A Thank You for Superior Teaching

In a continued celebration of my 50th birthday 7-22-15, I’m writing 50 thank you notes in 50 weeks. Here’s number six–to Mary Sorrells for her exemplary teaching.

 

Teacher thank youDear Mrs. Sorrells,

This isn’t the first time I’ve thanked you. You taught my oldest daughter in 2003 and my son in 2005; I told you then how much I appreciated your classroom expertise. But in the years since, I’ve come to value your teaching, and that of other Oakley Elementary educators, even more. It is with this clarity of hindsight that I offer you this note of thanksgiving.

Thank you for having a classroom that allowed for different abilities. You challenged bright students, coaxed strugglers, and guided distracted ones. You created space in your classroom for all kinds of learners. In so doing, you taught my children and others that though we are unique individuals, we can find common ground that can lead to community.

One way you demonstrated that was through music. You did that all on your own. You secured enough recorders for every student in the class and taught them to play as an ensemble. As they learned to play the instrument, they learned the value of commitment, perseverance, and excellence. (Music teaches so many things!) They also learned that together, they were better. What a valuable lesson to learn! Thank you.

Thank you for encouraging their strengths. I remember you having a little talent show at the end of the year just for your class. You clearly, genuinely wanted to see each child’s performance. In my memory, you are sitting on the edge of your seat, smiling though each number, and applauding the loudest at the end. As I remember it, you pointed out the positives of each performance. You weren’t offering vain praise, but rather you showed authentic interest and gave real compliments. As you did so, you taught your students that each person has gifts that are to be celebrated. Thank you.

As a volunteer in your class, I was so impressed with your superior teaching abilities: effective classroom management, enthusiastic and engaging lessons, and an unparalleled awareness of the needs of your students. Plus you had that unteachable quality: you obviously, unashamedly, truly loved the children entrusted to you. Thank you, Mrs. Sorrells, for loving my children and for loving so many others. You blessed them. You blessed me.

Once I mentioned to you about how awesome I thought you were. You thanked me then, but responded in writing the next day.

“Anything that happens in my classroom that is awesome is purely by the grace of God. God has given me a foundation of trust, love, and joy. I view the job itself as basically impossible. I do as well as I do solely by the grace of God. Each day is full of lots of miracles.

“Twice a week, at two different church services, I hear the following benediction:

‘The world is now too dangerous a place and too beautiful a place for anything but love. May God take your hands and your feet and work through them. May God take your minds and think through them, and may God take your hearts and set them on fire.’

I try to live these words.”

Indeed, your message of love was unmistakable. Thank you. Thank you for taking to heart the benediction you knew so well. You made a beautiful and lasting difference in the lives of my children and so many others. My heart overflows with gratitude.

Aileen

 

 

Millennial Ministry: Let’s Drop the Adjective*

Me and a Millennial

Millennial ministry. My Facebook newsfeed is full of articles that have something to say about ministry to or with young adults (often referred to formally as Millennials). And if you read BuzzFeed, the Huffington Post or other current e-zines, you might infer that today’s youth are a new species of humanity and that to minister to or with them, you need specialized training.

Not true. It’s really not that hard. Look. I’ll show you.

First thing, and this is primary: stop trying to attract young people. That’s right. Attracting a certain demographic should never be a primary objective for your church. Really, young people are individuals just like all other humans and they have different preferences. Some like an early worship service, some prefer the later one. Some like worship in a traditional setting, others like a more contemporary atmosphere. You cannot be all these things to today’s college students because you’ll get frustrated and overwhelmed and you won’t look a thing like Jesus. Stop trying to find the latest gimmick to draw young folks to your doors. Instead, try being church to all people, regardless of their ages.

Now, what you do need to do is create an environment in your church that welcomes college students. Start by letting them know you exist. Go to campus events. Eat lunch in the cafeteria. Even have a Bible study there on the campus. Spread the word about times for worship and Sunday morning Bible study. You should do that but not to build up your church’s collegiate ministry. Do it because college students — just like everyone else — need godly community.

Oh, and if you are going to invite them, be sure to prepare for them. Have engaging Bible study and small groups. Consider making these groups inter-generational. Recently a college student told me that at the church she attends, she has made a really close friend who she hangs out with frequently. They laugh together, eat together and have fun together. The friend? She’s well past 80 years old! Offer students quality Bible study and authentic connection, and age won’t be nearly as important as you might think.

