Guest Blogger Sarah McCoy shared this story as part of a recent presentation on Hands and Feet of Asheville. Sarah has served as a volunteer with this innovative ministry throughout the past year. As a volunteer, she worked at the Church of the Advocate; this story comes from her experience there.
Sometimes it’s easy to see ourselves and our close friends as bricks that God is using to build his house, but it becomes an even greater joy when people who aren’t a lot like us become the bricks around us. And when they are discouraged or start believing lies that they don’t matter, we have the opportunity to lean in and whisper, “You belong here. We need you.” About the first week I was serving at Church of the Advocate, I was doing my best Martha impression, staying busy behind the kitchen counter so maybe I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone. I was serving food to our 200 hundred people that come for a Sunday afternoon meal, the last free meal served on Sundays, when one of our regulars named Derek looked at me and said, “What’re you doing after this?”
I was somewhat taken aback, not really wanting to be called out. I tried to think of an excuse of something that had come up that afternoon for me to do, but nothing seemed to come to mind. So, I hesitantly said, “Nothing, I don’t think.”
He said, “let’s go get some ice cream!”
So, after the meal, I walked with Derek up to Marble Slab, and ordered some ice cream. I was ready to pay for him, knowing he was out of a job. But he reached in his pocket, pulled out his Winnie The Pooh wallet and paid for both of us. We sat at the table and I didn’t say a word for two hours, but instead just listened to his story and to his journey. After that, Derek rode back to his campsite and I went back home. It would’ve been easy to get tired of listening to Derek talk. It would’ve been easy to be hesitant about being in that situation. But sometimes, someone just needs to tell someone their story or let someone know that they have something to give, too. A lot of times when we are on a mission to serve, we forget that the ones we are serving have something to offer as well. And sometimes its important for us to remember that while we have a lot to give, sometimes we don’t spend enough time receiving. That’s what Hands and Feet is all about. Being with people. Serving alongside someone. Knowing the people you are with. Recognizing brothers and sisters on the street and calling them by name.
There’s a quote by Lilla Watson, that hangs in the Church of the Advocate where I work, and it so eloquently describes this perspective change that Hands and Feet emphasizes, from doing for to being with. It reads, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting our time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
Sarah McCoy is a musician, singer, songwriter, and piano teacher (accepting new students) who resides in Weaverville, NC. She and three other mammals play in the band Friendly Beasts. Most days, you could probably talk her into getting some ice cream.
As a Minister with Youth & Children, I listen to kids say lots of things about going to church. Teens, and children too, have so many obligations–great things that keep them busy with meaningful tasks. I get it! There are many wonderful things for kids to do and I agree that most of these things are valuable and important.
I’m not suggesting that all kids should give up all activities and cleave only to the church (though I don’t hate that idea). I just want church to be a priority to them too. So here you go:My Top 10 list of “Comments I’d love to Hear Parents Say about Church Attendance.”
Number 10. Church is community. When you aren’t there, the community suffers. Number 9. Sure, you can get a job. Just be sure to schedule ahead with your employer to make sure you can take off for church activities. Number 8. It doesn’t matter if no one else is going to be there. Tell your friends you’ll be there and I bet some of them will go. Number 7. I’m sorry you haven’t finished your homework, but we have church tonight. You can do it when you get home. It never takes as long as you think it will. Number 6. That academic summer program sounds great, but it would prevent you from participating in church events. Let’s see if we can find a substitute that will work around church activities. Number 5. You don’t like all of the people on your sports team, but you have to learn to get along with them. Let’s try that with the kids at church. Number 4. Sometimes you think you don’t get anything out of going to school either, but you still have to go. Number 3. I’m sorry you have to miss that athletic competition on Sunday morning too, but we go to church at that time. Number 2. We can’t go on vacation that week. Our church is having VBS then. And the Number One comment I’d love to hear parents say about church attendance is . . .
8Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. 9Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some men for us and go out, fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” 10So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. 11Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. 12But Moses’ hands grew weary; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; so his hands were steady until the sun set. 13And Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the sword. Exodus 17:8-13
Imagine the pressure: Moses—who as we know had his share of problems as leader of the children of Israel—is now in the midst of a battle. The battle goes well for his people as long as Moses lifts his arms; when his arms sag, so does the will of the people and the battle goes badly for them. Think about it. Or try it. Just try lifting your arms while you read this short blog. (I know: you have to lower one arm to scroll down. Make that little exception.) The leader, Moses, was faced with a situation that was physically taxing—one he could not manage on his own. Thank goodness for Aaron and Hur.
