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

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

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

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Life is all about your perspective

In the span of three weeks I went from having my toes in the sand of Florida’s Gulf Coast to tapping them in the Country Music Capital, Nashville, Tennessee. It’s good to get out of town every now and then to see how other people live. Everywhere, people are the same. Also, everywhere, people are different.

I am a people watcher. My motivations are mostly to educate myself on new and different trends and tendencies. My discoveries are always the same. There is nothing new under the sun. Maybe it’s the first time my eyes have seen it, but it’s not really new. It’s all about perspective.

Take this scene, for instance:

He sat quietly in a corner by himself reading the morning news updates. Steam wafted from his coffee cup. Between occasional sips, He rubbed his hand back and forth across his unshaven chin. The muted colors of his plaid, untucked, shirt made the not-so-wrinkle-free rumples seem less noticeable. He was wearing khaki shorts and black socks with casual, comfort shoes. If I asked him for his opinion of the news he was reading, he most likely would offer it plainly and unapologetically. I probably wouldn’t have to ask to see pictures of his summer vacation. He most likely had those cued up and ready to show any one who might seem unoccupied at the moment.

Hold that picture in your mind for a minute. Does it sound like anyone you know?

If I asked that question to someone of the Millennial Generation (between the ages of 20-40) they would probably recognize themselves or one of their peers in that scene. He would be sitting in a coffee shop reading social media updates on his tablet and ready to pull up his vacation pictures on his smart phone. He would be wearing black socks with his Chaco sandals. He would definitely have an opinion about the upcoming presidential election and would gladly share it.

If the scene were described to someone from the Baby Boomer Generation (between the ages of 55-70), they might see that scene with their father in it: an elderly man sitting at the breakfast table reading the daily news from a printed newspaper. His photos are from long ago vacations and are slides that would require a projector, but he’d still be ready to show them. He’s wearing orthopedic shoes with his black socks.  He, too, definitely has an opinion on the upcoming presidential election and would gladly share it.

Thinking about all this has also led me to consider not only how we see things, but also how we communicate them. Here’s the example the made me see again that there is nothing new under the sun:

“Do you like green eggs and ham? I do not like them, Sam-I-am. I do not like green eggs and ham. Would you like them here or there?”

 Those words bring up a flood of memories and sentiments for those of us who learned to read, or helped someone else learn to read, with “Green Eggs and Ham” which was published in 1960. Counting the spaces and punctuation in those four short sentences, it is 132 keystrokes.

Twitter is one of today’s top social media platforms in terms of number of users. It’s format limits posts to 140 characters or less. You only have 140 keystrokes or less to get your message out there. For the reader, it reduces the amount of time it takes to catch up on all the news. For the writer, it forces brevity and succinctness. Say it in as few words as possible, but make them potent. Dr. Suess figured that out a long time ago.

Of course, also equally relatable and Tweetable: “I would not like them here or there. I would not like them anywhere. I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them, Sam-I-am.”  That’s 134 characters.

“What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).  That’s 137 characters, including the reference.

If there is nothing new, how do we explain scientific discoveries or fashion trends? Why do we hope for a cure for cancer? It’s not the trends, discoveries, or the cure that satisfies our need for something new. We will always need something else beyond those things. It’s the hope. It’s the longing we have for something better than this world where nothing is new. I believe our Creator put that longing in our hearts. Ecclesiastes also says that our Creator has made everything beautiful in its time and that He has put eternity in our hearts. There will come a time when it truly will all be new and beautiful. Longing for that eternity is the motivation to keep pressing on.

The Creator, not the created, is responsible so hold on and keep moving towards Him.

“Behold, I am making all things new.” Revelation 21:5

Originally posted September 11, 2016 on

Sunday, August 21, 2016

It's time to think about Christmas

Summer is over and school is back in session. At my house that means Christmas music. Yes, Christmas music. It’s time to start practicing and preparing for the special music that will be presented during the month of December.  The director of the Voices of Colleton Community Choir, who also happens to be my husband, started thinking about this year’s presentation almost as soon as the final note was sung last year.

