BELL FREE

I heard my first Bell when my Grandmother yelled as i ran out the door, “Don’t run, you’ll fall and hurt yourself” Many years later she informed me that as a young child she was afraid to let go of me because i would quickly run away from her. While living on the farm, I enjoyed running to the barn, sitting on the ground and watching my uncle milk the cows. I wandered the corn fields chasing butterflies, and sometimes climbed the old rusty red tractor parked amid the stalks.
I believe I was a fast runner, but since my only playmate was Rover my dog, (and he wasn’t telling) I never thought about it. There were times, I ran so fast, I’d fall and skin my knees, stand and run again.


A few years later i moved to a small town with lots of sidewalks allowing me to roller skate and ride my bike. It was my favorite bike, a small blue road-master with a silver bell on the handle bars and a basket for my doll. One day while riding and paying no attention to where I was going, I plowed into a “Watch Children Sign”. The trip to Dr Romanos office was messy as I held a towel around my leg to stop the bleeding. To make matters worse, my mother was car less, requiring us to ride the town bus to visit the doctor. He placed twelve stitches below my right knee, leaving an ugly scar which joined my other scars. Dr Romano promised to give me a root beer lollipop if I didn’t cry but he ran out of root beer pops. I was sad.
You may believe those stitches would have encouraged me to slow down, or taught me to watch where i was going? Never! Of course my Grandmother’s words continued to haunt me. “Don’t run, you’ll fall and hurt yourself”. “Ok Grandma, I have a confession to make, “I wasn’t running, i was riding my bike”.

As I reflect on those events, I believe life was mostly black and white for me and full of Bells and expectations. If I did this, then this would happen, or If I failed to complete a task I would suffer the consequences.

Early on it was evident rules were a problem for me. I imagined the word NO could easily be changed to YES, and I was going to figure it out. My earliest recollection of this challenge occurred the first day of First Grade. I boarded the big yellow school bus with its flashing lights, giant steps and vinyl seats that stuck to my legs. It was onboard the bus I heard my second Bell “Sit down or lose your bus riding privileges”. If it weren’t for Miki Melovich, I’d have been walking to school in five feet of snow, three miles up hill, and barefoot. Yes, i stood up twice that day and Miki accepted the blame for me, or maybe i placed the blame on him. To this day I’m not clear on the details, but from that moment on, I was in love with Miki Melovich.

While in elementary school, READING, RITING, and RECESS were my favorite subjects. Reading group was a challenge for me and not because i was a poor reader, it was quite the opposite. I was a good reader, but Mrs Derby my teacher required me to sit next to “Teddy Thompson”. Teddy was a kind quiet boy with black messy hair and wore the same dirty pants to school every day or at least it looked that way to me. I noticed! To make matters worse, he was a very slow reader which made me crazy. Mrs Derby believed it was important for Teddy to receive encouragement from those who’d mastered the reading skill. Back in the day teachers referred to-us as Red Birds and Blue Birds, but we knew who we were, while recognizing the Teddy Thompson’s” placed among us.

I remember a day when it was Teddys turn to read the next paragraph in our reading book. I perceived myself to be a “Kind” little girl, so I chose to “Help” him pronounce the words. It was my first recognition of my character defect which i now understand as ”IMPATIENCE”.

MRS DERBY wasn’t a bit happy with me and stood shaking and pointing her index finger at me while firmly using the words “SHAME ON YOU”! I suppose if i had corrected Teddy only once, she may have understood. Unfortunately, it was the third time around for Pat and Teddy Thompson.

Mrs Derby directed me to the corner of the room where I was forced to face the wall and be reminded of my transgressions forever. I was totally humiliated and embarrassed but, mostly sad when I realized Mrs Derby had forgotten about me causing me to miss recess. I loved recess, and on most days i was the first out the door to play with my jump rope, and last in line to return to class when the bell rang. It was on that day, I Cried!