Okay, so you are (1) ministering to college students and young adults not to increase your weekly attendance but because we are called to share the love of Jesus. And (2) you are offering classes that are both substantive in content and intentional in relationship building. Now, what else can you do? Here are a few ideas.

1. Get on social media. Facebook appeals to an older crowd these days, but I find most students do have an account. They check it, but not necessarily daily. I interact more with students via Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. Snapchat is especially easy and — for me — fun to use. Most college students use some type of social media. If you want to connect with them, you should, too.

2. Get their phone numbers and use them. Wait! Don’t actually call them! (That’s so last century). Send a text. Now it depends on your relationship with the student as to what you say. If I am not really close to a student, I might text a quick, “Hope classes are going well,” or “Thinking about you during exams.” For those kids I know really well, I text them things like, “I miss hearing your goofy jokes,” or “It’s the weekend! Make wise choices,” or “You’ll be at church in the morning, right?” Don’t know how to text? Ask a college student (or, hey, a middle schooler) to teach you.

3. Learn their names and remember them. Each young adult who visits your congregation is an individual. You are probably not bombarded with so many college students that you can’t remember all those names. (If you are, then get down on your knees and thank the good Lord for your problem. We should all be so burdened.) So remember each person’s name. I know a student who went (alone) every Sunday she was in town to a very small church near her college. After two years, she quit going. You know why? Because no one in the congregation of less than 75 people knew her name. There’s absolutely no excuse for this. None. It doesn’t matter how old you are, no one wants to be invisible. Remember students’ names. Write them down if necessary. Have them tattooed on your bicep. But remember their names. (Actually don’t do that tattoo thing. That’s kind of creepy.)

4. Talk to them. Many older adults I know feel like they don’t know what to say to people under the age of 40. Here’s what you say to a college student: “Hi. Glad you came today.” Ask them the same questions you’d ask anyone you had just met. Things like, “You from around here?” or “How about this weather?” And if you really want to connect you can say this: “Would you like to join us for lunch today?” But let’s be honest, that’s not only true of people born since 1990. Even Baby Boomers appreciate being included.

5. Minister with them, not just to them. Invite them to sing in your choir, work with your children or help with your landscaping. Include them in local mission projects. Ask them to lead in worship through reading scripture, saying prayers or ushering. Think about it. No one — college-aged or otherwise — wants to be somebody else’s project.

6. Feed them. Take them out to eat or invite them to your home. College students are generally on a tight budget and are weary of cafeteria food. It is the rare college kid who will turn down a good free meal. Unless of course, they suspect a bait and switch scheme. That is, don’t offer food as a sort of bribe or as an exchange for their participation. No. Feed them because, for one thing, you will be meeting a need or at least a real desire; and for another thing, eating together is a great way to build relationships. That’s exactly how Jesus got to know Zacchaeus, and a whole lot of other folks.

7. For students who are away at college, you should definitely connect with them digitally, but also send them real mail. You can mail the church bulletin, a clipping from the local paper about Friday’s football game or just a handwritten note. I’m continually amazed at how much college students appreciate real, paper-in-an-envelope, postmarked correspondence. They love it. Now if you want to, add little gifts from time to time. I buy Starbucks cards — only $5 or so each — and enclose them with a note that says, “Have a cup of coffee on me!” I’ve sent lots of chocolate bars, chewing gum and even silly little toys. One college student I know is still raving about the toy rubber band launcher I sent him. (Don’t know how much his roommates liked it, though.) Of course homemade goodies are always a welcome treat, and if that’s your thing, go for it! But really, you can just send a note. They’ll love it.

Easy, right? It all comes down to three things:

1. Focus on building the Kingdom, not your membership list.

2. Be prepared for people of all ages by offering quality Bible study.

3. Share God’s love intentionally through authentic relationships formed over time.

Plus the food thing. Do that too.

*This piece was first published on August 24, 2015, by Baptist News Global (formerly Associated Baptist Press). I’m delighted to be associated with this great organization and am honored to be among the gifted writers and thinkers featured there. Watch for my BNG column, appearing monthly at baptistnews.com.

Thank You #5: Meredith (oh what) Grace

In a continued celebration of my 50th birthday 7-22-15, I’m writing 50 thank you notes in 50 weeks. Here’s number five.

