All posts by Aileen Lawrimore

Reign of Christ

Dreaming Big on Reign of Christ Sunday

“Before I was ordained, I just thought every day was Reign of Christ Day,” the rector quipped. Comfortable laughter wafted through the sanctuary.

I was attending the early service at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Georgetown with my husband and our daughter who was a senior at Georgetown University. She worshipped regularly with this congregation, so it was a delight to join her there in her chosen sacred space. The Sunday we were there was the last Sunday of the liturgical year, the Sunday before the beginning of Advent: Reign of Christ Sunday.

Referencing Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann in her sermon, the rector discussed one difference between good and evil. “Good doesn’t like big imagination because it requires us to be too vulnerable, to work too hard. Evil, on the other hand, loves big imagination.”

I wasn’t sure I understood; she continued.  “A wistful mention of the end to local homelessness tends to be met not by enthusiastic support, but by scoffing judgment and wringing of hands. But let Evil mention a big idea. ‘Let’s kill an entire race of people! Let’s fly planes into buildings! Let’s open fire inside an elementary school.’” She listed these real-life tragedies with machine-gun fire rapidity.  “Evil has a preposterously huge idea and gets busy, plotting and planning, seemingly unconcerned with any possibility of failure. Good holds back. Good lists all the reasons this dream is improbable and unrealistic, then Good shrugs its shoulders and walks away.”

It was a valid point and frankly, hit me right in my self-righteous intentions.

“On this reign of Christ Sunday,” she challenged us, “the Body of Christ needs to remember where our center of government is. It’s not in Washington, but in the tender hands of merciful Jesus. Those hands can handle any dreams we can conceive, regardless of magnitude.”

Prayers followed the sermon and then it was time for Holy Eucharist. (What we Baptists call the Lord’s Supper and have monthly or quarterly, the Episcopalians have weekly and then some. If it were a competition, I’d say they are beating us on this count.)

We all filed to the front of the church and circled around the table—there were about 30 of us, maybe 40. The officiants blessed the bread and the cup, then handed one plate of bread to the left, one to the right. The organist began playing a familiar hymn as the elements of communion passed from person to person around the circle.

Let us break bread together on our knees.
Let us break bread together on our knees.

“The body of Christ, broken for you,” said a silver haired man as he leaned over to the caramel colored girl next to him.

“Thanks be to God,” a bespectacled brown man said as he received the bread from a young white man sporting a fresh military haircut.

When I fall down on my knees, with my face to the rising sun.
O Lord, have mercy on me.

The cup made its way around, passing from a teenage acolyte to a tall Asian woman with two children of disparate ethnicities.

“The blood of Christ, shed for you,” a college student said to a young dad who held his infant son, swaddled but squirmy.

A little girl—three years old or maybe four--rocked back and forth, toe to heel, in her shiny Mary Janes; a twenty-something year old woman, her raven black hair plaited in the back, smiled at the fidgety girl. A baby cried. A grown man, eyes glistening, shed a tear or two himself.

Let us praise God together on our knees.
Let us praise God together on our knees.
When I fall down on my knees, with my face to the rising sun,
O Lord have mercy on me!

What a holy and blessed time of worship. A challenging proclamation by a gifted and engaging pastor, sacred communion celebrated at the foot of the cross, and a rich foretaste of God’s kingdom: an eclectic, multi-generational, international collection of believers who came together for this one moment of connection. For me, it was like a glimpse of a dream come true.

Oh Lord, let me dream big and act with bold conviction that it is You who reign in my life.

What about you? What’s YOUR dream?

 

Published originally November 2015

 

 

Depression: RIP Beautiful John

I’ve not thought of him in at least 35 years. Probably longer. But when my Facebook feed included high school pictures of him, I remembered him instantly. John Wilkins. Perfectly gorgeous John Wilkins. He was way out of my league and I don’t remember having a crush on him, but I do remember his beautiful blue eyes, his brilliant smile, his infectious laugh.

You’ve seen his type; if not in real life, in afterschool specials or Disney Channel movies. He’s the athletic superstar who is more handsome than anyone should be allowed to be; he’s a super student in all honors classes; he’s every teacher’s favorite and every girl’s dream. He’s the kind of guy who is picked for so many class superlatives, that the yearbook staff limits his award to best-all-around so that other students have a fighting chance. All that . . . and he’s nice too.

THAT is John Wilkins. And that’s why I was so stunned to learn that he passed away this week.

When I heard, I sought out his obituary and found nothing to suggest the cause of his death. I kept checking the Facebook feed for more information and—okay—I did my share of social media research (some might call it stalking). He had a beautiful wife of 28 years and two—or maybe three—kids. He had a successful career and seemed to have a full life of friends and extended family. All of this only heightened my shock when I learned the cause of his death: suicide.*

Now, I can’t begin to know what led up to the moment of his final decision. I do not know any of his story except the cause of his death. I cannot speak to his reasoning, his pain, his relationships. I do not know him that well. I can only say that his passing affected me deeply, the grief of it waking me in the night and bringing prayers for his loved ones—his mama, his siblings, his children, his wife . . ..

I shared my story of depression publicly for the first time in February 2017. I came out on my blog with a post that was shared hundreds of times, many of those accompanied by the sentiment, “She always seems so happy! I never would have guessed.” People with depression can be very good at deception. Even before Instagram started filtering out all human flaws, we learned what to share, and what to keep to ourselves. Here’s the thing: we KNOW we don’t have any real reason to be sad (chemical imbalance aside) so we hide it pretty well. And besides, so many times when we have let our masks slip, the world has let us down.

• “You just take things too seriously!”
• “Don’t let it get to you!”
• “Count your blessings!”
• “Your problems are nothing compared to [Person You Know Who Has a Terrible Life].”
• “It’s not that bad.”
• “Have you prayed about this?” (My personal favorite.)

(For the record, we know. And we agree, which actually makes us feel worse, not better. So just, ya know, don't.)

Having struggled with depression as long as I can remember, I know how often I have thought, “It is just too hard to be me. I really do not want to do this anymore.” I’m better now, but I used to feel this way at least weekly (now it’s a rare and fleeting thought). I tried to explain how hard it can be for me to a therapist once, “The pain of the world is so very near all the time. It’s like I was born without an emotional epidermis.” She explained that some people do have more neuroreceptors than others; those individuals feel the emotions of others more readily and more intensely. When you have only a thin barrier between the pain of the world and your very core . . . well . . . life can get overwhelming fast.

I don’t know about John, I really do not. But I know this: when I was in middle school, I was bullied by a couple of guys who called me names and taunted me daily. On the social food chain, if John Wilkins was a soaring eagle, these two guys were . . . let’s see . . . worms. Those two worms tormented me for 2-3 years, through middle school and the first of high school. But John, beautiful eagle that he was, was kind. Simply and effortlessly, kind.

It is the habit of humanity to deify the dead, but It would be invasive and presumptuous of me to shoulder past those whose knowledge of him is much more personal and immediate. So don’t misunderstand me here: I don’t mean to imply that John single-handedly saved me from thuggish bullies. It was nothing at all like that. John just offered a momentary kindly distraction from the pain of being me.

And so, well, I just can’t help but wonder . . . was he born without an epidermis too? Did he somehow—perhaps even unconsciously—sense the pain I felt? Were his incidental kindnesses to me more intentional than either of us realized? I can’t possibly know. But I know what it is like for the pain of others to seep into my soul. I know how it is to feel far too much. Maybe John did too.

Oh Lord, we know that you heal the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds. (Psalm 147:3) In your infinite mercy, we pray that your love would reach into the hearts of the family and friends who grieve the tragic loss of your child John Wilkins. May they grieve, not as those who have no hope, but as those whose hope is in Christ Jesus.

*Are you having thoughts of suicide? Is someone you love struggling with suicidal thoughts? You are not alone, there are those who can help, and you have no need to be ashamed. Call for help. Do it for you. Do it for me. Do it for whatever reason you can. But just make the call. 

Good News! 6 reasons (+4 more) to celebrate in 2018

Need a little good news? Feeling like the world’s just getting worse by the day? I was too, so I did a little research—academic and personal—and thought I’d share what I uncovered.

  1. We get to live longer. According to the UN, life expectancy has increased all over the world. This makes me happy because I plan to enjoy grandchildren, grandnieces, grandnephews, and great-grands. Maybe even the great-greats! Sweet.
  2. We are winning at beating poverty. Some of the things being done—access to public education, improved job preparedness, increased minimum wage, better education regarding reproductive health—are making a difference. Don’t get me wrong: we have a long way to go; but this post is about good news, so chin up! (Think I’m just sugar-coating? Check out this article: https://ourworldindata.org/poverty-at-higher-poverty-lines.)
  3. We are smarter about water usage. If you watched the movie The Book of Eli, you might suspect our frivolous use of H20 could lead to the apocalypse. But, by all accounts, we are doing better preserving the world’s water supply. So, don’t be worried that the earth is seconds away from devolving into an arid dust ball. Just turn the faucet off, like all good humans should do anyway. (But I highly recommend The Book of Eli, if for no other reason than you get to hear Denzel Washington quote from the King James Version of the Holy Bible. Be still my heart.)
  4. We have eradicated (or almost eradicated) a number of deadly diseases. In my mother’s childhood days, the fear of polio was real and valid. Mother recalls outbreaks in her region that would cause parents to quarantine their little ones. Today, I bet few children have even heard of it, much less know what it is. Polio still exists in some places, but the number of children paralyzed by it is smaller and smaller every year. In the US, we have vaccines that protect us from diseases that can permanently alter health or worse. We no longer fear things like measles, mumps, or rubella in this country; and globally, the number of these once common maladies is lower than ever. Thanks to advances in medical research, even AIDS/HIV is no longer a death sentence. That’s some good news right there! Want the details? You’ll find more info here: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/05/7-deadly-diseases-the-world-has-almost-eradicated/
  5. We are beating cancer. Innovations in cancer treatments and early diagnosis methods have reduced cancer deaths by 25% in the US. There’s still a lot to learn on this front, but the good news is that cancer research and development is leading to real solutions. (Have you hugged a scientist today?)
  6. We have really great young people! Stop believing the hype about how lousy kids are today. It's just not true. Stop believing the hype about how lousy kids are today. It's just not true. Click To TweetThe teens and twenty-somethings I know are awesome! They protect the environment, consider new ideas critically, shop locally, engage politically, and are widely diverse in their interests and convictions. Even if you had no other source of hope, this would be enough. Today’s young people are making change happen bit by bit. They have their eyes on big picture topics—things like peace, justice, wholeness—and aren’t distracted by the way things are because they are too busy thinking about the way things can be.

And there’s lots more! Really. There are many things going extraordinarily well in our nation and in our world. It’s just that bad news sells better. That’s one reason why news outlets tell stories that play on our fears: so we’ll stay focused on their channel or website and buy the stuff they are advertising.

Of course, there are other reasons why we think about the negative more than the positive. But the reality is that there are great things happening all around us. The problem is that too often we just fail to see them. I’m trying to do better at that. Here are a few things I noticed just today.

• The city picked up my trash. BUT they also picked up my recyclables. This was not a thing when I was a child. I did not even know what the word meant.
• My computer is in my lap. MY LAP! A machine that allows me (among other things) to shop, bank, connect, and write, is both portable and affordable. Listen, back in the 1980s I typed my college essays. On a TYPEWRITER. (It was electric, not the Royal Upright I used in high school, but still.)
• Today I learned that a member of my church is experiencing complications from surgery; but everything that is wrong can be fixed. Today’s medical care is tantamount to the magic of yesteryear. It’s amazing.
• And today, I met a woman whose baby was born 14 weeks before his due date. And he is fine. Completely fine.

Good news. It’s encouraging, don’t you think?

So what about you? Anything hope-filled in your day?

