All posts by Aileen Lawrimore

Leadership: best achieved when supported by love

My Hur8/12/2018
How fitting that on my first day as shepherd at Ecclesia Baptist, my "Hur" surprised me and came to the service. Thanks be to God for this precious and dear friend!
 

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.

keisha

My Hur: Keisha

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?)

In 2009, I wrote this post for a different blog. June 22, 2014--I preached from this text, in part because our children had heard this story during VBS the previous week.

Mother is 80

In celebration of Gloria Mitchell on her 80th birthday

80th birthdayOn August 2, we celebrated our mother's 80th birthday. At her party, I read this tribute. Of course, there are lots of personal references here, but I thought you might appreciate it anyway. First, though, you should know that Mother's grandkids call her Gangi pronounced "gan-gee" with two hard G's as in "Gloria" or "Grace." Also, my grandfather, her dad, was a math whiz who could do complex mathematics faster than a calculator. More explanations below. Enjoy!

Gloria Mitchell, Happy birthday to you!
80 years old? That just can’t be true!

(But if her daddy were here he would write an equation
And tell us for sure, “It’s time for celebration!”)

It was 1938 when she came into the world:
The youngest of five, a sweet daddy’s girl.

A giggly youngster, an award-winning speaker,heinz pickle pin
A signing teenager for her Sunday School Teacher. (1)

She turned 18 and headed to college.
Mercer provided all kinds of knowledge.

Papa spied her on campus, and thought she was cute.
So he took her sign class, and began his pursuit.

Harold had in his hand a Heinz pickle pin; (2)
And when Gloria accepted, it sure tickled him.

In 1960, they went and got married.
Then headed up north to get seminaried.

Dawn and Aileen, and their baby brother
Made Papa a daddy and Gangi a mother.

They ministered together, preacher and wife,
Dealing with deacons, and other church strife.

Gangi handled it all, and managed the stresses;
But she wore pants to church, forget fancy dresses. (3)

In each of their churches, each town where they roamed,
Gangi converted each house to a home.

Wherever we were, she worked her home magic . . .
Even at Crescent, where Hal’s lizards went spastic. (4)

She held lots of jobs, she filed lots of folders; (5)
But best job of all? A Romanian head-holder. (6)

Actually, the job she does as our parent?
That is the one where she is truly inerrant.

Our birthday parties were best of the best.
And our Easter Egg hunts? They topped all the rest.

She handmade our clothes, on her Singer machine,
Like the best cowboy suit that you’ve ever seen.

She made Easter dresses with purses to match them,
And suits for her pastor to go to work in.

Plus, that isn’t all, our friends also choose her
(Until they play games and end up the losers)!

Once we were five, then each said I do:
Jay, Mike, and Kim, and soon grandkids too.

We were up to 16 by 2004,
And just this year, we added one more.

“You text us all daily, with Bitmoji flair
And we know every morning you lift us in prayer.

So, despite how it looks to everyone here,
It truly is your 80th year.

We try (but we can’t) to name all the lessons;
We cannot even start to count all the blessings . . .

Of having you as mother, aunt, friend, and wife.
We celebrate you and your wonderful life.”

80th birthday

 

Questions? Answers:

  1. Mother learned sign language so she could interpret the Sunday school lesson for a friend of hers who was deaf. Later, she taught a non-credit sign language class at Mercer University. Daddy really did sign up for it so he could meet her.
  2. Daddy was not in a fraternity so he could not pin his girlfriend in the traditional way. Heinz pickles to the rescue!
  3. Back in the 70's, Mother was the first woman in her church to wear a pants suit to Sunday services.
  4. When we moved to North Myrtle Beach, while we waited for the builders to finish our house, we rented a place in Crescent Beach. There were lizards. My brother was 12. Enough said?
  5. Mother is an excellent office manager!
  6. Once, Mother and Daddy went on a mission trip to Romania. A dentist went along as well. On site in Romania, they did not have a reclining chair for patients who visited the dentist, so they had to use a straight chair. Mother sat behind the patients who leaned back and rested their heads in the palms of her hands while the dentist completed the exam.

