This piece appeared first as my July column for Baptist News Global. You'll find the full text at the link below.
Source: Amazing grace: Settling a troubled soul – Baptist News Global
When I stepped onto her hall, I could see her slippered feet just outside the door frame of her room. In her wheelchair, she rocked heel to toe, toe to heel, back and forth and back again.
“Hey, there,” I said, crouching to her height and attempting to push her chair back so I could get into the room. (Imagine a 5’4” duck wearing jeans and a tie-dye T-shirt pushing a wheelchair backwards; you get the picture.) I managed it, then pulled a stool right up next to her chair so I could speak directly in her ear. Nonagenarian ears aren’t especially known for their acuity, you know.
She does not know me; when I began my job at her church, she was already at the point of needing care. . . .
“You know that trick where a person pulls the tablecloth off of a table set with fine china, leaving everything standing as if it hadn’t been touched?”
This was to be our final staff meeting as a team. Dr. Jim McCoy had been at First Baptist Church of Weaverville, N.C., since 1997; his retirement meant the coming Sunday would be his last as our pastor. Our administrative assistant was expressing her feelings regarding the inevitable . . . . (continue reading at Ready or not, church, change is coming – Baptist News Global)
They had already been married six years by then, so it caught her completely by surprise. It was 1931 and they lived in Brazil at the time, far away from the small towns in South Georgia where they spent their respective childhoods.
Grandmama's ring visible on her left hand in this photo from September 1989
“He just tossed it over to me.” Grandmama loved to tell the story. “Just tossed it! The diamond only--it was in a little pouch of course; else I guess we would still be looking for it!” Grandmama laughed easily, particularly at her own jokes. “Asked me did I want to get it made into a ring.” She’d be fiddling with her ring by this point in the story, moving it this way and that so her diamond would catch the sunlight and throw it all over us. “Can you imagine? When I’d never seen something so pretty in my life.” The way she looked at it even then told us she hadn’t found anything yet that could top it. “Your Granddaddy wadn’t one to go and buy gifts much, so I told him right quick that I sure did want him to have it set into a ring!”
I heard the story nearly every year of my childhood. Grandmama loved that ring; I am certain I never saw her without it. She wore it with great joy and pride for more than sixty years until her passing in 1994, five years after Granddaddy died. She left her ring to my mother who wore it with as much love as her mother had.
My mother’s attachment to the ring extended far beyond the monetary value and physical beauty of it. That ring was a symbol for her parents, their love for each other, and their devotion to the family that grew out of that love. Mother wore it all the time. She was wearing it each time she welcomed a new grandchild (a total of eight in as many years). She was wearing it when she and Daddy celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. And she was wearing it in January 2015 when she had an allergic reaction to a medication that resulted in an urgent 911 call.
The first-responders got Mother stabilized and out of immediate danger, but that did not alleviate her own sense of impending doom. As her heart raced and her breathing slowed, she fought to stay conscious while the EMT’s strapped her to a stretcher and carried her to the ambulance, bound for the closest hospital.
Her throat and tongue were too swollen for her to speak audibly, but she remembers crying out in her own mind, “I need to tell someone that I want Baker to have my mother’s ring!” She had made the decision, but had not yet told anyone, not even Daddy. She was terrified that she would die without anyone knowing.
Mother (who the grandkids call Gangi—which sounds kind of like “Angie” except “Gangi” is pronounced with two hard G’s) and her oldest grandson (Baker) have always had a close relationship. She stayed with us for three weeks after his birth and spend much of that time holding our cuddly boy. As he grew, Baker continued to look forward to his time with Gangi. Whenever she was around, he had what he called “a hug attack.” Actually, preschool Baker’s speech was hardly decipherable; his malady sounded something like “uh hud atat,” making the condition all the more adorable. Back then, he would climb onto her lap and snuggle in until the attack subsided. Relapses were common and frequent and Gangi was always willing to administer the necessary treatment.
It was this special connection—one that neither has outgrown—that prompted Mother’s desire to give Baker Grandmama’s cherished ring. Once she recovered from her near-death experience, she put it in writing that Baker was to receive the ring. That summer, she told him that she wanted to give it to him and that he could fashion it in any way he wished for the girl of his dreams. By that time—Summer 2015—Baker and Addison had been dating for over three and a half years. Mother already loved Addison and though she didn’t tell Baker then, it was Addison’s hand that Mother hoped to see adorned with the ring. (Only time would tell.) She told Baker that whenever he was ready, she would give it to him. In December 2016 at the annual Christmas visit, he went to her privately and said “Gangi, I would like to have the ring!”
