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

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

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

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Are you resisting moving to Canada?

“Jeff Cook wants to sell your house if you’re moving to Canada because of Trump or Clinton.”  That headline caught my attention recently when the Charleston City Paper posted it on social media. The short news article included a picture of a billboard featuring the claim, “Moving to Canada? We can sell your home.” The billboard also had pictures of not only real estate agent Jeff Cook, but also both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

We saw the billboard in person when we made a trip down Highway 17 a couple of days later. No, I’m not planning to sell my house or move to Canada, but I thought it was clever marketing. Clever, and funny.

I’ve read about celebrities and other well known people making the declaration that they will move out of the United States if the less than desirable candidate, in their opinion, is elected. Moving is expensive and exhausting. That’s a lot of effort and expense that might be better spent right here trying to make this country more like what they think it should be. It would save them the trouble of updating a passport, packing up the junk in the attic, and dealing with customs at the border. I haven’t heard many claims about what they will do if their preferred candidate gets elected.

A few years ago I found myself in a difficult situation, perhaps surprisingly not of my own doing. The actions of other people were forcing me to make decisions I didn’t feel I was ready to make yet -- or even at all.

If I had seen that billboard then, I might have been tempted to take it way more seriously and who knows, could even be speaking French by now. My struggle was not about a presidential election, but it was about the authority over and in my life. I no longer wanted to be around the people who were forcing difficult circumstances on me.

I wanted to flee. As a matter of fact, that’s all I wanted to do. I was tempted to run away and never look back. Even people close to me encouraged me to go, just quit and get out. I was certain the grass was greener anywhere and everywhere else.  I was so tempted.

I searched for scripture verses that might help me justify fleeing. After a little research and reading, I didn’t find much confirmation that fleeing difficult situations is always a definite “yes” in God’s book. Mostly, summing up the verses I found, the Bible directs me to flee temptation, not difficult situations. Specifically, flee the temptation to sin.

I also searched for scripture verses that would help the pain and anguish of dealing with the difficult circumstances and people. I found verse after verse about persevering. I read verses about endurance, putting on armor, fighting the good fight, pressing on, standing firm, and on top of all that, being joyful about it.

Be joyful about hanging in there and flee the temptation to sin. It’s not always easy.

Sometimes you have to flee the temptation to flee.

It didn’t happen overnight, but I finally realized I had developed strength by persevering under the pressure of those difficult circumstances. That strength gave me the ability to relieve those overbearing people of the counterfeit authority in my life that I had unwittingly assigned to them. It really wasn’t theirs anyway.

Here are fourteen words that say it all: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

We don’t have to flee. We just have to give God the authority over our lives. Let Him deal with those overbearing people and politicians. Then we’ll see the backside of the devil as he’s running away. Isn’t that a joyful thought! 

This was originally posted July 31, 2016 on 

Monday, July 18, 2016

Be a lug nut in a dark world

It was nearly midnight when the phone rang. It startled us both out of a peaceful sleep. Any time the phone rings at that hour, a bit of panic creeps up and forms a lump in my throat. It’s amazing how many what-if thoughts can go through your mind in the short amount of time it takes to fumble around in the dark to find the phone and hit the right button to answer it.

Thankfully, this time it wasn’t any kind of emergency. The caller probably didn’t have any idea what time it was. He just needed to talk to my husband. The caller didn’t say anything that Scott hadn’t heard before. This same conversation happens about once a week. This was just the first time we’d been woken up from a deep sleep for it.

A few nights ago we heard a knock on our front door followed by the doorbell ringing. It was about 10:30 PM. We had not gone to bed yet, but I already had on my pajamas. Scott was still dressed. We looked at each other for a minute, then he went to the door and opened it. It had happened before, so we were pretty certain about who was standing on the other side of the door. This visitor comes by every now and then, and is usually in need of something. We’ve provided sandwiches, toiletries, prayer, and sometimes just conversation.

This has been one of those weeks when those kind of interruptions came one after the other. Scott found himself facing several people in need. The needs ranged from getting someone a tank of gas for an emergency trip to planning a funeral. Scott willingly engaged in all of them.

After a couple of days, he was beginning to feel the tug from the things that were actually on his calendar that needed to be accomplished before Friday. His to-do list was still undone and now he had less time to do it. If he had passed those disruptions off to someone else, or just said no, he might have been finished with his work. He chose to keep them and say yes.

As far as I know everyone he faced this week was grateful for his help. I think he realized it too. He and I were talking about doing the small things for others when, in his witty way, he said, “Without the lug nuts, the wheels won’t stay on the bus and we’re not going anywhere.”

