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8 lessons from crisis

On Saturday night, June 8, we learned that my husband’s mother was experiencing some new complications and that his dad was getting worried. Things accelerated rapidly, and we lost her Friday, June 14 at about 1:00 pm. Her funeral was Monday, June 17, 2019. It’s been a hard week.

During these difficult days, I’ve learned or affirmed a few timeless truths.

  1. When people are in crisis, making one more decision just heightens stress. Instead of saying, “What can we do for you?” try saying, “We’re bringing food. Would 1:00 be okay?” or “We are mowing your grass today.” or “Could I come stay with your loved one for an hour while you take a break?” This way, fewer decisions must be made and the person can use existing energy to focus on the crisis at hand.
  2. Food is great. Take food. Really. Particularly wholesome foods and things with wide appeal: potatoes, rice, lean meats, whole grain breads, fruits, veggies, salad etc. Doesn’t need to be fancy at all. Just food.
  3. The right thing to say to someone in crisis is usually, “I’m so sorry.” When you find you want to say more, repeat that. After she passed, many people told us Joyce was in a better place as if this was somehow news to us. We know this better than anyone. We don’t need a reminder. That reality fills our brains right beside our grief that is real and lasting. Just tell us you’re sad too and that you loved her. Or just say, “I’m so sorry.” (Then tell us what time you’re bringing dinner.)
  4. There is no point in saying, "Call me if you need anything." Most people I know would never call a person for help, no matter how much you emphasize "ANYthing." Say, "I'll call tomorrow to see what I can do for you." Then call.
  5. Here’s something: the last thing someone needs during a difficult time is to run out of essentials like toiletries, kitchen supplies, or paper goods. When you provide an assortment of these necessary items, you will be assuring that your friend avoids the annoyance of running out of paper towels or toothpaste later. By the way, I don’t think I ever would have thought of this. Someone brought us a basket of these things and it was wonderful!
  6. Milestone moments matter. As we went through pictures for the slide show we played at the visitation, I saw how often my in-laws participated in the big and small moments of our lives and the lives of their beloved grandchildren. Birthday parties, dance recitals, ballgames, and more: they were there. And when they couldn’t attend, they made sure those moments were not forgotten. For example, in 2016, two grands graduated from high school and one from college. We held a mini-graduation ceremony with everyone wearing caps and gowns and processing in to the living room to Pomp and Circumstance. Corny? Maybe. But what a sacred memory that day is now.
  7. Funerals matter. I cannot begin to express what it meant to us to have over 150 people at my mother-in-law’s funeral. Friends, family members, neighbors, and colleagues came to share their condolences. A lay leader from my church represented our congregation, driving the four hours on a Monday to attend. (We were comforted and touched by his presence.) My mother-in-law’s brother (who has lost both of his siblings in just two months) was blessed by the presence of six members of his church which is an hour and a half away. My sister-in-law’s church is across town; her friends were present as well. Church. I just love it.
  8. We can only build or repair relationships with the living. Don’t wait to tell loved ones how you feel about them and don’t allow little disagreements to soil your relationships. Irritating qualities become endearing the very second they are out of reach. Just go ahead and let that stuff go ahead of time.

From Suffering to Hope: The Life of Joyce Lawrimore

It’s been nearly 10 years since Joyce pulled me aside and said, "Aileen, I want to ask you a question. I want you to do my funeral. Would you be willing to do that?"

I said, "Today?!"

Joyce and Aileen June 17, 2017
Joyce and Aileen, June 17, 2017

Indeed, Joyce has been planning her funeral for 10 years. That’s because Joyce Lawrimore did not leave any detail to chance. Her directions to me were that at the graveside service, she wanted Amazing Grace played by Randy Shell on trumpet. At her service, she wanted someone to sing Because He Lives. (Joyce said that when she heard that song the first time, she said, “That’s it! That’s exactly how I feel. Because Jesus lives, I can face tomorrow.) Her main concern, though, was for her service to be short. She said, “Don’t make it long! JB hates long funerals.”

This week, when I mentioned that to JB, he said, "I don't care how long it is!" Anyway, since we've been here longer than 20 minutes, we've already broken that directive.

Oh, she also said, “Don’t make it all about me.”

I said, “Okay great, well, I’ll just go download a generic funeral service and let that be it.”

“Aileen! You know what I mean! You can say a little bit about me, but mainly I want you to make it about Jesus.”