Most of us church goers have heard of Aaron. He’s the brother of Moses, the one who spoke for Moses. You may remember the story (you can find it in Exodus 4:13-15). But Hur is a less familiar name. Yet Hur seems to be a part of Moses’ inner circle of support just as Aaron was. In this passage, he’s there offering support to Moses when he grows weary. In a later passage (Exodus 24:13-15), Moses refers the people to Hur and Aaron for handling disputes when he left for the Mount of Sinai.
Leaders need people like Hur: people who will hold them up during times of trial, people they can rely on when responsibilities call them off site. In fact, leaders cannot lead effectively without the Hurs in their lives.
Several years ago, I was serving as coordinator of special grants at a community college. While there, I found out how a Hur can help a leader serve more effectively. In that job, (believe me) I had my share of battles. Sometimes I felt as if I were on the frontline, with student frustrations and provider disputes exploding all around me. I could not have managed on my own. Thank goodness for Keisha.
Keisha worked with me, fielding the frustrations and deciding the disputes. She held my arms up when I grew weary. She stood in for me when I had to be away. Of course, Keisha did not get a lot of credit in the annals of community college history for being my support system. But like Hur, Keisha shared her talents and abilities readily, making possible any successes we experienced in our little department.
Oh, you can put your arms down now. And be encouraged: you don’t have to lead alone. Thank Goodness.
(Are you a Moses or a Hur? Have you had a Hur in your life?)
It’s my favorite week of the year: Vacation Bible School week! In the midst of this very busy yet totally awesome week, I offer you this Top Ten List.
Top 10 Things People Do Even Though They Are Inconvenient.
Every year when the church youth group goes to Fort Caswell for the spring retreat, they go over the wall. It’s not a huge wall–just about 10-12 feet high and 6-8 feet wide. It’s a team building exercise: kids who choose to participate scale the wall with others in their grade. It’s a beautiful thing.
This year, Cameron, a 16 year old who has been raised in the church, made his first trip to Caswell. He’d been on other youth trips, but not this one; so he’d never seen the wall, never participated in this tradition. Of course, he didn’t have to do it. No one would have objected if he’d taken a pass.
You see, since birth, Cameron has developed at a different speed than other children. One orthopedist even told his parents not to expect much in the way of gross motor development, saying that Cameron would likely be in a wheelchair. (His parents got a different orthopedist.) It took him awhile, but with the help of a kid-sized walker, Cameron put one foot in front of the other, and by the time he was four and a half years old, he was walking on his own. These days, while his muscle tone is still relatively low, he gets around fine. He does, however, walk slower and more intentionally than most folk. And, well, he just has to work a little harder than other people to move through the world.
But back to Caswell’s wall.
“Are you going to climb the wall, Cameron?” We asked him mostly out of courtesy, not wanting him to feel left out.
“Yep,” he said, looking over his glasses that had once again slipped too far down his nose; and he made his way over to lifelong friends who awaited him at the wall.
Physically, Cameron couldn’t offer much assistance at all. He couldn’t push or pull himself up. He couldn’t reach out or grab hold. If he panicked, he would fall. If he struggled against them, they would drop him.
Cameron put his hands on sure shoulders and lifted a foot onto the human stool; his friends did the rest. One adult and two girls standing on the back of the wall reached down, while several guys at the base helped lift him up. Other teens gathered around, arms extended, ready.
He progressed, inches at the time, eventually straddling the top of the wall. Once there though, he seemed to get stuck. A moment of uncertainty followed when no one was exactly sure how to proceed. Then another teen—a bulky weight lifter—popped up on the back of the wall, reached down, and gently lifted Cameron’s leg up and over.
Cameron got his balance, looked out over the crowd, and hesitantly lifted a hand to wave.
Now for most kids, getting down is easy; but Cameron couldn’t jump off the platform to the ground without injury. No worries! His friends had already figured it out. Four strong arms waited to cradle Cameron from the wall to the ground. He let go, they held on, and then he was down, smiling at the cheers and congratulations from his youth group.
Cameron punched his fist into the palm of his hand and said, “I did it!”
And he did. He really did.
First Baptist Church of Asheville Youth Group, Fort Caswell 2014
It took both twins using both hands to open the door of Weaverville’s Well-Bred Bakery & Café (and that with their mom giving it an extra push from above). Their hand prints clung to the glass, only 24 inches above the sidewalk outside. They raced in, eyes darting to the treats beckoning from the pastry case.
“Yum, yum, yum!” the little girl said, all rosy cheeked and eager. She squatted down, her knees by her shoulders, placed both hands on the glass, and began a sort of gleeful chant. Her brother scurried over and their eyes seemed to grow as they took in the vision before them.
