Monday, June 29, 2015

The past week was inexplicable

This past week has been inexplicable. It was one of those weeks that contained the best and the worst. Much of it is indescribable, yet we will be talking about it for weeks as we try to make sense of it, both good and bad.

Saturday, my husband and I attended The Response event at the Charleston Coliseum. It was an event designed specifically to pray for America. It was coordinated and facilitated by Doug Stringer and there were many different kinds of people involved. Included in that diverse group of people were several elected officials from local, state, and national levels. Not one of them spoke a word about any kind of political agenda. They all prayed, out loud, for our communities, our state, and our nation to return to God. We spent six hours there and left feeling glad we had done so. We knew we had experienced the presence of God. It’s hard to describe how that happened or put it into words, we just knew it was good.

We hadn’t planned it, but on Tuesday we were presented with an opportunity to take a meal to a group of hungry workers. The Carpenters for Christ from the Autauga Baptist Association in Prattville, Alabama were in Colleton County to construct the Bennetts Point Interdenominational Chapel. When we arrived at the site they were finishing up the roof underlayments. Just three or four days prior, there was only a concrete foundation. The residents of Bennetts Point have been praying about and working to make this a reality long before the Carpenters actually showed up. We delivered the food and waited around the construction site for the whistle to blow signaling dinnertime. As we waited, I talked to a few of the residents about how the project came about. It’s an amazing story involving a community of folks, a commitment to God, and a vision to be and do more than they currently are. Every story I heard included details about conversations or actions of the group. No one talked about themselves or took any individual credit. They all spoke of how God had been the instigator. Again, it was an experience that is hard to put into words, we just knew it was good.

While that chapel was being built, an attempt was made to tear down another church not too far away. Wednesday, the Emanuel AME Church in downtown Charleston was pierced with gunfire that took the lives of nine individuals who were there for the purpose of uniting in prayer. It was a difficult day in the South Carolina Lowcountry. At first, it felt like God was a little further away.

Thursday, we cancelled what was on our calendars and headed back down to Bennetts Point for a worship service led by the Carpenters in the chapel they had been constructing. My husband and I both felt like we needed to again be reminded of the good that happens when people follow God. We needed to sense the closeness of His presence again.

We arrived to find that the stilted structure was now dried in. They brought in folding chairs for the worship service. We sat near the front, crowded in with anticipation. There was no insulation or sheetrock yet, just bare rafters and beams. Every direction I looked, I saw wood. Nothing but wood. I thought about Jesus being a carpenter and imagined Him leveling a beam and hammering nails into a two-by-four in this wooden frame.

 During the service, we were served communion. My thoughts then went to Jesus sharing communion with His disciples. He did that just before He died. His death was wrought by wood and nails.

 Jesus was a carpenter, but He didn’t use his carpentry skills to build a church. It was His self-sacrifice and never-ending love for us that enabled His church to grow. Jesus nailed to a wooden cross is where evil dies and good wins. It’s what had to happen in order for us to be able to experience the presence of God today, in prayer events, chapel construction projects, and anything else we face. Jesus’ death is the reason we can experience God with us.

 “They shall call His name Emmanuel, which means, God with us” (Matthew 1:23). God is with us, even in churches where massacres happen. Emanuel AME Church, your name bears that hope and peace. Emanuel. God is with us. 

This was originally posted Sunday, June 28, 2015 on The Press and Standard website:

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Anchors Away and God Bless America

My husband is a professionally trained and educated musician. I am not. I would love to be able to sing like him, but I learned a long time ago that it’s better if I just stay back in the alto section of the choir and try not to stand out. I do that every chance I get, because music is something that really speaks to me when nothing else can. Sometimes it’s the melodies that move me, other times it’s the lyrics. It comforts me. It reassures me. It inspires me. It motivates me. 

A few years ago, my husband felt lead to bring together voices that don’t normally sing together and thus the Voices of Colleton Community Choir was born. Even though the roster changes a bit with every program, the individuals in the group represent different cultures, races and religious backgrounds. 

We are currently working on a patriotic musical, “Homeland.” While we have had numerous rehearsals, the most recent one just about did me in. I could feel the pulse of the trumpet fanfare in my chest in the prelude to “The Marine Corps Hymn.” Later we sang, “In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea, with a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me; As He died to make men holy let us live to make men free! While God is marching on.”

I was struck with the simple but profound reality that I am free. Not everyone in this world can say that. I stood in the midst of this group of diverse singers that had found a way to harmonize on the message of freedom. From the back row of the alto section, I found myself standing in a picture of the American melting pot. The freedom to stand here and sing about the sweet land of liberty is what we have in common.

The book of Galatians says that I was called to be free. Verses 13 and 14 of Chapter 5 tell me why: "But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command:    'Love your neighbor as yourself.' "

My father was a World War II veteran. He was about 21 years old when he boarded the Queen Mary, bound for the European war theater. We have a few pictures of him as a handsome, smiling, young sailor in his Navy uniform, but for a very long time that was the only evidence we had that verified his military service. He was in his 80s before we ever heard him talk about crashing through the waves aboard a watercraft in the English Channel on D-Day. He never talked about the struggle or the sacrifice, even though he no doubt experienced both.

He did, however, show me time and time again how to serve one another humbly in love. Even in his last hours on this earth, I witnessed him selflessly thanking others and expressing love to them. He was able to do that because he took his call to freedom seriously.

When we sang “Anchors Aweigh” in rehearsal, I was flooded with thoughts of him. The “until we meet once more, here’s wishing you a happy voyage home” message felt personal. He made his final voyage to his eternal home four years ago and now enjoys the only true freedom, gained by loving God and serving others while he was on this earth. Until we meet once more, Daddy.

Yes, we live in the land of the free and the home of the brave, but it doesn’t come free or without responsibility. We are all called to serve. I hope that you will allow us the privilege of serving you by sharing this musical presentation with you. Please be our guest Sunday, May 31, 3 p.m. at First Baptist Church as the Voices of Colleton Community Choir presents “Homeland.”

May God bless you and God bless America.

 This was originally posted Sunday, May 24, 2015 on the Press and Standard website: