By Pam Kumpe –
Have you ever set a fire?
One summer, baton camp ended with flames, ashes and fire trucks.
I was in middle school and that summer my twin Mel and I joined several hundred other girls for a two-week stay at a college campus in the mountains of Arizona.
The daily schedule included classes of varying kinds for all levels and ages. We competed in small contests, learned new routines, and reunited with our friends from the summer before.
Our housing included dorms on the college campus and on opposite sides of the grounds in another set of dorms. Some of our best friends ended up across campus. My twin and I stayed in a dorm far away from them.
We wanted to be near them, so Mel and I took on the names of two girls who didn’t care where they slept. We then traded rooms via the fire escape.
We became Jennifer and Sally, the two girls from dorm G, while Jennifer and Sally became Pam and Mel, and they moved into our room in dorm T.
One day in the cafeteria, the worker asked the girls with tags, Pam and Mel if they were fraternal twins since they didn’t look alike. I had instructed them to say all the right things.
All week, no one caught on, not until the day everything went up in flames.
Our teacher had moved our group to the street for safety reasons, so if we dropped our fire batons, nothing burned up—at least in theory.
She, along with her assistants, soaked the wicks on the end of our batons in gasoline. We held them out in front of us as the ends were lit.
I have a knack for bumping, dropping, and creating mishaps—and this teacher had no idea how dangerous I might be to myself and others.
Then it happened, my right hand twitched. I looked up to the sky, and without thinking, I opted for a high toss. One quick toss and I’d catch it. But the baton sailed upward in a ball of fire and beauty twirls.
And never came down.
My baton got stuck on a limb of this giant tree and hovered over the class of girls. The flames on the end of my baton swept like a whirlwind of orange, consuming the leaves and tiny branches, and the tree burst into a ball of flames.
The homeowner rushed to the street. She screamed. I screamed. My sister screamed. The teacher screamed. A choir of panic set in and someone called the fire department.
After the fire trucks left and their water hoses doused the flames, my nightmare ended. Now all eyes were on me. I became the girl who started a fire at camp.
Talk about a horrible, no-good, very bad day.
Oh, and remember the real Jennifer and Sally, the girls who traded rooms with us? For some reason they didn’t want to be involved in our shenanigans anymore and we had to move back to our old dorm.
To make matters worse, the camp director caught wind of the fire, heard about our trading rooms and assuming new names. Yes, you guessed it, more scolding took place. Well, at least Mel was in on this one.
Before the director sent us on our way, he director shared how we had been candidates for campers of the week. Had been. Have you ever watched your day go up in flames? Have you wished to be someone else?
Well, I learned one thing from that fiery day—there’s always another day, another class, another opportunity to twirl, another toss to make. The key is to be you and remember there’s a God above who removes mistakes. He’s slow to anger, unlike that teacher I had at camp, and God is always compassionate toward me, unlike the director. And no matter if I cause the fire, or not, He is ready to lift me from the ashes.
Speaking of compassion, my twin and I did receive camper of the week at the closing ceremony—even though those few hot moments almost took our prize away.
By the time I attended high school, I’d become pretty good with the fire baton.
That is, until the night I caught the football field on fire—but not to worry, they didn’t need fire trucks this time.
By Pam Kumpe –
When the movie “The Help” popped on my radar, I found myself drawn to the story since the premise of the film portrayed a group of black maids sharing their stories in a book about life in Jackson, Mississippi in 1962.
Some of their stories appeared scandalous, while others sad, and yes, plenty sounded like they were going to be downright hilarious.
In the movie trailer, I saw the maid Aibileen who cared for children and offered her lap, her heart, and her hugs to a little girl, Mae Mobley.
Minny, the sassy maid, offered sarcasm, shined with her wit and she had a knack for making fried chicken and pies.
I had to see the movie especially since the script offered seeds of change. And if there’s one thing I think we all need, it’s stories that make us think, those that require change in us.
The first time I bought my ticket and popcorn, the theatre was packed, and I found myself sitting on row three. Row three is too close and dizzy spells ensued.
I missed plenty of points and illustrations since I spent most of the time swirling in my seat and tilting my head up to see the screen.
So after my first viewing, I had to go back. This time I watched with fresh eyes.
I’d love to play Aibileen since she’s brave and gentle and she’s constantly reminding the toddler Mae Mobley, “You is smart. You is kind. You is important.”
Imagine children growing up hearing, “You is smart. You is kind. You is important.”
In Ephesians 2:10, it tells me that we’re God’s masterpieces or handiwork. And yet, we often stop there, but the second part to that scripture reminds me to do good works.
We may at times forget to take our masterpiece self into the day with the idea of doing good works, or taking joy with us, or offering kindness and encouragement to someone else.