I love being a part of the Community Choir.  I have met so many people whose lives don’t intersect with mine at any other time, but because of the choir, they have become my friends. People from all walks of life, different neighborhoods, and a variety of churches and denominations make up the roster. Everyone is welcome. When I talk about the Community Choir, I always tell people that joining together gives us the opportunity to do something bigger than any of us could do on our own. It’s a wonderful experience to be with all of these different people and the Christmas music adds even more excitement.  

There are a few individuals in the choir that can sing like angels. There are also a bunch of us that simply like being around people who sing like angels. When we get together to sing, it’s like a little bit of what I think heaven will be. The other thing I always say when I’m talking about singing in the choir is that I don’t sing in the choir because I’m good at it. I sing in the choir because music is the thing that speaks to the deepest caverns of my heart.

Sometimes in modern worship, we let others do the singing for us. Maybe we think our singing isn’t good enough. Maybe we think the worship leader’s singing is hard to follow.  Maybe we think it’s too intimidating to sing in public. Maybe we should consider what God thinks about those things.

God’s word through Zephaniah says to sing and shout out loud, be glad, and rejoice with all your heart. The reaction that follows is this: “He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3: 17)

When you sing loud and praise God, He answers back with His singing voice. Can you even imagine the King of kings and the Lord of lords singing? How about Him singing over you? It’s a humbling thing to think about, but He’s listening for that humble singing.  

The first meeting of the Community Choir for this season is scheduled Sunday, August 21, 2:30 p.m. at First Baptist Church. We would love to have you join us. Come and see for yourself. Maybe I should say, come and sing for yourself.

Originally posted August 21, 2016 on

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Accept the good that God promises you

It’s time to start paying closer attention to the big yellow buses and blinking school zone signs. There’s excitement in the air, and depending on who you ask, maybe a little dread too. School can be the greatest blessing and the greatest challenge all at the same time, for students, teachers, and parents.

I consider a good education very important and extremely valuable. I can say that with earnestness now that I’m way beyond my high school years. I speak from experience because I took it for granted when I was actually going to classes back then.

Now, mind you, I was not the type to play hooky. I always did my homework, even as a sophomore when I was homebound for several weeks with mononucleosis. I remember reading and studying George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” for an English class report while I was infirmed. My sister took it back to the teacher when it was completed. I never made it back to that class but still made an A.

I moved away from my hometown and state years ago, so geography put distance between me and my high school friends. Some of us have reconnected thanks to social media. The columns I’ve written for this newspaper have been posted online and on social media which has given those friends and opportunity to read them.

One of those friends recently posted a comment online and tagged my high school American Literature teacher, Mr. Bruce Starnes. So, he saw it too. It was a little humbling.

It was humbling because even though I finished every single homework assignment and made nothing less than a B, I never really got it. I learned what to do to make the grades but somehow missed the point of letting those lessons shape and give direction to the rest of my life. Yes, the good grades helped me get accepted into college, but the reality of it is, I was good at the tasks but clueless about the purpose. Therefore, I had no idea what I was doing at college once I got there. I got through much of college the same way.

I am solely responsible for not taking it seriously and for missing out on what was being given to me. If I had taken even just a little bit of time to consider the bigger picture of my life along with its potential length and potency, maybe it wouldn’t have taken me decades to figure it out. Mr. Starnes replied to that online comment with the notion that necessity finally ended up being the teacher that I listened to. He’s still passing on wisdom.

 I was blessed with excellent English teachers throughout my education. I wrote lots of papers and made good grades, but I never accepted that as the hope and promise for my life. I can come up with lots of reasons and excuses about why I dismissed it then, but I see it now. It took me nearly forty years to be able to say, “Yes, I’m a writer.”

When God spoke to Moses at the burning bush He said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey…” (Exodus 3:7-8)

Fast forward a couple of years and you’ll find Moses and the Israelites standing within eyesight of the land that God had already said was good and flowing with milk and honey. It was what God had promised them. It was a place where they would prosper. It was where they were meant to be. It was their future.

They had survived plagues, hunger, and river crossings to get there. They had been led and protected by God throughout the entire journey. Now, there it was right in front of them. It was theirs for the taking, with only a few obstacles to overcome. They said no, thank you. They let go of the very thing for which they were spared. They missed the whole point of the journey and the assignment. They didn’t accept the “good” that God promised them.