"For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. "
2 Timothy 1:7 (ESV)

my daddy my pastor

My daddy, my pastor

Back in January 2008, I had just started divinity school at Gardner-Webb University; one of my classes was Introduction to Preaching with Dr. Danny West. Among the assignments was writing an "Autobiographical Analysis of an Influential Pastor." We were tasked with describing the pastor's impact on our lives, including how their preaching style affected our spiritual formation. For me, this one was easy: it had been writing itself my whole life. 

I stumbled across it recently and realized I'd not shared it with my aileengoeson readers. Thought you might enjoy it.

Daddy, you must be so proud.” The two of us lingered over our toasted bagels and yogurt in the Hampton Inn breakfast area; Mother had gone to finish getting ready for church. Daddy looked up from his Bible and sermon notes; he hadn’t heard me.

“What was that baby girl?”

“Proud! You must be. I mean this church is having Harold Mitchell Day. Heavens, that reunion last night with twenty-five grown-up once-upon-a-time youth group members was enough to make your heart explode. How many of them did you baptize anyway? Daddy, this is huge.” I was surely proud. All the times I’d seen my daddy deal with dumb deacons and constipated committees. . . I was basking in this glow, even if I was in its shadow.

Few Baptists can say they have had the same pastor from cradle roll through baptism, to youth group all the way to their wedding day. That’s me: one preacher—for twenty-two years.  And here’s the thing: when Daddy’s preaching, I get so caught up in the message, I often forget he’s my daddy.

I get caught up right away too. Daddy often hooks his audience with a story, an illustration that pulls us in from the start. He’ll build on that story or use similar stories throughout his sermon so that at each juncture of the message, I am connected to it by real-life examples.

In fact, when I was little, Daddy’s stories were my favorite part of his sermons. I waited for them, hating for one to end, knowing it would be a few minutes before the next one. As I’ve grown older, and as my love of scripture has deepened, I’ve come to value a different component of Daddy’s preaching. Daddy’s sermons bring God’s Word to life for me.

I remember (it’s been at least 25 years ago) one sermon Daddy preached from Psalm 8 called “A Little Less than Divine.” In that sermon, he expounded on this psalm of creation. He pointed out that above all creation, humans were so precious to God, that he placed us just a little lower than the heavenly beings. He went on to talk about the pros and the cons of this distinction. In other words, he underscored our self-worth by showing us that God made us nearly equal to the angels. Then, he reminded us that we were in fact less than divine and didn’t need to get, as it were, too big for our heavenly britches. The whole sermon wove in and out of the text, using illustrations and personal reflection to connect listeners to the message.

That’s the way Daddy always preaches. The scripture carries the message. Daddy just delivers it.

Daddy is not a quiet preacher. He reminds me, sometimes, of those old Southern preachers you see in old movies but no longer in real life: preachers like Sally Field’s in The Places in the Heart or like the Waltons had. Daddy is passionate when he preaches. His tone of voice rises and falls. He gestures. He cries. And because Daddy never shies away from feeling the intensity of God’s message, I am freed to plunge into the depth of its meaning as well.

But while Daddy never speaks in monotone, he never speaks in what we children called a “preacher voice” either. He just talks like Daddy. Or Harold. Or Papa, or friend, or brother, or uncle. He is sincere. He is real. He is himself. When Daddy preaches, I never feel as if he is talking down to me or casting judgment on me. I feel as if I am being led to a holy message by a sinner like me. Consequently, I willingly go with him to the throne of grace, unfettered by misplaced self-defense.

Daddy fiddled with what was left of his Hampton Inn breakfast. “Yeah, it’s all been mighty nice. But I got a sermon to preach here in a little bit and there might be somebody there this morning who hasn’t heard the Gospel. That’s what’s on my mind right now.” He turned back to his Bible and went back to work.

blue ridge parkway

3 new favorites in Asheville, NC

blue ridge parkway

Photo credit: Jay Lawrimore 2018
Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville, NC

Chicken Salad Chick

When I saw their sign in an Asheville, NC shopping center, I was doubtful. I mean, I like chicken salad as much as the next Southerner; but I figured this place would be toast quicker than you could say, “I’ll have a sweet iced tea to go!” A restaurant called “Chicken Salad Chick?” Yet another niche business that found its way to our touristy town in hopes of getting a toe hold.

