Monday, March 07, 2011

Monday Morning Interview: ME!

Last week, I didn't have a MMI prepared for publication, so I offered the chance for everyone to interview me.  Obviously, I've known me for a while and I think this will be an interesting interview.  I'm a pretty cool person with quite a list of things to say.  So. . . here goes!

If you have follow-up questions, please feel free to put them in the comments! And if you'd like to be the next Monday morning interviewee. . . give me a shout!

Editor's note: My friends wasted no time getting to the meat of the most traumatizing period of my life- when my parents divorced and we moved to Pittsburgh from Kansas to be closer to family.

Leanne Powner: What was your first impression of AAHS when you arrived in junior year?

Charissa Howe: There's a whole can of worms. (laughs)  It was not favorable.  The guidance counselor purposely transferred my GPA in a way that wouldn't dethrone anyone in the running for valedictorian (it was really shady) and he made me enroll in classes that were far below my academic ability because he didn't know me (despite the fact that my transcripts were stellar). The principal was a creep to my mom and I both.  I went from having one of the best choir directors in my state to having. . . well. . . our director at AAHS was at least a nice guy, but he wasn't exactly a great choir director.

And the school's academics didn't exactly shine that first day.  I was from a school where it was cool to be on the debate team and there was huge competition to be in the top 10 GPA ranking.  My first day at Ambridge, I was asked at least once a class period on my first day why I didn't have a southern accent.  I had to give geography lessons to everyone explaining where exactly Kansas is.  And I don't even want to talk about the number of stupid Wizard of Oz jokes I heard that first week.

I'm sure that my impression was tainted by the fact that I'd just been through huge emotional trauma and had been torn away from my home into this foreign land.  I was pissed off at the world and Western PA was, in my wise 16 year old opinion, the armpit of the earth.  As it turns out, it wasn't all bad.  After all, I met some friends that first week who are still hanging around to this day.

Melinda Eliason: When you found out about your dad being gay, how did you take it?

CH: I think I took it about as well as any 16 year old would.  That whole period of my life was traumatizing in a variety of ways.  When Dad came out of the closet and my parents decided to divorce, my sister and I were sat down and told that we'd be leaving what had been home to us for most of our lives in two weeks and that Dad wasn't coming with us.  We weren't told why at first, but just the, "Pack up we're moving in two weeks" part was devastating enough.  I think it was so upsetting that it didn't matter why at the time.  Even when I found out a few days or a week later, I don't think I really processed the reason for the family split as being important.  It could have been anything and I'd have been just as pissed off and confused and devastated. 

For a long time, I was pretty ashamed.  I didn't really talk about Dad much to my friends or anything.  I think pretty much the entire town we'd been in before we moved knew (small towns in the midwest LOVE scandal), but I didn't talk about it here after the move.  I didn't want to be THAT kid with the really messed up family. Somehow, no matter how well or poorly it's handled, any child of divorce has a hard time not feeling shame or rejection as a result.

As an adult, I have a good relationship with my dad and his partner, Julian.  No matter what, he's my dad and I'll always love him (and I've grown to love Julian very much as well).  I still struggle with the theology of both sides of the issues surrounding the church and its response to homosexuality and I'm especially wrestling with it now as I prepare to enter seminary.  The only thing I am certain of is that the church as a whole is handling the whole issue very, very poorly and that the hateful actions of churches like Westboro are shameful and unchristian.

Barbi Davis: When did you know God called you to the pastorate?

CH:  When I was 8 years old, some missionaries from Japan visited our church.  I think it was Japan, it could have been somewhere else, but I think that's where it was.  Anyway, they were talking about their work there and showing slides (Remember when people used slide projectors instead of PowerPoint?) and I had a very clear, sudden knowledge that I was going to do something like that someday- the missions/ministry part, not the slide projector thing.

So, after that, I spent the next 23 years or so totally ignoring that moment.  It was right there in my memory, so vivid and clear, but I tossed a mental drop-cloth over it so I could pretend it wasn't there.  And in the way that He does so well, God just kept gently reminding me that there was something over there in the corner with a sheet over it.  Gradually, after some dark and hard years where I turned almost entirely away from God, I began to find my way back to Him and he drew me into a place where I was mentored and nurtured by a wonderful group of pastors and friends.  I became OK with the idea that I really do have a heart for ministry and that is what I'm best designed to do.  But seminary was still a big, intimidating, stuffy, pompous, not-for-me idea that I kept under the sheet in the corner.

Then I spent some time exploring the idea of "calling" and where God wanted me to head with my life.  And I stopped doing that because I kept hearing, "Why are we doing this?  You already know the answer to this question."  And I didn't like that answer.  Over the past (almost) 5 years as a stay at home mom to a pack of wild, toosmartfortheirowngood kids, I've done a great amount of growing and soul searching and have finally come to terms with the fact that God has called me to go to seminary and that doesn't mean I have to be a pastor.  I might be, but I don't have to be.  The fact is though, that I have a heart and a mind and a passion that are suited for ministry and furthering my education and experience in that area and not following through with it is taking who I am at the core and putting it under a sheet in the corner with that memory and ignoring it.  And ignoring who you are designed to be is never healthy.