And the thing is, we couldn’t talk about my mother-in-law’s life without talking about Jesus.

Romans 5:1-5

In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, he says this:

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Romans 5:1-5

. . . we also boast in our sufferings . . .

Joyce definitely had her share of sufferings.

I mean, to start with, she was the only girl in the family. Just a few days ago, she told a story from her childhood about her older brother Ernest. It seems he punched her one time and knocked her out cold. Don’t feel too sorry for her though. When she came to, she just lay there for a minute, and didn’t let anyone know she was okay: she was having too much fun listening to Ernie get fussed out by their parents!

At 10 years old, Joyce asked her parents for either a baby sister or a puppy. What did she get? Roger. That’s suffering folks.

When Joyce was just 29 years old--29 years old!--she began noticing multiple health problems. She stumbled inexplicably and experienced weakness in her arms and legs. She sought help from doctors, but it was decades before she got a final diagnosis of muscular dystrophy. By that time, Joyce and JB had found a rhythm in coping with her muscle disease. Together, they brainstormed how to make tiny improvements around their home so that Joyce could remain as independent as possible for as long as possible. JB built portable steps so Joyce could get in and out of the van; he built outdoor stairs half the height of normal ones so she could walk up and down them without fear of falling; he replaced knobs that were too hard for Joyce to turn with levers she could operate. Gadgets, adjustments, tweaks, and quick fixes: these strategies surely added to the quality of her life; but they undoubtedly added to the length of her life as well.

Joyce also sought answers from professionals outside the medical profession, and on one occasion, she reached out to Academy Award Winner, Sir Lawrence Olivier. Joyce heard on the news that Olivier had the same diagnosis that—at the time—she had. She knew that the actor would have access to the best doctors in the world, so she wrote to him and asked what his doctors were advising. He wrote back and his advice contradicted what her doctors were saying: he said she should exercise. At the time, her doctors were telling her to rest her muscles, save them, as it were. Olivier said that the latest research suggested that exercise might build muscle strength, not decrease it. So, Joyce started exercising. I can’t imagine how many years of independence she bought for herself.

And that’s the thing: her suffering produced endurance.

. . . suffering produces endurance . . .

One way she endured her limitations was by staying on top of the details of life. We were here about a month or more ago after getting back from a cruise to Cuba. Jay showed her pictures from our trip, knowing she had gone with her parents 60+ years ago. When she saw the pictures she said, “JB, go in there and get those pictures from Cuba.” Now an aside, Joyce Lawrimore was the exact opposite of a hoarder. She got rid of stuff before it can collect the first speck of dust. So just imagine our surprise when he came back SECONDS later with an envelope labeled Cuba with pictures from the 1950’s!

I’ve never known anyone more organized in my life!

She also drew strength from God’s creation. She loved animals—a love she passed on to her children and grandchildren. She loved seeing the birds outside the kitchen window and the flowers in the garden. And in her later years, she came to enjoy sitting in the sun. Every afternoon, the front door would be opened and she’d motor up as close as she could get to the storm door and soak up the sun. She passed many an hour sitting in that doorway “getting her vitamin D.”

After Joyce passed away, her across-the-street neighbor stopped in for a visit and shared with us something we’d never known. When Dot planned her garden, she thought about what flowers Joyce would enjoy when she sat there in the doorway. Isn’t that something? Joyce’s love for the sun, for nature, made the whole neighborhood more beautiful.

But possibly the most notable evidence of Joyce’s endurance was her legendary tenacity. Persistence. Okay, stubbornness. Y’all. You have not seen immovable until you’ve tangled with Joyce Lawrimore. I’ve said for years that we have had Joyce as long as we did because she was so stubborn. If Joyce did not want to do something, you can bet she would not, under any circumstances, do that thing.

And one thing Joyce did not want to do is to spend money unnecessarily, particularly when it came to inflated medical costs. One time recently when she was hospitalized, the nurse came in and asked her if she needed something to help her sleep. In her previous hospitalization, her insurance had been charged an exorbitant amount for ibuprofen. You can believe that would NOT happen again. She thanked the nurse but told her that wouldn’t be necessary. When the nurse left she turned to Jay with a sly smile and said in a lowered voice, “That’s because I’ve already taken my own medicine that I brought from home.”

joyce and jay in hug
Joyce and Jay

. . . and endurance produces character. . .

