Mustard Seed Thoughts 2

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“Anita Keire loves the stories that have nurtured Christian faith over the centuries, and she mines those stories for insights to guide and inform us today. In her writing she moves back and forth between the sacred text of the Bible and the sacred context of her life and our shared life in the world. Anita is not afraid to challenge us and is vulnerable enough to show how the God of love has worked through her life in the deepest and most vulnerable ways. Her stories are deeply personal and often arise from the profound struggles she has experienced in her personal life. In these brief meditations she does not ask that we agree with her, but only that we journey with her as she engages ancient wisdom for contemporary discipleship. To read her book is to see revealed a heart that is urgently focused on living and sharing the love of God with all who seek the life that God freely offers to the world.”

– The Rev. Dr. Edward G. Horstman, Round Hill Community Church Senior Minister

 

1

MY LIFE’S FAITH JOURNEY

Upon graduation from Newton High School in Newton, NJ, I had the following exchange with my step-mother.
“Please let me go Mother. I want to get an education. And the L’s will pay for my education in exchange for looking after their daughter. I won’t have to worry about transportation, room and board, and tuition at UCLA. That was the reason you and Dad kept me from accepting the scholarship to Vassar offered to me by Dr. R. Neither of you would help me get there. Yet Dad paid for Dick’s and Don’s educations and drove them to and from college. It’s just not fair.”
“You are a girl and must learn to be a wife, a good housekeeper, a good cook, and a mother. Allen wants to marry you.”
“I don’t love him. He is too old. He may be rich, but he is a drunk.”
“He’s not a drunk. And you will learn to love him.”
“You can’t force me. I turned down Earl and David. And I will turn down Allen too. Dr. L is a famous preacher and now has a huge church in California. He and his wife will be good to me. It is an opportunity I want to accept.”
“You forget, my dear, that you have a duty here with me. You have to help me raise your younger brother and sister. Allen’s property adjoins mine. And you can be both a wife and a help to me.”
“Marie and Joe are older now. They are 13 and 16 years old. Can’t you supervise them without me? Isn’t that why Dad married you. He supervised the three older ones and you were to supervise Marie, Joe, and me.”
“That’s true. That was part of our agreement when I married him after your mother died. As you know, he had to sell your home to pay for your mother’s medical bills. After that, you moved into one of your grandmother’s small apartments. Once again, you now have my beautiful home to live in with your own bedroom.”
“You know I appreciate your taking all of us in. I couldn’t stand living in one of Granny’s apartments. My sister Teresa and I shared an attic room there. It was hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It was awful.”
“So you should appreciate what I have done for all of you.”
“I do. I do. But I would like to go to college and get a college education.”
“Not now.”
“Why not?”
“You have a responsibility here to help raise your younger brother and sister.”
“Why me? Now that they are older, can’t you do that without me?”
“Not any more. My health is failing. I need your help. And besides, if you even attempt to go with the Ls, I will have them arrested for kidnapping.”
“You wouldn’t. I am 18 and old enough to make my own decisions.”
“No, you are not. You are under my supervision until you become 21-years old. So in the meantime, get yourself a paying job as a secretary and make some money.”
“That’s not fair.”
“Life’s not fair. The sooner you realize that the better off you will be. Now get to the weeding. And do not try to leave my home.”

And so I stayed put. My father refused to do anything to help me because of his agreement with my step-mother. I felt completely abandoned and had to reconcile myself to the fact that I had to bide my time. I got a secretarial job working for Picatinny Arsenal outside of Dover, NJ. It was a military research and manufacturing facility. My bosses were an army captain and a PhD, both of whom were originally from California. As I approached 21-years old, they both suggested that I go to San Francisco, establish residency, and then enroll in the University of California at Berkeley. They arranged a job transfer for me within the government. The captain had his father meet me at the airport and made arrangements for me to stay at a residence club for singles.

I flew to San Francisco to investigate my possibilities. The beauty of the city, the residence club with its meals and room accommodations, my new employment arrangement, and endless possibilities convinced me it was time to leave home and take responsibility for my future. So, I returned home, bought a trunk, put my essentials in it, and moved to San Francisco.

While in San Francisco, I met Fred, a patent and trademark attorney. He was a refugee who fled with his mother and younger two brothers and sister when the Soviets invaded Latvia. They lived in a Displaced Person Camp for four years before the Lutheran Church of America sponsored them and paid their transportation to Washington State. They were given housing and jobs. Fred was not in this country a year before he was drafted into the Korean War. After serving his time in the US Army, he became a citizen and went to the University of Washington on the GI Bill. Then he worked in the United States Patent and Trademark Office and attended George Washington University’s night law school.

Shortly after meeting and dating Fred, he accepted a position outside of Philadelphia. I did not want to return to the East Coast. Nor did I want to leave Berkeley. But my love for him and this job opportunity won out. So, we married. I finished my undergraduate education at West Chester University in West Chester, Pennsylvania. In many ways, I believe I got a better education there, because I had access to all my professors in smaller classes and not large lecture halls.

My step-mother welcomed this move. I often visited her and tried to take care of her needs as best I could.

