“That pizza smells good,“ my four-year-old nephew Banks said, his blue eyes sparkling. We were sitting on the back porch of the cottage where our family (16 of us in all) was staying for a week of fun in White Lake, NC. Banks and I were working on a craft project while others were splashing in the lake or working in the kitchen. I had the terribly burdensome task of amusing the youngest, and cutest, of our ranks.
“It does smell good, Banks. I love pizza,” I told him.
“Is pizza your favorite thing?” he asked me, not looking at me, still focused on his task.
“No, pizza’s not nearly my favorite thing. “
“Well what is, then? “ Banks looked up at me then, his head tilted to one side as he waited for my answer.
“One of my favorite things,“ I said, meeting his gaze, “Is playing with my nephew.“
Banks nodded without changing his expression, and went back to work. In a few minutes he questioned me again.
“Nephew. Is that somebody that you love?” Banks, not knowing the meaning of the word, “nephew,“ had figured it out for himself.
“That’s right, buddy, a nephew is somebody that you love.“
(Originally published August 15, 2008; Banks' birthday is October 7.)
Ever wished you knew how to respond to the bullies in your life? You know, those people who feel free to say things that hit us right where we are most vulnerable? A co-worker, a family member, a boss, a neighbor: whoever they are, their words catch you up short and leave you gagging for the right response. No more! Here are four ways to fend off the bully without becoming one yourself.
A little background: My mother grew up in South Georgia where, according to her, “the roaches grow as big as your thumb.” She says she would occasionally return to the kitchen for a late night snack or a glass of water. She’d switch on the light and too often she would spy one or more of those nasty monster roaches scurrying into cracks and crevices, hurrying out of sight.
When I learned about this phenomenon, I considered a parallel: like roaches, bullies spread nastiness with every flick of their tongues. I wondered: What kind of light could cause these humanesque roaches to skitter away? I came up with several.
- “That’s mean.” I know of grown men and women who still make jokes at the expense of others. It’s tempting to throw back a barb or two of our own, isn’t it? But, really, we don’t need to become roaches to defeat them. Just turn on the light by saying, “That’s mean.” If the person then continues to pick on you, repeat yourself. (Some roaches are nearsighted, and may need you to keep turning up the voltage on your light.)
- “Could you explain?” This light works particularly well on roaches who cloak their insults in false compliments. These roaches say things like, "You sure are brave to try college after the mess you made of high school." When someone says something like this to you, pull out your light and say, “Could you explain?” Continue to ask the question as long as you get an answer. Eventually, the roach will get frustrated and either escape to a darker place or say something outright nasty. If they do that, you say, “That’s mean.”
- “Why do you ask?” A twist on the "Could you explain?" tactic, this one works best when the roach asks an insulting or invasive question. Imagine hearing the question, “Honey, haven’t you put on a few extra pounds lately?” Shine the light on them by responding, “Why do you ask?” Then just listen as they explain themselves, more than likely realizing along the way that they just need to hush.
- Repeat the bully comment as a question. Roach still crawling around? Try this annoying trick: just repeat the comment back in the form of a question. Like this:
- "You know you will never make any money with that major, right?"
- "I won't make any money with this major?"
- "No! No one makes a living with that degree."
- "No one makes a living with this degree?"
- "Of course not! There are no jobs for those graduates."
- "So there are no jobs for those of us who graduate?"
(Irritating isn't it? Probably even irritating enough to send a roach into hiding, don't you think?)
If the roach bully persists, do not give into the temptation to squash it. Violence: it's never good. Besides, if you allow yourself to crawl around on the level of the bully, you'll just get roachy yourself. Instead, stand firm and turn on all of your lights at once. The conversation might go like this:
Bully: "What is WRONG with you?"
Response: "Why do you ask?"
Bully: “You can't even understand English!"
Response: "You don't think I can understand English?
Bully: "Good grief! No one even likes you!"
Response: “Could you explain?
Bully: “You aren't just stupid, you're weird!"
Response: "Whoa, that's mean!"
Bully: "What is your problem?"
Response: "Why do you ask?"
(You get the point, right?)
Those are the ones I've found. What about you? What is your best response to a bully? Share in the comment section below!
