MY FAITH JOURNEY
I am Methodist.
My mother was Methodist.
My father is 96 years old, and he is still Methodist.
I come from many generations of Methodists:
If you look at the Journal for the 1873 Annual Conference of the North Ohio Conference of the Methodist Church, you will quickly see that it was overrun with Buxtons. My great-great-great grandfather, Noah Washington Buxton, is on the roster as is his wife Catherine, my great-great-great grandmother, and their daughter-in-law Hannah, my great-great grandmother. His brother, my great-great-great-great uncle, the Reverend John Wesley Buxton, is listed as a presiding elder, the equivalent of a current day District Superintendent.
So, if there is a gene for Methodism, I probably have it.
I am quite jealous of people who have had lightening-bolt conversion experiences. I have been a slow burner. “Church” has just always been part of who I am.
In pondering the path of my faith journey, I have come to realize that it is all about people.
My mother was the driving force in my life. Both of my parents constantly quoted poetry, but for my mother it was a passion. I am the third generation of university-educated women, rather unusual for my age. No one ever talked about empowerment of women, but no one ever set limits for me either. I know now that my mother and grandmother both struggled to balance professional life and family, but it was just standard procedure for them, and therefore a most powerful example.
My mother studied bacteriology, chemistry, and English and was certified as a Medical Technologist (as I am). She was passionate about the wonders of science and delighted in discovery. I was born the same year that the structure of DNA was first described, so the family stories are full of jokes about dominant genes and chromosomes that led to my creation.
As I am writing this, it occurs to me that my mother was passionate about everything! She didn’t do anything half way. On January 28 of 1963, when Harvey Gantt, an African-American man, entered Clemson University (where my dad was teaching at the time), many of the moms kept their daughters home from school in fear of riots like the recent ones when James Meredith entered the University of Mississippi. I asked my mother if I had to go to school that day. She looked me squarely in the eye and said, “You will go, and you will remember this day.” The people who visited our house came in many colors and with a variety of backgrounds. It’s just the way it was.
Because she was so passionate, it never occurred to me that she could be inconsistent. I never questioned the compatibility of science and faith. All discoveries were God’s miracles, and we couldn’t discover anything that God didn’t want us to. We are his and do the works of his hands.
I was 19 years old when she died, at age 47, after an 11-month battle with cancer. I know that “battle” is a word often used to describe the course of that disease, but for Audrey Buxton it was a reality. She tried every experimental treatment they could throw at her and she delighted on the occasions when she was the first human subject to get a new drug. “It’s just me and the monkeys,” she would say. Her family mattered so much to her. Even as her bones crumbled, she sat up late at night splicing together old 8mm movies to preserve the family record.
My dad was the professor that everybody loved and whose classes everybody wanted to take. He was deeply and constantly involved in service. He helped build numerous habitat homes (I think the number is around 50), and went on many mission trips with the United Methodist Volunteers in Mission. The last one out of the country was to Guatemala in 2007, at age 88, with FUMC, but he did several more for hurricane relief in Georgia and South Carolina well past his 90th birthday.
Both of my parents loved nature. Both led Scout troops, and both were most at home in the woods. Walking in the woods with my dad was like a family reunion. He would reach out and touch leaves as if he were shaking hands, and he would call each tree and plant by name, like old friends. My mom was a passionate defender of nature:
She wanted desperately to join demonstrations opposing the building of a local nuclear power plant that would require the inundation of thousands of acres of virgin timber for the reservoir of cooling waters for the reactors.
She held up one old guy as a hero who refused to leave his home for the building of the dam.
She re-designed the house we built in Salisbury, NC, to avoid cutting down a large juniper tree.
For many years, even after we had moved away, the road narrowed in front of our house in Clemson because she had challenged the county’s right of eminent domain to cut down one of our trees to widen the road.
So, lives filled with passion, poetry, delight, discovery, justice, service, and love of nature were the models of my young life.
Because “church” was something we just always did, it took me awhile to separate personal faith from church. It came as a surprise that I should consider defining my faith or that my faith may be different from someone else’s.
Eleanor Boland was my Sunday school teacher in the 5th grade. She started bringing the stories of the Bible to life, and even more, she illustrated them in the context of her own life. I had heard most of the stories before, and they were good stories, but basically ancient history. Mrs. Boland led us in a study of the 12 disciples where she gave each of them a personality. I have no idea how historically accurate the portrayals were, but they are still how I see the disciples. Most of all they came alive. Consequently, all of scripture started having the capacity to come alive. Scripture was so obviously woven into her life that she opened the door for it to come into ours. She was a big fan of the “real” Maria von Trapp. She got several of us to read her autobiography, and I still have it, but what I remember most was Maria’s, and therefore Mrs. Boland’s, belief that the most honest prayer was simply “Thy will be done.” For her, living the scriptures was simply surrendering to the will of God.