Technically, in the biological and legal sense, she’s no relation. Meredith, daughter of my dear friend Debbie, was born in 1995 at 25.5 weeks; her identical twin fell victim to twin to twin transfusion. Meredith lives 1000 miles away, but for nearly 15 years, our families celebrated Thanksgiving together. I’m so very grateful to have this grown-up miracle in my life.

preemie

Aileen and Meredith 1995

My beloved Meredith,

Who could have ever guessed that a baby who weighed less than two pounds could make such a big impression on my life? You slipped into this world three months before you were due, right by yourself (your identical twin went straight to heaven, bypassing Earth altogether). Immediately, though, you found yourself surrounded by love—family, friends, medical staff—and found within your tiny little self, the spirit of a champion. I am so very thankful for you, sweet girl, and I thought it was time I tried to tell you how grateful I am for the gift of YOU.

Thank you baby Meredith, for surviving your shaky beginning.  Somewhere in your amazing self, you found the will to thrive. So, after four months in NICU and I-can’t-even-remember-how-many days on the ventilator, you went home. It was only a few weeks later that I got to hold you for the first time. Thank you, tiny one, for smiling at me so readily. I can still recall the feeling I had, holding all five pounds of you (a pound for each month of your life), looking into your beautiful brown eyes. You made me feel like I was the only person in the world. Thank you.

Thank you little girl Meredith, for always being delighted to see me. (You’ve always been so easily delighted.) Thanks for crawling up in my lap, for letting me read to you, for playing games and watching movies with me, for letting me push you on the swings. And as hard as leaving always was, thanks for always holding on so tightly to me, asking me not to leave, begging us to stay longer next time. Oh how I loved every precious moment of those fleeting days.

Thank you middle school Meredith, for being so unexpectedly full of spunk. I know it wasn’t easy. I’m so grateful for the grit in your makeup that kept you moving forward. Middle school is just the worst, isn’t it? I’m so grateful that you survived those difficult times. Thanks for liking me when it was hard even to like yourself. It felt so undeserved and it felt like treasure. It still does.

Thanks high school Meredith, for sticking with it. It is just so very hard . . . being. Especially in high school. But you connected and found friends I’m certain you’ll have for life. Thanks for not giving up on my Meredith during high school. I’m eternally, endlessly grateful.

I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am to have you in my life, but I’m even more grateful that you let me be a part of yours. Thanks for emailing, Facebooking, texting, and SnapChatting with me. Thanks for loving me from far away and for still wanting me to be with you. I’m so very grateful.

You will have nieces and nephews of your own before you can truly know how gratified my heart is that you are a part of my life. So thank you dear girl. Thank you for being Meredith.

I loved you before you were born.

Aileen

Thank You #4: Doris Johnson

In a continued celebration of my 50th birthday 7-22-15, I’m writing 50 thank you notes in 50 weeks. Here’s number four.

storehouse ministry thank you

Dear Mrs. Doris, 

The Storehouse Ministry you have established at your church is a blessing to so many. In an effort to thank you for all the ways you have impacted your world, I wrote this story about a day I spent volunteering at Storehouse.

“Okay! Everyone on the porch!”

The volunteers pour out of the house that used to be the church parsonage. Now, the three-bedroom, brick ranch is home to the Storehouse Ministry: a program that has grown into one of the most productive and efficient food pantries in the region.

“I believe we’re ready,” she tells us. Grocery carts are lined up on the sidewalk; bags of canned goods are piled on the steps. Under the carport around the corner, fresh bread and baked goods are stacked in the bed of a pick-up; frozen foods will be added at the backdoor. The line of recipients has started forming on the other side of the carport; Mrs. Doris’ table is along the back.  From there, she and other volunteers will greet each person: checking id’s and credentials while chatting about life this week. Mrs. Doris knows them all. She asks them about the specifics of their lives, remembering them from months, years gone by. She hugs them, she laughs with them, and by her very demeanor she reminds them that they matter, that they are loved.

Back on the porch, the volunteers—that day there were more than 20 of us (when she started this ministry, Doris Johnson was one of a two person team)—circle up, squeezing in shoulder to shoulder. They come from her church and other local congregations; but they also come from the community—from Doris’ community. Some worked on the farm she used to have. Some started here as recipients and have stayed on to help. There are wealthy people here, and people who receive public assistance. They are African-American and Caucasian, neighborhood locals and people who haven’t yet learned English.

