Sunday, January 8, 2017

Hello 2017. I'm glad you're here


Hello, 2017. I’m so glad you’re here. I have a lot of hope for you.

It seems I’m always thankful when December 31 rolls around. Every year I celebrate New Year’s Eve by being grateful that the struggles and challenges of the year are over and done with and that I’ve been given another chance. This past year was no exception. The bookends of my 2016 were the death of my mother in January and then the death of Lynne, my longtime best friend and college roommate, at Thanksgiving. The absence of two of the most influential women in my life made for a different kind of Christmas and changes my outlook for the days to come. Looking back at the days in between those losses, the activities and emotions that kept me spinning throughout were of hurricane force. The hurt was a true reminder that I was very much alive and they were not.

Both Mom and Lynne made it known to all those around them that they had placed their faith in Jesus for whatever happens after death. I have confidence that they saw His face the very minute they left this world because of this: “So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him” (2 Corinthians 5:6-9).  Heaven truly is a wonderful place because Jesus is there, but also because Mom and Lynne are there too.

So, I am of good courage. I love Jesus too. Following the leadership and example of these women, I walk by faith.  I walk, but my steps may not always be steady. Some of the paths I was forced to walk in 2016 were not what I would have chosen and therefore, I was resentful. Angry. Hurt. I’m sure there were days when I let it show. I probably spoke harshly to someone I loved or was snippy to someone I didn’t even know.  I may have ignored your need because I was too wrapped up in selfishly nursing my own wounds. I didn’t try to hide my ugliness.

Looking back, I realize how desperately I need a savior, the Savior, to make it all right. I deserve so much worse than the beautiful life that I have.

John’s gospel recounts the story of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. He records Jesus’ first post-resurrection encounter with Mary Magdalene. Jesus tells her not to cling to him because he hasn’t been to His father yet.

I’m not a theologian, but to me that means Jesus didn’t immediately go to heaven when he died. He was absent from his human body, but not present in heaven. Where did he spend that weekend between death and resurrection?

I believe he made the deliberate choice to go down the deepest, darkest, debris-strewn path of my own personal sin and suffering. He voluntarily experienced the death that all humans, regardless of their belief in the afterlife, know is the final enemy of this world. He made it there and back and lives to tell about it.

He did it so I won’t have to. He did it so that I can face 2017 with hope and courage even though I will be without my mother and my friend. He did it because, “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.’” Lamentations 3:22-24.

Welcome, 2017. I’m looking forward to living and telling about it too.

This was originally posted January 8, 2017 on The Press and Statndard website

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The God who never sleeps was an infant in their arms


It’s been something every day for the last month. Holiday luncheons, Christmas programs, rehearsals and practices leading up to those programs, shopping for those in need and getting the gifts wrapped and to the drop off site by the deadline, staff dinner parties, work receptions, and everything else in between. The hustle and bustle of it all is part of what adds excitement to this season.

Doing so much more than you normally do can also wear you down and out. I succumbed to the exhaustion pretty early this year. By Dec. 3rd, I had chills, fever, congestion, and everything that goes with it. Since then, it has managed to stay with me in some form or another.

A couple of days ago it was late in the day and I was the only one in the building at work. It was quiet inside and dreary outside. I wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t concentrate on anything because my eyelids were so heavy. I may or may not have put my head down on my desk and taken a five-minute nap.

I just wanted to sleep. I needed the rest but I kept putting it off and moving it to the bottom of the to-do list. I’m old enough to know that humans can’t do what they need to do without sleep. The truth is, I’m not a very good sleeper. I’m a light sleeper and will allow any little distraction to keep me awake. Often the distractions are in my head. If there’s something that I need to do, I lie in bed thinking about it until I can get up and do something about it.

Usually my lack of rest or sleep can in some way be tied to worry or fear. There’s worry that I won’t meet the deadline, fear that I might let someone down if I don’t show up or measure up, and it goes on and on. All throughout the Bible there are verses that encourage us not to fear, not to worry, and instead, to rest. I think I need to go back and re-read some of those verses.

