Katrina Brooks: Gypsy Girls

My maternal grandmother was born to Carpathian gypsies who came to America to fulfill their bishop’s edict to “settle the heathen Americas and bring the Kingdom of God into the broken world.” As a young woman she married my grandfather, part of the same gypsy clan, and they settled on a farm in St. Stephen, Minnesota and had seven children.

Not content with farming life, my mother dreamed of the places she discovered in books and in the classroom. Routine farm chores provided the perfect incubator for dreams of adventure and greatness.

Upon high school graduation, my mother packed her bags and set her sights on joining the Foreign Service. After two years of business school she joined the embassy corps and traveled the globe as an executive embassy secretary. Embassy life carried her around the world to a life vastly different from St. Stephen, a world in which she thrived as an independent young professional. After ten years of independence, parties and adventure, she married my father and at 33 had the first of her four children.

Raising four children as a military spouse was a different type of adventure. My mother balanced domestic chores, assumed the responsibilities of a proper military wife and–more often than not–functioned as a single parent. I remember being amazed at her grace as she operated under what I, as an independent, feisty adolescent, deemed oppressive decorum. She was so patient as I challenged everything, dreamed of the places I discovered in books and longed for adventure and greatness.

My mother encouraged my independence and fueled my thirst for knowledge, but also took it upon herself to teach me how to function within the boundaries of decorum. She called it the art of hiding your true self in order to function for the greater good. It was a skill she honed as a part of the embassy corps and those skills served her well as a military spouse.

Upon high school graduation I packed my bags and set my sites on a degree in medicine. I not only wanted to experience the world, I wanted to change it. I challenged decorum, boldly proclaimed my ideas and lived life fully. The greater the adventure, the more I wanted it. The anticipation of greatness and accolades propelled me into situations way beyond my experience and I thrived.

And then Jesus called my name and everything changed. I had been a Christ follower for years, but I was not prepared for this new adventure. It was nothing like I expected and everything I could possibly hope for. I married my spouse at 22 and became a mom at 27.

Raising two children as a minister’s spouse was a different type of adventure. I balanced domestic chores, assumed the responsibilities of a proper minister’s wife and sometimes functioned as a single parent. Our first-born was an intelligent, feisty daughter who dreamed of adventure and greatness. I encouraged independence and fueled her thirst for knowledge. I also taught her how to hide her true self in order to function for the greater good. We called it our “diplomatic selves.”

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Upon high school graduation our daughter packed her bags and set her sights on international relations. She not only wanted to see the world, she wanted to change it. Passionate and convicted, she challenged decorum, proclaimed her ideas and lived life fully. She positioned herself in places to learn from the best, took risks way beyond her experience and thrived.

And then Jesus called her name. A Christ follower for years, she was invited into a different type of adventure. It was nothing like she expected and everything she could possibly hope for.

Our daughter lives her life as a minister to college students. She encourages her students to be independent, fuels their thirst for knowledge, demands they think critically and empowers them to be activists in the world. Our daughter invites her students to question decorum and wrestle with what it means for Christ followers to love their neighbors. She dares to invite her students to dream dreams, wonder aloud what it means to bring the Kingdom of God to the broken world, serve as beacons of hope and become conduits of love for all of humanity.

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My mother and my daughter have greatly impacted who I am as a minister. These independent, intelligent, bold, confident, adventure-loving and passionate women challenge me to think critically, adapt when necessary, thwart the status quo when needed and insist that I be true to myself.

In this season of ministry I am less likely to put on my diplomatic face and more likely to boldly challenge with the question, “why?,” my daughter encourages me to engage culture and awaken to things many in my generation do not see. She invites me into deeper discipleship and challenges me to blaze a new path. It is an adventure I never I expected, but it is everything I could possibly hope for. My mother’s memory reminds me to live life fully, to celebrate the wonder of it all and to take a moment for the occasional dance party.

I think my maternal gypsy ancestors would marvel at the way their descendants have woven our heritage into our ministerial cores and continue the quest to bring the Kingdom of God to the broken world. My mother would be pleased with her girls. I often imagine her in heaven tapping her mother and grandmother on the shoulder, face beaming with pride and excitement, saying, “Those are our girls!”

And Jesus, who just happens to overhear her, says, “Yes, Eileen, they are. Well done, my good and faithful servants. Well done!”

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Rev. Katrina Brooks has served as a pastor, campus minister and youth pastor. Part of a clergy couple, she is also a mother to a daughter in Divinity School and a son in college.

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