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
. . . like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood . . . from 1 Peter 2:5
8/12/2018 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.
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.
I 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.
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)
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.
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.
Just like after a car crash, you keep uncovering fresh pain.
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.
The card I sent Daddy this year for Father’s Day says,
Whenever I see someone with a “World’s Greatest Dad” mug, I knock it out of their hand and scream, “LIAR!
[And then on the inside] You’re Welcome.
In a world full of mediocre cards, I was delighted to find one that was actually humorous and absolutely perfect. For proof, I give you just a few of the ways my father wins at parenting.
Daddy loves our mother.
Part of why Daddy is such a great father is that he’s a wonderful husband. Every Sunday lunch, Daddy (a pastor) would proclaim, “Children, I looked around the whole church this morning and I didn’t see a woman there as pretty as your mama.” We groaned and grimaced, in part because we knew good and well Daddy only had eyes for our mama.
He’s romantic and sweet, but he is also respectful and kind. By loving our mother as a treasure and valuing her as a human being, he has taught us that marriage is more than a social contract or a religious ceremony. It’s a partnership of equals. It’s a romance that never grows old. Indeed, it’s the earthly manifestation of godly love.
Daddy brought a lot of laughter into our home.
Daddy has always been a great story teller. We had our favorites that we would ask for over and over again; he always had new ones in his repertoire to share as well. Daddy loves a good story, and he’s playful too. Some of my earliest memories are of Daddy crawling around our living room, giving my sister and me bucking Broncho rides on his back. “Hold on tight now! You can’t never tell when this horse will rear up on you!”
Plus, he’s silly. True, that silliness often came out first thing in the morning when we were not at all in the mood for such shenanigans. When we were teenagers, he would burst into our room on school mornings singing, “Oh What a Beautiful Morning!” He thought it was hilarious. Us, not so much.
Daddy had high, but reasonable, standards for us.
I can’t say for sure, but my guess is that our father was more involved in our schooling than most fathers in the seventies and eighties. Mother always helped us with school projects, homework, and such, but Daddy did too (yet another way they worked as a team). Daddy always said, “Do your best. If that’s an A, make an A. If it’s a C, then that’s fine too. Whatever you’re doing, do it to the best of your ability.” That’s good parenting right there.
Daddy is a lifetime learner
When I was 14, Daddy was awarded his Doctor of Ministry degree. He comes from a culture of perseverance; so, in 1979, 20 years after his graduation from Mercer University, Daddy walked across the stage with stripes on his sleeves to receive his final academic degree.
His last graduation, however, did not bring an end to his education. Daddy has continued learning. He reads a wide variety of books: from works by the most current theologians to ones from the NY Times bestseller list.
Daddy gains knowledge from books, but he also learns from the people he encounters. He converses with friends and strangers with ease, collecting lessons they’ve learned as he hears their stories. Consequently, he has been introduced to ideas different from his own. On more than one occasion, Daddy has changed his mind. I love that. He does (and thinks) his very best and, to paraphrase Maya Angelou, “When he knows better, he does better.”
Daddy apologizes when he makes mistakes.
Daddy, like all humans (except the one of course), has erred from time to time. Instead of sweeping mistakes under the theoretical rug though, Daddy has this radical practice: he apologizes! Because he does, we have learned that owning your actions enables you to move ahead to the next success. We’ve learned that perfection is a lie; if our Daddy messes up occasionally, we will too. No big deal. Personal responsibility: what a wonderful thing to model for your children.
AND . . .
He trusted us. Daddy knew, as I said, that we were far from perfect. But he trusted us to make good decisions and to right our wrong ones.
He dreamed with us. No dream was too big for Daddy to embrace right along with us.
He worked smart. Daddy worked a lot—long hours and nearly every single weekend. BUT, he also took a day or two off every week and two to four weeks a year we went on family vacations. Almost always, these trips were to visit family. That’s another thing Daddy did right: he made sure that we got to know our extended family.
He listened to our questions. Poor Daddy. In my memory, we grilled him after every sermon. We questioned and probed, teasing out any theology we found absurd or unclear. Daddy, a Southern Baptist pastor, not only listened to our questions, he encouraged them. He didn’t always have the answers; in fact, he often introduced even more questions into our discussions. By showing us that our brains could not possibly negate God’s existence, he created space for us to get to know God better. Consequently, our intellectual limitations and rational objections fail to topple our faith. Without ever trying, Daddy taught us that God can handle any questions we can formulate. Until recently, I did not realize the magnitude of this gift. A Sunday dinner served with theological discussion? That was normal for me. Now I know what a privilege it was for me to come boldly to the kitchen table and to be met there with mercy and love.
My daddy. He’s a real winner.
