Courage from Erma

18 May

With another Mother’s Day under our belts, we can’t resist some humor from Erma BombeckAmerican humorist Erma Bombeck, who often wrote about mothers.

To singles:  “Spend at least one Mother’s Day with your respective mothers before you decide on marriage. If a man gives his mother a gift certificate for a flu shot, dump him.”

And to anyone who has a mother (or mother-in-law) … “When your mother asks, ‘Do you want a piece of advice?’ it’s a mere formality,” Erma said. “It doesn’t matter if you answer yes or no. You’re going to get it anyway.” *

One of our girlfriends, Maria Keckler, shares our love of this adorable humorist. We asked her to share as a guest blogger. Wise and funny herself, we know you’ll enjoy Maria’s words.

I love Erma Bombeck.  Before Plato, Aristotle, Shakespeare, Milton, and the entire canon of British and American writers I had to read in my English programs, Erma Bombeck singlehandedly opened for me a window into the world of real American English.  She may have, in fact, helped me prove the critics wrong when they said that anyone attempting to learn English past the age of 15 can’t approximate native proficiency.

Erma Bombeck PassportI’ll never forget one of her books, When You Look Like Your Passport Photo, It’s Time to Go Home, specially her tale on the perils of trying to speak a foreign language. She tells the story about the time when she would introduce “Pope John Paul II, who was to preside over a papal Mass in Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Arizona” in September 1987.  She was so honored by the invitation that she desperately wanted to do something special, so she asked her seamstress, the only Pole she knew, to teach her how to welcome the Pope in his own language. 

On the night before the grand day, she decided to rehearse her speech before two priests in charge of the event.  She took a deep breath before her big finish, “Arizona vita oitsasven-tegoyanapawwadruuuugeggo.”

Confused, one of the priests said, “Why would you want to tell the Pope his luggage is lost?”

“I am not good with language,” she responded. **

“OMG…” That’s what Erma would have texted her husband had that incident happened today.

What I loved about Erma and her story is that both exemplified the spirit of fearlessness I learned from reading her many years ago. She taught me not to worrying about looking or sounding foolish—a lesson that served me well since I would spend many years making a fool of myself with my very broken English.  But if Erma was willing to try… and look foolish—so could I!  Imagine, not only did she look foolish (very often) in private, but she built a publishing career out of sharing her faux pas with the world! 

I love that God’s Word makes a distinction between healthy fear (a required reverence for God – Psalm 111:10) versus unhealthy fear (fear of others—including what others may think of me).  Galatians 1:10 reminds me of this principle: “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ” (NIV).

I’m glad I got to meet Erma through her words years before I dared to enter a classroom to teach—English, of all things. It helped me stand before my native English speaking students on the first day of class and say, “You may hear me say “chick” when I mean “cheek” and “bald” when I mean “bold,” but don’t let that fool you—I’m a pretty smart cookie…. And I will push you to learn and tell you when you mess up—just as I expect you to do the same for me!”

Thank you, Erma, for the lesson in courage.  Thank you, Lord, for reminding me that only You I shall fear!

Maria Keckler is the Director of the Ezra Center for Excellence and Instructional Technology for Shadow Mountain Ministries. When she’s not writing—or teaching English—she’s helping others publish their stories at Stories from the Vine  or blogging.


** Erma Bombeck, When You Look Like Your Passport Photo, It’s Time to Go Home,  (Harper Collins Publishers, New York. 1991), pp.112-113.


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