Then one day I was in the area and feeling a bit peckish, as it were. I gave it a try.

Y’all. Dadgum. This place is fantastic! Listen, the chicken salad is exceptional—positively scrumptious. But there’s more.

  • Their menu includes other entrée items for those too chicken to try their trademark fare.
  • It’s cute as a bug’s ear. Fun colors and whimsical designs. It’s adorable!
  • The décor includes framed sayings that are downright hilarious—at least to this Southern chick.
  • And each meal comes with a little cookie frosted with the only real icing there is: buttercream. Makes you go weak in the knees!

So seriously, do yourself a favor and visit your closest Chicken Salad Chick. They’re not just in Asheville! But if you must travel to get to one, you should totally choose this one. Then after your lunch, you could go over to Duncan and York, an amazingly awesome gift shop just down from Chicken Salad Chick.

Duncan and York

This little winner of a market drew me in, pulling my attention through its door and around the store. They have all kinds of local merchandise, from stickers and stationery to jams and jellies. (Fun fact, sending local treats to college students = great idea!) Unique gifts (the baby section—too cute!), clever greeting cards that are humorous without being tacky (hallelujah!), and more. I loved it. Then, I found out this: IT’S OWNED BY TWO LOCAL WOMEN. I was like, “Okay, so I know you are the cashier and not the one in authority here, but you should totally advertise that!” A locally owned market filled with products from local artisans and merchants? Sweet.

Now, if you want cheap, just go right on over to the Dollar Tree. Duncan and York is not a bargain shop. However, when you purchase from them, you are investing in Western North Carolina. So, it’s sort of a BOGO: BUY a fun, interesting, locally made gift from these Asheville-based entrepreneurs, and GET the satisfaction of a double investment in our community. (Duncan and York’s location is in downtown Asheville.)

10th Muse Coffee

Okay one more. Recently, I happened into a way cool coffee shop called 10th Muse Coffee. It’s just outside of Biltmore Village on the corner of London and Biltmore. Great coffee, tea, and chai, a gazillion (I counted) specialty drinks, and a variety of food choices. Still, the thing I love about 10th Muse is the feel of the place. It is housed with another retail shop and an artist’s studio in a repurposed packing plant. The décor is eclectic and sort of retro-chic. It reminds me of the seventies—only cooler. Board games are there, inviting patrons to stay and play awhile. The tables—painted with chalk paint—are accented by little tin pails holding jumbo sticks of pastel chalk. Also, and this is huge for me, the music is spot-on—great selection and not too loud.


So there you go. Three great stops to add to your fall WNC visit. You can thank me later. Perhaps by treating me to lunch. Or a shopping spree. Or coffee . . . I’m flexible like that.

youth ministry

A Wall of Living Stones at Caswell

camwall1

One of my favorite stories of all time, from May 2014. 

When the youth group goes to Fort Caswell for the spring retreat, one of the many traditions involves a team building exercise known as The Wall. The Wall is about 10-12 feet high and 6-8 feet wide and kids who choose to participate scale the wall with others in their grade. It’s always a beautiful thing to watch.

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

caswallwholegroup14

. . . like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood . . .
from 1 Peter 2:5

 

college choice

Choosing a College: 4 TRUTHS, 4 MYTHS

Choosing a collegeIt's that time of year: admissions decisions are being finalized, scholarship applications are due, and students are trying to decide where they’ll attend college in the fall. They get lots of advice: sound counsel that really does help and trivial platitudes that don’t do anyone any good.

Here are a few of the most common statements I've heard.