“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.” Psalm 121

My rest is found right there in verse 3:  “He who keeps you will not slumber.”  God never sleeps. He never sleeps so that I can. I need to quit trying to do what only God can do.
Many Christmas carols sound like lullabies. “Away In a Manger” and “Silent Night” are good examples. They encourage us to consider the birth of Jesus, to think about how he came to earth as an infant.

When an infant is born in the world today, establishing a sleeping routine is important. Parents are proud and relieved when their baby finally sleeps through the night, or at least several consecutive hours.

How was it for Mary and Joseph? The God who never sleeps was an infant in their arms. Mary and Joseph, as newborn parents do, surely wanted to eliminate distractions and encourage his slumber. Jesus, who had never slept before, could hear Mary and Joseph singing cradlesongs not long after his birth. Wouldn’t that be a little awkward? Awkward enough to cause me to lose some sleep.

Jesus’ birth was only the beginning of the story. His life on earth, His death and His resurrection have shown us that He became one of us so that we could become like Him. He traded never having to sleep with fighting for time to rest, at least temporarily. Because of that, we can know that He knows firsthand how hard it is to be us.

He “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:7-10

So, He speaks with authority when He says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  Matthew 11:28

Our help does come from Him. He will keep our lives, for this time forth and forever more. That’s Christmas.

This was originally posted December 25, 2016 on The Press and Standard website

Monday, December 19, 2016

The angels have never stopped singing


‘Tis the season for singing! I like and listen to a lot of new music, but when it comes to Christmas, there’s something about traditional carols that resonate with my soul. The whole story of Christmas comes from the ancient text of scripture, so in this case, it seems to me that old is good.

I sing with the Voices of Colleton Community Choir. We started practicing in August for the two presentations that were offered the first week in December.  When you prepare for the weekly rehearsals and listen to recordings of the music throughout the week, you know how it’s supposed to sound. Sometimes in rehearsals, it just doesn’t make it up to the “how it’s supposed to sound” standard. The basses and tenors drag the tempo, the high sopranos are flat, and everything else is the alto’s fault. In a full program of nine or ten songs, there always seems to be one particular song that trips us up. This year’s program was no different.

The night of the first performance arrived. Before it began, I took my place in the center of the choir loft among the 65 other singers. I silently prayed that no matter what we sang, especially on that troublesome song, that the audience would hear only the voices of angels. Not that our voices would sound like angels, but that actual angel voices would be joining us, singing over and above us. Certainly their voices would get it right. They have been singing God’s praises longer than anyone.

Angel voices have been heard on earth by human ears before. The shepherds heard an angel voice say, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

Several traditional carols mention angels singing in the lyrics.

“Hark! The herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the new born King.’”

“Silent night, holy night, wondrous star, lend thy light; with the angels let us sing Alleluia to our King; Christ our Savior is born.”

The words of those carols are centered on the night in Bethlehem when Jesus was born. But what about today?  Can you and I still hear angel voices?

Edmund Sears must have wondered the same thing.  In 1849, he penned the words to a poem that became “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.” It’s a Christmas carol about angels singing, but not solely about the first Christmas night when Jesus was born. Most of it focuses on the era in which it was written.

We rarely ever sing them today, but based on the second, third, and fourth verses, Mr. Sears must have longed to hear the angels singing:

“Yet with the woes of sin and strife the world has suffered long, beneath the angel strain have rolled two thousand years of wrong: And man, at war with man, hears not the love song which they bring: O hush the noise, ye men of strife, and hear the angels sing.

“All ye, beneath life’s crushing load, whose forms are bending low, who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow; Look now! For glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing; Oh rest beside the weary road and hear the angels sing.

“For lo! the days are hastening on, by prophet bards foretold, when with the ever-circling years comes round the age of gold; When peace shall over all the earth its ancient splendors fling, and the whole world give back the song which now the angels sing.”