(Looking around the porch that day, I see a glimpse of the Kingdom.)

“We’ve got a great group here today,” Ms. Doris begins. “And of course, all of us have stuff going on in our lives.” She lists needs among us and names a few of her own. “But we’re going to put all that aside right now and serve these people who’ve come our way. We’re here because Jesus calls us to feed the hungry and we’re going to do just that.”

In a few minutes, we would leave that porch and everyone would get busy filling carts and helping recipients load their groceries. Each recipient (unless Ms. Doris knows of special circumstances and makes an exception) will get a single cart that has been filled to beyond the top with canned foods, dry goods, fruits and vegetables, proteins, and treats.

Most families are allotted a single monthly visit to this ministry. Ms. Doris says the food we provide will not last the whole month; it will last around a week, depending on circumstances. “But,” she tells us, “We do what we can. And we do it in Jesus’ name.”

Ms. Doris turns to me. “We have a guest here today. She’s a seminary graduate, a youth minister in North Carolina. I’m going to ask you to say our opening prayer, Aileen; and folks if you meet someone today in need of prayer, Aileen will be here to minister to them.”

See to Doris Johnson, delivering groceries to people in need is important; sharing the love of Jesus, though, is transformative. So every cart that is filled with food is also covered with prayer; every person who comes through the line for service is seen as a beloved child of God.

“Let us pray,” I invited the group. And we bowed our heads, committing that day to Kingdom work.

storehouse ministry thank you

Doris Johnson, right, with my mother on the left.

Doris Johnson, you are the very face of Christ to so many. Thank you for who you are and for all you do in Jesus’ name. Your example teaches me so much about how to honor God. May the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ be with you always.

With grateful heart,

Aileen

That’s who I am thankful for today. How about you? Who would you like to thank?

 

Thank You #3: Mother

In a continued celebration of my 50th birthday 7-22-15, I’m writing 50 thank you notes in 50 weeks. Here’s number three.

 

8-2-2015–Mother’s 77th birthday.

Thank You MotherDear Mother,

Just yesterday, I realized for the very first time how difficult it must have been for you when we moved to North Myrtle Beach in 1982. I was a junior in high school; your youngest was in middle school; your oldest, a college freshman. The house we were building wasn’t finished, so while we waited, we stayed first in one rental and then another.

I gotta tell you: I thought I was the one with the problem. I mean, I had just moved from my beloved friends, my sister/soul mate was away at college, and I had the most annoying little brother ever born. Plus, we’d had to leave the family pet behind with friends while we stayed in the rentals. And school. And homework. And woe was me.

I never thought about how much harder it would have been if it hadn’t been for you. When I look back now, I can see the obstacles you deftly removed from my path.

The first rental was beautiful, but so sterile that it felt far more like a hotel than a home. You couldn’t change much there, but you added just the right touches to transform the generic to the familiar. Thank you.

The second rental was—well—not beautiful. It was old and so rickety it swayed from the ocean breeze. I distinctly remember your upbeat presentation of the place, offering me first pick of the rooms. I realize now that it was sort of a dump, but I didn’t really know it then. Because of you, it was home. Thank you.

When we finally moved into our house, you went to extraordinary lengths to make my room special. You essentially designed the room (at least in my recollection) around the dollhouse I loved so much. You didn’t have to—I know my furniture cost more than anything you bought for yourself—but you did it just for me. I loved it. I probably didn’t mention it then, but thank you. It meant so much that you valued what was important to me.

Today, I have two college kids and a high school senior myself; I realize more every day all the sacrifices you made for me. Thank you.

