Category Archives for Family

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.

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. 

iced tea and stirring spoon

Overcorrection=Customer Service Fail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Two spoons?”

“Yes! Two spoons.”

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

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

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

(Allison Glock, writer)

(Original posting, November 17, 2014)

life wrecks

Pain lingers long after life wreck passes

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

life wrecks

Photo by Jilbert Ebrahimi on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Daddy turns 81

9 ways my dad wins at being a dad

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.Daddy turns 81

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.

5 reasons why I've not posted in 4 months

Four months. It’s a record. Yep, four months is officially the longest time between aileengoeson blogposts. It's true: since I started blogging 10 years ago, I have posted at least once a month. (Okay, occasionally two months might have slipped passed, but rarely.) So, if you’re still here, thank you! I appreciate you reading my musings; I know you could be doing other things, and it means a lot to me that you choose to hang out here with me.

Anyway, I figure you might want an explanation for why I’ve been away so long. Here’s what has been happening.

  • Last fall, I returned to Gardner-Webb University to pursue my Doctor of Ministry. I’ve completed the first year and have learned that doctorate level courses are in fact more demanding than those at the master’s level which are—coincidentally—more work than undergraduate courses. (I’m quick like that.) Anyway, the course I took in the Spring ended in April and I lost count of the number of hours I poured into it—most of those writing. Made this pre-doc slightly less motivated to write anything for fun.
    watching andy griffith in the hospital

    To combat hospital boredom, we played old Andy Griffith reruns on my ipad for my father-in-law. It was kick-your-feet up funny.

  • You may remember my father-in-law suffered a heart attack and had bypass surgery earlier this year. That was followed by an extensive hospital stay and included a detour over to ICU for my mother-in-law. Thanks be to God, t
    summer study abroad

    And there she goes, off to Italy for five weeks of intense "study."

    hey are both doing much better now, and we are grateful. Between then and now, though, there was not a lot of head space for creative writing.

  • Back in March of 2017, my son became engaged to his long-time girlfriend. They set the date 14 months later: May 19, 2018. (Math fact: 14 months equals approximately 14 seconds in wedding planning time.) There were details piled all up on top of each other—many of which could not be handled more than a month or so in advance. Blog writing, therefore, got pushed way down the priority list.
    veggietales mother groom dance

    For our special dance, my son and I performed an interpretive dance to the Veggietales classic, "Where is My Hairbrush." "Poignant" does not come close to describing it.

  • Also, my son graduated from college. Did I already say that? Yeah, that happened on May 4. Our NYC daughter flew in for the ceremony in Greensboro, NC and our younger daughter zipped over from Raleigh. Both girls scooted back to their respective colleges to finish up the semester and get back for wedding festivities. Between the graduation and the wedding, younger daughter moved out of her college dorm and back home. She had four days before the wedding to run errands and pack for her summer session in Italy; she boarded her plane Tuesday, May 22.
  • During the wedding week, we (of course) had lots of company in and out. Our out-of-town family began arriving on Tuesday and were here through Sunday or Monday. We LOVED it; we are so very grateful for the sacrifices so many folks made to be a part of this milestone in our lives. Savoring those precious days, I let the blog wait.

I have several pieces started to share with you in the next week or two, so stay with me. I promise I’ll be back sooner rather than later. And thanks again for reading. Almost nothing thrills me more than the words, “I love your blog!”

Mitch Graduation 2017

Graduation ceremonies: why being there matters

Allie 2017The 2018 graduation season has begun! I love getting the announcements from young adults who have followed dreams and reached new heights. So far, I've attended one ceremony and plan to go to at least two more. I'll make eye contact with my graduate, standing on tiptoe and making a fuss; I'll read all the names; I'll pay attention. When it's done, I'll weave through the masses, give quick hugs and high-fives, and then I'll make my way to my car to wait for the traffic to clear. And it will be worth it. In this post, a re-run from 2017, I explain why.

The 2017 graduation season has been an eventful one for the Lawrimore family and friends. First to turn the tassel this year was our soon-to-be daughter-in-law who received her undergrad degree from UNC. As for high school, we have two nephews, one niece, and our daughter’s boyfriend graduating.