I asked her how she felt about the whole thing, wondering if she questioned her decision or if she missed having the ring on her own hand.
“Oh no! I am completely happy about it,” she replied. “My heart is absolutely filled with joy knowing that this precious ring will be carried on into another generation. My parents were married 65 years and it would mean so much to them that their commitment to marriage and family continues in this way. They would be just thrilled that their beautiful diamond now glistens on the hand of their great-grandson’s fiancé.” Mother, unabashedly biased, added, “And I KNOW they would LOVE Addison!”
“How would it be if I proposed tomorrow night?”
The question of how and when to propose was one my son, Baker, and I had discussed a number of times over the previous three months. The logistics were the problem. While Baker and his girlfriend, Addison, are from the same hometown, they go to universities in two different cities. Also, Baker wanted his sisters home for the proposal, but one works full-time and lives in DC and the other is away at college. Plus, Baker needed to talk with Addison’s parents; but he rarely comes home and never without Addison. Talking with them without her knowledge would be quite a feat.
At the time of his question—Thursday night around 10 pm—Baker and Addison had been home for only about five or six hours. Neither of his sisters were in town and he still hadn’t talked to Addison’s parents.
Baker did already have the ring*, though; in fact, he’d had it pretty much since Summer 2015. Back then, my mother had offered him her mother’s diamond ring. She told Baker just to let her know when he was ready to propose and the ring would be his to redesign in whatever way he chose. So, Christmas 2016, he asked her for the ring; the two of us went to Jewels that Dance in January.
“Addison had specific ideas about what she wanted in an engagement ring,” Baker told us the next night after the deed had been done.
“We made it a game!” Addison explained. “I would show him a ring and tell him what I liked about it. Then I would ask him to guess what I didn’t like about that particular ring. It was really fun!”
“We played it a lot.”
“Because it was fun!”
“It was more fun for her than for me.”
So, using the diamonds from my grandmother’s ring, Baker (in collaboration with the jeweler) designed the ring with the round cut solitaire in the center and six of the diamond accents on the band. Between the accent diamonds, he had the jeweler fashion a palm branch.
“I’d seen people put symbols on their rings that represent their relationship,” Baker explained to the group gathered in our family room post-proposal. “And of course I could have put a music symbol because that is certainly something that is characteristic of our relationship.”
They’d met in the high school marching band. Addison became drum major her senior year, and Baker earned the role the next year when he was in 12th grade. Baker went on to major in music and Addison continues to participate in the music programs at her university and church.
“But really, I wanted something that represented our faith, because as important as music is to us, our faith is certainly more central to who we are as individuals and as a couple,” Baker explained. “The palm branch was an early Christian symbol. That’s why you’ll see it as an architectural motif at First Baptist of Asheville.”
Baker and Addison are both members and active participants of FBCA. Last summer, they were interns there—Addison with the children’s programs and Baker with the music ministry. The church has had a major impact on their lives and their relationship. The palm branch represents both their faith and their home church: a perfect addition!
But back to that Thursday night. Baker got busy making calls and forming a plan. Fortunately, everything worked in his favor. Addison slept late Friday morning—something she rarely does. Her parents’ schedules were flexible enough that he was able to talk with them before she awakened. We already had plans to go out to eat—the two of them and both sets of parents—to celebrate Baker’s 21st birthday (a week late). From that, he pulled together as many of their traditions as he could fit in one day.
Awkward first photo, before they actually started dating. Homecoming Dance 2011.
You should know that they started dating when he was 15 going on 16 and she was 16 going on 17. (They are now 21 and almost 22.) On their first date, they went to Brixx; for their first Valentine’s Day, Baker gave her a bear (dressed—naturally—in a baker’s outfit) from Build-a-Bear. Every year on their anniversary, they go to Brixx; to date, Addison has six Valentine’s Day Build-a-Bears. And not so much tradition as habit—they often have reason to stop by First Baptist.
