A Thank You to a Faithful Sunday School Teacher

In a continued celebration of my 50th birthday 7-22-15, I’m writing 50 thank you notes in 50 weeks. Here’s number eight–to a Sunday school teacher from my childhood.

I had lots of different teachers when I was at Five Points Missionary Baptist Church in Wilson, NC–Marilyn Thompson, Judy Earp, Allegra Poole–and they all play active roles in the memories of my childhood. So, I don’t know exactly why it is that Elaine Hill managed to become the icon for all of those wonderful church leaders; but when I think back on my years at Five Points church, it’s her face that often comes to mind. This thank you note is to her.
piano stool with claw feet

Dear Mrs. Hill,

Do you remember when you were the director of the children’s department at Five Points back in . . . I guess maybe 1972ish? We were up in those classrooms that must have been just under the steeple. We climbed about a thousand steps to get up there, took a right at the top of the stairs, and there you were, week after week, waiting on us–usually by the upright piano situated up front, its back flat against the wall. That piano was a classic. It was painted a kind of minty green. Or maybe the color was more of a faded iceberg lettuce hue. Hard to say.

Anyway, as Sunday Morning Assembly began, you’d take your seat on the piano stool–it was one of those round, adjustable ones with the claw feet. Remember? You’d select a morning hymn or maybe one of the popular tunes in Sing ‘n’ Celebrate. Your glasses perched on your nose, you’d smooth out the pages, position your fingers on the keyboard, and then look back over your shoulder at us. “Boys and Girls, let us stand and sing our opening song.” You’d play a brief refrain, then with an energetic nod, you’d direct us to begin. I know we must have sounded amazing because you were always so delighted with us, smiling broadly even as you sang Sing n Celebrate

It never once occured to me that you had a choice about whether or not you were the director of our Sunday school. You were just there. Always. Now, all grown up as I am, I know something of the sacrifices you made to be there for us. I know how hard it is to get young children out the door Sunday mornings; how much more so when the mommy has to be at church early. Thanks for taking all the extra time and effort to be wholly present with us each week. It mattered.

During the Assembly, from time to time, you talked about the importance of bringing an offering to church. You didn’t just talk about the money; you reminded us of other responsibilities. Holding up an offering envelope, you’d point out the boxes at the bottom: “Sunday School,” “Worship Attended,” “Bible Brought,” “Offering Brought.”  (I always thought that last one was stupid because if you hadn’t brought an offering, would you seriously turn in an empty envelope?) You encouraged us to get in the habit of doing each of those things each week. Such good teaching! Of course I didn’t know it then, but you were placing cornerstones in our Christian formation. And for me at least, the foundation you helped to build has supported me through a lifetime of spiritual growth. Thank you.

I do have a confession to make, though. Before I explain, you should know that I have a thing for marking boxes. To this day, I’ve been known to add a task I’ve already completed to my to-do list, just to have the pleasure of checking it off the list. So, those little boxes on our offering envelopes? Real motivators for me. And most Sundays, I could mark every one. Almost. There was one that gave me trouble: “Bible Read Daily.” I’d inevitably miss at least one day during the week and there I’d be on Sunday morning, an empty, checkless box on my envelope and not one thing I could do about it.

Anyway, one morning, you were telling us how important it was to do just that: to read our Bibles daily. “All of these are important habits we should practice,” you told us, pointing to the boxes. “But none is more important than reading your Bible every day.” (Clearly, you were speaking directly to me.) One caveat before I go on: I admit, there’s a slight chance that the years have distorted my recollection of the  moments that followed. You continued and as you did, the Light of the Lord shone down upon you, illuminating your next words as you spoke them. The voices in the room hushed; the fidgeting stopped.  “Even if you just read one verse, that’s okay. You’re still reading God’s word daily.” Realization descended upon me on the wings of a dove as angels sung sweet hallelujahs. The answer to my nagging empty box problem! Sweet Salvation. Problem solved!