 

GofundmeWe surprised our parents with a combined 80th birthday/anniversary gift. (They were married on August 14, 1960.) They've dreamed of taking a train trip through the Canadian Rockies. We set up this fundraiser to help them make that dream a reality. While private donations have essentially doubled the amount you see online, we still have a ways to go. Would you like to help us make their dream come true? Every amount counts--single digit donations add up fast! Here's the linkhttps://goo.gl/ESDQ5A.

 

candle blown out

Blind hostility in the gym

candle blown out

My workouts this summer have not been nonexistent; however, they haven’t been what you would call regular either. So, when I got to the gym this morning, I was feeling pretty proud of myself. I started my work-out on a cardio machine, listening to an Audible book while I was at it.

I picked a machine with the TVs behind it because I didn’t want to be distracted by the news. For some reason, I just don’t seem to have an emotional epidermis; things get to me that apparently don’t bother others. Maybe that is why I am so highly attuned to angry voices—something in my brain picks up the tension before the person even looks or sounds very upset to anyone else.

So, anyway, I was happy to find a cardio machine with its back to the incessant media input of the gym’s wide screen TVs. I had just gotten started when I began to sense hostility nearby. I looked over my shoulder and noticed a staff member (let’s call her Carla) about to assist a patron (we’ll call him Josef). Carla, a gym favorite, is legally blind and brings her guide dog along with her to work. She’s worked there four or five years. I thought initially that I had misread things and that Josef was just making an attempt at sarcastic humor.

Within a couple of minutes, it was clear that this was not a good-humored exchange. Josef said things like, “How are you supposed to help me? You can’t even see!” and “Go away and find me someone who isn’t blind.”

Fun fact: Josef is completely blind himself. Carla has been helping him since he joined the gym a short time ago. Previously, he had said she made him feel more comfortable there because of how adept she is at maneuvering around the machines and so on. (Qualification: no doubt something else major was going on with him today for him to act so ugly. Relevant? Sure. A valid excuse for verbally abusing someone? Not in the least.)

“Hey buddy,” I said when I’d gotten off the machine, “Settle down there.”

“Who are you?”

“Well, I’m a patron who pays my monthly fee just like you and you have gotten so loud that you disturbed my workout.”

“I have told her to go away and get me someone who can see and she’s still standing there.”

Me, to Carla: “Let’s walk over here.” She was trembling by this time, visibly upset. “I’m sorry there are people who behave like that,” I said to her. I walked with her to the wellness center desk as she tried to figure out how to handle the situation. She filled me in about Josef (I’d not noticed his visual impairment) and their relationship to this point. She told me, by the way, that recently, these kinds of things have been happening more frequently. (I cannot even . . . I truly cannot . . .)

At some point, I went to retrieve my things. I turned back to Josef and said, “Dude, that was rough. You just ruined my workout and messed up Carla’s whole day.”

“Screw you! I don’t care about your workout. It’s all about me. Go away!”

So, I did--go away, that is. (Incidentally, the whole time this altercation was unfolding, I was saying to myself, Be a non-anxious presence. Be a non-anxious presence. Be a non-anxious presence. #pastoralcare101)

I submitted a comment card detailing the incident and told Carla I would go ask others to do the same. At the time of Josef’s verbal assault, all the cardio machines around him were occupied. I knew others had to have heard it.

Well, maybe they did, but didn’t want to get involved; or maybe they were all so internally focused that they truly did not notice what was going on around them. In either case, not one of them was willing to complete a comment card.

Carla thanked me repeatedly, I gave her my contact information, and I went on my way.

Oh, one more thing. I haven’t been to that branch of my gym in more than a year. I only went today on a whim. Or so I thought.

A Seussian farewell

On my last Sunday at FBC Weaverville, I read this little ditty at the reception following worship. It is set mostly in the context of this congregation, with lots of personal references. But for what it's worth, here's my Seussian farewell to FBCW.

