I don’t have any memory of being given the bag. It’s a big, flat plastic bag from someone’s craft-store shopping trip. It must, at some point, have come from my grandmother’s house. She had a basement full of this kind of thing: ancient magazines and books, antique papers crumbling into dust. When I visited her each summer I’d come home with souvenirs that I dug up from the boxes of stuff she’d forgotten she had.
There’s no telling how old I was when I scored this particular haul, but it was in my possession by early 1998 when I was filling out my seminary application and writing admissions essays. I had a journalism degree and a few years of marriage under my belt; my husband was finishing his seminary education and I was wondering whether I could (or should) pursue the lifelong sense of call I’d had.
I remember spilling out the contents of the bag, an inch-deep stack of scrapbook pages, dismembered from whatever album covers once contained them. Each oversized page was adhered front and back with black and white photographs, newspaper clippings, brochures and bulletins. Between the pages were layered diplomas and certificates from the old-school Baptist training unions, Sunday School Board, and WMU programming.
And a continuing-education completion certificate from a night-school program held at Central Baptist Theological Seminary–the school to which I was about to apply as an MDiv student.
I never knew my great-grandmother, and never knew anything about her until I explored that stack of pages. Turns out she was a journalist; her byline appears on many of those newsclippings and “local interest” snippets. She was a church leader, attending and reporting on many women’s ministry meetings. She was a student, over and over again, as witnessed by the many different certificates she earned. Though “back in the day” most of her her bylines and accolades were listed by her husband’s name, I think of her not as “Mrs. Howard” but as, simply, Stella.
I have tremendous memories of my grandmothers and my great-aunts and their dedication to God, to the church, and to learning. But Stella caught my imagination.
Though not an imaginary person, she can only be an imagined saint in my story. I have few actual pictures of her (a demure debutante) and an image in my head shaped by the tales I’ve heard (a roving husband?) and the collection of memorabilia she saved (a writer, a learner, a leader). I can only imagine where she struggled, how she celebrated, whether she ever felt that she’d fulfilled her calling.
Did she chafe at being recognized as “Mrs. Howard”? Did she dream of setting off on her own missionary journey? Did she have a room of her own, a place to write, a Remington typewriter and spools of ink ready and waiting? Did she discover herself in the intersection of wifehood, motherhood, and ministry, or was she constantly weighing, balancing, wondering, dreaming, stretching, resting–the way I do? Did she wonder whether she was leaving a worthy inheritance to her daughters, granddaughters, great-granddaughters?
Did she wonder whether the God she served and the church she loved might ever call one of her great-granddaughters to stand at a pulpit and proclaim good news?
I can only imagine.
Nicole Finkelstein-Blair became a U.S. Navy spouse in 2000, graduated from Central Baptist Theological Seminary and was ordained in 2001, and became “Mom!” in 2004. She finds ministry wherever the military and motherhood lead: in five states and two countries (so far), as a parishioner and a pulpit-supplier, as a sometime blogger and devotional writer, and at countless dinner tables and bedtimes. She’s enjoying now… and looking forward to what’s next.