When these words were written 167 years ago, America had been at war with Mexico. Zachary Taylor’s heroic efforts in that conflict catapulted him reluctantly into the presidency. There was a lot of noise in 1849 that distracted the world from the voices of angels.

Simply update the usage of the words “ye” and “lo” in those verses and you might think they were written about 2016. We’ve suffered long this election year — we’re still at war with each other about rights, the load of healthcare and education can be crushing. There have been many large decibel words spewed in 2016.

I don’t think the angels have ever stopped singing. I think they’ve been singing since before Jesus was born. We’re so busy making noise ourselves that we miss it.

As the Voices of Colleton Community Choir sang about the good news of great joy, I tried to listen for the angel voices I’d prayed for. I realized that angels did not join us in singing. What really happened was that we joined the angels in their glorious song of old. We proclaimed with the angels, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

The message that came clear that night: Peace on the earth and good will to men will come from heaven’s all gracious King.

This was originally posted December 18, 2016 on www.walterborolive.com

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Sometimes it takes getting on your knees to see all the dirt clearly


Several years ago one of the ladies at church gave me a Ziploc bag of Amish Friendship Bread “starter.” She beamed and clucked about all the different varieties she had made. Some with peaches, some with nuts, coconut, bananas, and a variety of other yummies. I could tell she had been having a fun with this bread (actually, to me it’s more like cake).

For the record, I am not a baker. The extent of my baking skills ends with canned biscuits and Martha White muffin mix packets. This woman’s joy, however, was contagious so I took the Ziploc bag with gratitude and high hopes for that same kind of joy.

The starter is supposed to stay in the bag for 10 days. During that time, there are certain days you’re supposed to add more ingredients. The other days you simply knead the bag. On day 10, you mix in some more ingredients, then measure out four more starter bags to give your friends. With the mixture that is left, you add more ingredients and then bake it. Voila, delicious bread (aka cake).

With the busyness of life, I lost track of where I was in the 10-day cycle for the bag she gave me. I couldn’t remember if I was on an add-ingredient day or a knead day. I finally gave up and threw it in the garbage. I was a little embarrassed and defeated.  I hoped the friend who shared it with me had forgotten about it too.

The next time I saw her, she asked about it and I had to come clean. She was still excited about the whole project and very gracious, offering to bring me another starter bag. Which she did, only this time she brought it to me on Day 9. All I had to do was bake it the next day.

That next day was busy and I didn’t get started on the baking process until late in the day, but I wasn’t going to bed until this bread was warm and toasty. I hurried through the pre-bake steps and saved the cleanup until it was in the oven.

As it baked, I washed the mixing bowls and measuring cups and wiped down the counter. Then I noticed a drip of batter on the lower cabinet, so I bent down to reach it. Once I bent down, I noticed some flour on the floor. I got down on my knees with a Clorox wipe to get the flour up off the floor.

As I knelt there on my knees, I saw a few coffee ground specks that had fallen to the floor who knows when. On my knees, I saw a dried up drip of who-knows-what staining the white cabinet door under my sink. On my knees, I noticed tiny crumbs collecting in the corners of the floor that I couldn’t see when I was standing upright. On my knees, I saw the dust and dirt on the baseboards under the cabinets. On my knees, I saw the nasty dirt stains on my floor.

On my knees.

That’s when it dawned on me. Sometimes it takes getting on my knees to really see my own dirt clearly. All the stuff that’s messed up about my life, all the bad choices I’ve made, the responsibilities and opportunities I’ve ignored, failures due to my own stupidity, all the stuff I want to hide — when I get on my knees before Jesus, He shows me these things more clearly than ever before. He brings them to my attention to remind me that what I need to do about them is simply admit they are mine. Then give them to Him.

When I get on my knees before Jesus, my perspective changes. Not only do I see how big my pile of dirt is, I also see that great big pile as a measurement of the amount of forgiveness He has for me.

I can’t see it that clearly when I’m standing on my own two feet.

Only on my knees.

