Tag Archives: love

A Little Longer To Serve – An Irish Blessing

Today, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I wanted to have a guest post from my Irish grandmother, Edna Marian Ferguson Bell Bonner. Although Edna passed away in the 1980’s, I have realized more and more as time goes on, that her soul prepared the path for the life I live now. In the 1920’s, while in high school, Edna went on a school trip to Washington, D.C. When she began to board a city bus with other students, the bus driver indicated one of her African American classmates and said, “She can’t get on. We don’t take blacks on this bus.” Edna stepped off the bus, looked him straight in the eye, and said, “Then we will walk.” The two women remained devoted friends for the rest of their lives.

The Irish mother who brought Edna from Banbridge, near Belfast, taught her to treat all people with love and respect. The love that those women shared with their community was returned to me as a young child. Thus, I offer to you below, the story she wrote of the love between a mother and daughter.

My Father came to the United States in the late 1800’s. He returned to Northern Ireland to win his childhood sweetheart.

the Bells

Mother and Father, Sarah Radcliffe and William John Bell, were married on March 16, 1900, in Banbridge and came immediately to the United States. They lived on Daggett Street in Southwest Philadelphia for a short time and later lived on Springfield Road, Darby. Their first children were twins who were born prematurely. William McKinley Bell died shortly after birth and Sarah Wilhelmina lived a short time longer. They were buried in Mt. Zion Cemetery, Darby…

After the death of the twins, Edna Marian Ferguson (myself) was born there on May 25, 1906. In 1907, my Father expressed his desire to return to Northern Ireland…

They apparently remained in Ireland for about five years. Sarah Wilhelmina was born on April 22, 1911. Mina was injured at birth and Mother had surgery the following day. My parents had planned to return to the United States after Mina’s birth, but her need for special care made it necessary to leave her with Aunt Maggie and Uncle Edward who loved her dearly and gave her excellent care. My parents planned to bring Mina to the United States as soon as they were settled and Father’s United States Citizenship was final.

Only a short time after their return to the United States, my Father’s kidney problems developed to a very serious point (he had typhoid fever as a young man and that was named as the cause of the kidney condition). I recall the swelling of his legs and seeing him applying support bandages each morning. Mother knew time was running out. He was taken to Philadelphia, and he died there on January 4, 1919. Mother was devoted to him during the entire period of his illness. Her loving patience with never a cross word was beautiful to witness. Father was buried in Mt. Zion Cemetery in Darby, beside his brother, Ferguson. Mother joined him there in August, 1944…

A beautiful relationship of love and devotion existed between my parents in their short marriage, March 1900 to January 1919. Father was so proud of her. They both had a strong faith in God and were able to meet life together…

After my Father’s death, Mother went to the Delaware Country Court House in Media to inquire as to the possibility of obtaining her American Citizenship on my Father’s original application. He had received notice to be present for his final swearing in as an American Citizen, but he was too ill to appear. In answer to Mother’s request, Mr. Daltry at the Court House said he was sorry, but he had waited the full period of time before returning the papers to Washington and there was nothing he could do about it at that time. Mother then showed him a card which had been sent to Father. Mr Datry was delighted, that was all he needed to have the papers returned to Media. Sometime later Mother was one of the first women in Delaware County, if not the first, to receive her own American Citizenship. A proud day for her.

Plans were in her mind now to return to Ireland and bring Mina back here with her when a letter came from Uncle Edward that Mina had died from appendicitis. On our visit to Ireland in 1961, we placed flowers on her grave. Thus, I was the only one of the four children born to my parents left.

I recall the long winter evenings during my childhood when Mother, Father and I sat by the open fire reading or singing the old hymns they loved so much. “Nearer My God to Thee” seemed to be a favorite. I remember thinking that hymn made them recall their acquaintances who had been lost when the Titanic sank. The passengers had joined in singing that hymn as they clustered together on the deck of their sinking ship.

There were many occasions when I was aware of the respect in which my parents were held. You never knew when Mother would return home from her trip “down town.” Everyone stopped to talk with her. Two black people, Priscilla and William, “Aunt May Baker,” Mrs. Baker, and certainly Charley Wade had always been devoted to her.

Mother’s heart was full of love for everyone, so when her grandchildren arrived, it was love overflowing. I recall when she first saw Marian and she said, “ Now you are a mother and your life will never be the same again.”

How proud she was to take Marian and Hugh for a walk! I am grateful she lived to see Billy. Her last act was to hold him in her arms. That night she went into a coma. One of her few statements during her terminal illness was “Little darlings” as Marian and Hugh came to her bedside.

I recall passing her bedroom door at our South Avenue home and hearing her say as she prayed, “Give me a little longer to serve.” I truly believe that was the foundation of her life – service to others.

Dr. Benjamin of the Methodist Church of Media said at her funeral service, “to enter her presence was to receive a blessing.”

She never forgot a kindness extended to her by anyone. She became ill shortly after Bill’s birth. On an occasion as I did some little thing for her comfort, she said, “You’re wonderful, I don’t know how you do it.” That will always live in my memory.

Her benediction.

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Strength Like A Child

“Lord, we pray for our guardians. Make them as strong as you are, as strong as we are.” The young girl prayed from her heart, just feet from the altar of the Gethsemane campus of St. Luke’s in Houston, Texas. Surrounded by her peers, they stood together at the front of the church praying for their parents on the Sunday of Martin Luther King weekend.