“Two cakes, three forks, three plates?” The question was addressed to the mom, not the three year olds whose eyelashes were fluttering against the case.
The kids hopped over to the closest table, climbed into their chairs, and began what they’d come to do. I turned to their mom.
“That’s what we all really want to do when we come to Well-Bred,” I told her. “For some reason, we just hold back.”
“Seize life! Eat bread with gusto, Drink wine with a robust heart. Oh yes – God takes pleasure in your pleasure!” Ecclesiastes 9:7 (The Message)
“What is a minister?” Zach* asked.
It was Wednesday afternoon and seven-year-old Zach was one of about 12 kids in attendance at Kids for Christ (KFC). This program meets weekly after school and includes a variety of activities including Bible Buddies. The KFC’ers get off the school bus at the church and their parents come for them at 7:00 pm.
That afternoon I was helping Cozette, the Bible Buddies teacher; we were focusing on Isaiah 66:13 and talking about mothers. (It was the Wednesday before Mother’s Day.) Both kids and leaders shared stories and talked about what we had learned from our moms. I showed them a picture of my mother and explained that she taught me a lot about ministry.
“When I was a little girl,” I told the kids, “My mother often cooked twice as much supper as we needed so that we could share a meal with another family. She also visited people, wrote notes, taught Sunday school, and did lots of other things that showed me how to be a minister.”
That’s when Zach’s hand shot up. “What is a minister?” he asked.
“Great question,” I told him. I wanted to answer accurately: the word itself could relate to positions outside a church. “A minister is someone who takes care of people and spends time with them. Like me, I work here at the church and I am the Minister with Youth and Children. So, I spend time with you guys and help take care of you.”
“And I’m a minister too,” Cozette, said. “I visit people in group homes and I help them with things they need.”
“Oh!” Zach said, nodding. “Like a teacher.”
Wow. What a response. See, Zach—a loveable and bright little guy who is eager to learn—is not the quietest fella you will ever meet. My guess is he does his share of squirming, speaking out of turn, and just generally pushing the limits of acceptable classroom behavior. And yet, the description of a minister, made him think of teachers.
Teachers. Teachers who are overworked, underpaid, and up to their lanyards in standardized tests. Teachers who stay afterschool for special events and come in early for conferences with parents or students. Teachers who spend their own time and money because they love what they do and they want to do it well. Teachers who take time to minister to a fidgety little boy who sometimes forgets the rules.
“Yes,” I told Zach. “A minister is like a teacher.”
*Name changed for privacy.
“This is fun Mommy!” Anna Kate, dressed as Princess Jasmine, held tightly to her brothers’ hands. (She wasn’t wearing her leg braces; they didn’t match her royal garb.) With her plastic pumpkin swinging from her arm, Anna Kate headed to the next house, dragging her brothers along.
International adoption had always appealed to Mark and Traci Willis. They had two biological sons; still, they longed to bring home a child from far away. They enrolled with an adoption agency and eventually received a referral for a Russian baby girl. Their boys, Connor and Lane, then four and seven years old, anxiously awaited their little sister’s homecoming. In June 2003, thirteen-month-old Anna Kate Willis came home.
“Meet our little serena,” Traci said to Dr. Amy, the pediatrician who had treated the Willis kids for years. (Serena is Russian for princess.) “We’re excited, but concerned,” Traci began. “Anna Kate has some physical delays. She’s over a year old and she can’t sit up, much less crawl or walk.” Dr. Amy watched Anna Kate as she listened to her mommy. “But she surely is feisty. We’re amazed by her determination, by her spirit.”
Dr. Amy completed her examination, agreeing with Traci’s concerns. “She’ll need to go to the Developmental Evaluation Center (DEC) for a thorough assessment.” She paused, her brow furrowed. “And, her head is small.” She wrote her diagnosis on the office form. “But, you know, she’s spent the first year of her life in an orphanage with minimal attention or affection.” Dr. Amy’s voice brightened. She reached over, caressing the back of Anna Kate’s head. “Let’s just see what a loving family can do for her.”
“Microcephaly.” Traci typed the word into the search engine. She had deciphered Dr. Amy’s writing and wanted to learn more. She glanced over at her brave little girl and back at the screen. “Microcephaly: a medical condition in which the circumference of the head is smaller than normal because the brain has not developed properly or has stopped growing.” The condition could cause mental retardation, convulsions, and worst of all, shortened life span. And we were only worried about her crawling late, Traci thought as she processed the overwhelming news.