See her suffering had produced endurance. And endurance created quite a character!

And yes, part of Joyce’s character was thriftiness. Joyce Lawrimore did not waste money for nobody. But Joyce was also generous. Her generosity grew naturally from her faith. A number of years ago, Joyce considered selling her electric organ. Faced with the decision, she did what she always did: she prayed at length about it. God told her it was time to let it go, so she put an ad in the paper. She figured she’d get a nice little bit of pocket change for it. Well she only got one call. It was from a small church. They came to look at it and it was exactly what they wanted. They’d been praying about it and were thrilled to find what they needed within their budget. So what did Joyce do? She just gave it to them. She figured that’s what God meant all along.

Joyce’s character was also marked by humor. Joyce knew how to take a joke and knew how to make one. Like every family, we have inside jokes that are a part of our family soundtrack. One has to do with her selection of her grandparent name. When Jill was expecting Rachel, she and Ted asked Joyce what she wanted the baby to call her. She said, “I want to be called Grandmama. I do NOT want to be called Granny.” Soooo every time Ted Webster entered her house, he greeted her with “How’s it going Granny!”

But she got in her share of jabs too, her last humorous moment came in her last hours on earth. See, Joyce and JB went to USC and Jay and I leaned more towards USC too. But Ted and Jill have always been Clemson fans and Jake has grown up dreaming of going to Clemson which he will be doing this fall. Jake came into the room to see his Grandmama on Thursday evening. When he walked in, we said, “Look here’s your grandson Jake! He’s going to Clemson!” Joyce knew this because a few weeks ago she and I were talking about how excited we were for him. She was so proud of Jake for pursuing his lifelong dream. By the time he came into the room that Thursday night, she’d already become nonverbal and somewhat unresponsive. But when she heard, “He’s going to Clemson!” She crinkled her nose and furrowed her brow, drawing back in mock horror which we’d have believed if it weren’t for the twinkle in her eyes.

Part of Joyce’s character that I found most amazing was her ability to delight in the joys of others. Though she has not taken food by mouth in more than 10 years, she LOVED hearing about other people’s food delicacies. Though she had not been on a trip of much distance in a long time, she loved to hear about the trips others took. It was a beautiful thing.

. . . and character produces hope. . .

Indeed, just like Paul promised, because of the peace Joyce had in Jesus, her sufferings produced endurance. Endurance produced character, and character produced hope.

Joyce Lawrimore’s greatest hope was centered in Christ, for sure, but Joyce also found great hope in her family.

Jill and Jay, you were beloved by your mother. She’d be the first to tell you not to get the big head or anything because nobody’s perfect. But she’d also tell you that she could not have loved you more. Ted and I have also been loved like her own children.

Rachel, Trellace, Baker, Jake, Margaret: No grandmother has ever enjoyed her grandchildren more. When Rachel was born, Jill told me that her mother said to her mother-in-law, Rachel’s other grandmother, “You know, other grandmothers talk about how beautiful their grandbabies are; but we know that OUR granddaughter surpasses them all!” And y’all: she wasn’t kidding. She was sharing an absolute truth. She loved your little selves and she’s loved every single stage of your lives, embracing Baker’s wife, Addison, and Rachel’s husband, Carson, as if they were her own as well.

In fact, when I spoke with her last Sunday, she knew she was not long for this world and her number one concern was for you. She could not bear the thought of making you sad.

And that points to the fact that she knew that each of you loved her. She knew that because you showed her by your words, your presence, your gifts, your tender care, and your faithful hugs. Part of her legacy to you is unconditional love that you are already giving back to the world. She believed in you. She cherished you. She delighted in you.

But as much as she loved the 11 of us, her favorite person was her husband, JB. She often said that God did not give me MD, but he gave me JB to take care of me. And what a true example of love you have been. Of course, you really just did what you said you would do, what you know she would have done if the situation had been reversed.

You loved each other: for better or worse, in sickness and in health.
You loved each other in aggravation and delight,
in frustration and in amusement,
and in disagreement and resolution.
Your partnership was a beautiful thing.

Together, you showed your family, your church, and your neighborhood what it meant to be devoted to each other.

. . . and hope does not disappoint . . . because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit . . .

Joyce did love her family well. But friends, we all knew, and you did too, that she loved Jesus more. She never doubted her eternal salvation.  We know that she was getting really tired of her earthly body. Today she is healthy and whole. She looked forward to running up and down stairs; eating her mama’s chicken and dumplings and fresh strawberries; and drinking thick vanilla milkshakes. She was ready to be free from her earthly struggles, but she didn’t want to leave anyone behind. She said, “I want you to tell everyone that if they haven’t followed Jesu Christ, don’t wait! Heaven’s going to be wonderful and I want you to be there with me!”

See, Joyce’s suffering produced endurance. Endurance produced character and character gave her hope. And hope did not disappoint. Therefore, since Joyce was justified by faith, she had peace with God through Jesus Christ, through whom she obtained access to this grace in which she now stands on her own; and her one true hope was sharing the glory of God through her life and into eternity.

Let us pray.

Friends, we grieve, but we do not grieve as those who have no hope. Because as we grieve, we celebrate that Joyce has truly fought life's final war with pain and is even now enjoying the lights of glory.

RIP Joyce Lawrimore

On June 14, 2019 at 1:10 pm, Joyce Hinson Lawrimore, 83, drew her last earthly breath and inhaled the sweet fragrance of heaven.

Joyce was born to Ernest M. and Myrtle Laird Hinson in Columbia, SC on April 11, 1936. Her older brother, Ernest, Jr., awaited her arrival, probably already planning a lifetime of pranks and gags. In keeping with their relationship, Ernest went ahead of Joyce through the pearly gates just a few weeks ago, presumably to get prepared for an eternity of brotherly hijinks.

Ten years after Joyce’s birth, she was delighted to learn she was going to be a big sister. She could just imagine all the fun she and her baby sister would have. She couldn’t wait! So, when her parents brought home baby brother Roger, she demanded they take him back! Luckily she did not get her wish. Just weeks before her passing she said, “God gave me two wonderful brothers and I love them both dearly."

After graduating from Columbia High School in 1954, Joyce attended Furman University where she was a member of the Furman Singers. Joyce’s Furman roommate was Sue Johnson of Hemingway, SC, cousin of a certain baseball player from North Greenville College, JB Lawrimore. Sue wins the lifetime achievement medal for matchmaking: Joyce and JB married December 27, 1957.

Joyce and JB transferred to the University of SC to finish their undergraduate studies. After graduating from USC with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Education, Joyce taught typing and shorthand in North Augusta, SC before moving to Greenville, SC. It was there that both of their children were born: Jill Denise (1961) and Jay Hinson (1963). An active member of the Garden Club, the Bridge Club, and their church—Overbrook Baptist—Joyce truly enjoyed living in Greenville.

That is where they were when Joyce, her children just four and two years old, began experiencing muscle weakness and difficulty in walking. She sought answers from doctors, but did not receive a definitive diagnosis until later in life: limb girdle muscular dystrophy. Through the years, Joyce was diligent in seeking the best medical advice and in making changes in her diet, exercise routine, and daily habits. Because of her tenacity and perseverance, she added both quality and quantity to her life. Her family is deeply grateful for her determination. Regarding having lived more than 50 years with her disease, Joyce said frequently, “I’ve never believed God gave me MD. But I know God gave me JB to take care of me.”

Jay and wife Aileen married in November 1987; Jill and husband Ted married in January 1988. For many years, these four believed that Joyce loved them more than she could ever love another living soul. Then came the grandchildren, and the truth was revealed: Joyce’s life joy came in five adored bundles. She attended as many of their special events—sports, drama, dance, music—as physically possible, travelling great distances with much difficulty to see a grandchild doing a favorite thing for mere moments. She planned vacations for the whole family, inviting not just the grandkids, but their parents as well. Whether talking on the phone with them, seeing pictures from their travels, or enjoying face to face visits, Joyce delighted in every moment with her five.

The only thing Joyce was more devoted to than her family was her faith. She spent hours in prayer and Bible study daily and loved Jesus Christ with her whole being. It was this core that steadied her during difficult days, this devotion that gave her the hope that leads to everlasting life.   

Joyce is survived by her beloved husband of nearly 62 years, JB; her brother Roger Hinson and wife Dianne; her sister-in-law Evelyn Hinson; her children, Jill (Lawrimore) Webster and husband Ted, and Jay Lawrimore and wife Aileen. In addition, she is survived by her grandchildren, Rachel (Webster) Breckenridge and husband Carson, Trellace Lawrimore, Baker Lawrimore and wife Addison, Jake Webster, and Margaret Lawrimore. Joyce is also survived by her beloved nieces and nephews and their spouses and children, plus many other family members and friends.