 

“It’s a really good church,” my friend said to me.
“You know Jim McCoy, the pastor?" said he.

“Yes, I think so, he sings (did you say?)
In the pizza place on Main Street with Kirk McKay?"

So five years ago, with a smile on my face
I came here to join you at this very place.

To minister here with you and with Joy
And also of course with the singing McCoys.

Our students in college, we had five of them,
Molly and Marley, the twins and Dylan.

Plus Alex, and Chelsea, and Jennifer Sell
Came over each week from U of Mars Hill

Now they’re all grads, and Jordan is too
And Shelby’s a senior at NCSU

So much has happened, we’ve had lots of fun
Remember the Sunday of Benjamin’s run?

And when Corbin said “Actually I have found
That I’d rather hear music with ambient sound.”

Aiden, the red head, who told us his brother
“Cannot settle down, he’s really a bother.”

We cleaned up the church and spruced up the yard
I told you some stories and you gave me your heart.

Baptisms, weddings, and funerals (so many)
We worshipped, we laughed, and we shed tears a plenty.

Thank you dear friends, for how you’ve loved me
With God as our parent, we’re all family.

Lessons from a preacher's kid

aileen and children sermonToday was my last Sunday as Children and Youth Pastor at First Baptist Church of Weaverville, NC. I will begin my new role as pastor at Ecclesia Baptist on August 12. I wrote the letter below for the August 2018 FBCW newsletter that came out today.

For five years, I’ve been a part of the FBCW family as member and as minister. Reflecting on my time here, I’m struck by how much life we have shared since I joined you. Back when I started, Garrett Spivey was in the 7th grade and—much to his frustration—was barely 5’0 tall. David Stone was on crutches and Christin, pregnant with Jonathan, was on bedrest. Dave Miller still drove the golf cart for the fair ministry, Dawn and Irene Edwards sang in the choir every Sunday, Mary Porter crafted handmade cards for the CARE Ministry, and Juanita Mantel was making delicious magic in our kitchen.

Indeed, our church family has experienced the fullness of life during these past five years. Now as we transition from what has been to what will be, I am reminded of lessons I have learned from my own family over the years.

As a preacher’s daughter, I left churches several times throughout my childhood. In my grief over leaving beloved church family, I would cry out to my mother that I wished I had not made any friends at all in that place because leaving them was just too hard. My mother consoled me saying, “It is always right to love with your whole heart. Fearing the pain of loss is never a good enough reason to withhold your love.” Thank you, FBCW for loving me well. My prayers is that you will love your next ministers with as much devotion as you have loved me.

Once when my father resigned from a church, a number of members told him that if he was leaving, they were going to leave too. He was deeply aggrieved about this which I found surprising.

Daddy, that should make you feel good! It’s because they love you so much!”

“Oh no, Aileen,” Daddy said. “The church is bigger than any one person, even if that person is their minister.”

I have never forgotten this wisdom. It is painful when someone leaves our church family; that pain is not relieved by breaking the fellowship, but by wholeheartedly honoring our covenant to each other.

My brother was a youth minister for more than two decades. When he would begin a new position, he inevitably faced resistance by those whose loyalty remained with his predecessor. Far too often, when he proposed changes or offered new ideas, he was regaled with nostalgic tales of times of old. It was exhausting for him and it limited his ministry. We have certainly shared some wonderful times together. Store those memories and open your hearts and minds to make new ones with my successor.

We’ve had five golden years together. In the words of Amy Grant, “Let me say once more that I love you...and I love the ways that you love me.”

Grace and peace!

 

 

iced tea and stirring spoon

Overcorrection=Customer Service Fail

Recently, my sister reminded me of a family story that I hadn’t thought about in years. It happened back when we were in college, working in restaurants over holidays and summer breaks. At the time, she was waiting tables in our hometown in South Carolina.

iced tea and stirring spoonNow, for those of you unfamiliar with the South, you need to know this tidbit. In South Carolina, when you order tea, it is assumed that you want your drink served over ice and—unless otherwise stated—sweet enough to pass as a dessert. It’s the rare Southerner who would choose hot tea to go with a meal. Even then, it would be requested with a touch of embarrassment or a word of explanation. “I’m coming down with a cold, you see, or I’d have the regular.” At which point, the waiter would say something like, “Oh! Bless your heart! I’ll getcha some iced tea for after you finish that stuff. No charge. You can take it to go.” In the South, iced tea is serious business, and it’s just not something you want to go messing around with . . . .