  1. Truth: Waiting until the last possible minute might be good. As other students turn down scholarships, money is made available to holdouts. In the last week of April 2014, my son’s scholarship awards went up daily. DAILY! So take your time. It might just pay off.
  2. Truth: Visiting campuses also pays off. Sometimes, when you are on the actual campus, you just get a feeling. Trust that feeling. You want to be in a place where you feel comfortable, at home. I’d argue that the feeling is more important than the quality of the major. (Students change majors all the time. The feeling is a lot more reliable.)
  3. Truth: You might not get that feeling right away. It might have to grow on you; trust yourself. Some people fall in love more slowly and more systematically. It’s the same with choosing a college.
  4. Truth: Talking to other people helps. Talk to teachers, mentors, and adults who care about you. Talk to friends, current students, and alumni. You’ll gain new information and insight that will make it easier to make your choice.

Unfortunately, students also hear things that are more myth than truth and are neither exceptionally helpful nor entirely true. Here are just a few of those.

1. HOPEFULLY FALSE: “This will be the best four years of your life.”

Really? It wasn’t the best four years of my life and I had a great collegiate experience. But best years of my life? Not even close. Frankly, there’s not much that compares to my childhood summers: homemade ice cream under the carport; watermelon seed spitting contests; roller skating, bike riding, playing in my playhouse. Those were some great years. But then, the last four years have been good too. And the four before that. Life is full of great years, so at the very least, you’re overstating.

But there’s a bigger problem with this statement. Expectation. Expectation can just flat slaughter reality. See, no matter how good college is for you, I promise you it won’t be perfect. You’ll have some life-changing experiences, but some of those you would just as soon have lived without. College can be wonderful. It can be difficult. It can be wonderfully difficult and difficultly wonderful. But don’t set students up to approach the next four years as the highlight of life. That’s just not true. And if it is, that’s sad.

2. SOMEWHAT FALSE: “You’ll meet the best friends of your life while you’re in college.”

For me, this is somewhat true, but I’ve also developed friends since graduating college who are more like family than friends to me. Before Facebook, I’d kept in touch with three or four of my closest friends from college. Now I’ve reconnected with many I’d lost contact with and I’m grateful for that. But I’m also in touch with childhood friends and friends I’ve made since the late 80’s. You can make friends whenever and wherever you are. My brother-in-law’s closest friends are high school buddies. My sister’s besties are co-teachers. So yes, hopefully college students will meet and keep new friends. But I for one am grateful that I didn’t stop making friends when I left college.

3. POSSIBLY FALSE: "You’ll be fine."

This may be one of the most dangerous things we say to students. Here’s the deal: way too many college students are anything but fine. Depression and anxiety spike during these stressful years. Suicide on the college campus is consistently on the rise. If students go into college thinking everyone else is fine and they are the only one struggling, they can feel isolated and resist mental health resources because of the fear of being different from the masses. A lot of college students find these years difficult and confusing and lonely. So adults, instead of “You’ll be fine,” how about we say, “I’ll always be here for you,” and mean it. And students: it’s okay if you aren’t okay. I promise you are not the only one. Reach out to people you trust and look into collegiate mental health services. Sometimes, we all need a little help to be "fine."

4. FALSE: “It doesn’t matter where you go.”

First of all, this is flippant and dismissive. If you are trying to make a decision that affects your future, it is not helpful for someone to say the equivalent of “Stop whining and get on with it! Your concerns are invalid.”

Secondly, it does matter, but perhaps not for the reasons you think. It’s not because of the college's reputation or status; the quality of the school and its majors are important, but the truth is you can find quality at just about in college or university. There are exceptions, but mostly academic experience is shaped by personal investment.

But it does matter where you go to college. It matters because of the connections you will make both personally and professionally. How many people do you know who are married to someone they met in college? A lot, right? And that best friend thing—most college graduates have made dear friends along the way, friends who have shaped their lives in profound ways.

That’s not all though. During the next four years and beyond, your professors and advisors will share more than academic knowledge with you. They will also pass along information about job openings and career opportunities; they will be your references for graduate school or employment. It matters that you choose a college where the faculty appeals to you.

Indeed, it doesn’t necessarily matter where you go in terms of national ranking; but it totally matters that you choose a college that feels right to you.

So good luck students! And no matter what other advice you get, remember this:

Choosing a college matters; YOU matter more.

This post was first published March 9, 2016. 

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.