Hold up. Let’s just pause for a minute and picture 15-year-old Baker going into Build-a-Bear, choosing a teddy bear, going through the whole process of stuffing it, then picking out an outfit for it and dressing it. If that weren’t enough, then he had to walk back through the mall carrying the signature Build-a-Bear box. Yep. He did that.
Anyway, after talking with Addison’s parents Friday morning, Baker went over to Build-a-Bear. He left with an adorable bear—filled to just the right level of fluffiness (he’s an expert by now)—dressed in a bridal gown, complete with veil and sparkly shoes. My job was to order desert pizza from Brixx to have at home for the post-proposal celebration. (We were optimistic about a positive result!) Baker then called FBCA to make sure he could access their Sacred Garden that evening. A dear friend served as Baker’s accomplice; while we were at dinner, she would go to the Sacred Garden to set everything in place. The night before, Baker had contacted several close friends and his younger sister. They would be at our house by 10 pm to celebrate with the newly engaged couple. (Shout out to the world’s best millennials for making the four-hour drive with less than 24 hours’ notice!)
When we finished dinner, we parents said we would wait for the bill, asking Baker if he and Addison would go on home to let our dog out. He agreed, but just needed to run by the church and “pick up organ music he had left there” (wink, wink). Once there, rather than go in where they usually did, Baker suggested they just cut through the Sacred Garden and enter through the door on the other side.
“What’s that?” Addison asked when she saw something unusual set up in the Garden.
“I don’t know. Let’s go check.”
“It looks like a shrine to a teddy bear!” (The wind had blown Teddy’s veil up, giving it a shadowy and slightly eerie appearance. Not exactly the effect Baker had in mind!)
They approached, Baker went down on one knee, Addison squealed (repeatedly), Baker proposed, and Addison said yes.
“So,” I asked her as I looked at the ring sparkling on her left hand. “How did Baker do?”
“It’s prettier than anything I could have imagined!” she said.
“Yes!” Baker said, clinching his fist in victory.
(Wedding date yet to be determined, but it will be sometime after Addison gets her next Valentine’s Day bear.)
*Want to know the beautiful back story on the ring? Click here for the rest of the story!
It’s one of the few aspects of my life in which I maintain some degree of consistency, predictability if you will. Every six months. Like I’d planned it or something . . . which, let’s face it—we’re talking about me here—so we all know that didn’t happen.
Before I tell you, you have to promise me that you won’t offer me any tips on how to fix this problem. Whatever suggestions you have, I’ve tried it. I might even be doing it right now.
- They are on a lanyard.
- The lanyard is bright red and thus highly visible.
- Of course I use the remote to lock the door (almost) every single time.
- My Honda Civic won’t even let me lock it if the keys are in the ignition, so that’s impossible (these days).
I mean, there was that one time before I had the Civic . . .. It’s my husband’s favorite story to tell on this topic. One evening, he arrived at the Y a half an hour or so after the children and I did and parked near where I had parked. As he got out of his car, he thought he heard our van running. He walked closer and sure enough, it was; but when he tried to open the door, no luck. Oh yeah. I had left the keys in the ignition, the car turned on, air conditioning blaring, and locked the doors. (I only did that once, though.)
So back to my most recent keys-locked-in-car episode.
I’d gone to the post office just five miles from where I live. On the way, I was tuned into a great podcast on my ipad. I parked, took my keys out of the ignition, and continued listening. I was so distracted that I forgot to put the lanyard around my neck (don’t judge). When I came to a good place to pause, I grabbed my purse, locked the door, and got out of the car, shutting the door behind me.
“No no no no no!” Yes. Every door locked up tight as a drum, my bright red lanyard and attached keys sitting there on the passenger’s seat.
I went into the Post Office, mailed my letters, then went back to my car and called Triple A. (I get extra points here for having my phone with me AND my Triple A card—mark it down.)
“We’d be happy to help you with that ma’am. It looks like the estimated arrival time on that will be . . .”
About an hour and a half. Good grief. Ugh! What in the world would I do while I waited?
Then I saw the Terminex guy at his truck.
“Hey! You don’t have a slim jim in there do you?”
“As a matter of fact I do,” he told me, reaching back in to grab it. “I got it because my wife locks her keys in the car a lot.” (Smarty pants.)