As my sister recalls, it all started because one night during the supper rush, a fella complained to the management because he had to request a spoon for his glass of sweet tea. According to him, the tea wasn’t quite sweet enough and he wanted to add more sugar. Not having a spoon readily available (and apparently unable to make do with either his knife, fork, or straw), he made quite a stinker of himself, frustrated that he was made to wait even momentarily for the preferred utensil. His nastiness threw the staff off kilter and made for a rotten night for everyone.

By the time the servers arrived the next day, the restaurant owner had devised a solution to this customer service conundrum. Incidentally, this was the first time in memory someone had requested more sugar for the sweet tea. Never mind that though; on to the solution.

“From now on,” the owner told the wait staff, “We will put teaspoons in each glass of tea. That will solve the problem.”

The staff just looked at her, apparently waiting for her to see the obvious flaw in the plan. She didn’t; someone spoke up.

“Well . . . umm . . . we put the spoons in the glasses of unsweetened tea so we can identify them. How will we tell them apart if we put spoons in all the glasses?”

The owner thought for a minute, came up with the answer, and said, “Okay, in the sweet tea, put one spoon. In the unsweetened tea, put two.”

“Two spoons?”

“Yes! Two spoons.”

Well, you can imagine how this played out. The first really busy night, they ran out of teaspoons early on and the plan was scrapped. Which was fine really, because the problem wasn’t the system in the first place; the problem was a grumpy man who had probably just had one inconvenience too many that day.

Overcorrection: just one more way to create major problems out of minor ones.

Unlike water or wine or even Coca-Cola,
sweet tea means something.
It is a tell, a tradition.
Sweet tea isn't a drink, really.
It's culture in a glass.

(Allison Glock, writer)

(Original posting, November 17, 2014)

childhood cancer dipg spady

Just another day like no other day

childhood cancer dipg spady

The Spady Family, July 2008
Jacob (front), Seth, Ken, Kim, Luke. (middle), Caleb (top).

TRIGGER WARNING: childhood cancer, loss of child

It was the day before my birthday and my younger kids and I were visiting with our friends the Chantemerles—Joanna and her two children—in Charlotte, NC. It was hot (it’s always hot in Charlotte in July), so we took our kids to nearby Carowinds to the water park, Carolina Harbor.

It was a beautiful day, but I was not at all in a festive mood. My friend Kim from Oklahoma City was in the hospital due to complications from a recent surgery; her son, Caleb, the same age as my youngest daughter, was at home with the rest of the family. I kept my Nokia flip-phone handy; I did not want to miss her call.

You see, Kim and her family had been suffering through an unimaginably difficult year. March of the previous year, Kim had triumphed over breast cancer. The joy over this victory faded quickly, though, because in April the family learned that Caleb had a rare and deadly form of cancer called DIPG (Diffused Intrinsic Pontine Glioma). By that day at Carowinds, Caleb had lived with DIPG for 15 months.

A month earlier, Kim had gotten more devastating news. She had a new cancer—no connection to the breast cancer—and would have to undergo surgery to have a chance at a full recovery. Around that same time, Caleb’s condition began declining rapidly. Kim had the surgery and returned home to join the family in attending to Caleb’s palliative care. Unbelievably, she soon began experiencing excruciating pain and was rushed back to the hospital for emergency surgery. That was where things stood on that day, July 21, 2009.

Meanwhile, my kids and their friends played in the water park, enjoying new independence at the ages of 11, 13, and 15. Joanna and I pulled a couple of lounge chairs together to serve as headquarters for the day, directed the kids to check in with us hourly, and sent them on their way.