It’s a big year. And I won’t make it to all of the ceremonies (two happen at the same time on the same day), but I’ll do my best to get to most. Those graduates who I don’t get to see in person will know I wanted to be a part of their day. They will know I am not casually dismissing this moment in their lives.

Now, I love graduation ceremonies. I don’t even mind bad ones. Wait. That’s not exactly true. There is one exception: a 2016 graduation ceremony Jake graduation 2016I attended at a “Christian” school was so offensive that it required every iota of self-restraint I possess to keep from opening up a great big can of Aunt Aileen all up in that place. To be fair, I was already ticked off at the school because I felt they had done an awful job of educating my beloved nephew. As a whole, they missed the blessing of his uniqueness, his gifts, his potential. (If I’m completely honest, I’d concede that a good bit of Aunt Aileen had already been spilled in these judgmental halls that, by their infinite ineptitude and unmerciful demeanor, had in essence been using the name of God in vain. But I digress.) Anyway, the graduation for less than 40 students lasted for over two hours. Not much fun for Angry Aileen.

Still, I’m glad I went. In fact, I would do it all again to be there when my nephew graduated. Totally, completely worth it.

georgetown university 2016In general, though, I love the pomp and circumstance of graduation. I love the academic regalia of the faculty, the students in caps and gowns, the formal presentations. But even if I couldn’t stand that stuff, I would attend graduations. You see, I believe that it is positively irrelevant whether or not I enjoy the graduation ceremony. On that day, at that moment, it’s not about me; it’s about the graduates.

Let’s say I’m attending a graduation and I don’t like the speaker. Or the music. Or even the institution where the ceremony is held. Maybe it’s the experience that is unpleasant. The seats are uncomfortable; it’s too hot, too cold, too dry, too wet; or the ceremony is way too long and if someone had just thought this through, for goodness sakes, we could have been done a long time ago.

It doesn’t matter. Here’s what matters: it matters that I’m there. And it matters that you’re there too.

UNC Addison 2017By attending graduation, you are saying a number of things. First, you are telling your beloved that you care about transitions. High school graduation is the first major transition for these kids since they left home for kindergarten. It’s a big, big deal. By being there at the moment of transition, you are saying to the student, “You are not making this change alone. You, graduate, are not being thrown out of school, into a black hole of uncertainty all by yourself. I am right here with you.”

Secondly, you are telling the graduate that you will be there for endings, not just beginnings. You will be saying to them, “You know how you are concerned that the friendships you’ve made over these last years will end? Know this: your relationship with me? It is forever. I will still be your sister, brother, uncle, aunt. I will still be your mother, your mentor, your lifelong friend. I know it feels like everything familiar is ending. But I’m not. I’m here. I will always be here.”

ACRHS Graduation 2014Thirdly, you are saying, “Your celebrations are my celebrations. When you succeed, I delight.” Sure, these graduates will have other—probably (hopefully) more significant—accomplishments over the course of their lives. Celebrate those too. But graduation offers a unique opportunity to celebrate the completion of an extended task. Finishing that which we have begun is an important habit to develop and maintain. By attending graduation, you are saying, “Finishing things matters. This is a big deal.”

Finally, you are saying to your graduate that inconvenience will never be your primary concern when it comes to milestone moments in that student’s life. So what if you had to drive all night to get there? Who cares if the experience isn’t exactly pleasant? You are there to witness three things: the processional, the graduate’s walk across the stage, and the recessional. Everything else is just extra.

It’s true: I love graduations. But I love the graduates more. So I’ll be there in the audience, watching for my graduate. And when I make eye contact with my beloved, I hope the message is clear: “You matter to me and I will always be here for you. Always.”

Bypass surgery and the real work of the heart

On Tuesday, January 23, 2018, my father-in-law, JB Lawrimore, suffered a heart attack; a week later, he had bypass surgery. The operation was a success and the doctors expect him to have a complete recovery, thanks be to God.

Having a remarkably shallow threshold for ick, I (intentionally) never gave much thought to how this procedure was accomplished. Thus, I was shocked when my husband informed me the night before surgery.