As a teenager, life presented Bells of freedom as well as larger expectations. The big school Bell at the end of the hall rang loudly signaling the change of classes. I was expected to make my way to my next class on time. On several occasions the Bell rang, and I walked into class late using various excuses such as “I was retrieving my homework from my locker” or “My locker was on the other side of the building”. The truth was somewhere in the middle and more about socializing with friends on important school related issues such as “CUTE BOYS”!

Soon I found myself studying, working and embracing additional time schedules, and Bells. When the Bell rang to signify the end of the day I ran to cheerleading practice, or a field hockey game. As part of the cheerleading squad, I was expected to commit each cheer to memory along with the choreography needed to coordinate with my teammates. It sounds simple enough right? The problem was I didn’t understand football, and couldn’t remember when I should move from one end of the field to the other. Fortunately my teammates took pity on me and encouraged me to follow them. It worked!!
Over the years, my bells became louder and expectations continued to influence my life. Some of them along with fears were self imposed. Religion played a large part in my life as i was taken to church and Sunday school, and taught God loved me unconditionally. From a young teen i questioned everything and became an observer of human behavior including the way many people of faith spoke one way but lived their lives to the contrary. In the church where i grew up, you were either in or out, going to heaven or to hell. These people often forgot the “joy filled living” part of Jesus’ message. Casting Crowns a Christian Band wrote and sang a song explaining that brand of Christianity in this way “No one knows what we are for, only what we are “against”. The Casting Crowns group continued their message with “Open our eyes to a world at the end of our pointing fingers”. People are not our projects!

As a Pastors wife, (I know i can’t believe it either) a journey I chose when I accepted my husbands marriage proposal at age 19. Of course I had no idea how life would work, but i was in love, and somehow in my young heart i felt called to be a partner in ministry with him. Many years later we were having a serious conversation-about life when he admitted, “Pat although you came with a dose of immaturity and naivety, I loved you and knew you had potential”! I believe that was a compliment! Somehow over many years i acquired some maturity and wisdom. I think!

I spent much time studying working listening and remaining present with church people and those outside of the church. Along the way, I came to the realization, I didn’t have all the answers to so many questions, but i worship a Big God who sees the Big Picture. (although sometimes i wish he’d let me in on it.)

One question I have been asked umpteen times is “Why does God allow suffering”? A recent example being a young women I mentored in a church we served who was recently diagnosed with brain cancer. Why? Our baby boy dying of a severe birth defect age 4 months. Why? Thousands dying in the World Trade Center. Why? My Grandson committing suicide at age 13. Why? A mentally ill daughter killed in an accident whose life was filled with Opiod abuse. Why?

My husband and i debated many issues revolving around theology and church. I loved offering my not so humble opinions to him as he prepared his sermons and shared his ideas with me. I would ask him lots of questions such as “What will this sermon mean to the people who are listening, and how can they apply it to their life”? I always ended our discussions with “What’s the bottom line Bob”? Sometimes he listened!!

“The Perfect Pastors Wife” Bell sometimes pushed me to run and hide under the (pew) radar screen to a safe place. In no way was i the stereotypical perfect Pastors wife. In fact I considered it a compliment when people told me i didn’t remind them of a Pastors Wife. I immediately asked them for their definition? Their answers usually made me laugh as they related words like Perfect Phony Angry and Unhappy. Fortunately over the years i was privileged to know a few Pastors wives who were authentic and some who became my friends and role models. I am reminded of a woman (aka pastors wife) who came into the church inline skating with her children. She was a keeper becoming my long time friend and cohort in crime.

Having lived the life of a PW for many years, I understand the pressure to be perfect, to conform to the expectations of congregants while at the same time caring for children and supporting their spouse in the “fishbowl”of the church. I learned many life lessons as a Pastor’s wife including who i could and could not trust. I was immensely grateful to find a support network through individuals and especially through my small Discipleship Group where i could mostly be myself. Lot’s of people loved on me, supported me, and at times held me accountable, while many became my closest friends.