Recently, my daughter moved to Brooklyn to attend New York University in pursuit of her PhD. Other than the airports, I had never been to New York City and had no burning desire to change that. As a southerner born and bred, I’m not about to seek out cities that don’t understand the goodness of hot buttered grits, home-made peach cobbler, and sweet iced tea. It was with no small sense of trepidation that I visited this foreign region north of the Mason-Dixon line.
And cover me with kudzu, but I liked it! My favorite thing—other than my daughter of course—was the public transportation. Do you know that in NYC, you can walk to a designated spot, and a train will come and take you where you want to go? It’s true! You don’t even have to own a car, much less drive one. It’s amazing. AND, you have a built-in workout in every day because, not having a car, you walk everywhere you want to go. Awesome! Here are just a few of the other things I saw in NYC while I was there.
- Kids in parks. So many green areas; so many parks. I loved hearing children at play as I walked through the city: “Catch!” “Look how high I can swing!” “Ready or not, here I come!”
- Little dogs on strings. Apparently, New Yorkers don’t let their high-rise accommodations stop them from enjoying the companionship of pets. Admittedly, most of the dogs I saw were of the miniature variety—tiny poodles, little yorkies, chihuahuas. I would see a person holding a taut string, follow the string to its other end, and find some miniscule canine pulling its person along behind it.
- School children in uniforms holding hands. I suppose most kids walk at least part of the way to their schools in NYC. I saw moms walking with their kids; but just as often, I saw older siblings/cousins/friends walking with younger children, holding the smaller hand securely in their own. A beautiful thing, human compassion. Add matching school uniforms to the scene and you’ll understand why the cuteness factor was nearly unbearable.
- Lots of people with wheels under their feet without helmets on their heads. Naturally, I also saw the smarter folk who were not out to get a traumatic brain injury; but there were way too many people weaving in and out of NYC traffic with their noggins bare. Caveat: This is not a Yankee thing. I see this in my own neighborhood too. Bikers, skaters, or people on scooters—wear helmets. Your brain will thank you later.
- A street named Stuyvesant. When you are from Asheville, NC and also a fan of the Biltmore Estate, you recognize “Stuyvesant” as the middle name of Edith Stuyvesant Dresser, the wife of George Vanderbilt.(Edith was a descendant of the Stuyvesant family, on her mother’s side.) When my daughter was in the 7th grade, she did an extensive school project on Edith Vanderbilt and has since been an admirer of this strong world-changer of a woman. How lovely that this little reminder of home is on a street corner near her apartment.
- People on skateboards. Who knew people still road those things? Even better? I saw a dog riding a skateboard. True story. Check out the video.
Here are a few pictures illustrating the above plus a few more of the other interesting things I spotted. (Comment below and tell me your favorite thing about NYC!)
During the 2017 Elevating Preaching Conference held at my alma mater, Gardner-Webb University, attendees heard three preachers whose words challenged and inspired. It was, as always, a fantastic conference, refreshing and instructive. Here are a few of my favorite moments.
Dr. Kevin Crosby
Preaching Session 1: Dr. Kevin Cosby, Senior Pastor, St. Stephen Church, Louisville, KY
Acts 5:29, Matthew 16:21
“You cannot get away from the musts of life.” Cosby explained that there are different kinds of musts—ones from the outside (civil laws and social obligations, for example) and ones that come from within. Musts, according to Cosby, are about conviction, not convenience. He challenged us, “Where does your MUST come from? Your must cannot come from the Law, but from Grace.”
On his church’s decision to stay in an area of Louisville considered dangerous and inhospitable to the Gospel, Dr. Cosby spoke of the transformation that has taken place in that neighborhood saying, “It’s Black Christian Gentrification! [The church now has] the land of the Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Bud Lights!”
[By the way, check out the church website
for evidence of this amazing gentrification.)
Preaching Session 2: Dr. Kimberly Moore, Senior Pastor, Emmanuel Missionary Baptist Church Gastonia, NC
“I May be Tired, but I won’t Quit.” Jeremiah 20:7-9
Dr. Moore, referencing how exhausting ministry can be, pointed out that Jeremiah was also tired, weary of the obstacles he continued to face. Dr. Moore challenged us,
“Realize WHO is fighting for you! Where you are is not your destiny. I know you are tired, but you have to remember [your struggles are] taking you somewhere. . . .”
