hiking through some of the most remote areas of the world.
Over the years they met many famous people, including Mother Theresa, the Dalai Lama and several American and British political leaders. Rev. Reynolds also once lead the leader of Northern Ireland around the United States in a public relations campaign in support for Great Britain continuing it’s rule over Northern Ireland. In 1995 he was also appointed as an OBE (Order of the British Empire) by Queen Elizabeth II.
But to me he was simply the man who called me to help him send an email, figure out why his computer wasn’t working, write a news story, or eat a traditional Irish meal of boiled ham, potatoes, carrots, turnips and cabbage with him and his wife, or sometimes some new person he had taken under his wing. In truth, we were almost family, since Maud was related to my grandfather’s family, but we were also family because we somehow adopted each other.
The day before our wedding my strong-willed great aunt and the maybe slightly more strong-willed Rev. Reynolds battled over where the main flower arrangement would be placed for the ceremony.
“The arrangement will go on the altar because it deserves to be the center of the ceremony,” Aunt Peggy said in her thick Southern accent.
She had designed all the flower arrangements, full of gorgeous purple lilies. She transported them to Pennsylvania from Cary, North Carolina, stopping several times along the way to spritz them with water and make sure they stayed cool. Once she arrived at the century old house I had grown up in, she rushed them into the cool stone basement.
On rehearsal day she placed a large, expansive arrangement on the altar between the unity candles and stepped back to inspect her handiwork.
We all stepped back.
We all admired its beauty.
All except Rev. Reynolds.
Rev. Reynolds picked it up and moved it to a stand that was sitting off to one side of the altar.
“It can not be on the altar. The altar is for the candles and the holy book.”
“It will be fine in the center of the table.”
“Noooo….you can no’ place it there.”
The more agitated they became, the thicker their respective accents became.
The exchange went on for several moments longer with the flowers being moved back and forth as each person explained their position.
It was like a scene from a sitcom.
The rest of us wished we had a bowl of popcorn for the show.
I thought my aunt’s eyebrow, which arched when she was indignant, was going to fly right off her face. Her lips, pursed tight to keep herself from saying something “unpleasant”, were now a thin red line.
Rev. Reynold’s ears and nose were glowing red.
Eventually, a compromise was reached and the arrangement was placed to one side of the altar, still in an appropriately visible location, but not in a place that would detract from “the holiness of the altar.”
Rev. Reynolds could be bull-headed, sometimes even rude, but those moments were overshadowed by a deep desire to serve, to be the hands and feet of God. No matter where he was, from the green hills of Northern Ireland to the remote forests of India, to the tiny Pennsylvania farming community, he never shied away from sharing the gospel. In the last book he wrote, “He Leadeth Me,” he wrote about meeting with the Dalai Lama with a contingent of missionaries and leaders from the United Methodist Church. They hoped to help the exiled Tibetan leader and his people, who had been pushed from their country.
The Dalai Lama turned abruptly to Rev. Reynolds during one conversation and asked, in English, “Why do you help my people? We are not of your faith or your culture, yet you help us.”
Rev. Reynolds said he wasn’t sure how to respond at first, surprised by the question, but believes the Holy Spirit directed his words when eventually relayed Luke 10:33.
“I repeated the simple story of the Good Samaritan and the teaching of our Lord Jesus that we are to love our neighbor, even though that person was not of our faith, our race or our culture. Anyone in need of help and who could not help himself was to be touched by the grace and love of our Lord. This discussion continued on into our knowledge and kinship with God.”
I have many regrets in my life and one of them is driving by the hospital that day, ignoring Mom’s warning that it might be my last chance to say my goodbyes. I was in denial that death could ever come for someone so full of life. A few days later I stood in the back of the church the day of the funeral and held my crying baby, mourning loss and celebrating new life simultaneously.
There are many times since I have felt the void of the insistent Irishman who often drove me to my wits end, blessed me with his kindness, and demonstrated to me what it means to truly live in the footsteps of Christ.
