When Oprah Came Calling
May 17, 2023 | My Jottings
(From the archives….)
In September of 1998 I began attending our local Community Bible Study, which has turned out to be one of the most momentous things to ever occur in my spiritual life. If you have never considered attending, I encourage you to click on the link above and see if there’s a class near you. I don’t believe anyone studies God’s Word in depth and ever regrets it. Whether you are Bible-literate or have never owned one, are politically liberal or conservative, young or old, enthusiastic about Bible study or quite dubious, interested in making friends or preferring to remain on the fringe, you will be welcomed, accepted, and loved at CBS. For me to convey all the things that God has done in my life through CBS would take several blog posts, and will have to be for another time. Because this blog post is about when Oprah came calling. And CBS sort of figures into the story.
I was asked to be a Core Leader that first year I attended, and after I got over the nervousness about what the position entailed, I loved it. I loved the women in my core group, I loved the daily accountability of the study (which was thirty weeks in the books of Mark and Ephesians), I loved the different ages of the women in our rather large class. I loved the amazing things I learned about Jesus. I loved it that the Bible wasn’t so difficult to understand anymore. I loved the different perspectives from women of Baptist, Lutheran, Pentecostal, Methodist, Catholic and even unchurched backgrounds. I loved seeing light-bulbs go on in women young and old. I loved the way my own faith in Christ was strengthened. I loved the fellowship, the scholarship, the comfort, the challenge, and the hope I found there.
Did I mention that I love Community Bible Study? I guess I did.
So when I was informed about our annual Sharing Day each May, I was curious and anxious to experience it. Many people who had been in CBS for decades waxed eloquent about how special Sharing Day was each year, the grand finale that was so memorable and such a blessing. I couldn’t wait to end the year by gathering with 250 women over a meal, and then listening to some of them share what a personal, powerful and loving God had done in their lives that year through the study of His Word. I was told Kleenex would be needed and I armed myself. (But Kleenex is always needed in my life. People who cry over something every single day usually own stock in Kimberly-Clark.)
You’re probably wondering where Oprah figures in to all of this. It all started when I met my husband Michael through a snail-mail letter back in 1981. I was living and working in sunny Southern California; he was a rugged outdoorsman born and raised in northern Minnesota. We wrote letters, talked on the phone a lot for three months, and were engaged before we ever met; then married each other the second time we were together. I left my home, family and friends in SoCal and moved to Minnesota, where I’ve been for almost 32 years now. I wrote a very rhyme-y poem that tells the details of our love story, and if you’re interested in it, click here.
Back in the day, I used to occasionally watch Oprah, and then I sort of lost interest. Years ago I would look at her website now and then to see what kinds of stories her producers were asking for. One day I saw that they were asking for people who had “unusual love stories” to write in and share the details. They gave you about enough space to write one concise paragraph about your unusual love story, and since I thought Michael’s and my story qualified as “unusual,” I wrote. I clicked “send” and didn’t really think much more about it, knowing I was one in probably thousands who were doing the same thing.
The next day, Oprah came calling. Or at least her producer did. These were the days before caller ID, so when a professional-sounding female voice identifying herself as Maren from The Oprah Winfrey Show asked for me, I was stunned. “I’m Julie,” I said hesitantly.
“Hello, Julie! We read your story about your unusual love story and I wondered if you would be willing to tell me a little more about it.”
I didn’t mind, and after Maren heard more of our story and apparently had discerned that I was not an imbecile and could be trusted to be a guest on the show, she said magnanimously, “Well, Julie, we would like to have you and Michael on the show. We will send you first-class round trip tickets and pay for your stay in the all-suite Omni Hotel in the heart of Chicago!”
“Oh my gosh!” I exclaimed. “Thank you! Thank you so much. When will we have to come?” Maren told me the date in May that the “unusual love story” taping would be, and I quickly went to my calendar to mark it down (thinking who on earth gets to write “Be on the Oprah show” on their calendars?) but I stopped short when I saw something already written there on that date. “Sharing Day – CBS.”
I know not everyone will understand this, and my three daughters certainly didn’t, but it wasn’t hard for me to decide which I would choose. Of course I wanted to be on the Oprah Show and fly first-class and stay at the all-suite Omni Hotel on the Miracle Mile in the heart of Chicago. I wanted to meet Oprah and have a video tape of the show we would be part of (even though I knew we would be 60 seconds of it) so we could show our grandchildren someday. I wanted Michael and myself to experience all of that, and to tell our story, which we believe is such a God-thing.
But I also wanted to attend my first Sharing Day at Community Bible Study. I knew it would be a great blessing, and I also wanted to be there at our special table with the fourteen other women I’d bonded with during our year of study. I wanted to hear what things the Lord had done in ordinary women’s lives through His extraordinary Word.
I told Maren no. “Uh, I’m so sorry – I’m really thankful you called and wish we could be there, but um, we already have something planned on that day.”
Pause. “What do you have planned?” Maren asked.
“Sharing Day at Community Bible Study,” I answered quietly.
“Sharing Day? At Community Bible Study?” she asked, a little less friendly. I could almost hear the unspoken words in her head, Lady, do you know who you’re talking to? Do you know how many people try to get on this show and now you’re turning it down for Sharing Day at Community Bible Study?
“Are you sure you can’t reschedule or get someone else to take your place?”
“Yes, I’m pretty sure. I don’t think I should miss it. I’m sorry to have to decline – thank you so much for considering us and offering this chance to us.” I didn’t try to explain to Maren. I just knew I wanted to be at Sharing Day with my core group.
And I did go to my first Sharing Day at CBS that May of 1999, and was not disappointed with my choice. I probably used more Kleenex than anyone there. We sat and bathed in the love and unity that had been built over the year’s study, rejoicing over the changes that had happened in women’s lives. We listened with tears streaming, cheeks aching from the huge smiles, and hearts swelling with hope as we saw and heard firsthand how active God is in His children’s lives. We just need a little help seeing it sometimes. Sharing Day is one of those things that always helps me see.
So there’s the story about how Oprah came calling. Sometimes friends mention it to others, so I’ve been asked to share it many times, and always feel a little funny telling it. I’m not sure why.