  • Thank you for making us start our day together as a family. Whether it was a hot cooked breakfast or cold cereal, we sat together, held hands, and said a blessing. Thank you for making those morning meals a priority. And supper too. Thanks for all those family dinners. I didn’t know why you made such a big deal of us all being around the table for the evening meal. Now I get it. Thanks.
  • Thank you for always welcoming my friends. Thanks for getting to know them, for playing games with us, for feeding us. My friends loved coming to the Mitchell house. They still do.
  • Thank you for all those times you gave up the family car so I would have a vehicle to drive. I’m sure I didn’t say thank you then, but thanks. Thanks for sacrificing your convenience for mine.
  • Thanks for making the painful choice to leave us on occasion to take care of your own parents. I truly had no idea how hard that was for you. I now realize that when you would go and stay with Grandmama and Granddaddy, you must’ve really missed Daddy and us. You went, though, because it was the right thing to do. While you were gone, I’m sure you worried about us eating right, sleeping enough, doing our homework, and getting to our appointments and obligations. Thanks for trusting us. Thanks for teaching us that taking care of aging parents is an important part of being an adult.
  • Thanks for not being needy. I understand now that it was hard for you when I spent holidays away from home. You never complained. You just made it clear that I was always welcome whenever I could be there. I didn’t realize how your heart hurt when we were away. Thank you for being selfless.
  • Thank you for not saying too much. I’m sure there were many times as I grew older that you struggled to refrain from comment. You let me make my own mistakes. I know now how hard that was. Thank you.
  • Thank you for showing me how to be a minister. So much of what I know about serving God, I’ve learned from watching you. Your life has taught me to remember significant days in the lives of others, to make an extra meal for someone in need, to listen, to smile, to volunteer, to study, to pray. You love God with your whole life. I’ve learned that from you. Thank you.

Nearly every day, as I learn more about myself, I learn more about how your love has shaped me. I could never thank you enough for being the extraordinary person you are, for showing me how to be a mother, wife, daughter, woman. I can only live my life in gratitude, humbled by the knowledge that by cosmic chance, I was born to the mother of all mothers. I love you.

With grateful heart,

Aileen

Millennials and Evangelism: An Attempt at Dialogue*

Millennials“Well,” the teen said after thinking only for a moment, “I’d like to talk about evangelism.”

I was with a group of young people—ages 19-35—and I had asked what issues of faith they’d like to discuss.

“Yes,” someone else said, “Like how do we balance evangelism with respect for other faiths?”

“Exactly. Who am I to tell someone what to believe?”

“And how do we know we are right?”

Lesson learned (again): Don’t ask millennials what they want to discuss unless you are ready to field their questions. The good news is you don’t have to have all the answers; otherwise I would have been utterly stymied that evening. Luckily, post-modern young adults are looking less for absolutes than for engagement.

I shy away from making statements like, “Back in my day . . . .” But seriously, back in my day, I didn’t know many people who didn’t believe pretty much exactly like I did. There were a few—a Jewish girl at school, my catholic uncle—but overall, the people in my life were Protestants, the majority Southern Baptists. I didn’t have much outside resistance to my faith in Jesus Christ and what little I did have was actually somewhat welcome to a Southern Baptist girl with a call to proselytize. Seriously, at the height of my adolescence, I could walk you down the Roman Road, lead you down the aisle during the first stanza of Just As I Am, have you repeat the sinner’s prayer after me, and cry tears of joyful relief when I proclaimed you saved from the fires of eternal damnation.

Things are a little different in 2015 than they were in 1975. The world is much smaller and ideas that were foreign then are now fodder for coffee shop chats. In the multicultural and pluralistic 21st Century, many Christians aren’t sure how to respond to the great commission Jesus gives in Matthew 28:18-20.

Like I said, I don’t have the answers. But I do think there is a place for evangelism today. First of all, we should be able to share the joys of following Christ without being disrespectful to people of other faiths.

Think about it. We share other joys without being offensive. For example, do you hesitate to tell someone about a movie you saw and liked? Imagine if we Christians guarded movie suggestions like we do our faith stories. Let’s say you saw the movie Inside Out (which you totally should because it is awesome). After seeing it, you run into some friends and you start to suggest the movie, but you stop yourself. Maybe they don’t care for movies; maybe they prefer live theater. Do they like animation or could they be opposed to such frivolities? Has someone already recommended Inside Out to them and how was that recommendation received?

Additionally, we don’t haul those same friends back to the theater, force them to pay the ticket price, and make sure they go see the film. We just say something like, “For me, the experience was a good one. Maybe it would be for you as well.” And we go on our merry way. Later, we could say, “So, did you go see the movie?” and then a dialogue might begin that could lead to relationship.

So don’t be afraid to tell people that following Christ brings you joy if the opportunity arises. That isn’t being disrespectful; it’s being conversational.

The risk, of course, is that when you are discussing things about which you feel passionate, it is easy to become dogmatic. Given the right circumstances, most of us can get a little bossy.  We all have our issues. Yours might be the risks of artificial sweeteners or the benefits of organic produce. It might be the plight of the small business or the need for affordable health care. Me, I can become downright inflexible when it comes to the importance of supporting public educators. On subjects such as these, we are generally quite happy to tell people what we think they should believe and for that matter, how they should act.