After all, when life is hard—thinking you are smart, kind, or important would be the last thing on your mind.
This is why I expect plenty of folks may see themselves as Minny who is quite outspoken, a perfectionist in her chores, and who hides her private pain behind the pies and pieces of chicken fried in Crisco oil.
In one scene Minny holds up a can of Crisco like it’s her best friend—saying it holds the answers to everything—nearly.
Now the racism in the movie is painful to watch, but it’s the sort of story that I believe needs to be seen, because it challenges us to do better in our walk with our neighbors.
When Skeeter (little miss straight out of college journalism major) embarks on this writing journey with the maids, it’s the words of her own beloved maid (who is missing) that I’ll never forget, “Ugly is something that grows up inside you.”
I have had ugly things growing inside of me—at times. And I’m not terribly proud of their existence. It’s like the ‘ugly’ can stick to us like crust and we find ourselves stuck in the frying pan of life surrounded by Crisco oil and other pieces of chicken.
We can’t find our way out of the past—or the pan—and the fried stuff that coats our hearts and weighs us down only gets crunchier.
However, when you put certain people together like Aibileen who feels invisible, when you mix in Minny who refuses to be invisible and Skeeter the journalist—these three women push past the icky stuff that separates folks—and hope rises up.
This movie is the best thing since fried chicken because everyone, all of you—‘is’—smart, kind and important—worthy of pie, of living with joy and being loved—you are not invisible. Your voice matters. And on days when Crisco doesn’t make life better, try soaking in God, He’s the Crisco to our hearts.
By Pam Kumpe –
At a special needs home in Arizona, a place for about a dozen adults, my dad worked as a cook. This was his second job, and yes, by trade he was a cook at his primary job too. I figure he was the best in Arizona, I’m sure of it.
I was in high school during his time there and one summer I worked with him. No, I didn’t return for another summer because the job required me to help in the kitchen, and you know how much I love to cook, let alone clean, dust, or do
One day my mom stopped by for a tour and she met the residents and learned that for every couple of roomies, they had a staff member who assisted them. The home had a recreation room with ping pong, pool table, exercise equipment, and a library where residents could read (some could read) or paint and color
Mom said the residents also enjoyed outings to the zoo and my father prepared their picnic lunches for them to eat at Papago Park. And they also went to the movies and other places.
While on tour, she witnessed two young women who were involved in a verbal disagreement. Since it was time for snacks, the ladies were arguing over who would get the grape soda. It was the last glass, although there was orange soda available.
The staff member told them, “Come with me, I need to address this.” She did her best to convince one of the ladies to take an orange soda, but they both said no.
This is when it got odd, strange or weird, I’d say. The staff member told them she’d have to get the judge to decide the outcome. Wow. A judge for this?
She walked to another room, returning with a bag (one similar to one that is passed around in church for the offering), and she told my mom that in the bag was a blank card and a card with a picture of a robed judge. Whoever drew the judge out of the bag would decide who got the grape soda.
Now this sounds like a great idea. Wouldn’t it be nice to use this when your kids argue? Or maybe if you argue with a spouse the judge in the bag could decide the outcome? It would be much cheaper than court costs.
Anyway, Loretta and Alma agreed to the process since this was the standard way small disagreements were decided, and the residents always were happy with the decisions from using this bag.
Each woman drew a card and Alma drew the judge card. Ms. Staff Member said, “Since you got the judge, it is your decision on who gets the grape soda.”
Alma stood, pondering her decision. She looked at the judge on the card. She glanced at the soda.
Now my mom thought it was a no-brainer, because Alma had the judge card—surely she would take the grape soda.
Finally, Ms Staff Member encouraged Alma to make a decision. “Alma, what is your decision? Who gets the grape soda?”
With a sly grin, Alma smiled and said, “Loretta gets the grape soda.”
The two ladies left the room arm in arm, smiling, Alma with the orange soda and Loretta with the grape.
Now we can learn something from Alma. She chose her friendship with Loretta over grape soda. Maybe we should elect to react like Alma by using our heart in making decisions.
If other words—when I take God’s Word to my heart—without using the face of a robed judge in a bag, when I remind myself that a friend will stick closer than a brother—there’s no need to worry about what’s for dinner, what’s in the picnic sack or what soda will I get today.
I simply want to have a heart like Alma’s, don’t you? Besides, I like orange soda much better than grape any ole day.
By Pam Kumpe –
It’s not every day I attend an AA meeting. After I picked up a young lady at the rehab facility for her off-campus day outing, I discovered our first stop was—the AA meeting. I drove about 10 minutes to a white building, tucked near a park, on a dead-end street. Women and men, young and old walked inside taking a seat, some greeting others, while some simply took a seat.
