Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Fight the Violence with one simple thing - Love

Pop! Pop! Pop, pop, pop!  I stood in my living room and heard the loud blasts outside. My husband was standing in the front yard with a rake in his hand. I stepped out on the front porch as a car sped by within a few feet from where he was standing. The windows of the small sedan were down. The passenger in the car was shouting profanities out into the street. I didn’t see it but I knew the smoking gun was in his hand.

It was a drive-by shooting targeting a house just a few doors down from ours. Property was the only thing damaged by the bullets that day. It had happened before. That was four years ago. Reports of similar stories still make the local news.

I know profiling is controversial, but if you were profiling me, my detail sheet would look something like this:  Female, Caucasian, middle-aged, married to a minister, modest wardrobe, goes to work Monday through Friday, attends church every Sunday under the tallest Baptist steeple in town, spends her money at Walmart and BiLo, leisure time includes sitting on the front porch reading books with a half priced soda or slush from Happy Hour at Sonic. I’m not exactly a poster child for street gang recruitment.

That’s my life in this small, rural, South Carolina Lowcountry town. It’s hard to reconcile the fact that there are only two or three houses that separate my life from some that involve violence and gunfire, but the truth is both extremes are present on the street where I live.
I used to think my situation was unique. My sense of that was upended a year ago on Wednesday, June 17, 2015 when nine people were shot and killed inside Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church. Violence invaded a sanctuary of peace. It didn’t happen on the street where I live, but it was close to home in more ways than distance alone.

Two weeks after the Emanuel AME Church tragedy, I backed my car out of our driveway just before nine o’clock in the morning. I noticed three police cars parked a few yards down the street. Later I learned that a gunman had entered a nearby house and opened fire on a couple asleep in bed. They both sustained several gunshot wounds but survived. I had slept peacefully while gunshots were their alarm.

The ground I walk on every day also dirtied the feet of soldiers as far back as the Revolutionary War. There have been countless pairs of dusty shoes trudging across this same soil waging wars both big and small. The fight is always about wanting what we do not have or keeping what we do have. The details of the conflict may change, but the enemy is always the same. As a Christian I know that the real enemy is the spiritual forces of evil. I know the real fight is not against flesh and blood. But, there are often flesh and blood casualties. I’ve always wondered about that word, casualties. There is nothing casual about it when people die. When life is taken away by force, it is serious. It’s the kind of seriousness that should motivate us to fight the injustice.

Just before his crucifixion Jesus said, “Love one another.” He was speaking to his disciples in an intimate conversation among their small group. He wasn’t talking to or about people who didn’t believe the good news of the gospel. He was telling them to love each other, their fellow disciples. He knew that after his death and resurrection, they were going to need each other more than ever. It was a warning that the streets where they lived were about to get dangerous and that they were going to need to cling to each other for survival.

In that same conversation with the disciples Jesus went on to explain that loving each other would be what people outside their circle would notice. If others see that their love is genuine, they just might want it for themselves. Sharing love with someone doesn’t diminish how much you have, it multiplies it.

Police reports show that quaint small towns, church sanctuaries, and the street where I live are not immune to today’s violence. They are also not immune to love and compassion. Love is powerful. Showing, sharing, and spreading it is a responsibility I need to take seriously, for the sake of all the potential casualties. 

This was originally posted on www.walterborolive.com 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

She is with Jesus

I am a grown woman. I have been for some time now. I didn’t get a say-so in my female designation. I got what I got even before I took my first breath of air. As far as the grown part, I had help from my parents. They were the ones primarily responsible for influencing my education and character and for pretty much paying my way in this world until I could do it on my own. For the record, even now as a grown woman I still have trouble doing it on my own sometimes. Just as I didn’t get to pick my gender, I also didn’t get to choose my parents.

As grown women, my sisters and I did get to make a choice in caring for our elderly parents. We had been given a lifetime of love and care and wanting to return it back to them was not a difficult decision. Some of the other choices we had to make for them were not as easy. Losing our father five years ago was hard, but we were tasked with doing for Mom what he had been doing for her for sixty years. We had a place to focus our love and attention and we gladly made the choice to do so.