She added that in the face of overwhelming difficulty, we might do as Jeremiah did and offer praise to God. She said that we don’t necessarily need to praise God for the hardships, but rather offer praise for what you know God WILL do. She concluded, “You’ll find that praise is your strength!”
Preaching Session 3: Dr. Wade Bibb, Senior Pastor, Central Baptist Church Beardon, Knoxville, TN
“Insignificant People” II Timothy 1:3-18
“It is dangerous to preach to insignificant people,” Dr. Bibb said. “Because sometimes they listen.”
Dr. Bibb recalled a time when he had listened to the pastor of his small church and had become quite the 12-year-old evangelist. In an admittedly immature method of discernment, 7th grade Bibb picked out the child in his class who was most often in trouble. Despite fear and trembling, he approached his intended target saying, “I want you to know that God loves you, and I love you, and I will be praying for you.” He continued this routine for a week or so, his unchurched friend becoming more and more open to the idea of a God who loves all people. Bibb’s efforts were thwarted, though, when his pastor suggested that perhaps Bibb shouldn’t bring his friend to their church. “He should go to his own church,” the pastor said, meaning a church that was as homogeneously African American as his church was Caucasian. Bibb then had the task at just 12 years old to find a way to say to his new friend, “God loves you. And I love you. But you can’t come to my church.”
Community Worship: Dr. Cosby
1 Corinthians 16:8-9.
Before beginning his message, Dr. Cosby summarized the day’s events up to that point.
“People in our lives are like elevator buttons. They take you up or down. They add value or take it away. Today, you people have taken me up!”
After reading the text, Dr. Cosby pointed out how foolhardy it was to start a church in Ephesus. Ephesus was the home to the cult of Diana; it was an idolatrous place that would most certainly be closed to the Gospel of Christ. But Paul says he will stay in Ephesus to build the church.
“Starting a church in Ephesus would be like starting a girl scout troop in a brothel. Starting a church in Ephesus would be like Al Sharpton going to recruit at the annual conference of the Knights of Columbus Ku Klux Klan.”
Fear though, has no place in following God’s purpose for our lives. Dr. Cosby illustrated this concept through a story of birds sitting in a tree above a berry patch. They were hungry and loved berries, but wouldn’t approach and eat because there was a scarecrow in the patch. “They were letting a stick wearing clothes and stuffed with straw keep them from being filled.” Dr. Cosby drew an undeniable parallel between those birds and those of us who are followers of Christ, hesitant to do God’s work. He pointed out “No farmer puts a scarecrow somewhere there isn’t something of value. If I were you, I’d fly around looking for scarecrows because wherever they are, there is value!”
Fellow Gardner-Webb University alumna, Dr. Kimberly Moore
Small Group Session: Dr. Moore
Regarding the task of preaching, Dr. Moore summed up her convictions with two directives: “Just be you. Just preach Jesus.” Amen!
Thanks to CBFNC and Gardner-Webb University for a wonderful day of faith and fellowship.
Recently I saw a youtube video of an artist illustrating depression. The depressed person would describe how depression felt to them, and the artist would conceptualize their stories in a drawing. Their stories, thus the pictures, varied greatly. I don't have an artist, but I thought I'd try to describe what it is like for me anyway. Here you go.
For me, it’s not so much a color as a sensation. I guess the sensation is a dark one, sort of a muddy black, but mainly it’s heavy. And oozy. It usually creeps up slowly. I feel it pulling on my feet, slowing me down, and I don’t recognize it at first. I kick at it, trying to loosen the hold, thinking it’s something outside myself, rather than the all too familiar internal struggle. (After all these years, you’d think I would recognize all its disguises.) So, I think I can flick it off with a little justification. It’s patient, depression, so it backs off into the shadows, waiting.
I’m fooled into thinking I’ve resolved it, until it starts from another angle—messing with my sleep, my appetite, my mind. By now it has lured me into emotional quicksand. I get pulled under by depression’s Sirens: “What is wrong with you?” “Why can’t you get over it?” “What real problems do you have?” I try to answer and they pull me closer and their voices get louder. The more I search for the answers to their squealing demands, the more pressure I feel, the deeper I fall, the weight of the world pressing me down, down, down.