For my husband, a heavier and much louder Bell rang out, when a population of people placed him on a pedestal he neither desired nor would accept. He was an amazing leader but also a wise and humble man who shared and lived his life authentically, choosing at times to remain in the background, standing on a smaller stage. He received many words of encouragement and affirmation for his service and gave the God he served the credit. He once told me, “In this business it’s too easy to read my own Press Releases”. Over the years he observed a few of his colleagues fall into that trap. Unfortunately many continue to live there and stand in awe of themselves, and a few sadly have fallen in disgrace.

When it was time for us to retire from Full Time Ministry, a Bell rang signaling both sadness and freedom. It was time for us to listen to the Bell of fun and relaxation. Although my husband worked part time in retirement, we were privileged to enjoy a lighter time schedule enabling us to spend time with our Grandchildren, and do some traveling.

A few years later, a Loud and Demanding Bell rang summoning me to action. The Bell was noisy and stretched me more than I could ever have imagined, as my husband fell ill with a catastrophic illness that eventually claimed his life. This Bell called to me each day, for ten months and demanded my full attention as I cared for his needs. It was the Bell of suffering as I viewed this once vibrant, wise and kind man slowly and painfully disappear from sight. Soon this servant, was listening to his God ring the Bell calling him to heaven. During and after his illness this Bell elicited many strong emotions in me, including empathy, hope, compassion, frustration, anger and subsequent loneliness. It was a Bell calling and encouraging me to journal each day, and begin writing about the real stuff in my life.

Several months later i listened to an unexpected Bell inviting me to a New Life. This Bell caught me by surprise causing me some fear. The Bell clearly encouraged me to be brave, take risks, and trust my instincts. It taught me to believe in myself and encouraged me to stand alone accomplishing things I never believed were possible. In addition, it rang out another clear message, showing me I could LOVE, AND BE LOVED AGAIN. The Bell continues to enlist my attention, makes me smile, gives me new hope, and takes me to places beyond my imagination.

More recently Bells of Joy ring out for me calling me to stop whatever i am doing to be present with my Grandchildren. I am choosing to listen, observe and encourage them. The Bell sounds with gratitude for them and for their parents who love them and stay engaged in their lives, while sacrificing on their behalf.

Sometimes I beg these grandchildren for tech help, as well as fashion and makeup advice. I smile when at least one of my Granddaughter’s will give me “The Look” which communicates I may want to reconsider my clothing choice or make up application.

Several of these Grandchildren are grown now, some in college and a few out blazing their careers. These young adults cause me to take notice as they begin to embrace their own passions, and follow their dreams I love to listen to their stories, seek to understand their language, laugh with them, and encourage them. At times they tease me and talk about their “Crazy Mom Mom”. I work at being transparent, reminding them they will make mistakes but they can learn from them. I want to encourage them to be the best version of themselves, as they go through life listening to their own Bells. I encourage them to stand up for what is true, honest and just. Most importantly, I tell them, they can and will make a difference in this world!

More Recently Bells are calling me to “Be Still”, and remember that God walks with me each day, and places great people in my life who accompany me on this journey. These Bells cause me to focus my attention on memories which oftentimes make me smile and more recently shed tears as i remember loved ones who have been taken from me much too soon.

Today I choose to listen as my Bells continue to ring loud and clear, teaching me valuable lessons. They remind me to enjoy simple pleasures, never stop learning and growing, encourage me to be hopeful, courageous, and yes…..sometimes OUTRAGEOUS!

I am Grateful that today, “I WILL NEVER BE BELL FREE!
Patricia Gillis

2 thoughts on “BELL FREE

    1. Thanks Carol, I am trying to blog each week. I return April 6 from Florida, please call when you know where i can fit to help Alyssa. I don’t want to be in the way, but want you to know i am available.

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