As Mom’s recognition of familiar things began to diminish, we began to surround her with more of more of what we knew for certain were some of her favorite things. A Bible, a hymnal, and the color purple were at the top of that list. Purple sweaters in the closet, a purple wreath on the door, and a cozy, purple blanket on her bed were things that we hoped would comfort her. 

Proverbs 31 is a chapter of scripture that is often referenced as a description of a virtuous woman, one of noble character. Many women’s ministries use this chapter as key to their mission and purpose. It’s jam packed with images of such women.

“Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” (v. 25-26)

“Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” (v. 30)

Personally, I have come to love verse 22, “Her clothing is fine linen and purple.”  That is my mother’s wardrobe.

My mother left this world for heaven January 7th this year. She spent the previous week struggling either to stay in this world or trying to get to heaven. My two sisters and I kept vigil watching every breath, but after several days of that we began to sense that maybe our clinging to her was somehow affecting her will to stay in this world.

We were all there as her breathing once again became labored, but this time instead of holding her hand and calling her name, we made the difficult choice to step back. I handed the hymnal to my husband and he began to sing, “When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll…”

We all began to sing but even before we reached the last verse, “And, Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,” she was gone. In that moment three grown women in that room became orphans. Suddenly becoming parentless made me feel lost and clueless about how to carry on without them. We had some more difficult choices to make.

A couple of days later we dressed Mom in a purple suit and said our final goodbyes. I put on a purple dress and hugged family and friends at the church. Because she was all those things Proverbs 31 talks about, even down to her wardrobe, I knew she was with Jesus.

Jesus. One of the last garments he wore on this earth was purple. Chapter 19 of John tells the story of how soldiers put a purple robe on him along with a crown of thorns. The purple roble was a symbol of royalty. The soldiers put it on him to mock him for the claim that he was King of the Jews. But it was true. He is a king and is now seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven.

Not long before this, in Chapter 14 of John, Jesus tells his disciples that he’s going to his father’s house to prepare a place for them. He was letting them know that he would soon be leaving this earth. He was giving them instructions about how to go on without him. He knew it would be hard. He promised them a helper, the Holy Spirit.

Then he says the most comforting thing of all.  “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (v. 18)

“The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend, ‘Even so,’ it is well with my soul.” I will not be an orphan for long.

 This was originally posted May 8, 2016 on www.walterborolive.com , The Press and Standard's website.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

You are Jesus' Valentine

I love Valentine’s Day and have since I was a little girl. It’s never really been about romance for me. It’s more about the wonderful feeling you get when you share a little love, regardless of the type of relationship you inject it into. It’s a day we can get away with sharing more love without people thinking we’re up to something, looking for something in return, or just plain weird.

Part of my affection for Valentine’s Day is carried on throughout the year with heart motifs. I have cups, hand towels, note cards, pajamas and countless other things all with heart patterns on them. Almost every day I wear some piece of heart shaped jewelry. I love it so much that I have to be careful not to overdo the heart theme thing or else I’ll wind up looking like the crazy heart lady, first cousin to the crazy cat lady.

I gave up sending out Christmas cards, but I still like to send out Valentine cards. I try to send them to my family, close friends, and anyone that’s been on my heart recently. I also like to use Love stamps on them. I think that adds more of a personal touch than a metered postage sticker. Plus, they usually have hearts on them.

I went to our local post office early to buy the Love stamps. They have recently made some changes there. If your mailing address is a post office box, you used to get a yellow card in your box if someone sent you a package that was bigger than your box. You took that yellow card to the counter where a postal worker would then fetch your parcel from the back. Now, instead of a card, you get a key. That key is numbered and corresponds to an even larger mailbox that contains your oversized package. You no longer have to go to the counter or speak to a human. You simply take the key to the bigger box and retrieve the package yourself. You don’t even have to return the large-box key. It stays in the lock. All in the name of efficiency, I suppose.

While I’m on the subject of mail, is anyone else inundated with direct mail postcards that try to convince us to purchase postage without going to the post office? It seems like I get one about once a week. Many of them say I can print my own postage from my computer, or something similar. Again, I guess the attraction to it would be convenience along with time and cost efficiency.

The post office is not the only place we are serving ourselves. We don’t need a sales associate to ring us up when we shop online. We can set our own ratio of ice to soda at practically every fast food restaurant and even some sit-down ones. Walmart and Bi-Lo have self-check-out registers. Does anyone remember full-service gas stations?