It feels like I’m wearing pain. Seeking responses to the non-answerables, I envision all those who face life’s most hopeless battles. Cancer, war, divorce, oppression, loss, racism, poverty, inequities. Tragedies loop through my mind mocking me with the reminder that I have no reason to be sad. I agree. And the pain grows heavier.
When depression opts for a more direct attack, I go from feeling like me, to feeling as if I’m caught in a vortex of despair. I sink fast. There’s no slowing it down, no getting away.
And I’m not sure what lifts the weight and allows me to move again. It helps to remember that Sirens aim to destroy me, not to expand my self-awareness. It helps to plug my ears to their false refrains and to answer with dismissal rather than with access to my soul.
And it helps to do what my mama says (as it does no matter what the problem is): “Do one thing.”
I might send a single email, do one chore, write one sentence. I tell myself that after I do that one thing, I can resume lethargy. Then I do just one more thing. And then another. And in time, I’m back on solid ground, back to me.
That’s what it’s like for me.
The last time it happened, I wasn’t impressed. As I recall, Daddy put a little bit of water in our baby pool. He said we were supposed to look into the pool to see the sun — not at the sun, which of course had never occurred to us. He was saying some other crazy stuff too about the moon covering up the sun or something like that. The details are a little fuzzy; but then, I was only 4-and-a-half years old.
Source: 99% darkness is still 1% light – Baptist News Global
Originally posted in March 2013
We always draw the attention of strangers as we—nearly 20 of us—claim our spot on the beach. It’s impossible for our cumbersome crew to go unnoticed: a half-dozen pale-skinned adults slick with sunscreen, eight bathing-suit-clad Caucasian cousins ages 9 to 18, and one African preschooler whose skin tone matches the color of rich, dark chocolate. So even on South Carolina beaches where almost anything goes, we are the exception.
It all started when my cousin lost her ever-loving mind. I found out from my mother, who called me to give me the news.
“You are not going to believe what your cousin Kathi is doing. You are. Not. Going. To. BeLIEVE it.”
Kathi is about ten years older than I am. Despite a life laced with heartbreak and disappointment, Kathi has done well for herself. She’s always been employed: factories in the early years, grocery stores for most of the last twenty. She owns her own home and has developed a network of faithful friends and beloved family. Her two sons, who she raised without the help of her ex-husband, their dad, grew into responsible, hard-working, family men.
“Kathi is taking in a 3-year old African child,” Mother said.
“Come again?” I figured I’d misheard.
“Your 50+ year old cousin is taking in a toddler from another country.” Mother proceeded to tell me the rest of the story. (For the sake of privacy and protection, I’ll refer to the child as Little One.)
Little One’s mother, a friend of a friend of a friend, was incarcerated and needed someone to keep her child for just two weeks. Kathi didn’t know the mother and neither did the woman who called her. To sane folk, the whole thing sounded like a legal disaster. We cautioned Kathi. We advised her. We insisted she procure some official statement of custody. She listened, but as I said, she’d lost her mind right about the time she learned of this child in need. (It might also be possible that Kathi’s mind was right where it was supposed to be, being transformed.)
Little One moved in and soon everyone who loved Kathi loved the child. Two weeks came and went ten times and after five months the mother saw fit to reclaim her child. By then, the bond between my cousin and Little One was strong enough to last.
So for the last three summers, Little One has been with us on the beach: playing in the surf, building sand castles, looking for shells, never out of sight of this new family-in-love. And at some point, salty and sleepy, Little One seeks out Kathi and climbs into her lap.
“It’s not that big of a deal,” Kathi says in response to our praise of her selfless actions. She enfolds the sandy brown hand resting on her knee into her own; the child leans back, snuggled against the shoulder that has proven so reliable. “Little One needed a place to stay. God told me to offer my home. So I did.”
And to Kathi, it really was—is—that simple.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2
The church of my childhood met in this space back in the 70's. It's where all my friends were and I loved it.
“When I was a kid,” my octogenarian friend told me, “I went to church every time the doors were open. But I didn’t necessarily go to learn about Jesus; I went because that’s where my friends were.”
I could relate; truly, the church was the hub of my social life until I went to college. Vacation Bible School, church camp and ice cream socials were highlights of my summer. All year long, I attended Sunday school, Training Union and any special event scheduled at the church. That’s where all my friends were. Why wouldn’t I want to go?