December 2010 Me and my father-in-law, JB Lawrimore

“They have to stop his heart to do the surgery,” my husband told me. “They will reroute Dad’s blood through a machine that will do the work of his heart.”

Say what now? A machine? You’re telling me a machine is going to take over for my father-in-law’s heart? Nope. No way. There is no manmade contraption that could handle that job. Oh, maybe a machine could pump blood through JB’s body; I get that. But the real work of my father-in-law’s heart? That job is much more than simple mechanics.

For example, how would that machine respond if it detected the voices of Barney and Andy quibbling over the rampant crime in Mayberry? JB’s real heart manufactures a deep belly laugh that crinkles his eyes, scrunches up his nose, and arrests any conversation previously in process. That same laugh might bubble up at any time, like when he’s sharing an anecdote from his childhood or one from just last week. Spontaneous, but also predictable, JB’s infectious laugh spreads through a group like a hysterical virus. Trust me: there is nothing mechanical about it.

Plus, a machine would have long ago shut down the nonessential milk bone operation that JB’s heart kicks off every time he drives up his driveway. His truck’s approach triggers the barking dog next door who immediately runs to the the designated meeting place by the fence. She waits as JB reaches into his hiding place and pulls out a treat. “Hey there girl,” he says, “Do you need a bone?” Instantly, that fussy old mutt morphs into pure sweetness as JB hands her the milk bone and scratches behind her ears. “There you go. That’s a good girl.”

Also, I have to wonder if this is a brand-new machine. If it is, it won’t have what it takes to do the job of JB’s heart. See, his heart shows evidence of extensive use. It’s been stretched significantly five times (grandchildren will do that to a heart), but it’s been broken too. Indeed, his life has been a beautiful one, but not one without his share of grief and pain, disappointment and loss. He’s outlived his parents—which he expected, no doubt—but he outlived his youngest brother too. Losing a brother who was closer to his son’s age than his own . . . if his heart had been manmade, it would surely have shattered.

1997 JB Lawrimore with his oldest grandson, Baker Lawrimore

And what about the lights in this device? It will need some with maximum luminosity that won’t dim over time. See JB’s heart shines for lots of things—the first shoots of new growth in his garden, a prayer of thanksgiving, the music of the church—but there’s nothing quite like the Granddaddy Glow his heart has emitted for the past two and a half decades. As each new life joined the family, JB’s heart light found a new height of brilliance. And yet, inexplicably, as JB’s five favorites have grown beyond cradles and playgrounds, to marriage and careers, his heart appears warmer and brighter with the passage of time. It’s a self-sustaining, never-fading illumination of abiding love. That kind of light—well it’s just not something humanity can manufacture.

I know this: no matter how advanced medical science becomes, there will never be a mere machine that can do the job of JB Lawrimore’s heart. But, I sure am grateful for that fancy contraption—and the skilled medical professionals who operate it—that kept it pumping though his surgery. As a result, JB’s heart can keep right on working for many years to come. To God be the glory!

ordination

December 2010 My ordination service--JB giving me his blessing.

golden love grandparents

Love, Grandmama: A letter about lasting love

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.

golden love grandparentsWe 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!

rabbi ben ezra

30 Years and Counting (Blessings)

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.