And that was it. For the rest of my tenure with those little offering envelopes, I could check off every box every week. I dutifully read one verse every day. I never lied. I told the God’s honest truth.

Except. The thing was, when you said we could just read one verse, you didn’t specify that we should read a different verse every night–mix it up a bit. You said, “One verse.” (Or maybe it was Jesus who said that; it was a high and holy moment, to be sure.) So, I read one verse, the same one, night after night after night. I pulled out my red faux leather Revised Standard Version, my name embossed in gold lettering on the front, and read John 11:35, also known as the shortest verse in the Bible.

Since I’m pretty sure this is NOT what you meant, you might want to adjust the record books accordingly. Just pull out the Sunday School Roll from about 1972 to 1976 and erase all those checks, okay? Great. Thanks.

Anyway, even though I missed the point you were trying to make about spiritual disciplines, I did get the most important message: Mrs. Hill loves me.  Your laughter, your smile, your genuine interest in my life, all that added to an early understanding of the love of Jesus. Thank you Mrs. Hill. Thank you for teaching me so much about godliness and for modeling for me what it means to follow Jesus. I noticed, and I’m forever grateful.

May you continue to feel the presence of God in your life. May you be reminded of all the children who have been blessed by your godly obedience and your life of faith. And may you read your Bible daily–even if it’s just one verse.

With Love,


10 Podcasts I Like

podcastsDo you listen to podcasts? I do! In fact, many of my conversations begin with, “I was listening to this podcast . . . .” I love to hear recommendations for great shows and thought you might too. So here you go, my podcast pics. (The first five are general appeal, the last five are niche podcasts.)

  1. This American Life. Each week, Ira Glass of NPR hosts this show of stories. There are usually three stories per episode, connected (sometimes more directly than others) to a central theme. The show runs for about an hour, or roughly one roundtrip of my commute. I listen to this one the day it airs and anticipate the next one like I used to await the continuation of my favorite tv shows that dared to end with the dreaded “To Be Continued” screen. It’s always worth the wait.
  2. This is Your Life. Michael Hyatt offers advice on a wide variety of topics from how to use Evernote to relationship tips. He’s got a great voice–you can hear his smile through the microphone–and offers practical guidance that I’ve really found beneficial. His show is about 30 minutes and is co-hosted currently by Stu McLaren.
  3. All Together. This HuffPost podcast hosted by Rev. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush tackles all things religious. (Wonder if Rev. Paul is related to Justice Brandeis . . . I’ve got no idea.) He has guests from many different religions, including Christianity, but not limited to that faith. I enjoy hearing people talk about their beliefs and how those concepts inform life choices. I’ve heard Nadia Bolz-Weber and Joan Chittister along with many other great theologians. The show is roughly 30 minutes long.
  4. The New Yorker: Political Scene. This is where I learn about current events. The New Yorker’s Executive Editor Dorothy Wickenden hosts an assortment of guests on this well-researched news program. I don’t always agree with her stance, but I always learn something new during this quick 20 minute show.
  5. TED Talks Audio: I’m a hopeless binge watcher of the speakers at ted.com and have been known to . . . let’s say “invest” . . . hours moving from one video to the next. (Don’t judge.) This audio version allows me to feed my addiction on the go. The podcast is 20 minutes or less and packs a wallop of information in that short time.
  6. I Teach Blogging. I really appreciate host Renee’s straight forward approach. I feel as if we are having a conversation; she’s so authentic and relatable. I’ve learned quick tips that I’ve applied immediately on my blog. (I get her newsletter too.) The show varies in length but is typically under 20 minutes.
  7. Blogging your Passion. Jonathan Milligan hosts this great podcast that has offered me tips on blogging but also life tips in general. The podcasts are about 20 minutes long, sometimes less. Like Renee at I Teach Blogging, Jonathan speaks from such rich experience that I enjoy hearing whatever he has to say. Plus, he’s got a great voice!
  8. The Quick and Dirty Tips Podcasts. This franchise has all kinds of short podcasts, each with its own station. I like the grammar one best because, I mean, GRAMMAR! Mignon Fogarty, the host, loves grammar like I love it, except she’s smarter. Way smarter. She discusses things I’ve never considered and where grammar is concerned, that’s quite a feat. Other Q&D podcasts are on cooking, dog training, money, you name it. The nutrition one is another one I listen to frequently. And I’ve tried a couple of others but they don’t suit my interests like these two. Check them out. They last less than 15 minutes so you can listen to a whole episode while you clean up your kitchen. (Unless of course your kitchen is like mine; then you might need to check out the This American Life‘s extended shows . . . )
  9. Half Size Me. Heather Robertson lost half of her weight about five years ago and has maintained a healthy weight ever since. She created this podcast in an effort, I believe, to process her own success while encouraging others along the journey. Her premise is that we should develop habits that we can sustain throughout our lives, rather than give in to the temptation of fads and gimmicks. Makes sense, doesn’t it? She has a different guest each week on her hour long show.
  10. Pulpit Fiction. Talk about a niche podcast: this one is for folks who follow the Revised Common Lectionary in their churches. These two guys talk about the texts for the week and give insight into the background and application of the texts. I. Love. It. Even if you aren’t a preacher, you would likely enjoy this one in preparation for Sunday, or for, ya know, life. The hosts, Revs. Robb McCoy and Eric Fistler, have great banter and interactions, although, I confess I can’t tell their voices apart. (My ears are not terribly discerning . . . particularly when it comes to disembodied voices. ) Still, I like Robb and Eric and often finish the podcast wishing it would go on another hour or so. Good stuff.