I think he just called himself a lug nut. He was simplifying the message that the little, seemingly insignificant things are important and that having needs met really matters most to those in need. The route the bus is scheduled to take doesn’t really matter if there are no lug nuts to hold the wheels in place.

A day or two after the lug nut conversation and a few more interruptions later, he wearily asked me why people in need seem to be drawn to him. He questioned whether he was just a sucker and a softie.

Without hesitation I responded to his question, “They are drawn to the light in you.”

I think that’s the way God designed it and why we need each other.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

When a city on hill looks out beyond the hill, it doesn’t see it’s own light. It sees the darkness. In the same way, sometimes it’s difficult to see the light in ourselves. So, how do we know we’re not just suckers and softies who can’t say no? People who need us to hold them up and help keep them on the road will be drawn to us.

When they show up at your door, be the best lug nut you can be. It’s a dark world out there.

The was originally published July 13, 2016 on

Monday, July 4, 2016

Tell It Like You're Running Out of Time

I had the same ringtone on my phone for as long as I’ve had my phone, but I finally bought a new one a couple of weeks ago. Now when someone calls me I hear, “…the room where it happened, the room where it happened, the room where it happened…”  It just tickles me every time I hear it. I start singing along, tapping my feet, almost forgetting to hit the accept button and say hello.

The song that ringtone is made from comes from the current smash Broadway show Hamilton, An American Musical. It’s about the life of Alexander Hamilton. I’m not sure how I first heard about this musical, but I have gotten drawn in to all the hype surrounding it. I am taking it all in: YouTube videos, critic reviews, blog posts, Twitter feeds, whatever I can get my hands on that has anything to do with this musical. Did you see the Tony Awards a couple of weeks ago? There is a LOT of hype out there, and apparently it’s created the largest history class ever. Scores of people from teenagers to grandparents are learning the lyrics and the historic details.

Much of the music is hip hop. Before Hamilton, An American Musical, there were no hip hop songs on any of my playlists. I bought the 2-disc CD set. Now, because I’ve memorized some of the lyrics, I think I can rap.

I bought the 800-page book written by Ron Chernow that it was based on. I’ve never read an 800-page book of any kind just for fun, much less a history book. I’m still in the process of reading, but I haven’t given up on it yet. It’s fascinating.

What I knew of Alexander Hamilton before Hamilton, An American Musical, was limited. I knew he was considered a founding father, had something to do with the Constitution, and his face is on our ten-dollar bill.

What I’ve learned about him since is that he was an orphan born in the Caribbean who made his way to America by way of a scholarship because of something he wrote. Once on American soil, he wanted to do other great and noble things, and he did, but it was his writing that seemed to make a difference in the lives around him and in the life of our country. A current that flows through the musical is that he writes like he’s running out of time because no one is promised tomorrow. Get as much done today as you can.

A couple of years ago I heard a music publisher speaking to a crowd of musicians. He told them, “If you’ve been given a platform of any kind, say something.” It was one of those moments that marked me. It’s still fresh in my ears.

I guess that’s why Hamilton has resonated with me so strongly. Hamilton took every advantage he had to say something; his writings are proof. You and I are some of the benefactors of his words. He died when he was 49. That left a lot of tomorrows he never got.

None of us are promised tomorrow. “People are like grass; their beauty is like a flower in the field. The grass withers and the flower fades. But the word of the Lord remains forever.” (1 Peter 1:24-24 NLT).

I think we’ve all been given a platform of some kind, maybe not as a founding father or as a stage musician, but there is someone standing near us that needs to hear words that remain forever.

If we share the words of the Lord on the platforms God’s given us, we may not be promised tomorrow but those words are. Not only will they remain forever, but they will accomplish what He intended when he gave us the platform in the first place.

Say it. Write it. Don’t throw away your shot. Tell it like you’re running out of time.

This was originally published July 3, 2016 on

Monday, June 27, 2016

He knows me better than anyone else

Last month I attended a week-long conference out of town. I called home one evening to check in with my husband. He told me there was a message on our answering machine for me. He wouldn’t relay the message; he said I needed to actually hear it. He hit the playback button.

I heard, “Hello, this is Nancy Davis…,” in a voice that wasn’t mine.

Someone else named Nancy Davis was speaking.

Several weeks earlier I’d ordered a shirt from an online retailer. I received an email notification of its shipment and monitored the tracking online until it showed that it had been delivered to my post office box. I checked my box for several days but it never showed up there.