“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:9-11

This was originally posted December 4, 2016 on www.walterborolive.com

Monday, November 21, 2016

Hope for our country is an individual responsibility


It was a special time and he was a special child. His parents did not take their responsibility lightly when they welcomed their son into the world. As the boy grew, his parents trained and educated him in strict disciplines.

His body grew strong. He was careful about what he ate. He never drank wine. He developed mental sharpness; his quick wit and complex thought processes were evidence of that.

When he was older, he married a woman from another country.

He wasn’t always completely honest about his behavior. At times he spoke using words that made people wonder what on earth he was thinking.

He had quite a reputation in and out of town. When people talked about him, they probably never failed to mention his unwieldy long hair.

His strength and power led him into great wealth and successful leadership positions. It also continued to be a force his enemies had to reckon with. Sometimes he used very unconventional means to deal with those enemies, some of them harsh and hurtful.

He sometimes reacted in anger to negative situations. Such anger led to a scandal that was the demise of his marriage. After that, he enjoyed the intimate company of women that he never intended to marry.

There were crowds of people who wanted to be like him. There were also throngs of people who wanted to destroy him.

Those are just some highlights of his life.

No, it’s not a story of any current political figure. It’s a 3,000-year-old story from the Old Testament book of Judges. It’s Samson. He was a leader and judge in Israel for 20 years, around 1080 BC.

How did it turn out for Samson? What is the rest of the story? Is it relative to us today?

I’m not sure we should make direct comparisons between Biblical leaders of ancient Israel and leaders of America today. I do, however, think that the same God that was sovereign during those ancient times is still sovereign today. Trying to identify the Samsons and Delilahs in my life and in the news today makes me the center of the story. But, the Bible is not about me. I need to read the Bible and look for where God is in the story. What did God do with those people? That is what’s relative today. Now, what can God do with these people that have been elected to office in America in 2016?

Samson was a flawed man. The list of indiscretions was long. Samson didn’t always walk in step with the plan that God had for his life from the very beginning. At times, it seemed Samson was doing the complete opposite of what God wanted him to do. What does God do with that?

Samson was eventually captured, tortured and imprisoned by the Philistines, people who were enemies of God. They were enemies because they worshiped a man-made god and treated cruelly the people God had specifically chosen to carry out His plan of salvation for the entire world.

In the end, Samson, in his shackles, called out to God. God heard Samson’s plea and used Samson to destroy the Philistine leaders, all 3,000 of them all at once. In the fray, Samson also lost his life. The real story is that God showed up and defeated the enemies. It’s worth noting that He did it in a way that no one expected.

How can God use the leaders today?  I’m not sure, but it will probably be in a way that I won’t see coming. I am confident, however, that God will show up.  Based on stories I’ve read in the Bible, He seems to show up when it appears that there is no hope left. When He shows up, His enemies will be defeated.

That is our hope. That hope is our responsibility.

“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” Colossians 1:27


Originally posted November 20, 2016 at www.walterborolive.com

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Merry Thanksmas, Y'all

Merry Thanksmas, y’all. Halloween is only a memory now and we’re headlong into that conglomerated holiday season that rides in on the Mayflower and out with jingling sleigh bells. 

As holidays go, I like Thanksgiving. There just seems to be more time to actually take a holiday, maybe because it’s always a four day weekend. Even though I enjoy Thanksgiving, I’m already thinking about Christmas. I don’t think I’m the only one in that boat. A stroll through most any retail establishment is proof.

When I was a little girl, this is the time of year my mother began repeating, “If your room is not clean, Santa won’t stop here.” There were probably other behavior modification persuasion tactics Mom used, but that’s the one I remember. It was time to be on our best behavior. If I wasn’t already, it was time to be a good girl so that good things would come to me on Christmas Eve. 

My mother also often quoted the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem that begins with, “There was a little girl, who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead. When she was good she was very, very good, and when she was bad she was horrid.” 

The rest of that poem goes on to talk about the little girl doing something annoying like jumping on the bed. Her mother was not happy about it. I guess my mother could relate.

I suppose I always wanted to hear, “You’re a good girl!”

We’ve all made a lot of assessments about good or not good based on performance. I do it to myself quite frequently. If I finish a project before a deadline or without any errors, then I’m pleased with myself. It makes me feel pretty good and boosts my confidence on the next project. 

If someone does something really well, like kicking a 50-yard field goal and making the extra point, we want to stand up and cheer. When we manage to stay on the bench the entire game and not get our uniform dirty, nobody wants to yell “Woo hoo, good job!” about that. I think most of us spend more days on the bench than we do kicking field goals. 

Sometimes it’s hard to feel good about myself if I haven’t done anything that warrants an accolade with the word “good” in it. There are days when I don’t get a single thing accomplished. 

The gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are filled with stories about Jesus doing marvelous good things like giving sight to blind people, healing long term illnesses, making lame legs able to withstand bodyweight again, calming storms, and making dead people alive again. He performed miracle after miracle. All good.

There’s no way I can live up to all that good. Thankfully, my performance is not the basis for God’s love for me. Jesus performing miracles is not the reason God loved him.

Jesus heard God say, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). The significant thing about that is when and where Jesus was when he heard it. 

Jesus was standing in the Jordan River, just emerging from the water after being baptized, when he heard his Father affirm that he had done well and was loved. At that point Jesus had not even turned water into wine. Not a single miracle. Yet, God was telling him, “Good job, Son. I love you.” The one thing Jesus had done that day was acknowledge he was there to fulfill the righteous plan of his Father. 

It’s the same for us. We cannot earn God’s satisfaction or love. We get those things when we rest in His plan, rest in His activity, and rest in His performance.

Frankly, I could use the rest this Thanksmas. 

Originally posted November 13, 2016 at www.walterborolive.com

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

I have hope there is something better

Misogyny.  It is not included among the most used words of my vocabulary. My usage of it has been so infrequent that when I got ready to type it, I had to look it up to verify the spelling. Prior to this year, I don’t think I’d ever seen it in a media headline. Now, almost every news outlet has covered it.

Looking it up in the online dictionary confirmed the definition of misogyny as a hatred for and prejudice against women. I get it.  I understand why it’s in the headlines. It’s an ugly and awful thing, especially when it’s used in a sexual context. I believe things that degrade females, like pornography and sex trafficking, are deplorable. Granted there are marginalized males in those situations too, but the majority of the victims are female.

Some of the people talking about misogyny are dismissing it as typical male behavior. Others are declaring war against it. Considering our given time in the history of the human race, we’ve come a long way in human and cultural development. However, it’s 2016 and we’re still using the word misogyny. That means there are people who still believe that women should be treated with honor and respect simply because they are women. It also means that there are people who don’t.

Before news stories included the word misogyny, they included words like transgender bathrooms. In just a few months, the headlines went from dismissing gender roles to crying foul when one of those roles was disrespected. I think these topics were ushered into our headlines because of the upcoming presidential election. I may not c use the word misogyny much, but the words confused and perplexed swirl around often when the topic of the election comes up.

I don’t know, really, what the outcome of this election, either way, will mean for me as a woman. I don’t know what state the United States will be in this time next year. I can speculate but I can’t know for sure until we’re there. But, I do know this: Whatever we, as Americans, have done that’s led us to where we are now as a nation, confused and perplexed, I simply don’t want to do that anymore. I want something better. I have hope that there is something better, something good.

My hope, however, is not in Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. One of them will be president, but neither of them has the power to save us. Only God can do that.

“Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God. He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them— he remains faithful forever. He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.” Psalm 146:3-9

Not only do our presidential candidates lack the power to save us, neither of them can do what God has called me to do. Even if they wanted to. Even if I wanted them to. It is my responsibility and mine alone. The way I see it, it would be futile to expect an office of the earthly government to make God’s work a priority. God’s directive to care for the world is to Christians, not government.

As a Christian, He’s called me to be the good in the world, share the good news.  How?

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

Originally posted November 6, 2016 on www.walterborolive.com.