On June 10, 1925, before God and the witnesses present, Mabel Louise Cobb, 20, and Jesse D. Martin, 23, promised to love and cherish each other as long as they both should live. And that’s what they did. For better, for worse, from Georgia to Cuba to Brazil and back to Georgia again; in sickness and in health and through the darkness of dementia. They loved (three boys and two girls; 11 grandchildren) and they lost (their oldest daughter in 1961: she was only 33 years old. . .).
By 1989, when Granddaddy’s death parted them, my grandparents had been married for 64 years. Oh, how they loved each other! Ten years earlier, reflecting on 54 years of marriage, Grandmama (then 74) wrote to my parents who had been married for 19 years at the time, and had three children of their own. She thanks them for the anniversary card they had sent and proceeds to describe what marriage in the golden years was like for them. Here is what she said.
We do feel most blessed to be as well as we are at our age. And to be as thoughtful and considerate of each other, but as the years go by, one learns that there’s much more to love than meets the eye when we start out our marriages. True love calls for lots of giving and taking. We have to learn to realize we aren’t always right. Even after as many years as you two have been married, there’s still things you probably don’t realize will draw you closer as years continue to pass until finally you become so close you can’t imagine life without one another. It’s a glorious feeling to know that there’s one who loves you and wants never to have to give you up, yet we have to realize any time after we get our age that God could call either of us any day. So, you must live each day for each other and thank Him so much for another day together.
My Grandmama wrote that in 1979, back when people worried about gas prices and the cost of long distance phone calls, and when computers were housed in large buildings rather than back pockets. But the wisdom she shares is truly timeless. When Mother uncovered this letter recently, she said to me, “It’s amazing how her letter perfectly describes how your daddy and I feel about our marriage.” (Mother and Daddy got married in 1960 and just celebrated their 57th anniversary.) Every morning, my parents have breakfast together and share a time of prayer. Every prayer begins like this, “Thank you God for the gift of a new day.”
Today is the 113th anniversary of Grandmama’s birth. There are lots of things about Grandmama that I could celebrate—her love of the color purple (my favorite too); her delicious homemade biscuits; her hearty, full-body laugh. But today I think I will celebrate by trying to apply Grandmama’s words, not just to my 30-year marriage, but to all my relationships. I will try to be thoughtful and considerate, to remember I’m not always right, and to thank God for the gift of a new day. I hope you’ll celebrate with me!
I was 22; he was just barely 24. We started dating when we were students at Campbell University and two and a half years later we said our vows. How thirty years have slipped away since that day, I could not tell you. But boy, have we made a lot of memories since then. Here, in celebration of our 30th anniversary last November, are just a sample of them.
One of my all-time favorite stories (at the end of this post) and worth a re-run.
Before I moved to North Myrtle Beach, SC in my junior year of high school, I lived in Goldsboro, NC. Back in the 1980’s when I was a student there, Goldsboro High School lacked diversity. Everyone there looked alike—at least to the few of us who were of the paler variety. Evidently we white folk couldn’t differentiate between the colors of mocha, caramel, and dark chocolate. I guess we couldn’t tell the difference in hair texture, color, and style either. And, perhaps we didn’t notice the zillions of variances in facial features, body structure, height, weight, and so on. We were, after all adolescents, and by nature not that discerning. Anyway, I don’t know the ethnic percentages at GHS, I just remember that when we saw white faces, we waved; they were probably our relatives.
When I lived in Goldsboro, I was blessed: African-American role models were the norm for me. My favorite teachers, Mrs. Delaney and Mrs. Hayes, were strong African-American women; our principal, Mr. Best remains the standard by which I judge all school administrators. He is an enormous man in my memory. “His biceps are the size of our football players’ quadriceps,” we often quipped. But it was his presence, not his size, which looms large in my recall: how he commanded the boisterous hallways by striding silently along, nodding at students, calling them by name. He died young, a loss to the community and to the world.
Goldsboro is an Air Force town; race boundaries blurred early there. So, if I’d get off the bus to find my mother was not yet home, I’d go to the home of the African-American couple the Hightowers. Mr. Hightower had retired from the Air Force and was always home during the day, usually tending the roses in his yard. I spent many afternoons there learning about the delicate flowers he loved so well.
The Hightowers lived on one side of us in a house about the size of ours. On the other side was a house twice as big and parked out front was the son’s BMW. This family was also African-American. Sometimes I caught a ride from school with Darryl, who didn’t have to ride the bus since, well, he had the BMW and all.
Recently, chatting with a friend who coaches girls’ basketball, I got a chuckle when she told me about something her nearly-all-white team experienced. They were playing at a school that must have been something like Goldsboro High School was back in the 80’s because most of the students at the rival school were African-American. My friend’s team was not bothered by the circumstance, played a good game, and headed to the locker room. On the way, they passed a few middle-aged men from the rival school and my friend over heard a bit of their dialog. Observing the pasty skinned opponents, the men shook their heads and commented quietly to each other, “Man, look at those girls. They all look alike!"