Mrs. Boland liked our class so much that she stayed with us for the 6th grade. The 7th grade teacher (…and if you don’t remember the story of my falling into my next-door neighbor’s chicken yard, ask me later, but it was her) …was such a disaster that Mrs. Boland took us back for the 8th grade. By that time our class had a reputation for just being brats, but we loved her, and she believed in us. I have no clear recollection of my confirmation class, it had to have happened some time in there, I think the associate pastor might have taught it, but I will never forget Mrs. Boland.
I joined the Girl Scouts on Juliette Lowe’s 100th birthday: October 31, 1960. In case you don’t know: Girl Scouts sing at least as much as Methodists. My love of music is hopelessly tangled up in the Girl Scouts and the Methodist Church. (and, oh, yeah, long car trips: My dad had a beautiful voice.)
Take a young girl who loves to sing, and stick her in the woods: life doesn’t get much better. Girl Scout Camp was heaven for me. The young women who worked as camp councilors were my heroes. Hiking and swimming all day, and all the time music! Singing before each meal, singing as you washed the dishes (and threw soap bubbles), singing as you hiked along, and every night harmony around a campfire. Music was what brought us together.
Sundays at camp always included a “Scouts Own,” a time of reflection and contemplation. We had many different faith backgrounds, but when we came together beside the lake and in the shadow of the mountains, our differences became small.
Those of you who have been Girl Scouts are probably familiar with the Juliette Lowe World Friendship Fund. Much of the money is collected on Juliette Lowe’s birthday each year, and much of it is raised by girls themselves. The fund facilitates international exchanges between Girl Scouts and Girl Guides around the globe. In 1971, I applied and was accepted to join a team to attend the Golden Jubilee of the Girl Guides of Ghana. You apply only for “an International Opportunity” and the selection committees then decide where you are to go. You do not apply for a particular country or a particular event. I have to admit that when I first got the letter saying that I was invited to go to Ghana, I had to go to the encyclopedia to find out where it was! It was a fabulous trip full of lasting friendships and a love of African children that left me with a perpetual desire to return to Africa.
I am almost three pages into this, and I just made it to 1971. Thanks for your patience!
I came back from Africa, and immediately entered the University of North Carolina.
On November 11 my mother collapsed, and she died 11 months later.
I came home, and transferred to the college where my dad taught.
My brother was in school in Ohio, and he transferred home too. He fixed me up with one of his friends, whom we had both known since high school, and we got married a few weeks after graduation. I think I married him because my mother had liked him.
My marriage was tumultuous. There were some wonderful times of travel and adventure, and designing and building of big, beautiful homes in Jonesborough, GA, Issaquah, WA, and Park City, UT, but there were also horrendous and mean-spirited arguments. We stayed married and stayed church members and raised our two children in the church. I worked full time, finished graduate school, and pretty much burned myself out. Much of that 22-year marriage is still a blur. I finally had the courage to ask myself, “Where am I?” and “Where is God in all this?” The divorce was at least as ugly as the marriage. When my ex, and his new wife decided to move back to Georgia, they convinced the kids to go with them. It was the most painful thing that has ever happened to me. I really thought that my life was over, and that I would never see my kids again.
But God is good ALL the time. I needed a rest. It was the first time that I had ever been on my own. I had my own little apartment that I could decorate just the way I wanted. I had very few possessions, and life was considerably simpler. I had time to be in service again. I had time to read. I had time to reconnect with God. I had time to rediscover friends with deep faith. AND the kids came back. Because their dad worked for an airline, they had travel benefits, and when they came, we celebrated. We began to know each other as adult human beings. My kids are amazing people! I found out that their childhood wasn’t nearly as traumatic as my marriage. I must have done something right.
Both of my kids have amazing faith. My son is much less likely to talk about it, and less likely to use “church” terms to describe it, but they are both filled with the Holy Spirit. They both have the kind of intuition and sensitivity towards other people that only comes from the Holy Spirit and from deep faith in the reality of God in their lives. Both of my grandkids talk to angels, and no one has ever discouraged them. They all believe in miracles. I love to hear my daughter Lisa laugh and say, “Mom, it’s a God thing.”
I moved on. I fell in love again. I have been able to return to Africa several times. Life isn’t always perfect, but it’s good. Bill is one of the world’s most patient men. He puts up with my fits of exuberance and my occasional frustrations and even despair. First United Methodist Church has become our home and our anchor. Your faith feeds us, and the survival and growth of this church is now my passion. I have dreams of a full sanctuary and days and days of beautiful music as well as continued service to the community and to the world.
God bless you all.
I love you.