I’m a ‘Git-R-Done’ kind of person who doesn’t like to waste time or effort if there’s a better way, but I’m coming to understand that the time I’ve gained in efficiently serving myself is precisely that, only serving myself. It might have seemed like a good idea at the time, but when I step back and look at the bigger picture I begin to realize it’s the total opposite of God’s idea on how I should be living my life.

Philippians 2 states that we get love’s comfort when we “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

My self-serve world has led me to sacrifice valuable opportunities to be served by others. It also robs me of human contact that could allow me a chance to serve someone else. If I’m not careful, eventually the only name on my Valentine card list will be my own.

Serving others takes effort. It is an investment. It might cost me something, but the benefit is a greater love you can’t get anywhere else. Jesus said it simply, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).  He should know because that’s just what He did. Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so. That’s the love I want to share with you this Valentine’s Day. 

This was originally posted February 14, 2016 on www.walterborolive.com

Monday, December 21, 2015

Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns

It’s only been six months since the shooting at Mother Emmanuel A.M.E. Church in downtown Charleston where nine people were killed. In some ways, it seems like we’ve lived through a lion’s share of long, difficult days since then. Paris bombings, San Bernardino shootings, and a thousand-year flood right here in our own neighborhood all contributed to some very long days lately. I’ve spent more time than usual reading or watching news reports in order to stay informed about terrorism. I also had to do a good bit of rescheduling, waiting for the water to recede. Long days, indeed.

In other ways, it’s as if the days are flying by because of progress we’ve made in some of our attempts at unity. I am still alive and well and on the other side of all of those tragedies, and I am not alone. I cannot take credit for that, though. If I had been in a different place or time, I very easily could have been one of the casualties. In that respect, every day is a gift and the days are fleeting. 

I remember thinking at the time of the Charleston shooting that if nothing else good came out of that situation, at least the name of the church included a meaningful reminder to all of us, especially in difficult times. Emmanuel. It’s a Hebrew word that means “God with us.”
Now, it’s Christmas. Some of our favorite Christmas carols include the word Emmanuel in the lyrics. It makes sense because when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we are celebrating that He left heaven and came to earth to be with us. Emmanuel. 

Centuries before it actually happened, Isaiah said that a virgin would give birth to a child and would call him Emmanuel. Generations later the apostle Matthew wrote about the birth of Jesus and quoted Isaiah saying, “They shall call His name Emmanuel.” Isaiah and Matthew were lifetimes apart but were inspired by God to tell the same story. 
Sometime after Isaiah died and before Matthew was born, God stopped talking to people on earth. No revelations. No dreams. No inspirations. No promptings. He was silent for 400 years. 

In my own life, I often find that God makes all kinds of attempts to get my attention. He orchestrates people in my path, songs on the radio, articles in my email, sunshine after a rainy day, and all sorts of things to help me recognize Him. He is here with us so it shouldn’t be difficult, but sometimes I’m a little blind. Or obstinate, rebellious, or deliberately ignorant. He never gives up though. He keeps trying to get through to me. That’s why I can hardly imagine what it must have been like during all those years of silence with no word from Him. 

When I think about all that silence, it makes me grateful that I live at a time in history when I can hold His word in my hand and carry it in my heart. Even if terrorism and devastating natural disasters are close to home, I have Him and His word with me. Truly, Emmanuel. 
God’s voice was silent on earth, but I’m thinking maybe the decibel level in heaven might have picked up during those years. The residents of heaven must have felt the anticipation that God was about to do something life changing. The volume probably went up on their singing and praising. When the time finally came, the silence on earth was broken when God sent His son, Jesus, to earth as a man. To us. For us. With us. Emmanuel. 

What was heaven like when Jesus left? I don’t know for sure, but maybe the silence that blanketed the earth for the previous 400 years found its way there for a time. Heaven without Jesus? None of us really knows what heaven is like, but heaven without Jesus is not something I have any words for at all. 

That’s exactly what makes His coming to earth so extraordinary. He left heaven and came to earth because of us. The good news is that Jesus’ time as a man on earth was only temporary. He had to get back to heaven, but one prerequisite for a human to get to heaven is to die. So He died. Then, he conquered death and after three days was alive again. As humans, the other requirement to get to heaven is believe that Jesus did all of that for us. He did it to make a way for us to be able to go to heaven too. 