Joyce was preceded in death by her parents and her brother Ernest Jr.

On Monday, June 17, 2019, the graveside service will be held at Lawrimore Family Cemetery in Hemingway, SC at 10:00 am. Visitation will begin at Calvary Baptist Church in Florence, SC at 1:00 pm, followed by a memorial service at 2:00 pm. Memorials may be made to the National Kidney Foundation (https://www.kidney.org/) or to the Muscular Dystrophy Association (www.mda.org)

Liturgical Baptists: We're a thing.

My daddy was an outlier in the early days of his ministry. He did things others would never have even considered. For example, in the 60’s he invited a Nigerian student to preach in his church—a church which had a large percentage of members who were known to don white hoods and burn crosses. For the remainder of Daddy’s time there, he received multiple and frequent threats from the local chapter of the KKK. Before that, he started an AA meeting in the church basement. Daddy wanted to understand AA’s 12 steps so that he could minister more effectively to congregants suffering from addiction. When told by the organizers he could not attend, Daddy explained that he most certainly would and if he had to become an alcoholic to become a member, that he would do just that. (They made an exception.)

Perhaps my Dad’s most brazen undertaking, though, was his effort to introduce his Southern Baptist churches to the liturgical year. See, back in the 70’s, Baptists pushed back hard against anything Catholic. (Wasn’t it enough that the Catholic Kennedys were taking over the government, for goodness sake?) And anything called “liturgical” would HAVE to be Catholic. So, it was pretty bold of Daddy to hold a Maundy Thursday service in his suburban church in the mid 70’s. And by the 80’s, maybe earlier, he introduced Advent to his congregations.

These days, many Baptist churches still ignore the liturgical calendar, using the secular one for worship planning. Cultural icons mark church events: the Easter Bunny hops from the mall to the fellowship hall; Santa leaves his photo booth for the church Christmas party; Mother’s Day and Father’s Day sermons are available by the dozens for download; and American Flags mark the scripture text for Memorial Day, Flag Day, July 4th, and Veteran’s Day . . . at least.

Like my daddy, I prefer the Christian calendar. That calendar begins at Advent with the expectation of the Christ child; proceeds through our Lord’s ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension; continues to Pentecost and the growth of the church; and culminates in Reign of Christ Sunday the week before Advent. The church, therefore, celebrates the life of Christ with at least the same enthusiasm that the world celebrates Valentine’s Day and Columbus Day.

There’s another reason, though, that I’m not big on focusing worship on Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. See, I’ve known too many people who didn’t have parents worthy of celebration. All week month long, those people have seen the ads and displays proclaiming the merits of moms or dads. Its inescapable. Over and over they are reminded of their experience of parental abuse, neglect, or abandonment. Shouldn’t church offer a place of refuge for those suffering souls?

Likewise, there are those who would love to be parents, but are not. Maybe they haven’t found the right partner; maybe infertility plagues them; maybe they’d love to adopt, but do not have the financial stability to start the process. They hope against the odds that one day they will be mothers and fathers; but like every other year, they will not be receiving a handcrafted gift or a homemade card. Shouldn’t they be able to go to church and not face a service designed to celebrate what their heart longs for so desperately?

So, that’s why I stick with the church calendar. It’s hard enough to be “in the world and not of it” with the lines blurred as they are. Why make it worse by secularizing worship?

This Sunday is Father's Day. It's also Trinity Sunday. I'll celebrate both!

karl barth quote

Ministry Matters: EMTs in the Sanctuary

I learned this past Sunday that my friend Dave Miller passed away after a brief illness. Dave was a long-time member of First Baptist Church of Weaverville where I served as Minister with Youth and Children before accepting the call to pastor Ecclesia Baptist in Asheville. The incident I've described in the original blogpost (below) happened four years ago.

Wait--that can't be right . . . It was in February. 2015. So that's only . . . oh. So, yeah, four years.

The interesting thing about the story below is that it's actually the first of at least two similar occurrences when Dave had some sort of minor episode while I was preaching. This odd coincidence led to a running joke.

