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