Of course, to be fair, in those days, there wasn’t much else to do on Sunday.
I grew up in the 1970s and back then, blue laws kept most stores in my part of the country closed on Sunday. Movie theaters didn’t open either, except for a few drive-ins which opened for the late movie (which was at 8, not 10). No way could you find a bowling alley open on Sundays, though, if memory serves, I did play a game or two of mini-golf after Sunday night church on occasion. The skating rink might open for a church party on Sunday if you prearranged it, and most public swimming pools opened on Sundays (but only from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. so as not to conflict with services). Thus, when I was a kid, and certainly in the 1940s and ’50s when my senior friend grew up, church was just about the most fun you could have on Sundays without breaking a law.
The same applied to Wednesday nights when most Protestant churches (which back then were the only ones that counted anyway) had Bible study and family activities. I am certain I never had homework on a Wednesday night until late into high school — and that was likely because I had procrastinated and was playing catch-up. My brother’s little league sports never scheduled events — games or practices — on Wednesdays. The same was true for any civic or community activity. Whether it was Boy Scouts or dance lessons, Wednesday scheduling was out of the question. You might as well go to church. You didn’t have any valid excuse for missing.
Not true today.
In 2017, we can visit any number of fine restaurants and enjoy a leisurely Sunday brunch before catching a matinee at a nearby cinema. We can then follow that up with any activity we like: craft brewery anyone? Exception: if our kids play travel ball of any sort, they probably have games on Sundays, games that are out of town and require us to go on Saturday and spend the night.
On Wednesdays, kids have just as much homework as they do any other day (which is way too much, in my opinion, but that’s another column). Performances, practices and lessons happen just as frequently on Wednesdays as they do on other days. Wednesdays, once protected by societal norms from conflicting activities, are now fair game.
I hear lots of complaints about this perceived disregard for church culture. “Back in my day,” I’ve heard, “no business would dare open on Sunday. Little League ball games on Sunday? Not a chance.”
The thing is, though, businesses don’t open if they don’t make money. And they can only profit if they have customers. Same goes for kids’ ball games. You know why games are held on Sundays? Because children and their fee-paying parents participate on Sundays, that’s why. Plain and simple.
Parents tell me, “You would not believe how much homework little Johnny has on Wednesday nights. He couldn’t come to church tonight because he had too much work for school.” That sounds exactly like parents have no choice, doesn’t it? I mean, the kid has to do their homework, right? OK, but just to be clear, when we had essentially no other choice, we went to church; now, when we have a conflict, church is absentmindedly kicked to the curb.
Me, I think it is good that now we have to make a choice. It is harder, yes, but that’s not a bad thing. In fact, usually the more difficult a task or decision, the more valuable it is or will become. Gone are the days when we can just follow the masses to church without ever actually following God’s Son, Jesus Christ. But isn’t that good? Isn’t it better that we must choose how to spend our time and energy now? Isn’t it better that we make conscious choices to turn towards Jesus and away from other distractions?
So how about this: how about we stop wringing our hands about the things of the past that we can’t bring forward to our present day? Why don’t we step up to the challenge and choose church, choose Christ? If we do, I’m pretty sure that’s one choice we’ll never regret.
Originally published at baptistnews.com. Baptist News Global is one of my favorite sources of news and information related to faith. Really. You should check it out. Societal norms no longer bow to church. So what? – Baptist News Global
During the last 3-4 years, my mother has had more knee replacements than anyone ought to have in a lifetime. It's a long complicated story, but suffice to say you do NOT want to get an infection when you get a knee replacement. Curing that infection is not a matter of proper rest, drinking plenty of fluids, and a prescription for a Z-pack. It's an ordeal that requires not one, but two additional surgeries, along with in-home IV antibiotics and so much more. And all that was just for the first knee. Getting the second one done was yet to come--overcompensating as it was for the pain and infection in knee-number-one. It's been ridiculously frustrating and also rather frightening for Mother and therefore for all of us who love her.