The call came. Kim sounded numb, hollow really.

It’s over. Caleb’s gone.”

What do you say to someone who is in the hospital recovering from emergency surgery while her son slips into the hereafter back at home? I don’t know. I couldn’t tell you what I said; I just remember being determined not to lose it emotionally while I was on the phone with her. I held it together for the few minutes we were on the phone, hung up and released the fragile hold I had on my state of mind.

About that time the children stopped by for their check-in and Joanna told them about the call. I was crying, head in hands, but immediately became concerned for my kids who had just heard this devastating news. When I looked up, my youngest was reaching for me. She wrapped the two of us in her towel and drew me close. She looked back at the rest of our group and explained, “She’s sad because this reminds her of when Paxten died.”

She was right. I don’t know if it happens to everyone, but when I lose a loved one, all other losses rush forward into the present. The aunt who passed away when I was six years old, the grandmother who died when I was in college, and yes, my little three-and-a-half-year-old friend, Paxten, who died the previous year, also from cancer. . .those and others crowded into my heart for their share of the sadness, managing to multiply, rather than to divide it.

Yes, my daughter spoke the truth: I did feel a sweeping, all-encompassing grief in the minutes following that phone call. But I also felt a pain piercing past all previous ones, a one-of-a-kind sorrow, instantly and specifically formed by the passing of 11-year-old Caleb Spady.

After a few moments, the sounds of Carolina Harbor seeped back into my awareness: loud music proclaiming “Summertime’s calling me,” children squealing as they waited for the bucket hanging above to dump cold water on their heads, parents calling out, “Walk!” and “How about a snack?” and “Come dry off!” Just another day at the water park.

And a day I will never forget.

(Today, Kim is in good health. She and her husband Ken live in Oklahoma with their sons Seth and Luke. Their son Jacob and his new wife live not very far away.)

And now, dear brothers and sisters,
we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died
so you will not grieve like people who have no hope.
For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again,
we also believe that when Jesus returns,
God will bring back with him the believers who have died.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 (NLT)

beginning again again

Beginning again, again.

beginning again againI still call myself a preacher’s kid, even though Daddy has been retired from the pastorate since 2001 and I am 52 & 51/52 years old. Growing up, I listened to hymns on the record player, talked theology around the kitchen table, and regularly helped my mother prepare and deliver meals to parishioners and neighbors. When I recall my childhood, many of the memories are drenched with Baptist life: games of tag in the church yard, solid biblical teaching, trips on the church bus, youth choir practice, habitual church attendance, Vacation Bible School, deep and meaningful relationships with godly people. And from an early age, my Baptist life also included weighty theological discussions. (Daddy wasn’t threatened—and assured us God was not either—by the questions our human minds conceived.)

Thus, it’s not all that surprising that I felt called to ministry. The first time I heard that call clearly came in the form of a dream back in 1985.

I’m walking along an open trail, that leads up a hill. Just as I reach the crest, three crosses appear in the distance. The crosses loom large, towering over the tallest trees. The rugged beauty before me catches in my throat. I look around. There should be a crowd viewing this extraordinary sight, but I am alone.

I look for someone with whom to share my find when, as often happens in dreams, the scenery suddenly changes. Now, I am looking down into a valley where I see a group meeting—it looks like an outdoor classroom of sorts.

“Hey! Have you guys seen this?”

I yell, but no one hears me.

“It’s amazing. Three huge crosses right here on this hill!”

No one responds.

I try again. “I can’t believe you’ve not seen this. It’s so beautiful.”

They keep at their tasks as if I am not even here. Frustrated and confused, I turn back to the crosses; it is then that I hear a voice. “If they are to know, you are to tell them.”

When I told my college roommate about the dream, she was ready to walk me over to the religion department right then to discuss changing my major. It was indeed a compelling dream, but I would not be making any changes just so I could go to work in some church, of all places. First, it was 1985 and things did not look good for Baptist women called to ministry. Secondly, I had lived that life already. My father was getting his heart broken almost daily by his Baptist denomination; I had no interest in aligning my career with an organization fraught with such cruel infighting and painful division. (Plus, let’s be honest, I was 20 years old and knew far less than I thought I did.) I stuck with my history major, figuring God would come around to seeing things my way soon enough.