"I see you're preaching Sunday, Aileen," Dave would say on a Wednesday night at Bible study. (He was never just a Sunday morning church goer.) Eyes sparkling, grin hiding just behind his straight face, he'd quip, "I believe I'll play it safe and just stay home."

Or, "Hey Dave, how are you feeling today? I'm preaching so I just thought I'd check!"

"Well, I'm a little tired, but I'll get a nap during your sermon."

The last time I saw Dave Miller was my last Sunday at First Baptist Weaverville. "You be careful preaching every Sunday! Don't put them to sleep, you hear?" He laughed at his joke and I laughed at him laughing. Then, getting serious, he added, "We're going to miss you honey. We're really going to miss you."

I miss you too Dave. Give my love to Glory, and I'll see you in the sweet by and by.


ministry altar bible

February 5, 2015, Weaverville, NC

I've only been in the vocational ministry for five years, but if you count my nearly 50 years as a preacher's kid, that's a good bit of ministry--or at least church--experience. So I know of what I speak when I tell you that on Sunday, February 1, I came as close to speaking in tongues as I ever have.

I was in the middle of my sermon when an older member of the church who was sitting down to my right, slumped over in the pew. (I told him later that if he didn't want to hear me preach he could just say so and not cause such a stir.) As it turns out, he had a spell related to heart troubles and once the EMT's got things straightened out he was fine.

Anyway, there I was preaching on the weekly lectionary text like a good little girl when Dave keels over. It took me a minute to clue into what was happening but when I did, I turned back to the choir and asked a member who is a nurse to attend to Dave. She got up immediately as did another member in the congregation who is a medical professional. Our pastor, who by God's providence was seated one pew over, went to comfort Dave and his sweet wife of about 60 years.

That left me, mid-sermon, standing at the pulpit in front of a congregation of confusion, fear, and anxiety. I had absolutely no idea what to do.

But the Spirit did. It's a good thing that "the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words." (Romans 8:26) In truth, I remember very little of what I said or did. All of it was Spirit led.

Now, it's true, I was raised in the church and have experienced tense situations before this. I've seen my Preacher Daddy deal with emergencies from the pulpit a time or two and have been in other situations where difficulties arose in unfortunate surroundings.

I've also had classes on crisis management and read books on the same topic. I've studied group dynamics and crowd behavior.

But I'ma tell you right now. The Holy Spirit scooped up all that life experience and book learning and molded it into something far greater than anything I could have accomplished. In the midst of that human crisis, the Spirit interceded and brought Peace to the turmoil.

Hallelujah and to God be the Glory!

Amelia Goyri de la Hoz

Visiting La Milagrosa

On our visit to Havana last week, Jay and I visited the Colon Cemetery, home of the grave of Senora Amelia Goyri. Poor Amelia died in childbirth at just 23 years old; her stillborn son was buried in the same grave at her feet. Her husband, consumed by grief, could not grasp the fact that he had lost his family. He convinced himself that Amelia was only sleeping and had door knockers installed on her tomb. He visited her daily, knocking three times to awaken her and then, when his time was up, backing away from her tomb so that he could keep it within eyesight as long as possible.

Years later, the tomb was exhumed; witnesses claimed that the bodies were in fact not decomposed, and that the baby was now in his mother’s arms. Word spread, and Amelia became known as “The Miracle Woman.” Her tomb was turned into a shrine visited by people from around the world who came—and continue to come today—to ask Amelia for miraculous favors (mainly for the healing of children). Guests often bring gifts to Amelia’s tomb; many of these are a sort of thank you note etched in stone—a permanent acknowledgement that Amelia’s miraculous touch has not gone unnoticed.

I found the site agonizingly poignant. Having loved children who have left this world for the next, I sympathize with these grieving adults who want so desperately to right the incomprehensible wrong of beloved children suffering. I want to knock three times and back away, trusting The Miracle Woman Amelia to take away the pain in the world. I really do wish it were just that simple.

The truth is, though, that we live between the “already” and the “not yet.” We already get glimpses of the new heaven and the new earth where “death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.” We see glimpses that prove that justice really can prevail, that show what God’s love feels like, or that illustrate how it feels to live in the center of God’s perfect will. In those times we are certain of who God is and whose we are. They don’t last long enough though . . . because we just aren’t there yet.