  1. We married in North Myrtle Beach, SC on a rainy Friday--November 27, 1987--and by Sunday I had moved into Jay’s apartment in Panama City, Florida. He was stationed at Tyndall Air Force Base at the time. Within the next few weeks, I invited Linda Reiman and Janet Elmore—also newly married to 2nd Lieutenants—over for lunch. A chance to make friends AND use my brand-new Christmas china: win, win! I don’t remember the full menu, but I do remember the desert: homemade peppermint ice cream. I still have the recipe. AND I remember Linda and Janet, two women who made my transition into the foreign world of military life so much easier.
  2. We moved to Oklahoma in January 1988; Jay would be stationed at Tinker Air Force Base in Midwest City, Oklahoma. The drive to Oklahoma from Florida—in two cars, before the days of cellphones—was interminable and not just because of the distance. We crossed into Oklahoma during an ice storm that slowed traffic to an excruciatingly slow and dangerous crawl. Luckily, it did not turn out to be any kind of omen. We absolutely loved living in Oklahoma.
  3. Jay went to survival school soon after we moved to Oklahoma—March as I recall. It was the first time I had stayed alone in our apartment overnight, and I was terrified. Don’t know why I was so convinced that I was the one who would not survive those few weeks—after all, it was Jay who was experiencing a prisoner of war simulation . . ..
  4. After about six months of looking and visiting, we joined First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City, the first church we belonged to as a married couple. Seven years later, the sanctuary’s 100+ year old windows were blown out by the explosion orchestrated by homegrown terrorist Timothy McVeigh at the nearby Alfred P. Murrah federal building. That day, 168 people died and 680 more were injured. (Back then, we thought it would be the most tragic event of its kind in our lifetime.)
  5. In the Sunday school class for young couples at FBCOKC, we met a couple who married just five months before we did—Vic and Debbie Averitt. The first time Vic and Debbie invited us to join them for lunch after church, we accepted but we were so nervous! At the time, we were 22 and 24, lived in a just-barely-average two-bedroom apartment, and I was unemployed. Debbie and Vic were in their thirties, owned a beautiful home, and were established in successful careers. What kind of restaurant would such affluent, mature people choose? “I hope this place takes credit cards,” Jay said as we walked to our 1985 Chevrolet Cavalier and they headed over to their Volvo. “I don’t have much cash!” We followed Debbie and Vic to the fine establishment they had chosen: the local version of today’s IHOP. (We didn’t need the credit card.)
  6. Another young couple—fresh grads of Oklahoma State University—joined First Baptist OKC a few months later: Ken and Kimberlee Spady. Ken was beginning his career in agricultural science and Kimberlee studied law at OKC University. Kimberlee’s easy laugh and vivacious personality paired perfectly with Ken’s quiet strength and steady presence. In my memory, our friendship formed instantaneously.
  7. As soon as housing became available at Tinker Air Force Base—around 1990—Jay and I moved from our place at Lakeview Apartments in Northwest OKC, to a three-bedroom house on base. It felt huge! To me, living on base seemed a lot like college life. Everyone was about the same age (not quite adults, but on our way), we shared some communal spaces (officer’s club, BX, etc.), and we had few pressing responsibilities (no mortgages, for example). I loved it.
  8. Jay took up biking in Oklahoma and would go for extended rides of 50-75 miles. Soon, he was participating in triathlons and biathlons around Oklahoma, giving us a great opportunity to see some remote parts of the state. This will surprise all of you readers, but I played the role of spectator, not participant. (You’re shocked, I know.)
  9. After a couple of employment flops, I got a job in Chickasha as a recruiter for the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, “Oklahoma’s ONLY public liberal arts university. Gooooo Drovers!” USAO was a great place to work. The only problem? Chickasha was a 55-minute drive from Midwest City. It got old. Fast.
  10. In 1990, Jay took his first leisure trip to that popular vacation spot known for attracting (or is that attacking?) international tourists. Yep, Jay and hundreds of his closest friends received an all-expenses paid trip to not-terribly-beautiful Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
  11. In November of 1991, you may have noticed that the world was suddenly vastly improved. That would have been when our niece Rachel Elizabeth Webster (now Breckenridge) was born. We met her that December when she was still small enough to fit comfortably in my two hands. My palms still tingle at the memory.