Your turn! Which podcasts do you recommend?

Backward Priorities: Athletics First, Church Last*

backward prioritiesMy kids rarely ask because they know what I’ll say: “Yes, you have to go to church.” In truth, there are exceptions, but my kids know that skipping church is never a given.

OK, wait. Hear me: I know that we have been blessed to raise our children in a church with sound biblical teaching, qualified adult volunteers and a variety of interesting programs. I truly do understand that sometimes godly community eludes even the most faithful seeker. So, if you are in that agonizing place of longing, please know I get it. I’ve been there and I know it is a dark, dark space. My prayers are with you as you search for a church family.

I’m really talking more to folks who are currently connected to a congregation of believers, to those of us who regularly make choices about whether or not to attend the church we’ve chosen to call our own.

Back in the ’70s when I was a child, I went to church a lot. This was not, I confess, out of a burning desire to draw near to my Heavenly Father. No, I went to church mainly because my earthly father was my pastor, and also because church was my social activity center. Not much happened in the small towns of my childhood beyond the doors of the church. In 2015, things are different. Kids have more options today and church is just one of many places where children can spend their after-school hours.

There is one option though, that rises above all others: sports. Think about it. Let’s say you are a teen with three conflicting obligations on a given Wednesday night. You have a volleyball game; you have to study for an English test; and you have church. Which one are you going to do? There’s no discussion is there? You have to go to the game; your team depends on you! You’ll study when you get home — even if you have to stay up late.

Athletic responsibilities also trump family obligations. If you are playing in a tournament the same day as a family reunion, you’ll most likely forgo your Aunt Nell’s homemade macaroni and cheese and suit up for your game. The family will forgive you, but you can’t let down the team!

Athletics. It’s where many of today’s Americans put their time, their money, and their unwavering focus. And I’m not sure why that’s the case. Most of us aren’t thinking our child is going to be the next Mia Hamm or Serena Williams. We might hope they’ll play in high school, maybe get a scholarship to college. But that’s rarely the case. In fact, many student athletes quit long before the recruiters scout them out because … well, because they’ve been playing that sport for a decade and a half!