But you know (and I do too), that regardless of the strength of our convictions or the volume of our voices, folks don’t want to be told what to do. Rarely does anyone change behavior or thought process because of someone else’s insistence. No, change usually happens slowly (sometimes almost imperceptibly) over time, and within relationship. So, we can just stop telling people what to believe—whether about standardized testing or about Jesus Christ; it doesn’t work anyway.

This mindset also helps with the issue of who is right and who is wrong. If we could embrace the idea of sharing our stories without the compulsion to be right all the time, I think we might see real relationships forming across what would have been intractable barriers. Instead of entering into debates, we could enter conversations. If winning were no longer an objective, we could allow ourselves a little vulnerability. How freeing would that be?  We could say things like, “Sometimes I doubt,” and “Maybe I’m wrong,” or “I’m not sure.” Friends, hear the good news: God will still be God even if we utter those words. God can survive our questions; God’s been doing that for millennia. Frankly, I thank God prefers we be a little less sure of ourselves. It makes us lean not unto our own understanding.

That’s a little of what I think about evangelism today. What about you? How would you have responded to these questions?

*This piece was first published on July 26, 2015, by Baptist News Global (formerly Associated Baptist Press). I’m delighted to be associated with this great organization and am honored to be among the gifted writers and thinkers featured there. Watch for my BNG column, appearing monthly at baptistnews.com.

 

Thank You #2: Oakley Elementary School

In a continued celebration of my 50th birthday 7-22-15, I’m writing 50 thank you notes in 50 weeks. Here’s number two.

Oakley Elementary School Asheville, NC

Oakley Elementary School
Asheville, NC

Dear Oakley Elementary School:

It was a conscious choice for me to surrender the first of my three children to you back in 1999. I thought about charter schools. I looked at city schools that would accept transfers from the county. I considered private schools and even homeschooling. You see Oakley, as an educator myself, I knew the importance of starting formal schooling in the right way. I was unwilling to leave this aspect of parenting to chance. After prayerful consideration and active research, I opted for you, Oakley; and you—by my home address—had chosen me.

What a divine and blessed choice that was: for ten years, you nurtured my family. Thank you for caring for us so completely. I can’t list all the ways you did that, but I want to point out just a few.

First, thank you for keeping music education alive in your school. My children loved their music teacher and looked forward to what they’d learn in her class. But music did not stop—or for that matter even start—in the music room. No, at Oakley, music spread throughout the school. One teacher provided each of her fourth graders with recorders and taught them how to play. Others used music to aid memory or productivity. At Oakley, music was the norm. That made a difference for my children and I thank you.

Thanks also for the art you have displayed on your walls. Murals abound at Oakley Elementary, saying to my children and others, “Be creative! Explore beauty! Express yourself!” Thank you for whispering those encouragements to my children daily. They heard them. I did too.

Thank you, Oakley, for hiring fantastic teachers. My children have found academics to be pretty easy throughout their lives—owing in large part to the fact that they have always had books within reach and have parents and grandparents who value academic success. People told me my kids would lose interest in the classroom. Those people didn’t know Oakley’s educators. My children’s teachers engaged students across a wide range of academic abilities. Despite having 25 students in a class, many of whom needed more instruction and attention than mine, Oakley’s teachers recognized my children’s needs and responded to them. Thank you Oakley. Thank you so much.

Finally, thank you Oakley for your diversity. My son’s first grade class included children of six different nationalities. There were kids at Oakley who were first generation immigrants and those who were third generation Buncombe County landowners. There were kids who lived in government funded housing and those who lived in million-dollar mansions. They were black, brown, and yellow, red and white, but everyone was precious in Oakley’s sight. Thank you Oakley for showing my children what the world looks like. You taught my children from an early age that friendship isn’t dependent upon matching skin or equal resources. They’ve not forgotten that lesson. They never will.

Thank you Oakley for loving us in ways that seemed to come easily for you. You have blessed us beyond measure and this mother’s heart overflows with gratitude.