Brokenness remains. Death threatens. Hope falters. Grief lingers. And it can feel like “not yet” really means “no way.” But friends, hear the good news: in Christ there is always a way. In Christ, we are already there.

computer classroom

Public Education: one easy way to help teachers

“I never used to think about retirement,” the teacher said. “I thought I would teach forever. Now though, thinking of retirement is the only thing that keeps me going.”

This teacher—I’ll call her Miss P, short for Miss Pedagogy—has been teaching since 1985. She has a master’s degree in her field and has completed independent study with experts of international acclaim. Long ago she lost track of how much money she has spent on her own continuing education. In addition to those costs, Miss P spends an average of $1000 a year on her classroom. Much of that money goes to student needs and resources that enhance learning.*

“I love teaching. I love my students; I even like most of them,” Miss P said, chuckling the way you do when something used to be funny, but isn’t anymore. Her attempt at levity flattened as she continued. “But I can’t do it anymore. I just can’t.”

Those who know the life of teachers could guess possible reasons.

  • Declining benefits, lengthening school year, stagnant wages.
  • Shortened lunch and planning periods, increased class size.
  • More and more assessments, less and less time to teach an ever expanding curriculum.

Indeed, these things are frustrating for Miss P, but not frustrating enough to make her leave the career she loves. She talked about how expectations of parents and administrators have changed over the years. In fact, let’s just think for a minute about what we, the consumers of public education, expect from our teachers. We expect them to

  1. Come to school early or leave late in order to tutor our children.
  2. Sponsor clubs and organizations relevant to their subject (or to our student’s interest).
  3. Take our money for tickets and concessions at our children’s extracurricular sports events.
  4. Attend at least some of these sporting events.
  5. Chaperone school dances.
  6. Attend competitions such as Science Fair, History Day, Band Contests, and Odyssey of the Mind.
  7. Take our children on field trips that exceed the limits of the school day.
  8. Take our children on overnight, multi-day learning excursions. (Miss P, like many of her colleagues, has taken kids on international trips during her own spring break.)
  9. Meet us for parent conferences when our work schedule allows—typically long before or way after school hours.
  10. Put our children’s needs before their own families’ needs (see 1-9 above).

Oh. We also expect them to take a bullet for our kids if some maniac comes onto the campus brandishing assault weapons. And do you know what? I am positive that nearly every teacher I know would do just that. Miss P certainly would.

But it’s not these expectations that have caused Miss P to spruce up her resume and scan websites for job openings. Nope. It’s something else.

“The thing is,” she told me, “no one ever gives me the benefit of the doubt anymore. Not the parents, not the administrators, and certainly not the school board. There’s this assumption that I’m going to harm the children in some way; that I am the enemy, not the advocate, of students. It’s exhausting.”

Here's what I think. I think teachers should receive higher pay and better benefits; and I think we ask way too much of our educators. We need to address these things and correct them. Period. And in the meantime, let's start with this: respect. Seriously, let’s just go ahead and treat our teachers like the professionals they are. The average teacher is an enthusiastic expert in her field, not a mediocre bureaucrat manipulating the system of tenure. Despite her dwindling wages, she works long hours and attends school events after work and on weekends and (get this) loves doing it. Extraordinary!

Can we please stop talking about the occasional incompetent teacher as if she is the norm? Click To Tweet

So, can we please stop talking about the occasional incompetent teacher as if she is the norm? Instead, let's give our teachers the benefit of the doubt; let's start saying “Thank You," and “I'd like to help.” Seems to me that's the least we can do for those who daily give their lives—both literally and figuratively—for our children.[bctt tweet="So, can we please stop talking about the occasional incompetent teacher as if she is the norm? Instead, let's give our teachers the benefit of the doubt; let's start saying “Thank You," and “I'd like to help.” Seems to me that's the least we can do for those who daily give their lives—both literally and figuratively—for our children."

*Some of Miss P's money goes to cleaning supplies. At her school, the maintenance staff does little more than trash collection in individual classrooms (budget cuts, you know). Plus, her school is infested with mice. She’s complained for years, for more than a decade actually, about the ubiquitous mouse poo that testifies daily to the pests’ presence. Until she gets an active response, Miss P will try to keep the room as clean as possible in an effort to deter those furry little delinquents. All in a day’s work.