Over the next 20 years, I often felt the divine tug of that unanswered call. Of course, I did other things that God redeemed, bringing forth lifelong friendships and continuous opportunities to share Christ’s love in tangible ways. Yet the call persisted. I talked to my closest friends, my family, and my pastor innumerable times trying to work out what I should do. (Note to younger self: “Ummmm, how about you do what God’s been telling you to do for TWO DECADES!)

In January 2008, I enrolled in Gardner-Webb University’s divinity school, graduating in December 2010. From January 2011 on, I have worked in a variety of ministry positions; in 2013, I began my present job as Minister with Youth and Children at First Baptist Church of Weaverville, NC (FBCW).

Theologian and author Howard Thurman once said, “Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Click To TweetI truly enjoy most aspects of ministry—church planning, relationship building, curriculum preparation, Bible teaching, and for me, at FBCW, handbell ringing! (A6 and B6 ringers unite!) Since I began at FBCW, though, I’ve also been invited to share in the task of preaching. Preaching for me is . . . well . . . it’s transformative. Theologian and author Howard Thurman once said, “Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Alive. That’s how I feel when I preach: wholly alive and most completely in line with who God created me to be. It’s like every time I preach, I am born again.

So, a few months ago when I learned about a small local church in need of a minister, I applied. Following a time of discernment on both sides, I have accepted the call to become Pastor of Ecclesia Baptist Church in Asheville, NC. My first Sunday will be August 12, 2018. (Ecclesia is currently meeting at Weichert Realty in River Ridge and we’d love for you to drop in for coffee and fellowship at 10:30 and worship at 11 each Sunday.)

My daddy always says, “Everything of value requires some sacrifice.” Such truth. Indeed, I will miss the church family at First Baptist Church of Weaverville: the precious children who have ministered to me, the dear friends I have made, and the greatest co-workers anyone could imagine. My ministry at FBCW has been rich and full and has given me great joy; I will always be grateful for the ways we have loved each other.

It’s been 33 years since I had that prophetic dream. It gives me unspeakable joy to realize it at last.

Music Ministers

Real music of the church

A rerun originally published July 31, 2011

Noise. Grating, irritating, cacophonous, noise. The strings sounded awful—each one seeming to play a separate tune. The brass burped out the bass clef—15 individual bass clefs that is. The woodwinds must have been playing the melody, but no one could tell it by listening. The whole orchestra was an utter mess. In fact, if this was any indication, the concert would be unbearable.

And it would have been too, because each musician focused on her own sound: each one listening for his own errors or her own expertise. Not one in the group was concerned with how they sounded as a whole. It was all about individual performance.

But then the conductor mounted his stand. The musicians silenced themselves. Maestro raised the baton. The instruments snapped to attention. With a wave of his hand, the music began. Stringed instruments lifted notes into the air as percussionists tapped out the beat. Horns came in, announcing their arrival, as the woodwinds snuck in behind them. Music floated through the auditorium, sending waves of delight through the audience. Harmony. It’s a beautiful thing: even more beautiful than the dissonance was annoying.

Here’s the thing: when the musicians’ thoughts were on their own weaknesses or their own strengths, their whole community suffered. Sound familiar? Isn’t that what it is like in the body of Christ? When individuals, persons or congregations, begin to focus on what they can and can’t do, the world hears clanging gongs and crashing symbols. To those listening, the discordance is jarring.

Yet when we turn our eyes to the Conductor of our faith, when we release our concerns and our confidences and allow ourselves to be led by Jesus, what beautiful music we make. The peaceful tones we express draw others to us and thereby to Christ.

We are called to make a joyful noise. Let us set aside our differences and sing in harmony, “Hallelujah! Lord God Almighty!”