Thank You,

Aileen Lawrimore

Mother of Trellace, Baker, & Margaret Lawrimore

PS Trellace will finish her Bachelor’s degree at Georgetown University in Washington, DC in 2016 after finishing summa cum laude at Reynolds High School in 2012. Baker is on a full scholarship at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro. Margaret, an honors student at Reynolds, graduates in May 2016. You did well, Oakley Elementary School!

That’s who I’m thanking today. Who would you like to thank? Comment below to let me know!

You might also enjoy these posts:

A Tribute to ACRHS 

Teaching: Expectation Achieved
Me, Lisa, Tammy. Friends since 1983.

Kindergarten Teaching: Heart Enough to Share
My youngest daughter on Kindergarten Celebration Day in 2004

Thank You #1: TammyandLisa

Back story: Back in 1983, I began my freshman year at Campbell University. Within the first few days, I met Tammy and later Lisa. They are, in fact, two separate people, but I can’t think of one without the other, even for the purposes of a thank you note.

Thank You
Lisa, Tammy, & Me
7-22-2015

Dear TammyandLisa,

Truly, I can’t remember ever being as surprised as I was when I walked into my 50th birthday celebration Wednesday night and saw you both standing there. I can’t imagine the scheduling magic you must have pulled off to rearrange life’s demands so you could travel across the state to my party. What a gift! Thank you. Thank you for always being there for me.

Well. Not exactly always. As I recall, you were happy to stay safe and sound in your dorm room the night we watched Fatal Attraction on TV. Neither of you offered to walk me back to my room across campus, despite the very real danger of Glenn Close following me back to my dorm, only to arise bloody in my shower.

But ya know, other than that, you’ve been there.

You were there that freezing cold weekend in 2010 when I was ordained to the ministry. You came, husbands in tow, and celebrated every moment of the weekend with me and mine. Certainly, there was a financial sacrifice that weekend, but even more, I know you sacrificed family time and work responsibilities to be there with me. Thank you for taking the time. It mattered so much.

It mattered in part because you honored my call to ministry. You’ve known me longer than many, so you know–you’ve witnessed–my failings. You know my brokenness, my weakness, and my shortcomings. You know I’m flawed in countless ways. Yet your presence there that weekend, and again this week in the church where I serve, reminded me, “Yes Jesus loves me. I am weak but He is strong. Yes Jesus loves me.” Thank you for being the voice of God to me, reminding me that I am indeed worthy of this call God has placed on my life.

If that were all you two had ever done for me that would be enough for me to be forever in your debt. But there’s so much more. So here’s a list of other things.

  • Thanks for driving me around in college when I didn’t have a car. I’m sure I wasn’t appreciative enough. Thanks for doing it anyway.
  • Thanks for remembering my children’s birthdays and special days. You are so much better than I at those things.
  • Thanks for giving my family a place to stay when we’ve needed it. You both offer such nice bed and breakfast accommodations. (I’ll let you argue over whose breakfast was better.)
  • Thanks for hurting when I hurt and for keeping the advice to a minimum while you poured on the grace and love. Thanks so much for that.
  • Thanks for keeping the friendship alive for these 30+ years. When one of us has fallen off, the others have picked up the slack. What a blessing.
  • Thanks for liking me even though you know how really unlikeable I can be. I like that about you both.
  • And of course, thanks for laughing with me. All the laughter. So much laughter. In my memory, our laughter looks like hope.

Of course there is more. There will always be more. But Tammy and Lisa, know that I am grateful for your friendship. I love you both immeasurably.

With heart full of gratitude,

Aileen

Thank You Notes: A Life Journey

thank you noteI’m turning 50 this week. I’m pretty thankful that I get to see this milestone birthday since I have known far too many who didn’t get to have this privilege. So, to celebrate, I plan to write 50 thank you notes in 50 weeks. I’ll write most to friends and family, but also a few to institutions (like Gardner-Webb University Divinity School and Oakley Elementary School), a few to people I’ve never met (like Bob Newhart who makes me laugh out loud), and even some to people who have already passed on (like Beth Daniels).  And yep, I’ll post them here. Or at least most of them anyway.

So I invite you to join me on a journey of gratitude. 50 weeks, 50 notes. You’re welcome to ride along with me just as an interested observer, or maybe you want to take your own journey of thanksgiving. Share with me who you want to thank and how you go about doing so. Maybe you’re not a writer. No problem. Phone calls, visits, artwork . . . there are all kinds of ways to express our appreciation for the gifts we have been given in life.