They ended up wandering around looking for it for forty years. I completely understand that one. The thing is, they didn’t have to, I didn’t have to, and neither do you. So, sharpen your pencils and listen up. There’s some good news. God has promised His kingdom to those who will say yes. Saying yes could spare you the detour and you just might hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Originally posted August 14, 2016 on

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Ladies, we really do need each other

My friend Patsy Stanfield invited me to a Ladies’ Tea at Bethel United Methodist Church Ruffin held this past weekend. Patsy’s sister, Carolyn Breland, was one of the hostesses. I looked forward to it for weeks and was excited to have a reason to dress up in lace, pearls, and a hat.

I was a guest at this event and was not involved in any of the planning or preparation. Those who were did an unbelievable job. We walked in to a room full of tables set with beautiful linens, tulle accents, colorful decorations, and fine china. It was gorgeous. I felt as if I’d found my way home to the charm of the South. It was stimulating and comforting all at the same time.

There were twelve tables and each one was assigned a different hostess. Each hostess selected a theme for their table and brought their own china, crystal, linens, centerpieces, and decorations to fit their theme. Some of the themes were Lazy Days of Summer, Christmas in July, Virtuous Woman, Summer Meadow, Philippians 4:13, and Friends, Tea, and Old Lace. Each table was unique but all of them were set and decorated down to the tiniest detail. It didn’t take long for me to sense that not only were the table settings chosen with love and care, so were the people that would be sitting around them. The festivities hadn’t even begun yet and I already felt special.

Once we sat down at our tables, a young man in a white shirt and black bowtie poured my tea. One of the greatest highlights for me came when each hostess was asked to introduce the guests at her table. As I understand it, not only was the hostess responsible for her complete table set up, she was also responsible for inviting the seven other people that would sit at her table. It wasn’t a Y’all Come kind of event; it was by special invitation. I’m assuming a good many of their church friends were hosting tables of their own, so the invitees were people from other parts of their lives. That was what was so remarkable to me.  As these ladies introduced their friends sitting around them, there was no doubt that there was a sense of relationship and belonging among them. They represented years of doing life together and were not afraid to tell their friends, in front of all the rest of us, how much they appreciated each other. That display of friendship was more beautiful than any Lenox place setting or Waterford stemware could ever be.

I sat next to my friend, Patsy, at her sister Carolyn’s table. I’ve known Patsy for several years. She was born in Walterboro and has lived her entire life here. She likes camping and the outdoors. She was in her twenties when I was born. I was born in a large metropolitan city and have lived in several different states. I like hotel rooms, indoor plumbing, and maid service. Patsy and I may not have a lot in common, having grown up in opposite cultures, at different times, and with incompatible pastime preferences, but in spite of that, I consider Patsy a dear friend.

Frances Ulmer, Eva Beach, and Carolyn Powers were also guests at Carolyn’s table. In our conversation over cream cheese and pineapple sandwiches, I learned of some of their life stories that have made them into the beautiful women they are today. I heard stories of death and tragedy, but also of accomplishment and joy. Their life experience is priceless and their willingness to talk about is even more precious.

None of these women have exactly the same story to tell. Even if they have similar backgrounds, each one has their own story to tell. Here’s what all of this has made me realize:  Ladies, we need each other. I need to hear stories of people who’ve made it through some of the things I’m struggling with. Maybe it didn’t turn out like you wanted, but you made it through. The other side of that is maybe my stories could encourage someone else.
We don’t necessarily need to cling to other women who are the same age or have the same interests. We don’t have to be blood related or from the same country.  Ruth and Naomi weren’t.

The main thing Ruth and Naomi probably had in common was Mahlon, Ruth’s husband and Naomi’s son. When Mahlon died, there probably wasn’t much else to talk about. Different ages, different cultures, different everything. Somehow God used all of that to allow Ruth and Naomi to be the main encouragement to each other. Even before there was a hint of Ruth’s happily ever after with Boaz, she was able to say to Naomi, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16).

So, to Pastor Cheri Yates and all the women at the Bethel United Methodist Ruffin Tea, thank you. Thank you for setting that example. I have been blessed beyond measure and consider you all my people now.

Originally posted August 7, 2016 on