May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 15:5-6 (NRSV)

life wrecks

Pain lingers long after life wreck passes

If you’ve ever been in a semi-serious car accident, you know what I mean. On the scale between fender bender and tragedy, this kind of wreck falls about midway. I’m talking about one of those wrecks that, though you walk away apparently unscathed, you realize you could have been hurt much worse if things had been even slightly different: if your car didn’t have those safety features, if you’d been going faster, if your breaks had not been brand new . . .. You got lucky this time—but just barely.

life wrecks

Photo by Jilbert Ebrahimi on Unsplash

The day after, you don’t feel so lucky because you find that you hurt in places you didn’t even know you had. You turn your head in a certain way and pain shoots down your back. Automatically, your brain records this information and will not let you turn that way again. (Pain is such a good teacher, isn’t it?)  That’s the way it goes for the next week or so. You keep finding new places that hurt, adjusting this way or that, to accommodate the pain. It works. Mostly.

The next time you get in your car, you realize that your physical aches and pains are nothing compared to the anxiety that washes over you behind the wheel. You are far more cautious and watchful. You hold back. You startle more easily. This new hyper-alert sensitivity, this extra hesitancy, remains. It’s the new normal.

It’s been 30 years since my brother’s life-altering wreck. He was a freshman, in his second semester of college, and it was exam season. He’d been studying at the university, so it was late when he drove home that night. Meanwhile, a 59-year-old businessman & his wife who had been visiting their grandchildren headed home--tipsy, sure, but they could still drive. They picked up a 6-pack of beer on the way.

At the point of impact, both drivers were going about 50 mph. (“That’s like driving 100 mph straight into a brick wall,” my daddy always adds.) My brother remembers bits and pieces from the scene: the flashing emergency lights, the jaws of life extracting him from the vehicle, being covered—blanketed really—by shards of glass. . ..

The grandfather died at the scene; his blood alcohol content more than triple the legal limit (this without the additional 6-pack). His wife, so intoxicated that medical professionals struggled to get a read on the extent of her injuries, survived.

My brother had what would be called a full recovery and we are all grateful. But that wreck changed him in permanent and irreversible ways. He has scars he wouldn’t have had. He has sinus problems to this day because of all the glass that was embedded in his face. Plus, he has plenty of other physical frustrations (nothing life threatening, thank God) that can be traced back to that wreck. Plus, for years—decades, actually—he would find bits of glass working their way out of his flesh. My mother suspects it’s not all out yet.

I’ve had his wreck on my mind a lot lately. Monumental anniversaries have a way of bringing the long ago into the here and now, so there’s that; but the other thing is, wrecks don’t just happen when you’re driving. I’ve experienced (and I bet you have too) painful losses that have left my heart feeling a bit like a crash site. You know what I mean, right? Maybe you’ve been blind-sided by life before as well.

  • The breakup you didn’t see coming.
  • The diagnosis you never expected.
  • The pink slip from your employer.
  • The betrayal by a beloved friend.

Just like after a car crash, you keep uncovering fresh pain.

  • A happy memory comes to mind unbidden, now ringing false and hollow.
  • A vacation flier promises great adventures no longer possible for you.
  • A Google notice pops up about an annual work event you’re no longer invited to attend.
  • Old pictures testify to how close you once were . . . or at least thought you were.
Life contains all kinds of wrecks, doesn’t it? And I think it is okay to acknowledge that we are changed by such things, changed in ways we never wanted to be. Click To Tweet

Life contains all kinds of wrecks, doesn’t it? And I think it is okay to acknowledge that we are changed by such things, changed in ways we never wanted to be.We wish the memory hadn’t been clouded over by future realities. We never wanted to give up our dreams, but circumstances required it. So painful, in fact, that even when we think we are completely fine and have grown beyond and in spite of the hurt, a new pain can work its way to the surface and bring it all back.

At those times, even if you are mostly fine, you might need to stop, treat the new pain you’ve found, and rest, knowing that sometimes to heal the pain, you have to spend some time feeling it first.

 

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