Maybe it’s all the benefits of sports. Teamwork, sportsmanship, persistence, endurance, integrity: all these things are modeled and formed in athletic settings. Plus, friendships are formed across socioeconomic and ethnic boundaries. All that, and kids get valuable physical exercise too. So what’s my beef? It’s this: in this country, too many people make sports — more specifically their children’s sports — their top priority.

When I’ve inquired about kids who missed Bible study, the excuse, “She has a soccer game,” is offered as if there’s no escaping it. The tone could just as easily be applied to the statement, “She’s incarcerated at a maximum security facility in Outer Mongolia.” My response is expected to be something like, “Oh! A soccer game. I didn’t realize! Well, of course she can’t be here.”

Listen, I’m the first to admit that church is not perfect. There will be times you or your kids are bored at church, times you don’t think your family has gotten anything out of the experience, and times one or all of you may leave with hurt feelings. Still, church offers something that is difficult to find elsewhere. It offers connection to the Body of Christ: to the saints who’ve gone before you, those who worship with you now, and those who will come after you.

See, I just wonder sometimes if America has the whole thing upside down. What if for the last 30 years or so, we’ve been prioritizing in the exact opposite order of importance? What if we should be viewing spiritual formation as primary, then family obligations, then academics, and finally athletics? What would that be like in our culture today?

Well, at the very least, we’d have to learn to say things like, “I’m sorry, he can’t play games scheduled for Wednesdays because he has children’s choir at church that night.” Or, “Oh, I wish she could go to that swim meet, but on Sunday mornings, we are with our church family.” And even, “No, my kids won’t be at basketball camp. They have Vacation Bible School that week.” It wouldn’t be easy. But if we are talking about lifelong well-being, what is more important than spiritual formation? What will sustain our children into the adult years, as parents, employees, spouses?

I know one thing. It’s not Little League.


*This piece was first published on September 21, by Baptist News Global. I’m delighted to be associated with this great organization and am honored to be among the writers and thinkers featured there. Watch for my BNG column, appearing monthly at baptistnews.com.

Thank You Bob Newhart

Thank you bob newhart

In a continued celebration of my 50th birthday 7-22-15, I’m writing 50 thank you notes in 50 weeks. Here’s number seven–to Bob Newhart for all the laughs he’s given me over the years.

A little background first for those of you who may not be familiar with Bob Newhart. First of all, he has a distinct comedic style. He delivers lines with deadpan expression, often with a slight stammer, usually acting as the straight man (even, amazingly, in his one-man shows). Newhart’s first album sky-rocketed up the billboard charts in 1960, becoming the first comedy album to reach the number one spot. His famous skit, “Abe Lincoln vs. Madison Avenue,” opens the album. This bit is a classic Newhart schtick in which we, the audience, overhear one side of a telephone conversation. It is with a nod to that signature Newhart style that I offer this thank you note.

Hi Mr. Newhart? It’s Aileen Lawrimore, from–excuse me?

Oh. No. We haven’t met. I’m just a fan from North Carolina.

No, no, I’m not selling fans. I am–

No! I’m not selling anything; I’m a FAN. Of your comedy.

Nice to talk to you too sir, a privilege.

Well, no, I didn’t buy your records, mainly because they came out before I was born. I’ve listened to them, though. Of course now, they’re not really records; they’re MP files.

Uh, no sir not empty files, MP files–you know, digital files for the computer.

Hard to believe, I know. In fact they actually sound . . . well . . . they sound better than the old LPs.

You are absolutely right, Mr. Newhart, your LP’s did do just fine. Better than fine, I’d say. Number one on the billboard charts back in 1960.

Yes, I had heard that you beat Elvis Pressley for that top spot. Impressive.

How much did I pay for your albums? Oh, I . . . um . . . I didn’t actually buy the MP files. I listened to them online. There are several sites that have them availab–

No sir, I wouldn’t . . . um . . . I wouldn’t know about the royalties–

Well, right. I . . . I do know that I didn’t, you know, pay anything for them. That’s true.
But hey, how about your sitcoms! Those were the best!