You can imagine, then, my alarm when my sister called last night, beginning the conversation with, "Mama's fine. She's fine, really. She's in the Emergency Room, but she's fine." Naturally, I assumed that she was not fine in the least. Worst case scenarios raced through my psyche at a heartwrenching pace. Thankfully, Mother really is fine. It is not a blood clot as first thought; instead it is a common and treatable (though painful) condition that is (somewhat) easily corrected. Last night, the emergency personnel conducted the appropriate tests, applied the necessary treatment, and released her. As a matter of fact, she called me first thing this morning, sounding just like herself, getting ready to head to church. So she's fine. (Allow me to remind myself of this one more time, if you will; it's been our experience that where Mother's knees are concerned, everything is serious. She's okay though. Really.)
But that's not the whole story. Not even close.
My parents, though they are 79 and 81, are business owners who lead full, complex lives. (If something happened to either of them, our whole family would feel as if they'd been struck down in their youth.) Back in 2001, Mother and Daddy purchased Together Forever Wedding Chapel in North Myrtle Beach, SC; in 2008, my brother and his family moved to North Myrtle Beach to join our parents in operating Together Forever. So when Mother's knee gave out on her Saturday, my sister-in-law was nearby; Hal and Daddy were there too, completing one wedding and preparing to begin the next one. Mother wasn't in such dire straits that she wanted the business to come to a standstill to attend to her needs, so when she decided she should go to the ER, she asked her daughter-in-law to take her. After confirming the plan with Daddy and Hal, Mother and Kim took off, sans husbands.
Now, I have never taken for granted--I don't think--the gift of my sister-in-law's love for my parents. Even before she married my brother, Kim has been committed to our parents. She doesn't think her devotion to them is anything that remarkable; it's just who she is. But I recognize her unselfish commitment as extraordinary. You see last night, as my sister Dawn and I talked on the phone, trying to suppress our urges to drive straight to North Myrtle Beach, we would remind each other in turn, "Kim is there. Everything will be okay." We knew that Kim would not allow our mother (who--let's be honest--is a force to be reckoned with in her own right) to be ignored or overlooked. We knew that together they would ask the right questions. "Kim would tell us if we should go down." We could sit still, trusting Mother to speak for herself and Kim to back her up. "Don't worry. Kim's with her." And because she was there, we could breathe in and breathe out while we held our phones in our hands, waiting for an update. "Kim will tell us if she knows anything at all." We never doubted it.
That's power: the power of a sister who joined our family through marriage and instantly committed to be there for all of us, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.
It was the second time in a week I had experienced the power of a sister.
My own beloved mother-in-law has been seriously ill for most of the summer. She was admitted to the hospital (for the umpteenth time this summer) on Friday, July 28, 2017. At the time, I was actually in North Myrtle Beach for my family's annual gathering there. When he heard the news about his mother, my husband Jay, who had not yet left Asheville, went immediately to his parents' home that Friday night. He spent most of Saturday in the hospital with his mother and was about to go over on Sunday morning when his dad called him from his cell phone.
"Jay, come to the hospital now. Overnight, your mother's health took a dangerous turn. Come now." He quickly explained to Jay that his mother had been moved to the Intensive Care Unit and was having a procedure done that required anesthesia. Now, my mother-in-law has had muscular dystrophy for 50 years or more and her lungs and heart don't always play nicely together any more. Adding anesthesia into that cocktail of concerns could end badly. Not doing the procedure would definitely end badly though, so they made plans to proceed.
As Jay got into the car, he called his sister with the urgent message; simultaneously, I happened to call my father-in-law. When he answered, he was distraught, beside himself with fear and anxiety. I'd never--in 30 years of marriage plus 2 and 1/2 years of dating--heard him sound that way. It was heartbreaking. I awakened my daughters to go with me to the hospital which, under the best conditions, was a ninety minute drive. Next, I called my son's fiance; my son was about to lead in worship at his church so I was hesitant to call him directly. I knew Addison would handle it and that together they would figure something out. (They were more than two and a half hours away, but arrived at the hospital as soon as possible.)
Oh wait. Did I mention that I had just had bilateral carpal tunnel surgery? Yeah, so that was about a week and a half old at that point. Pain was still pretty pronounced and function still limited to the slightest tasks. The surgeon's post-op directions had said to avoid using my hands for lifting anything over two pounds, or pushing, pulling, or twisting. (You might be surprised at how many activities those restrictions eliminate.)