  12. That 55-minute drive I mentioned? It drove me to resign from USAO so I could go back to school and complete my degree before Jay got out of the Air Force in 1992. I finished my MEd at the University of Central Oklahoma in July of 1992, just before we moved back east where Jay would go to NC State for his Master’s in Atmospheric Sciences which he completed in 1994.
  13. In August of 1992, we moved to a tiny apartment (exactly the size of a two-car garage) with a huge monthly rent (and still the cheapest we could find) in Cary, NC. That apartment . . . oh my. It was underneath a large home in a nice neighborhood (as garages so often are). The couple, smiling at each other with pride, told us they had renovated the space themselves. (This explained the mismatched paint, uneven molding, and the lovely rooster motif.) I am certain that the apartment had some insulation. I mean, surely the original builders included a layer above the garage, right? Anyway, we could neither cool the place in the summer nor heat it in the winter. What an adventure!
  14. We bought our first house in Sanford, NC in 1993. Painted pale yellow with black shutters, it had a front porch—swing added—and a big yard. One teensy little drawback—our yard backed up to an elementary school. (I could hear the tardy bell from my kitchen.) Still, it was my favorite house and if it were twice as big and in Asheville, I’d live in it today.
  15. Our three children were all born in the same room at Central Carolina Hospital in Sanford, NC. (Not, however, at the same time.) Trellace, born in 1994, was 3 ½ and Baker was not quite 2 when Margaret joined the family in February of 1998.
  16. For about six years, I worked at Central Carolina Community College. My first supervisor at CCCC was Dr. Matt Garrett. He and his wife Becky had three teens (or almost teens) at the time. We learned so much from the Garretts about so many things: leadership, marriage, parenting, faith, and so much more. Of the many gifts we were given during our time in Sanford, NC, the Garrett family is one of our favorites.
  17. Keisha McLeod Petty and I also worked together at CCCC; having her as a co-worker for those six years is another of God’s gifts to me and my family. The kids grew up knowing and loving her and her husband Jeffrey Petty. A lot has changed for Keisha and Jeff since we moved from Sanford. Through it all, they have become even more beautiful and an even greater example for my family of abiding faith and enduring love.
  18. While in Sanford, Jay and I belonged to First Baptist Church (a recurring association, you’ll notice). We made many great friends there, among them Mark and Traci Willis. We have maintained our friendship with Mark and Traci, raising our families and navigating the complexities of life together. Yet another Sanford blessing!
  19. In May of 1998, Jay left his position with the State of North Carolina to accept a position with the National Climatic Data Center (now National Centers for Environmental Information) in Asheville, NC. From May until October of that year, Jay commuted to Asheville from Sanford. He lived in Asheville Monday through Thursday and spent the long weekend at home in Sanford. That went on for six extra-long months.
  20. We bought our third house in October 1998: 24 Cedar Trail in Asheville. (We’d sold the little yellow one and bought a size larger while we were in Sanford.) Margaret was just shy of nine months old; Baker was 2½ and Trellace was 4½. Our address falls in the A.C.Reynolds/Oakley school district, so approximately five minutes after we moved to Asheville, all three of our kids were attending Oakley Elementary, then ACR Middle, then graduating from ACRHS.
  21. In the fall of 2003, Baker and Trellace both made their professions of faith and were baptized by their Papa, my dad. Margaret was baptized in 2013, also by Papa. Beautiful.
  22. Remember that great trip Jay took back in 1990? It was so much fun that 14 years later he went back to the region for a second vaycay (that time to Tikrit, Iraq as part of the NC Air National Guard). Just before he left, our family joined—you guessed it—First Baptist Church of Asheville.
  23. From 1991 to 2003, our 12 (biological and otherwise) nieces and nephews entered the world. We have seven boys ages 26 to 14 (Cameron, Lane, Jake, Mitch, Connor, Cage, and Banks) and five girls ages 26 to 15 (Rachel, Emma, Meredith, Allie, and Anna Kate). They are all such wonderful people and we are privileged to share their lives.
    While today, all of our nieces and nephews are healthy, their birth stories are not all uneventful:
  • Meredith Averitt, born in 1995 at 25.5 weeks, weighed 1 pound 12 ounces and was about 12 inches long at birth. Her life hung in the balance for months; her identical twin had slipped past earth and gone straight on to heaven. Meredith’s survival, her vitality, brings me to my knees with gratitude.