“Anna Kate is significantly delayed developmentally,” Mark and Traci learned at the DEC. “Her gross motor skills are at the developmental stage of a child less than half her age.” The DEC prescribed weekly physical therapy and referred her to a pediatric orthopedist. “Have her brothers rough house a little with her,” the orthopedist told Mark and Traci. “That will help her muscles develop.”
“Cool!” Connor said when he heard the news. “You mean just by playing with her, we can help Anna Kate get better?”
“That’s what the doctors tell us.” Traci watched as Connor got on all fours and crawled over to his sister lying on a blanket.
“Come on Anna Kate! Let’s wrestle.” Connor often kept her company but had previously resisted physical play.
“Be careful,” Lane warned, “Be gentle with her.” Lane, the firstborn, was extra cautious with his little sister.
“Oh, she’s tough, aren’t you Anna Kate?” Connor rolled her over into a bear hug as Anna Kate giggled in agreement, embracing her playmate.
All that love and attention must have made a difference. Because, although Anna Kate was still classified as microcephalic, her head circumference showed an increase each time it was measured. Her muscles were becoming stronger too. However, at two years old, despite leg braces, ankle surgeries, and physical therapy, Anna Kate was not walking. But she wasn’t giving up either. “She’s got quite a temper,” Traci often said, “but not about her disabilities. When she falls, she just tries again. And again. It’s remarkable really.”
“Developmentally, she is still way behind in her motor skills,” the DEC technician said at her 2004 appointment, “but let’s talk about her verbal skills.”
“Mommy, what are verbal skills?”
“Exactly!” The technician laughed. “We would expect Anna Kate’s language skills to be delayed because she was born prematurely in another country. But she’s been here only fourteen months, and her vocabulary matches that of an American-born child several months older than she is. Anna Kate’s cognitive functions are advanced too. You’ve got a bright little girl here.” Ecstatic, Mark and Traci celebrated by explaining the news to their very curious serena. Shortly afterwards, Dr. Amy made it official, “Anna Kate’s head circumference is now within normal range!”
Months ticked by and Anna Kate kept trying to improve her motor skills with what appeared to be little progress. Doctors mentioned a possible diagnosis of cerebral palsy. At two and a half years old though, Anna Kate took her first independent steps. She walked on tiptoes, shifting her weight clumsily from side to side—but no doubt about it, Anna Kate was walking. With a proud smile, she walked across the room from her Daddy into her Mommy’s arms, “I did it Mommy, I did it!” Her brothers rushed in offering hugs and high fives while her parents breathed thankful prayers. “I do it again!” she said turning back to her Daddy, arms open wide.
Even so, it turned out that the doctors had been right: later that month, in November 2004, the cerebral palsy diagnosis was confirmed. Anna Kate remains determined though. It’s as if she fought her way out of a far-away orphanage so that she could have a chance at a full life. When Anna Kate first came home, her feisty temperament hinted at the depth and strength of her spirit. In time, she showed not only a fighter’s grit, but also the joyful expectation of a seasoned victor.
“Look at all my candy, Mommy!” Anna Kate held out her pumpkin for inspection, but didn’t wait for a response. “Hey, bros,” she called to her brothers who were only steps away. “Wait for me!” And off she went, a serena on tiptoe, to join brothers who were waiting to hold her hands.
Please welcome guest blogger, Baker Lawrimore. Recently, during First Baptist Church of Asheville’s annual youth Sunday, he spoke of his experience on choir tour with the youth group. A portion of his message follows.
This past summer, our youth group went on a choir tour to New England. Towards the end of the tour we drove through Connecticut and were planning to stop in Sandy Hook. We were driving to the elementary school and got stopped at the fire station right outside the school. They didn’t want tons of people coming by and turning the school into a tourist attraction. We asked if we could get off the bus and just say a prayer at the fire station close to the school. We got out and we circled up and Jenny said a prayer for us. I don’t remember the exact words, but the point of the prayer was that even though things so awful and terrible happen, God is still God.
I’m sure most of you heard about the signs they put up in Sandy Hook saying “We are Sandy Hook and we choose love.” I think this shows that the people of Sandy Hook really embody today’s Scripture.
To me, the scripture says a few things. It says that I don’t have to be held back by grudges or anger anymore because God’s telling me to be free from that. It makes me feel blessed because I know I am forgiven. But, most of all, I think this scripture is a call. A call to let the kingdom of God come alive on Earth through your compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and forgiveness.