"Get food, don't lift anything heavy, get caffeine, what else do I need, where are the girls, don't hurt your hands, is there anyone else to call, maybe there's a shortcut, is Jay at the hospital yet . . . " My brain was grabbing at whatever it could find so that it didn't have to process the possibility of losing my mother-in-law. It didn't work. "What if she dies what if she dies what if she dies what if she dies what if she dies . . . " it was the cadence of the cacophony in my mind.
"I'm going with you." My sister, laden with a knitting project or two and her sling bag, wasn't asking me. She was ready to go when we walked out the door.
"I don't want to take you away from everyone," I looked from Dawn to Mother and around at the rest of the family.
"It's what we do," Mother said. "This is what we do."
We arrived at the hospital, emotion running high. The procedure was to take 15 minutes and when we arrived it had already been 45.
Dawn took a seat across the waiting room, present yet not intrusive. "I'll just be over here if you need me," she said, taking out her knitting.
I did need her. I needed her, for example, to run errands--it turns out that even in a crisis, people need to eat and dogs need potty breaks. But I also needed her to share the experience with Jay and me and the rest of the family. I needed her to be there in the flesh. My first best friend and playmate, my teacher and mentor, my friend and confidante. My sister's presence helped me to be my best self. That's a powerful presence right there.
Incidentally, all 12 of my mother-in-law's immediate family members made it to see her when she came out of anesthesia. She's still recovering, but for now the urgency has subsided. She welcomes your prayers for her continued improvement, as do we all.
So there you have it. Two mothers plus two sisters, at least in my life in the last week, equals the circumstances surrounding one emergency room visit plus one critical ICU patient, raised--that is, lifted--from untethered desperation to grounded hope by the power of two loving sisters.
Also, one more thing. I would be remiss if I didn't mention that when Hal learned what was happening, his response was, "I'm so glad Dawn could go. If she hadn't been able to go, I would have gone with Aileen."
It's what we do. It's just what we do.
It’s my 52nd birthday. Here (in no particular order) are 52 of my favorites.
- Nephews and nieces. I always knew I’d love having my own children, but nothing prepared me for the blessing of my nephews and nieces. The joy they bring to my life is an ongoing delight.
- Rosa Parks. And Ruby Bridges. And Brown of Brown v. Board. And so many more. These women gave me the opportunity to have friends I could never have known without their courageous acts.
- Carrot cake. As I recall, the first time I tasted it was when Mother was trying out a new recipe. I’ve loved it ever since. Especially with extra cream cheese frosting. The best! If you’re in Western North Carolina, you can get great carrot cake at My Father’s Pizza in Black Mountain and in Weaverville at Well-Bred. I mean, it’s not my Mother’s, but it’s worth the drive!
- Diet Mountain Dew. (Don’t judge.)
- My kids’ friends. Who knew that my kids’ besties would become friends of mine? What unexpected gifts.
- Dinner on the deck. When we were kids, summer meant cookouts with friends and meals eaten outside. These days, as soon as it’s warm enough, my family eats on the deck. Food’s just better out there.
- Jane Eyre. Best book ever.
- Church. From Five Points Missionary Baptist Church (now Forest Hills) in Wilson, through First Baptist Church of Marion, to FBC Weaverville. I love church: I loved two-week long revivals (I went with Daddy if he preached out of town) and VBS that was also two weeks. Church is truly one of my favorite things. No kidding.
- School. You might suggest I’ve over-educated myself. You’d be right.
- 80’s hair. No seriously. The big hair styles of the 80’s? I totally rocked those.
- This is Us. This TV show premiered in September 2016 and is, I’m not even kidding, my favorite television show ever. I love it.
- Microphones. Especially when I’m holding one on stage and I have a huge audience before me.
- Bob Newhart. He’s hilarious.
- My parents' screened-in porch. Even more when homemade ice cream and great storytelling is involved.
- Caswell Beach, NC. It is heaven on earth. I do not exaggerate.
- Beagles. Loud as can be, but still my favorite breed.
- Encyclopedias. I mean, not now. But in their day, encyclopedias mesmerized me. I loved reading our World Book 1971 set. So much information on one book shelf!
- The library. Ahhh. My happy place.