Let’s get started then; we’ve got some thanking to do!

(You’re welcome.)

You might enjoy these thankful posts as well!

 A Fourth of July List of Things I Love
American Flag

7 of my Favorite Teachers
Mrs. Hayes (left) and her daughter Carol

Parenting: I Want the ScarIMG_5482 (1)

Non-Traditional Marriage: Defying Statistics*

Marriage

Jay & I shortly after we started dating in 1985.

The workers building a retaining wall at my house had only talked to my husband and hadn’t yet met me. That particular day, I’d been gone when they arrived and got back after they were hard at it. The foreman saw me pull up and waited for me to get out of the car.

“Hey there!” he greeted me, “You Jay’s wife?”

“Well,” I told him, getting the groceries out of the car, “I’m his first wife.” I walked on towards the house.

“Um,” the man clearly wanted an end to the awkward silence, but couldn’t seem to form any actual words.

“I’m also his only wife,” I said, as the poor fella started breathing again. It’s one of my favorite gags. I introduce my husband as my former boyfriend, my ex-fiancé, or as in this case, my first husband. (I make my own fun.)

Indeed, back in the late eighties, I finished my bachelor’s degree and married my college sweetheart. Coincidently, so did my roommate and my two closest girlfriends. Today, more than two decades later, all four of us are still happily married. Talk about non-traditional marriage: according to today’s statistics—at least two of our four couples should be divorced by now.

No matter what Americans believe about marriage, surely we can all agree that the rapid dissolution of so many families is alarming. I know a number of couples who have suffered divorce and listen, they all have valid reasons: chronic unemployment on the part of one spouse or the other, affairs, addictions, and just plain irreconcilable differences. Without question, marriages often fail despite the determined efforts of one or even both of the partners. And sometimes, marriages should be terminated long before they are: I’m talking about abuse here—physical, sexual, psychological, and emotional. Seriously, if you are in an abusive relationship, get out immediately. You and your children will be better living in a shelter than with an abuser. No exceptions.

But back to my college friends & me. What has held our marriages together?

One could argue that church-going is one thing. All four of us go as couples with our children to church on Sunday mornings and every other time the doors are open. But you know what? So do a lot of other couples who have faced divorce. Going to church is important, but it doesn’t guarantee a long-lasting marriage. The divorce statistics for couples in Sunday school are the same as for those who skip it.

All eight of us are hard workers. Among us are three teachers, a couple of business people, an engineer, a scientist, and a minister (who also happens to write compelling blog posts). But none of us would be considered wealthy by American standards. In fact, each of our families have been through lean years in which one of the two spouses was laid off, under-employed, or in school for further education. Financial distress is often cited as the primary cause of divorce, yet our relationships have persisted through such troubles.

Not that it’s been easy; none of us would be the millennium version of Ozzy and Harriet or Mike and Carol Brady. No, our marriages have included real-life frustrations; plenty of times it would have seemed easier to give up. So why didn’t we? I don’t know all the reasons, but I know one.

See, while the divorce statistic is the same for church-goers and party-goers, church-going does not equal faith. In all four of our marriages, we’ve either found or sustained a deep and abiding faith in Jesus Christ. Over the years, despite our struggles (or maybe due to those difficulties), we’ve all grown closer to God. All eight of us have aspired as individuals, as spouses, and as family members, to know God better and to be more like Christ. All eight of us have also failed resoundingly many times; but we’ve managed, by grace, to return to the path of spiritual formation, even when detours have distracted us from our objectives.

Marriage. You can hardly check a news feed without stumbling upon some so-called wisdom about it. Too bad Jesus isn’t on social media. If he were, he might say something like, “Strive first for the kingdom of God & his righteousness, & all these things will be given to you as well.” #Matt6:33NRSV #lovealwayswins.

*This piece was first published on June 29, 2015, by Baptist News Global (formerly Associated Baptist Press). I’m delighted to be associated with this great organization and am honored to be among the gifted writers and thinkers featured there. Watch for my BNG column, appearing monthly at baptistnews.com.

(One thing my husband and I credit with sustaining our marriage is a hearty sense of humor. These posts offer a window into that part of our lives.) 

 

From VMW to Mayberry

otis town drunk

YOU Take the Worm!

avery-county-north-carolina-appalachian-sunrise

Spousal Sports Repartee

conversation between penquins