So the short answer is that I'm still not certain I'm called to pastor a church in the traditional sense, but I was first tapped on the shoulder when I was 8 and finally agreed that God was right when I was 31.

Sarah Hendess: What inspired you to learn to crochet/knit?

CH: Our Aunt Linda (you can read my tribute to her here) was a crocheter and we all have afghans she crocheted for us.  I still use mine ALL the time and it's bombproof.  That afghan is what inspired me to pick up a $1 clearance "Learn to Crochet" booklet at Wal-Mart one day, along with some hooks and yarn.  I was immediately (pun intended) hooked.  Soon I discovered that crochet has limitations, though.  There are some things that just work better in knitting.  And I remembered the sweaters that Frau Radun used to knit and send over to us from Germany.  So I learned to knit.  And I discovered that knitting and crochet help to calm my anxious and fidgety tendencies.  I'm a much more centered person now. Lacking in extra storage space because of the amount of wool in the house, but better centered.

Gwen Kandt: If you could be guaranteed of success, what one thing would you choose to do?

CH: I've always wanted to set up some sort of home for abandoned or abused children.  There is a large old school in my neighborhood and nearly every time I drive past it, I turn to anyone else in the car and say, "One day, I'm going to renovate that place and fill it up with kids who need someone."  That or I'd love to buy a big several hundred acre farm somewhere and fill it up with kids and animals that noone else wants.  It's maybe not the "biggest" aspiration, but I really have a heart for the abandoned, the disinherited, those in search of a family of some sort.

Cristina Marie: How do you gear yourself up to write?

CH: That's a good one!  I don't know that I really "gear up."  Lame answer, I know.  Generally, I just try to pay attention to what's going on around me and make notes on what strikes me as something worth writing about. When I have to write something (a paper for school, a devotion or talk for a Bible study, etc), I just grab some coffee, shoo the kids as best I can and try to empty my mind of everything but what my subject is.  I think that's pretty reflective of how scattered I am. My neurotic, slightly obsessive personality craves organization and my creative mind refuses all attempts to organize.   The net result is that I love smartphones because they are both distracting and hyperactive and highly organized (mine even knows what pages of my books I'm on.)

Hannah Harris: Do YOU have any kind of "mommy guilt?"

CH:  I don't see why I would.  I never mess up. . . (laughs) OK, ok.  Actually, I truly don't feel like I experience it as much as other moms do.  That may not be a good thing.  Only time (and my children's future therapists) will tell.  I went through a period of major anxiety issues surrounding my house being a mess and me being a lousy housekeeper.  Then I hired cleaning ladies and my stress level plummeted.  Of course, that made me feel guilty about being a stay at home mom with cleaning ladies.  Then my mom said something very freeing to me, "Honey.  There are some wonderful things you're very good at.  And you do things for your family that other people pay someone to do- taxes, preserving food for winter, cooking wonderful meals, playing and crafting with the kids.  There are some things you aren't very good at.  And it's ok to get help."

I also struggle with some guilt because of my oldest daughter's relationship with her father (my ex-husband).  I know it's not my fault and I can't do anything to make him responsible or reasonable, but I feel like it's my fault for having fallen for his act in the first place.  Of course, if I hadn't fallen for it, I wouldn't have my daughter, so then I start to feel guilty about even thinking that I shouldn't have.  It's a vicious cycle.  I just have to offer it all up to God and trust that He has it under control.  And I have to remember that she does have Tim in her life and while he's not perfect (sorry, honey), he's an awesome dad and a great role model for the kids.

Ellen Huffmyer: How did you start your Monday Morning interviews, and why?

CH:  The MMI's began as an experiment in asking "real" questions and really getting to know the people around me.  Everyone wants to feel like they have a voice and something important to say and I believe that everyone does have a voice and something important to say.  Some of the interviews have an agenda or topic before we get started, some start off with the interviewee not thinking they have much to contribute to the conversation.  In every one of them, both myself and the person I've interviewed come away from it feeling like they have had a chance to have a meaningful conversation and say some important things.  If you go to the first MMI I did, I have an intro that kind of explains a little more about how this all started.


  1. Little Sis10:59 AM

    We were told we were moving before we found out why? Huh. I remember both happening in the same "meeting." I was playing my flute, then I was in the living room, then I went back to playing my flute.
    I think I had a much easier time transitioning to AAHS because I was an incoming freshman, so I would have been changing schools anyway. But I was sick of the Wizard of Oz jokes after first period, too. And I thought it was funny they called the classes "periods." Made it sound like a menstrual cycle.

  2. Little Sis11:01 AM

    And I'll move up to Pittsburgh to help you fill that school with kids who need a place to go.