- Pop music. When I was in college, a professor told me that adults stop listening to pop music and gravitate towards classical, country, or oldies. I thought that was a sweeping generalization even then and it has not proven true for me. I listen to what my kids do. Well, more or less. I don’t listen to opera or organ music like my son, or bassoon sonatas like my daughter, but you get the point.
- The NC mountains. Yeah, I know they aren’t the Rockies, but they are home.
- Jimmy Carter. The guy is 92 and is still building houses. That is impressive enough, but he is also still teaching Sunday school! Fantastic!
- Clementines. Oranges that are easy to peel=Perfection.
- Zero Bars. I rarely eat them anymore, but they are the standard by which I measure all other candy bars.
- Boat riding. Oh how I love riding in a fast boat! And
- Water skiing. It’s a little like flying, a little like walking on water, and a whole lot of fun.
- Queso. Liquid cheese=culinary delight.
- Drinking straws. Especially the purple ones.
- Purple. The best color of them all!
- Porch swings. When I sit in a porch swing, I’m transported to the 1970’s and my grandparents’ house in Albany, Georgia where I listen to my cousin sing and play her guitar. Or I find myself in one of a dozen other special places that are marked by the presence of an inviting swing. Sweet.
- Denzel Washington. I appreciate beauty; what can I say?
- Ellen Degeneres. Every day, she reminds people to be kind to one another. What a wonderful world it would be . . ..
- Tie Dye. My garment of choice is almost always something tie-dyed. Favorite tie-dye? Purple of course.
- Tervis cups. Lifetime guarantee, endless varieties, lids with straws. (See #27 above.)
- Podcasts and
- Audiobooks. When I discovered these, it transformed my long drives into time-just-for-me. I listen to my favorite speakers or authors and instead of being drained by driving, I’m energized by new information.
- Bananagrams. No other game compares to this fast-paced scrabble-style word game. Want to play? Let’s get together!
- Video chat. Of course, there’s nothing like the real thing (baby), but seeing my loved ones faces when we chat is pretty close. I’m grateful for this technology that, at least momentarily, eliminates the distance of my far away friends and family.
- Bullet Journaling. Changed. My. Life.
- Nonfiction. I do love a good story; but I’ve gravitated towards nonfiction my whole life. (I can still picture the biography section of my elementary school library.) True stories always called out to me even louder than their imaginary counterparts.
- History. My favorite subject, my undergraduate major. Love it.
- Preaching. Never expected to love preaching like I do. Such a beautiful surprise.
- Finding Nemo. Best animated movie ever made. This is fact, not opinion.
- Board games. There are few board games I don’t enjoy playing. Even when I’m not very good at the game, I still enjoy playing.
- Also card games. I don’t remember learning how to play cards. I think I was playing solitaire before I was in school. I played Crazy Eights and Go Fish, Canasta and Rook, and just about any card game you can name. A side note: my mother had played cards all of her life like I did. Daddy though, was never allowed to play cards and knew absolutely nothing about them. My mother taught him the basics (like how to hold the cards in his hand without dropping them all or showing them to the other players) and eventually he could play Rook with the rest of Mother’s clan. Pretty sure she never let on to Daddy’s mama though. That would not have been pretty.
- Watermelon. I like watermelon even if it’s not that great. But a cold Congo watermelon? That’s a taste of the divine!
- Carol Burnett. Nobody does it better. She is the master.
- And Tim Conway. Have you seen the skit where they are playing password and Tim Conway goes off about Siamese elephants? Drop what you’re doing and watch that right now.
- Children’s books. One of the best parts of my job as a children’s minister is reading picture books to children. Sometimes, like if it’s my birthday or something, my own children will sit and listen to me read their favorites again. That right there? That’s life at its finest.
- Robert Lake Park, Montreat, NC. I took my kids there when they were little, and I took the kids from church there last week. Putting my toes in that icy cold creek and watching kids play in the water and the Montreat park—that’s one of my favorite things ever.
- Yellow roses. From the first time I saw them, they were my favorite flower. Put those with daisies and you get Aileen’s favorite floral arrangement.
- Grace. Grace is my hands down favorite thing. I mess up all the time. When someone offers me grace, it’s just the best. The absolute best.
- My birthday! It is infinitely better to get older than the alternative.