“I believe God made us all as individuals, each with their own life’s work, calling and talents. We should therefore find a place of service in this gigantic jigsaw puzzle that we see as the world, and as having found it, we should serve to the best of our ability. Shakespeare understood this when he had Polonius say ‘This above all to thine own self be true.; However, we know that Polonius was not true to that affirmation, so Shakespeare added a contra when he wrote, ‘All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.’ True, many people wear masks and act a role, but nobility of spirit requires identifiable personal characteristics.”
~ Rev. Charles Reynolds
Don’t let someone else tell you what God is calling you to be
When you search the internet for the word “calling” one of the definitions is “a strong urge toward a particular way of life or career; a vocation.”
In the Christian definition we often use the word to describe God’s plan for our life and we often believe God lays one calling on us and we are to do nothing but that ONE thing. This idea is further perpetuated by some in the Church who feel it is their job to suggest to others what their calling in life is.
When a well meaning friend or family member or church member says God called you to whatever it is that person believes you have been called to you can take what they say and think about it, but there is nothing that says you need to claim it. Remember that person is human like you and not God and their definition of what your calling is not necessarily God’s definition
Today I heard an interview with Bishop T.D. Jakes and Pastor Steven Furtick. In it Jakes warns to not let what others say your calling is limit what God can do in you and through you. As someone who has not been limited by one title, Bishop Jakes has recently written a book, “Soar: Build Your Vision From the Ground Up”, about learning what God’s plan is for your life.
“I never knew the way people described you would become a prison until they did it,” he said. “When I met me I was not a preacher so I didn’t know they would incarcerate me with the title. You are at your best when you are authentic to your core and you have to be what you are, not what they call you. You understand what I’m saying? Some people will call you a name and you will start living up to that name and it limits you from what else God wants to do in your life. . . . What happens in life as we evolve as a person is we can not allow ourself to be incarcerated by anything people would describe us as because we limit what the Holy Spirit can do in our life.”
There are many women who are writers, mothers, artists and business people all in one. There are many men who are fathers, entrepreneurs, employees and men of God preaching on Sunday.
There is not always one thing you were meant to do and now you’re not allowed to be anything else. Being a mother is the highest calling there is but I know mothers who harbor guilt because they want to be a mother and an artist, a mother and a business person, a mother and a writer but someone has told them, well meaning or not, that their calling is to be a mother and only a mother.
This guilt and unrealistic expectation is especially true in the Christian community where women are often told “your calling is to be a mother and that’s where God wants you in this season of your life.” Oddly I’ve never heard the same thing said to a man about being a father. Have you? Wouldn’t it be odd in our society to hear someone tell a man, “God wants you at home with your children and to pursue no other calling until they are old enough to go to college and live on their own.”?
Though I understand the premise behind such comments toward woman and while I believe God desires women to be the caretaker of children and engrained this maternal instinct in our sex, directives that a woman should desire nothing more than to be a mother and wide often heaps guilt on women already prone to guilt biologically.
Some women believe that they must pour everything they are into motherhood and if they fall or fail (failure based on their own standards I might add) they failed at the only calling God ever gave them.
Yes, God called women to be mothers but no, He does not call all women to never pursue other passions, interests or callings in addition to being a mother. He never told Esther he couldn’t use her because she was a woman and meant to be a mother only. He never told Abigal, wife or Nabal, that she couldn’t be a peacemaker between her husband and the warrior David (1 Samual 25:1-38) because she possessed a womb and desired to be a mother.
Therefore I don’t believe He has told other mothers their only calling is to care for their children. Yes, there are women whose main calling is to raise her children, but it doesn’t have to be her only calling.
So often we think we only have one calling and we need to find that one calling. If we don’t find that one calling we have failed in life, we have failed God. I have held on to this one calling lie for the majority of my adulthood, searching it out like one might search for the lost grail, waiting for it to be shown to me with a bright light from heaven. Unfortunately, that just isn’t going to happen and I have begun to accept that my “calling” may go beyond one vocation or role.
Hearing Pastor Jakes remind me not to be limited to what others have called me to be. Hopefully we can all remember to not limit God and to encourage others, especially mothers, to join us in taking the chains off God. Let’s take God out of the box we have put him in and let him show us a path of limitless opportunities, possibilities and callings.
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