Being on this side of the history of Jesus’ birth and return to heaven means that Christmas is a time to remember His first arrival on earth. More importantly, we should be anticipating and celebrating His next arrival on earth. Just as I imagine the volume level of praise increasing in heaven leading up to Jesus’ first advent, maybe we should be doing the same thing here and now as we wait for Him to come back. The next time He comes He won’t be leaving heaven behind. He will bring it with Him. Emmanuel! 

Go ahead. Sing it loud, “Joy to the earth! The Savior reigns; Let men their songs employ; while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains repeat the sounding joy!” 

 This was originally posted Sunday, December 20, 2015 on the Press and Standard website: www.colletontoday.com

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Don't focus on that empty glass

My niece got married last month. We were excited about the wedding since she got engaged six months prior. I have a sister who lives in Florida, one in Georgia, and I’m here in South Carolina, so I was thrilled to have an opportunity for our extended family to be together for such a happy occasion. I wish I could replay a video of the wedding for you and mute the sound so that you could soak in all the beauty of that picture perfect day.

The sights were everything you would expect from a traditional Southern wedding. Early in the day the bride and bridesmaids were dressed in monogrammed tunics for hair-styling and make-up application. I’m not sure why we Southern girls love a monogram, but we do. Baskets of hydrangeas were hung on the end of pews in the sanctuary of the First Baptist Church, which is located on a main street that runs through the center of her small hometown. The florist put the finishing touches on an entire garden of greenery at the altar. It was a vision of dreams come true for the sweet Georgia peach that is my niece.

The ceremony began and mothers were ushered in. Groomsmen filed in, all grinning. The bridesmaids proceded down the aisle one by one, all wearing lace dresses in the same plum color. The bride and her father took their time walking down the aisle. The minister said some things, the bride and groom kissed, then the wedding party exited in pairs down the center aisle. It was a happy, beautiful scene.

If I replayed the video, only this time with the volume up, it would not be what you would expect. It would still be visually gorgeous by all traditional Southern standards and expectations, but the soundtrack would be different. You wouldn’t hear a pipe organ play Wagner’s Lohengrin “Bridal Chorus.” Instead you would hear John Legend and Chris Tomlin songs on guitar. I don’t think I heard the minister say, “We are gathered here today in the sight of God…” I also don’t think I heard the bride or groom use the words “to be your wedded…”

The words of ceremony the minister chose where fresh. The vows the couple spoke to each other still expressed sentiments of love and commitment, but their words were different than ones I’m accustomed to hearing at weddings. I really had to pay attention to the words spoken and sung. Listening intently for content helped me feel like I was participating even though I wasn’t in the wedding party.

The following week, I settled back into my routine and began to prepare for my Bible study group when I realized that the scripture we were scheduled to cover was Chapter 2 of the gospel of John. It’s the story of Jesus at a wedding celebration. How appropriate, I thought, as I was still in a bit of a wedding mindset from the previous weekend.

As the story goes, Jesus, his mother Mary, and his disciples were guests at a wedding in Cana. The host family ran out of wine. Mary simply states to Jesus that, “They have no wine.” She didn’t make any demands or ask him to do anything, she merely told him the problem. Then she pointed the servants to Jesus and told them, “Do whatever he tells you.” So, they filled jars with water, then Jesus turned it into fine wine. It was a miracle.

There were probably several other things higher on the wedding planner’s priority list than estimating wine consumption. One of the first priorities would have been the invitation list. Jesus was on it. He showed up. He always does when He’s invited.

Jesus could have made wine from water without the servants’ help, but he didn’t. He extended an invitation for their participation. Whatever they had been doing to serve the guests, they stopped doing it and paid attention to Jesus and his instructions. The results were miraculous.

Jesus’ presence can reprioritize a check list, a job description, and even the best laid plans. The new list might include: Don’t focus so much on the empty glass of wine, or even a full glass. Instead, pay attention to the source. Do whatever He says. You might find yourself participating in a miracle.

This was originally posted Sunday,November 29 2015 on the Press and Standard website: www.colletontoday.com