Anyway, this fella was kind enough to break into my car for me. It took him twenty minutes and after five I started telling him not to worry about it that I’d just wait for Triple A.
“I’m not in any hurry. All done for the day. Plus it’s a puzzle for me now,” he said. “Can’t let it beat me!”
As he worked we joked a bit about his future as a car thief and my proficiency for locking my keys in vehicles. We chatted about the weather, the weekend, and other mundane topics. When he popped the lock, I cheered, he grinned, and that was that. I offered him $20 for his time, but he wouldn’t take it.
“Just let me do something nice for somebody, how about it?”
I protested, he refused. I thanked him, and we parted ways—him to go home to family, me to call Triple A and cancel my request. End of story.
He didn’t ask me who got my vote last November; I didn’t ask him who he supported. Maybe we voted for the same person; maybe we didn’t. But in those moments, the United States of America was truly great and the two of us were absolutely stronger together.
How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!
Church services cancelled due to the weather? Well, don't let that stop you from connecting with your church family. Here are just a few home activities you might consider:
- Use the pictorial directory as a prayer list. (Know families who aren't in the directory? Add them too!)
- Visit the church website and listen to recorded services.
- Write encouraging notes to church family members.
- Live close to church friends? Hold home church. Early Christians often included a meal with any communal worship experience. Invite friends over to share food and fellowship.
- Use the latest bulletin or newsletter and prayerfully consider upcoming events.
- Make a call. (This is one day when using your cell phone during church is allowed.) Who do you know who hasn’t been to church lately? Give them a call and let them know you care.
- By yourself? Consider calling a church family member, put the phone on speaker, and hold a virtual worship service. Share scripture, prayers, and even hymns together.
- And if you are going virtual, maybe you could have church through some form of video chat. In fact, you could video chat while listening to the sermons your church has online.
Other ideas? Tell us in the comment section.
When the sun comes back out, you might even continue some of these practices outside the worship hour. Still, nothing can replace face-to-face connection long-term; so, when you have the opportunity, get back to worship. We are better when you are with us.
One more thing. Did you know that whenever a church cancels services, its budget suffers? People just forget to send in their contributions; it’s not intentional. (Which is why I actually use automatic withdrawal—not an ideal solution as I prefer giving my offering at church, but I’m just too scatter-brained to be consistent any other way.) So, here’s your reminder: whether you go to church or not, send your offering. The church finance committee will thank you.
Yesterday, I posted about a recent retreat where I preached on the Good Samaritan eight times in four days. Having studied the text deep and wide, I wrote a modern version of the parable to share with the students in worship. It was a good exercise for me--and I thought you might find it helpful as well--to remember that compassion really can transcend any boundary.
Then the president of the Woman’s Missionary Alliance stood up to test Jesus. "Jesus," she said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" (And everyone around got all quiet and listened because frankly, they were surprised that she had to ask such a question. Everyone knew that! For heaven’s sake, those words were printed on the city light poles, on banners at the local schools, and on the brand new welcome sign down at the local lake. It was so important, that they’d made it the town mission statement. What was she up to?)
And Jesus said to the her (without any sarcasm in his voice at all), "Well, sister, what is our mission statement? How do you interpret it?"
She answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself."
Jesus responded, "Yep! That’s it! Just do that, and you will live a life that glorifies God not just now but for all eternity."
She had another question, though. "But Jesus. Exactly who would you say is my neighbor?"
Jesus said, “Let me put it to you like this:
"A business man was in the habit of exercising after work. At the office, he’d change from business attire to gym clothes, place his valuables in his backpack, and walk over to the downtown YMCA for a work-out before going home. One night, as he headed back to his car over near his office, he was jumped from behind and mugged. They stole all his credit cards, his iPhone, and his laptop. Then, they beat him and left him--broken, bloody, and unconscious--to die.
“Now by chance, the senior pastor of World’s Biggest Church was leaving a ministry meeting in the city and happened to walk right by the unconscious man. The thing was though, he still needed to update WBC’s website and Facebook page before he could go home; he hurried on to his office, asking Siri to remind him to look into the matter later.
“Likewise, the leader of the homeless ministry happened upon the injured man; of course, any other time, she would have stopped. (She would have!) But that night, she was on her way to B-SUB (Bible Study Under the Bridge), and she knew there would be a big crowd waiting on her. She kept walking.