What I didn’t know at the time was that the package had mistakenly been put in the wrong post office box. The person that received it thought it was something her sister had ordered and shipped to her. She thought that because her sister, who lives in North Carolina, is also named Nancy Davis. Once the sisters were finally able to get together and investigate the mysterious package, they realized it didn’t belong to either one them. So, the North Carolina Nancy Davis set out to find the Nancy Davis with a post office box in Walterboro, South Carolina, which she did. That’s how I, Nancy Davis, came to have a voice mail message from another Nancy Davis.

Neither my first name nor my last name are that uncommon.

As a matter of fact, just today I received a couple of emails that confused me. The subject of the emails was baseball, for which I have no affection for or affiliation with, so I replied to the sender for clarification.  Finally, he realized he was sending them to the wrong Nancy. He obviously had more than one Nancy in his address book.

The combination of my first and last name is not so uncommon either. If you google it, you’ll get pages and pages of entries about Nancy Reagan. Her name was Nancy Davis before she married Ronald.

The Nancy Davis that received my shirt by mistake probably looked at it and laughed thinking she’d never wear such a thing. I didn’t have any need to know where the fields were in the upcoming baseball tournament, but there was another Nancy who did. As for Nancy Davis Reagan, well, there aren’t many who could compare with her. We all have the same name but you have to go a little further to tell the difference.

If the North Carolina Nancy Davis, Nancy Davis Reagan, and I were all in the same room and someone yelled out, “Nancy Davis,” none of us would know for sure which one of us they were calling.

The only way I might know for sure they were looking for me is if I recognized the voice that was speaking.

There is a voice that calls our names and knows exactly which one we are. That voice that belongs to the one who created us says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” Can you hear it? Do you recognize it?

In that same chapter of scripture (Isaiah 43), the voice that remembers and calls my name says that for his own sake he will blot out my sins and forget them forever. He remembers my name. He can pick me out from all the other Nancy Davises in the world. He knows me better than anyone else and yet will never remind himself of my sins. Who else can do that? No other name but Jesus. 

This was originally published June 26, 2016 on

Monday, June 20, 2016

God's strength keeps me from growing weary

I’m in cycle where I seem to be annoying other people just by showing up. I haven’t intentionally tried to provoke anyone, but it somehow I have managed to stir up humanity without much effort.

I pulled my car into a space on the street clearly white-line marked as legal parking space. A little later I was confronted about my choice of parking spaces and was asked to move my car anywhere other than the lawful space it was in.

I made a phone call to follow up on a matter that hadn’t been crossed off my to-do list yet. I simply wanted to check the status of the unfinished task, but the receiver took the call as criticism for tardiness, which it wasn’t.

I overheard grumbling coming from another room. She was talking out loud to herself and it was obvious that she was not happy with the way I had done something. I had moved some things around because of a safety issue, but apparently the rearrangement caused her some inconvenience.

I got in my car and headed out to get a sandwich for lunch. Apparently the dude in the truck behind me thought my careful and cautious driving, including using a turn signal, was offensive enough to warrant him screaming obscenities at me as I turned off the roadway.

At the end of the day, the gravity of all that unintended offense weighs me down. I try to do the right thing. On days when it seems like the assaults come back to back, what I really want to do is scream back at someone who screams at me. It would be so easy to spew a bunch of words to justify myself or my actions. If someone expressed an opinion about my shortcomings it probably wouldn’t take me long to react and return the favor. It’s hard to stand up when there’s so much gravity pulling you down. It’s a lot easier to sink to that level than to rise above it.

Many world religions, including Christianity, embrace the spiritual principle of reaping what you sow. Eastern religions call it karma. Even people who aren’t religious believe it. The essence of it is that your current actions affect your future. It’s an ageless, universal concept with scores of human examples proving its validity. It’s a simple idea. If we want a good future, we do good things now. Simple, yes, but not easy. Sometimes it’s really hard to do good.

In Galatians 6 of the New Testament Paul states it plainly, “For whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” Two verses later he continues, “Let us not grow weary of doing good.” I’m with you, Paul, but exactly how do we not grow weary?

I found the answer in the Old Testament. Isaiah said:

“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might He increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”

I don’t want to be the person that screams at people or incites their anger. I would rather be the person that brings good news. That’s hard to do sometimes. It took an Old Testament prophet to remind me that I cannot do God’s work without God’s help. It is God’s strength that keeps me from growing weary and enables me to take a stand in the world we’re living in. That’s exactly the encouragement I need to start sowing like my future depends on it.   

This was originally published June 19, 2015 on