I’ve returned to the world of blogging. Finally. That first draft took a little longer than I anticipated, but 3 months and 15 days after I wrote the opening page, I’ve reached the end of the story. Now I’ve got to let that too-hot-to-handle first draft cool before I slice it up and realize what an inedible and unpalatable mess it is. On the bright side, I get to catch up on blog-writing (mine) and blog reading (yours). Let me know if any Totally Important Event has happened in your life in the last three months that I may have missed in my sporadic blog-reading.
It’s really fitting that I finished the draft this past week. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, this novel deals with the problematic relationship between a teen girl and her beloved but racist grandfather. Though I didn’t know it until the next day, I began work on the story the day he died. I finished the draft a few days before we held his memorial service this past Sunday. (Because of how scattered our family is, we couldn’t hold it until then.) So in a sense, this draft is bookended by significant events in his life and mine. Appropriate.
And here’s another odd thing. The family gathered at my house for lunch before heading off to the cemetery, and in the bustle, my aunt handed me a copy of my grandmother’s family history: names, dates, places, that sort of thing. But under the pages was another page. It was my grandmother’s testimony of how she became a Christian. I’d heard the story before; someone (my mom, I think) read it at her funeral several years ago. But I hadn’t caught one significant detail. Here’s what Mimi wrote.
It was 1950, but I remember it as clearly as if it were yesterday. I heard the sirens come down our street and stop at our building. Then I heard the sound of men with heavy boots rushing to the apartment of my sister-in-law downstairs. I ran down to find the little baby from the basement apartment on her dining room table and the firemen frantically trying to revive her. Someone whispered “SID”: Sudden Infant Death. I knew what I was supposed to do and offered up a prayer to a God I really didn’t know. . . . I felt my prayer go higher than the ceiling.
I quietly left and looked in on my two-year-old son who was peacefully napping. “What if that had been him or the baby girl I was carrying in my womb!” I had heard about God who sent His only son to be the sacrificial Lamb for our sins. I had even gone forward as a teenager and made a profession of faith, but had no sense of my own sinfulness. I had gone on to live my life and make my own bad choices without thought of Jesus. Now a great cloud of despair covered me.
My husband, Ray, was evidently affected by all this too. Providentially, at that time he was doing construction work on a Christian and Missionary church in Chicago that had experienced a fire. He testified that on that Friday when he went to the office to sign out, his tool box became so heavy that he had to drop it. Pastor Ben Jennings led him to the Lord that very night. He came home and announced that we were going to church on Sunday. And we did. I couldn’t tell you anything the pastor said in her sermon. I just know that when the invitation was given I ran to the altar. It was September 17, 1950.
Here’s what stood out: that little pronoun her. Her sermon. The pastor who preached that Sunday was a woman. Standing in my library this past Sunday, sixty-five years after my grandmother’s conversion, I read and reread that sentence. Could it have been a typo? But how could Mimi type “her” for “his”? The other typos in the document are missing or transposed letters. Never in my life would I have imagined that my grandparents (my grandfather in particular!) had sat through a sermon by a female minister.
Given how significant the issue of gender roles in church has been in the past few months for me, this, too, seemed appropriate. All the issues that have surfaced in the past year have shown up in my work-in-progress: race/racism, gender and the Christian subculture’s traditional view of “female” roles, mental illness, everything. On the one hand, that’s not surprising; it’s to be expected that a novel will reflect the author’s current thoughts. But on the other hand, it’s a little eerie how deeply the themes run in the characters, their relationships, and their story. Any other writers have this happen to them?
Anyway, I’m back and hopefully I’ll return to my Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule. I’m looking for a good name for my blog, so if anyone has any ideas, I’d love to hear them.