“Then, an Afghan Muslim came along. When he saw the man, his eyes filled with tears, and he knelt beside the man. He noticed the guy’s t-shirt: torn and bloodied, it’s campaign slogan appeared even more hateful. No matter, the Muslim carefully removed his own head scarf, folded it, and used it as a pillow for the man’s head; then he took off his cloak and carefully draped it over him. The Muslim called 911, remained with the man while awaiting the EMT’s, then followed the ambulance to the hospital. Once they arrived and he saw that the man was getting the appropriate care, the Muslim stopped by the front desk. He gave them his credit card information to cover the man’s medical expenses and his cell phone number just in case there were any additional needs he might address.”
So, Jesus asked the woman, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who was mugged?”
And the woman said, “Um, well, in that story, I guess it would be the . . . uh . . . the one who showed him mercy."
Jesus said to him, "Mercy. That’s it. Mercy.”
Imagine preaching on the same parable, to the same group of 75-100 people, eight times in a row, in just four days. Now imagine that group being made up mostly of adolescents ages 12-18.
Yep. That was me.
Be jealous. Be very jealous! (Seriously. It was fantastic! Shout out to Kaitlin Mundy for the connection.) I loved it! I had a wonderful time with the kids and I gained lots of new insight into Jesus’ parable, The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).
For example, the road between Jericho and Jerusalem—it’s crazy steep; like over half a mile descent in just 15-20 miles. Also, it was widely known as a danger zone; robbers hung out there all the time. And did you know that it was not uncommon for priests and Levites to live in Jericho and work in Jerusalem, travelling that road to get from home to temple and back again? (I didn’t.) Oh, and the answer that the lawyer gives to Jesus? It’s a verse from the Shema (a passage from Deuteronomy that all good Jewish children learned from birth) paired with a passage from Leviticus (equally well known to the associates of Jesus).
Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Deuteronomy 6:4
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. Leviticus 19:18
Then there’s this: 2 Chronicles 28:5-15 a text that Jesus most definitely knew when he told the story of The Good Samaritan. Read it when you can, but for the moment, let me just summarize it for you. Some soldiers from the North (the Kingdom of Israel—capital city, Samaria) captured a whole bunch of folks from the South (the Kingdom of Judah—capital city, Jerusalem). They weren’t nice to them. God didn’t like that. So God callied a guy named Oded to shake his prophetic finger at Israel and tell them to straighten up, dadgumit. The offending soldiers, Samaritans, responded like this:
“. . . those who were mentioned by name got up and took the captives, and . . . they clothed all that were naked among them; they clothed them, gave them sandals, provided them with food and drink, and anointed them; and carrying all the feeble among them on donkeys, they brought them to their kindred at Jericho, the city of palm trees. Then they returned to Samaria.” (2 Chronicles 28:15)
Crazy, right? Could it be that Jesus, a lifelong student of scripture, took an ancient story and repurposed it for first century listeners? I mean, we can’t know for sure, but what a cool thing to consider, right?
Make you want to burst out in song? Go ahead!
“The B-I-B-L-E! Yes, that’s the book for me!” (Join me now!)
“I stand alone on the Word of God! The B-I-B-L-E!”*
I do so love Bible study. During those focused days, I learned lots of little details and interesting facts about The Good Samaritan. I also learned something far more important. You see, I’ve read this parable many times in my 51 years, but only now have I realized that I had misunderstood something about Jesus’ answer. See, in my mind, Jesus said that the people you serve (the people in need--those people) are your neighbors. But that’s not what the parable teaches. No. Jesus says, “Neighbors are those who act with compassion.” Neighbors, according to Jesus, are people who actually see need and respond. Neighbors are those who cross boundaries to show compassion. Neighbors are ones who behave as if your value is equal to their own.
Do you want eternal life? Jesus says to love God so much that your heart spills over with that love and splashes up on your neighbor; because loving others is how you get to experience the Kingdom of God—on earth, just as it is in heaven.
That, as they say, will preach!
*Want to sing the whole song? Here you go. You're welcome.
Each month, I write a column for the Baptist News Global. This month, I wrote about a growing group of preachers who are unfamiliar to many Baptists. To read the column, click here. Then hang around over there at baptistnews.com for great articles on issues that really matter.