  • Emma and Mitch Weiss (born 1997 and 1999), both had health concerns at birth due to my sister’s obstetric cholestasis—a liver disease that causes multiple problems, most predominantly chronic and insatiable itching. We could have lost any one of them. It was a harrowing time.
  • From day one, Anna Kate Willis’ gregarious personality and can-do attitude assured all of us that she would triumph over the medical limitations inherent in her cerebral palsy diagnosis.  Through multiple surgeries (we love Shriner’s Hospitals!) and countless therapy sessions, Anna Kate has maintained her strong will and indomitable spirit; at 15 years old, she is strong and independent—spending as much time as possible riding her horse, Houdini. Nieces and nephews: one of our life’s most delightful surprises.
  1. I thought it was cute, certainly nothing upsetting. So, when I was told that almost-3-year-old Baker might have a developmental speech disorder, I thought it was nonsense. I had him professionally evaluated, though, and then reluctantly consented to having him enter speech therapy after his third birthday. I learned that while there are plenty of appropriate developmental speech patterns, Baker’s did not fall within that range. For example, he called Trellace, “Hada” and when he said words that started with “s,” an “f” sound came out (“soft” sounded like “fof”.) Anyway, he had great therapists and after six years, he graduated from the program at 9 years old. (Seeing as now he pretty much uses his voice to make money, I’d say the treatment was effective.)
    Many adorable stories feature Baker’s unusual speech. Here’s one of the favorites. We were at the allergist’s office and had been there for some time. (Both Baker and Margaret had appointments; Trellace was along for the ride.) By the time we left, the kids were tired and hungry. As I was checking out, the clerk offered the children a sweet treat for good behavior. Baker didn’t hesitate to accept, responding loudly with great enthusiasm, “I want a GREEN sucker!” At least, that’s what he meant to say . . ..
  2. When Trellace was 8 years old, she got a bit of a tummy ache which turned out to be appendicitis—a diagnosis that occurred sometime after the appendix ruptured, shortly before the surgery to remove it. Peritonitis, as it turns out, is nasty business. Because of the superb medical care at Mission Hospital, Trellace got better just in time for us to go on our annual trip to The Woodlands, TX to spend Thanksgiving with the Averitt family—a tradition that we kept up for more than a decade.
  3. I had just finished teaching a fitness class and the kids were waiting for me there in the studio at the YMCA when it happened. Suddenly, Margaret began crying out in pain, describing the symptoms of a classic migraine; she was six years old. By that time, she had grappled with asthma for two years. Thanks to modern medicine for quality pharmaceuticals and to chiropractic care for healing adjustments, Margaret keeps both in check these days. Never a pushover, Margaret wasn’t about to let a little bit of neurological distress and respiratory dysfunction slow her down.
  4. This next story spans most of our 30 years of marriage, so allow me to truncate: when I was 42, in January of 2008, I returned to college for the third time, this time to Gardner-Webb University to pursue my Master’s of Divinity. I graduated in December 2010. In Fall 2017, I headed back to Boiling Springs, NC to begin my Doctorate of Ministry which I’ll finish in 2020.
  5. One weekend in the fall of 2011, I was out of town for a speaking engagement. Jay called me to tell me that Baker had gone to the school’s homecoming dance with a girl I had never met. (An aside: apparently my husband had never met ME seeing as he mentioned this casually and in passing. This was Baker’s FIRST date!) A few weeks later, they made it “Facebook official.” That Facebook status didn’t change until March 2017 when Addison Cook said YES to becoming a Lawrimore. (On May 19, 2018, they’ll change their status once more to “married.”)
  6. Our nest emptied out in the fall of 2016 when Margaret went to NC State, following her brother who had gone to UNC Greensboro and her sister who graduated that same year from Georgetown University. As of now, Margaret is a sophomore, Baker is a senior, and Trellace is in the PhD program at New York University.
  7. Both of our sets of parents have passed their 50th Mine are at 57; Jay’s just celebrated their 60th. Despite their share of health complications, all four continue to thrive, a fact that we never take for granted. Jay’s sister Jill and her husband Ted will be married 30 years in January; Aileen’s sister Dawn and her husband Mike are up to 27 years; Hal, Aileen’s brother, and his wife Kim had their 26th anniversary this past December. Add all that up and you’ve got about 200 years of marriage. Makes our 30 seem like just a short chapter in a really long and beautiful love story. We are grateful.
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