I certainly did, sir. I watched your first show, The Bob Newhart Show, when I was in college. It was in reruns by then of course. But my friends and I loved it!

The game “Hi Bob?” When people would watch your show as a drinking game–taking a drink every time a character said “Hi Bob?” Yes, I’ve . . . I’ve heard of that.

Well, I went to a baptist college . . . you see . . . in a dry town. So umm . . .

Oh really? That’s where the game was most popular, was it? How ’bout that . . . .
Yeah, so anyway, I loved your second show, Newhart, too. I thought Larry, and his brother Darryl and his other brother Darryl were hilarious. And oh my goodness Julia Duffy! Such a funny character; Duffy had such great comedic timing. Great stuff!

What’s that? Oh! Of course I thought you were good in–

I agree with you sir, you were definitely the genius behind the–

You’re right. It was your name in the title of the show not theirs; That’s why I’m writing to–

No, I don’t know if any of them have become authors in the last 10 years, but I read your book sir and it was terrific!

I sure did! Well, actually I  listened to the audio version of it. Checked it out from the library.

Umm I guess so, sir. I suppose that does mean you didn’t make any royalties off of me–

Right. AGAIN. Sorry about that.

But really, Mr. Newhart, I want to thank you. You’ve given me so much laughter throughout my life. Thanks for sharing your phenomenal sense of humor. The world is better because you did.

No sir, really. Thank YOU!

Inconvenience, not Tragedy

inconvenience not tragedyI killed my laptop. It was an accident, more computerslaughter than murder. But nonetheless, the thing is as dead as if I’d shot it. Luckily, Charlotte Street Computers (all hail the mighty CSC!) resuscitated my hard drive and transplanted it into a new, more compact, body. I am eternally grateful for their expertise, really I am. But still, I’m having to go through a usb cord to get to all my files, using my work computer–a desk top that resides 20 minutes away from my home. (#firstworldproblems) Also, I’m loading all the files up to Google Drive so I can access them elsewhere and it’s all going to be fine. I have other technology and I’ll just use those to write until I decide what to do about a new laptop.

So this is truly NOT a tragedy. It IS doggone inconvenient though.

As a result of my mounting frustration, I’m reminding myself of what a tragedy is.

  • Cancer is a tragedy and so are strokes.
  • Childhood cancer is particularly tragic: singularly and inimitably so.
  • Other diseases–those chronic and incurable ones especially–are tragic.
  • Fire is tragic, so tragic. Floods too. Those are horrific.
  • Wrecks can be tragic, though whenever I’ve been involved in one, it’s been merely inconvenient. Still, wrecks can be devastating in all kinds of ways.
  • Terrorism, plus all forms of gun violence. Now that’s some tragedy right there.
  • Loss of income–that could be tragic. I mean, it would depend, wouldn’t it? If you have another source of income, if you wanted to quit your job but couldn’t figure out how to do so, if you have family or loved ones who are happy to support you . . . well then, it might just be inconvenient. But often, loss of income can be tragic.
  • Loss of a pet, though not at all on the level of some of these, is a form of tragedy all the same, and certainly far worse than laptop woes.

Nope, this situation here is an inconvenience: a frustrating, annoying, time-sucking one. But I will not promote this to tragic proportions. I will not allow this to be devastating, because for heaven’s sake it is a thing not a child. I can be annoyed, but not overwhelmed; irritated, but not destroyed.

Now. As I wait for my files to load to Google Drive, I’ll keep re-reading this until I get the message.

Happy Weekend!

You might also enjoy these posts:

Freezing Temps Create First World Problems
first world problems

10 Things People Do Even Though They are Inconvenient

Puff the Dragon (A Not-so-Magical Tale)

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.




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.


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.


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,


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,