I was teaching junior-year English when my husband decided to accept a position with an intellectual property law firm in New York City. Soon thereafter, he became a partner because of his education and multiple language ability. We moved to Hastings-on-Hudson, NY. We had a lovely apartment overlooking the beautiful Hudson River. I looked around for a teaching position but had to give up that endeavor because I became pregnant and was sick most of the time during my pregnancy. I remember visiting my step-mother before she died. I was quite incapacitated with my pregnancy while there. She told me to go home and take care of myself.

Unbeknownst to me and my doctor, I was carrying twins. We only learned of them in the delivery room three months before my due date. I remember someone who was assisting my doctor after my daughter entered this world telling him that there was another baby inside me. He took a look and delivered my son. Both babies were put into an intensive care unit. My son only lived for a couple of days. For over a month, I had to leave my daughter in the hospital for special care. Going home and leaving my new born children in a hospital was traumatizing. My Presbyterian minister, husband, friends, and God’s presence helped me through this trauma.

Shortly thereafter, my step-mother died. She surprised me by leaving me her property and the bulk of her estate in Sparta, NJ. She gave my father a life’s estate in her home. A week before moving to New Jersey, my father had a massive heart attack and died. He was a well-known superior court judge.

Commuting to New York City from Sparta everyday became problematic and tiring for my husband. Some nights he had to stay in NYC. With the approval of the Planning and Zoning Board, we decided to divide my step-mother’s house into three incoming-producing apartments and moved to Connecticut.

Once settled in Connecticut, I earned a master’s in English Education from Iona College. When my daughter entered seventh grade, I accepted the position of Director of Christian Education (DCE) in an Episcopal church in Riverside, CT. My teachers were unhappy with the various curricula we tried. So I began adapting and writing lesson plans for them. The church hired a secretary to help me with this undertaking. We started with about 35 students and grew to over 200 students within a period of four years.

One church member encouraged me to go to Yale Divinity School (YDS) as a non-matriculated student to learn how I could benefit if I were to enroll at YDS. And so I did. I knew I needed to be better educated in the Christian faith to teach others. When I first audited two courses, I was surprised to see many middle-aged women like myself. Years ago when I was at Berkeley, I wanted to become a minister. At that time ministry was not open to women. But now it was open to women. I then decided to resign as DCE, enrolled as a student, and earned my Master’s in Divinity. During this time, a church in town hired me to write Sunday school curriculum for them which I did during semester breaks. Their lump sum payment paid for my seminary tuition and expenses.

Upon graduation, I realized we could not relocate for me to serve a particular church because of my husband’s partnership in his New York City law firm. The Rev. Arthur Higgins of the Connecticut Conference of the United Church of Christ encouraged me to become an intentional interim minister. He wanted women like myself to open up senior ministerial positions for women. So I took the necessary interim training and started this specialized ministry. This track allowed me the opportunity to take extended periods of time between interims for writing.

When I began my interim ministry at the Old Saybrook Congregational Church in Old Saybrook, CT, I asked the Sunday school teachers to meet with me. At that time, there was only a secretary and sexton on staff. The associate minister left after the senior minister died. The teachers complained bitterly about the curriculum given to them.

I suggested they could use my curriculum and that we needed to hire a Director of Christian Education (DCE) for oversight. We found a young, capable mother who took on this challenge. I put my curriculum on her book shelves. The teachers tried it and loved it.

Because of board, council, and various committee meetings, I would often spend a couple nights a week in the towns where I served. While serving Old Saybrook, I made friends with the retired warden of the Niantic Women’s Prison. We often walked to the Connecticut River after meetings. She spent time examining my curriculum and wondered why it was not for sale on the market. I told her I wanted to do church ministry and could not do marketing as well. After many walks and back and forth discussions, I asked her if she wanted to market the curriculum. She said yes. She set up an office, got some of her retired friends to help her, we incorporated, and then we were in business.

We called the curriculum the Mustard Seed Series (MSS). Within a year we had numerous sales and success. In time, everyone got too old to run the business. I brought the business to Stamford, CT, and hired an office manager. Then I took five years and created a new MSS curriculum.

All went well until my office manager’s husband had a heart attack and needed special care. My retired husband and I were sailing our boat in Scandinavia at that time. He convinced me that I should find a publishing house to market and sell the new MSS which I did. All went well until my husband’s sudden death. Slowing that publishing house started violating the terms of our license agreement that my husband had written. I hired a lawyer and took back control of the MSS. Now all my books are under my control.

I hope this new series of the MSS now available for purchase on Amazon or from my website www.mustardseedseries.com will help parents, grandparents, teachers, homeschoolers, and seekers to develop a better understanding of the Christian faith.

My struggles and purpose in life have always been to encourage people to accept the Christian faith and to walk with God.

Think About It

  • Was I right to free myself from my step-mother’s control? What makes you think so?
  • Have you had a similar control situation? What did you do about it?
  • What are your thoughts about my early bosses’ encouragement to start out on my own?
  • Should you help other people in a similar situation to mine when I was in my late teens?
  • As written here, what experiences in my life may be of some help to you or others you may know?”