I sat next to my friend on the wall, and I heard the testimony of Tim, a nice looking middle aged man, who spoke of his journey of alcohol and its hold on his life. He shared the victories in his life without the drink, and his discovery of ice tea at restaurants instead of beer. His new philosophy—keep it simple and take it one day at a time—with God at his side.
Larry spoke of attending his son’s high school football game, and going there sober, and of knowing he was going to remember the night with a clear head. He cheered his son on at the game and was confident he’d go to the next game.
Arturo lost everything a few years ago, and he spoke of his divorce and how that personal chapter sent him into despair. He thought, living without the woman he loved was not possible, so one night he ended up on the highway, got arrested and spent some time in a mental facility. He’s taking his recovery seriously, says he’s still lonely, but he is trusting in God with his life, and living in the present, and he’s staying focused and finding support from friends.
Britney shared how she spends a lot of time in the Bible processing what God says, and she mentioned she knows it involves surrendering her all to God, but she’s not quite there yet. She was quick to say she loves God and is working on becoming the woman she was meant to be.
Cliff shared his heart while sitting in his wheel chair. He’s an older man who leans on the group spiritually and emotionally, and is hanging on to his day, always looking for answers.
As I sat there in the room, I noticed a common thread—our need for love, our need for Jesus to be a part of our lives (even when we don’t know this), and how the heart of the broken and bruised is not only found in AA meetings—it’s all around, because we all hurt or feel lost or find ourselves lonely from time to time.
As simple as God’s love is, this bridge of hope can seem so far to the wandering heart. In reality the Lord is near the broken hearted, and in Matthew 11:28 Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
On that morning, I found rest with some friends, and somehow, I needed them more than they’ll ever know. I never expected to cry—I never expected to feel the love—I never expected to find such hope; but when Jesus is at the meeting—grace and mercy rise up and take the front seat of our heart.
By Pam Kumpe –
This example of a young and energetic American missionary who went to Venezuela for his first term reminds me of how we may sit through church services not understanding or even trying to comprehend the message.
This missionary did try to understand by taking the time to learn the language, but he didn’t really get it. On his first day in Venezuela, he was late for church. He walked inside and slipped down the aisle to the only pew with a seat—on the front row.
During the service, he struggled to understand the message so he decided to pick someone near him to imitate. This way, everyone would think he knew the language.
The man sitting next to Mr. Missionary became the best choice and he started mimicking every action.
When the congregation worshiped and sang the missionary peeked at his neighbor’s
hymnal to see the page number. When the man stood up to pray, yes, the young missionary stood up too. When the man sat down, Mr. Missionary copied the move.
This makes me wonder how much we pay attention in church. After all, we do speak the same language don’t we? We should understand our preacher, right? But do we go into remote and forget to listen?
We stand. Sing. Sit down. Turn the page in our hymnals. We open our Bible. We mark the place with our finger. We look up and make eye contact with our preacher. We appear to understand.
We even use a yellow marker on scriptures. We nod in agreement. And we say amen at all the right places. But I must ask. What did your pastor preach on last Sunday? Now I’m meddling, back to Mr. Missionary.
He sat on the pew and tried to look just like that man. Do we do the same? Are we simply trying our best to look like everyone else?
Next, in this service the preacher gave announcements. Everyone clapped at something the pastor said, so Mr. Missionary joined in clapping his hands too. Then the preacher said some words that were even more confusing and the man next to the missionary stood up. So Mr. Missionary stood up too.
Suddenly a hush fell over the entire congregation, even a few people gasped, and a few fingers pointed at the two men—the only two standing. Mr. Missionary looked around and saw that nobody else was standing, so he sat down.
After the service, the preacher shook hands with everyone as they left. He stretched out his hand to greet the missionary and spoke in English, “I take it you don’t speak Spanish?”
The missionary replied, “No, I don’t. Is it that obvious?”
“Well, yes. I announced that a family in our church had a new baby boy, and I asked the proud father to stand up. Seems there’s some discussion on who the father is now.”
As usual I see a lesson in this story because many of us attend church. We love to sing. We have our Bibles. But do we listen?
If you are imitating a person, be careful because before you know it—when you least expect it, you may find yourself standing up when you should remain seated.
So this Sunday if you are happy to remain an imitator then sit in the pew beside someone and copy him or her, clap and stand at random.
Or try this. Sit up front. Listen with your heart. Take notes. Apply the message to your daily walk—because John 8:47 reminds me that whoever belongs to God hears what God says.
Just be you, it’s better than imitating others—it frees you to sit on the pew of life with understanding, and you’ll clap at the right time. You’re the only you—there is, fearfully made and wonderfully loved by God. Beside, you don’t want to get caught standing for the wrong thing, now do you?