I did not know any of their parents, but I did know their pastors well enough to know that these children had some pretty good guardians looking out for them. Pastoring together for the past five years, the Rev. Justin Coleman and the Rev. Miraya Ottaviano Diaz had brought together a community in that space that felt both delightfully organic and sadly uncommon.

Looking around me I saw a congregation dominated by the presence of youth and children with a diversity that was at once both intentional and natural. The congregation’s musician Dr. Shana Mashego led a worship party that morning that was unparalleled, with a worship team that seemed determined to stretch the global imagination with leaders from Bulgaria to Japan to the Ivory Coast.

By the time that Rev. Coleman got up and gave thanks for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s work, it was clear that in one corner of the world that man’s vision was truly taking on flesh.

Of all the eloquent words that that service contained, however, the ones that stayed with me the most remained those of that small girl who prayed for the adults at the outset, “Make them as strong as you are, as strong as we are.”

How true it is. There is a reason why Christ wanted us to have the faith of a child, but he also may have wished for us the strength, the wisdom, the courage, the love of a child.

When I was blessed to live at the Isaiah House, in Durham, North Carolina, I had the privilege of living with what may very well be the wisest children I have come across. They had been blessed with guardians and parents who had the strength to love with everything they had, and the courage to do the right thing even when it was hard.

The house was called the Isaiah House because the people who lived there were trying to live out Isaiah 58 as if they truly believed that it meant what it said. The passage says to bring the homeless poor into your home – so they brought the homeless poor into their home. It says to loose the bonds of injustice – so they worked against systems of oppression and injustice. It says to share your bread with the hungry – so they shared their bread with the hungry. And sometimes a smiling face showing up for dinner with a bakery cake received at the food bank revealed that the hungry shared their food with them as well. Their lives bore witness to the love of God better than words ever could.

One sunny day, I sat in the back yard with a young African American boy of about 6 years old, who had moved in when his grandmother was evicted, and a Caucasian baby, who had been born into the Isaiah House family that year. We sat in the hammock and swayed, as the young boy held the baby in his lap and played with his fingers and made him laugh. Sunlight fell in splotches through the leaves of the pecan tree overhead and warmed our faces as the peace of the moment warmed our hearts.

Finally the young boy turned to me and said, referring to the baby, “God loves him right?”

“Yes,” I said with a slight smile.

Then, after a pause, “And God loves me.”

“Yes,” I said.

“And I love the baby.” Another pause. Then he concluded, “I think that’s what Martin Luther King was talking about.”

“I think you’re right,” I answered, putting my arm around him.

It was just that simple. He knew that because God loved this baby, he ought to love this baby.   And because of what Dr. King had said and did, he knew that love carried with it life-changing social implications.  They had shared a home, and shared meals, and shared prayers, and somewhere along the line, they had become family. As Isaiah 58 says, he did not want to hide himself from his own kin. It was just that simple.

It may not have been the red hills of Georgia, but his act of wisdom and love on the brown hills of South Carolina was enough to convince me that Dr. King would have been pleased to see his words taking on life.

Now, five years later, on the church steps of Texas, his words took on life for me again as I saw children that were becoming family; children that were claiming their strength and praying that strength upon their elders.

Often strength looks different than we would expect it to look.  As Dr. King taught us, strength looks like hands gripping other hands in solidarity; strength does not look like hands gripping the trigger of a gun or the controls of a tank.  Strength looks like a pregnant Alice Walker following Dr. King’s casket, heartbroken with all that followed him to the end; strength does not look like a vigilante following a teenager simply because of the color of their skin.  Strength is as simple as a child’s love; not as complicated as the policies and arguments we make to avoid treating some people with love, compassion and justice.

Strength feels like the wood under your fingertips as you grip the edges of the table to keep yourself from leaving when the conversation gets hard; strength sounds like speaking up even when your voice shakes with fear; strength looks like offering your hand in friendship to the one who believes you are their enemy.

This Sunday, strength looked like an African American leader from Texas, and a Latina leader from Bolivia sharing the Table of the Lord – as they do every Sunday.  Strength looked like the the salsa steps of the worship singers, and the smiles exchanged between the musicians gathered from every corner of the globe.  Strength looked like rows of children from many different countries revealing that the kingdom of God has no borders.  Strength looked like joy.  Strength looked like love.  After all that strength has gone through in this scarred land, it was good to see it get to celebrate the fruits of its labor.

For all the days when strength can look tired and beleaguered, it was good this Sunday that strength got to show how beautiful it is.

The children pray for the adults at the Gethsemane campus of St. Luke's
The children pray for the adults at the Gethsemane campus of St. Luke’s
Rev. Justin Coleman and Rev. Miraya Ottaviano serve communion together
Rev. Justin Coleman and Rev. Miraya Ottaviano serve communion together
Rev. Miraya Ottaviano Diaz leads the congregation in prayer
Rev. Miraya Ottaviano Diaz leads the congregation in prayer
Rev. Justin Coleman brings the word
Rev. Justin Coleman brings the word
Dr. Shana Mashego leads the worship party
Dr. Shana Mashego leads the worship party