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 , 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

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:

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:

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Washing us clean

Once the topic of deer hunting comes up, it doesn’t take long for people to ask, “You’re not from around here, are you?” It is obvious that I have absolutely nothing to contribute to that conversation. I do, however, listen to the stories and look at pictures shared by proud hunters.

There is one kind of photograph that always makes me a little squeamish. It’s the evidence of a ritual surrounding the first time a young hunter kills a deer. The blood from the animal is smeared on the face of the hunter. For a non-hunter like me, it seems a little gruesome. I’m just grateful they wash it off before they go out in public. I’m not sure what I would do if someone walked into my office with dried blood on their face from a previous hunting excursion.

No, I’m not from around here. I’m from the big city of Jacksonville, Florida. When Scott and I were young newlyweds, we lived in an apartment there on the St. Johns River. We dealt with big city traffic, bright lights, hustle, bustle, and crime. One weekend we both had separate events to attend. I returned to our apartment in the early evening. Scott called and said he would be late. Our favorite BBQ restaurant would have been closed by the time he got back into town, so I agreed to head on over there and get a take-out order, then we could eat as soon as he got home.

I returned to our apartment complex and parked my car. I gathered up my purse, keys, and bags of BBQ. As soon as I stepped out of my car and shut the door, someone grabbed me from behind. I struggled and fought my way from the driver’s side door to the front bumper. I felt a forceful thump on my head that knocked me down, but not out. Falling to the ground freed me from my attacker’s grasp so I jumped up and ran towards the gate of the nearby privacy fence. I looked over my shoulder and saw that he was not following me, but he was aiming a gun at me and screaming that he was going to kill me. I realized then that the gun was what he had used to whack me on the head.

Thankfully, I made it through the gate and in to our apartment alone, with my keys and purse. Unfortunately, the BBQ was left scattered on the sidewalk. Once inside, I called 911 and soon police and EMS arrived. I answered questions from the police officer while the EMS technician addressed my head wound. Scott was still traveling so the officer asked if I had any other family nearby. I called my parents. I didn’t tell them what happened, I just told them I needed them to come. The officer encouraged me to change my clothes before my mother arrived, pointing out that my white sweatshirt was covered in blood. Apparently even small head wounds bleed profusely. He explained that the first thing my mother needed to see when she came through the door was some evidence that I was physically okay, not her child covered in blood. I changed my clothes. I washed the blood off my face.

We are that way about blood, aren’t we? Regardless of how we get it on us, whether it’s ours or not, washing it off becomes a priority before we do anything else, for our own sake as well as others. Humans have been that way for a long time. In the Bible, Leviticus 16 details instructions for the priest regarding sacrifices for the Day of Atonement. Those instructions include specifics about the priest bathing and changing clothes after he sacrifices an animal and sprinkles its blood on the altar, or the mercy seat.  What I find interesting is that there are no instructions to clean the mercy seat. Every time a priest sprinkled the sacrificial blood, the drops fell on dried blood from all the previous sacrifices. The spilt blood remained, but the priest walked away clean.

Jesus’ life brought new meaning to those rituals of sacrifice. In the end, it was His blood that was actually spilt as the ultimate sacrifice. Jesus overcame death and rose from the grave so that we could have what is only His to give. Hebrews 9 explains that you can’t receive an inheritance unless the owner dies. Verse 22 says “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” Forgiveness is what was left for us when His blood was spilt. Just like the blood of bulls and goats sprinkled on the mercy seat by the Old Testament priests, the blood of Jesus never goes away. That takes us out of the crosshairs and makes us the ones that get to walk away clean. Now that’s good news worth of sharing.
This was originally post Sunday, October 18, 2015 on the Press and Standard website:

Monday, October 5, 2015

Speaking His word out loud

Typically, I’m the person who is always ready to leave the party simply because it’s past my bed time. I would always go to bed early if there weren’t so many things that needed to be done before the sun rises again.  I am also, however, a light sleeper. If the noise, light, and temperature conditions are not just right, I struggle. Those are the nights that I lie in bed and think. My analytical tendencies take over and I start to plan conversations in my head. That’s when I come up with what I wish I had said in real conversations previously held with real people. I formulate what I might say if the subject comes up again. Of course, these conversations are one-sided so it is always only my side of the story. The more I think, the more worked up I become. The more mentally stimulated I am, the more sleep will be nothing but a pipe dream.