Notice that the scripture doesn’t simply say to “be kind” or “be patient.” It says to “clothe yourselves” with these virtues. The scripture tells us to let the message of Christ dwell among us. My whole life I’ve been taught that the message of Christ is love. In this passage, it says that “over all these [virtues], put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” This makes me picture love as a big coat. A coat sort of contains all of the other clothes on your body. I take this to mean that when you have love, you also have all of the other virtues. Because when you focus on love, everything else will fall into place.
When we come together and, like the people of Sandy Hook, “choose love,” then we also choose compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and forgiveness. And when we do this, we are living together as a community of Christ and glorifying God in everything we do.
Baker Lawrimore is a Senior planning to attend the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in the fall, majoring in music education. His primary instrument will be voice and his secondary organ. In addition to his other remarkable qualities, Baker wears size 15 shoes. Go ahead: be impressed.
Please welcome guest blogger, Kate Raybon. Recently, during First Baptist Church of Asheville’s annual youth Sunday, she spoke of her experience in marching band and how that compared to being a part of the body of Christ. The text of her message follows.
I am a marching band nerd. I think marching band has become a little less un-cool in recent years, and that may be due to awesome shows with dancing and the occasional fire-baton twirling, but I’m pretty sure it’s just because I’m actually in it. I go to A.C. Reynolds and have been in the marching band program for the past four years. I play percussion, and this year I was a captain of the drumline. A tremendous task that no amount of “follow the leader” could have prepared me for. As a percussionist, your perceived cool level is typically higher than your average band member’s. My dad (a trumpet player) disagrees. But I know that regardless of what instrument you play, marching band is not easy.
In fact, if you think about it, it seems nearly impossible. Making music and putting on a great show is hard enough, now add 100 people carrying bulky instruments while moving in unison to create intricate formations on a football field. Being in a marching band is a lot like being a part of the body of Christ. You’ve got a lot of people with different ideas about what the tempo is, and what it means to be Christian and you’re still trying to figure out the notes of your own music, and how to use your own God given gifts to serve others, and all the while you have your band director telling you that your spot is actually 5 yards to the left and you haven’t even found a church you feel like you want to belong to.
However, after a lot of practice, you get the hang of stepping off on your left foot and not running into the person in front of you. Colossians chapter 3 tells us that we are all called to be a part of the body and that we need to let the peace of Christ keep us in step with one another. If we’re going to make the church work, we have to stick together and let God be the biggest part of our lives.
Being a leader in marching band, or a leader of anything really, requires an extreme amount of patience. You desperately try to motivate people to do something and if they don’t, the leader usually gets more than their fair share of the blame. In marching band you have the seniors who are just trying to live up to everyone’s expectations, the juniors, who have a naive sense of excitement about being a leader next year, the sophomores, who think that they have already learned it all, and the freshmen, who are terrified of everything. This past year I particularly struggled to be patient with one of the freshman bass drummers. No matter how many times I explained the rhythm or repeated the number of steps needed to get to a spot, she would never fully get it. Sometimes I wanted to quit and let someone else be in charge, but I kept working with her and sometimes stayed after school two extra days a week to try and help her out. Eventually, her marching and playing improved!
Paul writes in Colossians that as God’s chosen people, it’s important to “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” I think that being a leader in marching band has really helped me see that. It’s not about who is right about the number of measures a certain move lasts, but more about having patience and grace with others.
A couple of weeks ago Guy [FBCA pastor] came to [youth group fellowship called] Koinonia and talked about why he believes in God. I know we all have doubts at one point or another, but in high school, with learning and interactions with friends and so many other things going on, I know I’ve questioned things more than once. Guy said that for him, the fact that music exists is primary evidence. After all, what, other than knowing the joy of God’s love can cause someone to pick up a twisted piece of metal and make noise with it?
Today’s verse also says “above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” I think music is a form of love. Whether you’re playing or singing for someone else, you are inviting that person to see into your heart and share the joy that the music brings to your soul. If that isn’t love, you’re out of tune. Everyday band allows me to make music with some of my closest friends and then share that music with others when it’s time for a concert. I’m so thankful that I’ve grown up in a church and a school, and even a city that has a passion for music. I’m constantly surrounded by people who know the power of music and want to share it with others. Colossians chapter 3 finally says that “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” I know that at this church, and with these people, that task will never be too hard to accomplish with joy.
Kate is a 17 year old high school senior planning to attend university in the fall. Kate has many talents. In addition to (wait for it) marching to the beat of her on drum (buh dump dump), she also acts (she was in the movie Hunger Games), sings in the church choir, and can say the word “chicken” in multiple languages.