These only-in-my-head conversations increase as my stress level increases. Instead of containing them to just lying in bed at night, they also get up with me. Morning comes, with or without sleep, and I make my way to the shower. The noise of the water flow and the running fan, while everyone else is still asleep, add to my sense of solitude and security behind the shower curtain. It feels like a safe environment for these questionable one-sided conversations, so I actually talk them out, speaking softly but still out loud. That is when I have the best rehearsals for conversations that will probably never actually take place.

Recently we experienced a couple of difficult weeks at our house. Simultaneously, we all suffered with a nasty cold, I was preparing for a big annual event at work, there were several concurrent deadlines on our calendars at church and at work, my husband had to be out of town which always alters my schedule, we had issues with our washer and dryer so I had to go to the laundromat instead of multitasking at home. Those were just some of the external things beyond our normal daily routines. All of these things along with my emotional state over them gave me significant fodder for my insomnia and the subsequent analytical one-sided conversations.

I have a special friend, Ginger Walker, who for years has given me unwavering support and tender  encouragement regardless of any circumstance. Those difficult weeks we recently experienced were no exception. She encouraged me to meet with her so that we could pray together and talk about what God is doing through it all. She also encouraged me to work more on some scripture memorization. We chose a few Bible verses, gave ourselves a week to work on it, then recited them to each other the next time we met together. One of the scriptures that Ginger and I have been working on is Psalm 119: 11, which says, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”

It’s fascinating to me how Bible verses we commit to memory somehow become timely and relevant to what is currently going on in my life. I wouldn’t know that if we had not made the effort to learn the verses. Without God’s words, I would still be trying to respond to people and circumstances with the only other thing that occupies my mind, which would be my own over analyzed and well-rehearsed words.

God said “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11).

What I’ve discovered in trying to memorize scripture is that speaking God’s word out loud is indeed returning it to Him. I also don’t have to wait to see what it will do. The emptiness that is immediately filled is inside of me. I have His word in my heart. Now that’s an accomplishment!

There are over 31,000 verses in the Bible so I still have some work to do in replacing my words with His. I am inclined to believe, however, that every word of God’s that is stored in my heart is one less of my own that I have to rehearse. One of the benefits of that will finally be a good night’s sleep. I know that because His words say so, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

This was originally posted Sunday, October 4, 2015 on The Press and Standard website:

Monday, August 17, 2015

Enemies can be defeated with praise

Last month I attended the funeral of a World War II United States Navy veteran. The military honors presented at the close of the memorial service included folding an American flag with eagle-eye focus and extreme precision. Once it was neatly tucked into a triangle shape with only the blue field and white stars showing, his two young adult grandsons, both in their own full military dress uniforms, handed it off to their mother, the deceased’s daughter.

Then we heard the sound of a bugler playing “Taps.” I thought it was a recording at first, but then someone next to me nudged me and pointed. There was a young woman in a white Navy uniform in the balcony of the church blowing into the brass instrument. She hit the last note with controlled accuracy and then, as if actually hearing a drum cadence even in the silence, she turned and, holding her bugle upright, marched in strict rhythm out of the balcony and down the stairs.

Here it is a month later and I’m still thinking about that bugler. Uniforms and American flags are definitely things that make me want to stand up and salute, but not necessarily bugles. It’s made me wonder how we ever came to have buglers in military service in the first place. I remember pictures in my school history books of fife and drum corps from the Colonial days. I think it’s safe to say that they probably received their musical training in Europe. I also assume because of that, the musicians and military association is older than the United States. It didn’t start with us. We have to look even further back in history to find its origin.
Musicians and armies go all the way back to the Old Testament. While our military bands today are mostly ceremonial and celebratory, I think originally their purpose must have been to sound signals and alarms, something like a warfare wake-up call.
Here’s a historical example: “Whenever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there. Our God will fight for us!” That was Nehemiah dealing with threats from army opposition as he lead in rebuilding the wall at Jerusalem (Nehemiah 4:20).
And another one: “When the three hundred trumpets sounded, the Lord caused men throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords. The army fled…” That was Gideon defeating the Midianite army (Judges 7:22).
Still one more: “After consulting the people, Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying: ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for His love endures forever.’ As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men…who were invading Judah, and they were defeated.” That was Jehoshaphat facing battle against the Moabites and the Ammonites (2 Chronicles 20:21-22).
Here, the musicians were up first. They were on the front lines, so to speak. They were commanded to play and sing before any blades were thrown. Once they did, they didn’t even get around to fighting. It was the music that did their enemies in. The musicians win. I can only imagine what all that singing and trumpet playing must have sounded like.
I don’t think any of us can escape facing the enemy or the battle. I do think, however, that there is evidence in scripture that shows the enemy can be defeated. All it takes is praise. Turn up the volume, start singing God’s praises. You might inspire others to sing along.