This post was originally published April 4, 2014 and titled "Teaching: Miss P's Retirement Rationale"

Evangelism According to Me

Back in the 70's and 80's, religious tracts were printed by the truckload for eager evangelists--many of them Baptists--itching to bring the masses to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Back then, we followed a sort of scare-them-out-of-hell methodology that led to high numbers of front porch conversions, if not long-term transformation.

religious tract

In time, many practitioners realized that this eternal damnation avoidance strategy wasn't exactly life-giving. This understanding led to an opposite mentality: best not to mention Jesus at all than to scare people into false faith. (All or nothing thinking. It's caused its share of problems.)

Here the good news: there is a middle ground. Think about it: we aren't scared of sharing good news in general. For example, I think everyone should try the restaurant Nine Mile. I don't try to find out if they like Caribbean food before I recommend it either. It's a fantastic restaurant in my opinion, and I want everyone to enjoy it as much as I have. I feel that way about the Biltmore Estate too. And also Disney World. And the movie Finding Nemo. I realize that some of these things are quite pricey and will require some sacrifice for people to enjoy them, but that doesn't keep me from encouraging people to try experiences that have given me joy.

Even so, I don't go through the neighborhood, ringing doorbells, and asking people if they've ever been to Nine Mile. I don't stop people in Aldi and suggest they make a plan now to get to Biltmore Estate during this lifetime. And I don't foist free copies of Finding Nemo on perfect strangers, promising them that this movie will make their lives better (it would of course, but still . . . ). However, if I'm in a relationship with you, I'm eventually going to mention my favorite restaurants, vacation spots, and movies. And if we are really close, I'll do my best to see that you get to enjoy those things at some point, preferably with me. 

To me, evangelism is like that. Because I love church, I want everyone to experience it. Because I love Bible study, I want others to study with me. And because I have found meaning, truth, hope, and joy through my faith in the triune God--Creator, Son, Holy Spirit--I want people I know and love to join me on this faith journey: not because they are scared they will burn in hell, but because they are drawn into the sacred Love of God.  

Palm Sunday 2019

Celebration & Sadness: Palm Sunday 2019

From the 1957 Broadway production of West Side Story

When I was a teenager, I saw the movie West Side Story for the first time. This Romeo and Juliet remake is the 1961 film adaptation of a Broadway play by the same title. The first time I saw the movie, I didn’t know how it would end so it caught me off guard. (SPOILER ALERT: It was a Romeo and Juliet remake, for goodness sake!)

It is bitterly sad, but the music is so delightful—plus, it stars Rita Moreno and Natalie Wood—so I allowed myself to watch it a second time. I figured since I knew the ending, it would not be as hard to watch. But knowing in advance was so much worse! I kept bracing myself for the heartbreaking end; I couldn’t enjoy the music as much because I knew that the singing would come to a painful stop. I put myself through that madness more times than I want to admit; each time, the sense of foreboding deepened. And each time I wished that the ending somehow could be different.

Palm Sunday is kind of like that for me. I love seeing the kids waving the palms and celebrating the triumphal (ish) entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. It’s just that I know what’s coming. I know that Jesus has a long week ahead that will not be marked by praise and thanksgiving, but by violence and rejection. I keep bracing myself for the coming trial and crucifixion.

I want to shout to Jesus, perched as he is on his juvenile mount, “Don’t believe it! It’s not real! They'll turn against you Jesus! Run while you still can!”

But then I hear Jesus reach through time, whispering, “Stop and listen! Listen to the joy. Listen to the hope. Yes, pain is coming. There will always be pain. But in this moment, lift your voice and sing! Sing because you can. Sing with all creation. Sing, because there will be plenty of time for weeping. Today, we celebrate!”

canoe and mountain

CBFNC 2019: Canoeing the Mountains

On March 28, I joined other leaders in Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina (CBFNC) as we listened to Dr. Tod Bolsinger share wisdom he presented in his book Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory (IVP Books, 2015).

Bolsinger’s book had been recommended to me by many when I began my ministry with Ecclesia Baptist in August 2018. I downloaded the audio version and listened to it right away, finding it both insightful and compelling. In Canoeing the Mountains, Bolsinger uses the metaphor of the Lewis and Clark Expedition (in search of a northwest water route in the 19th century) to explore church leadership in the 21st century.*

For today’s church, our “canoes” are practices that have brought us success in the past; our “mountains” are the conditions that were not present at all in earlier seasons of the church. The current frustration of attracting young people to church serves as a great example. Back in the 1970’s, for many of us, church was THE only activity; in 2019, the buffet of extracurriculars is endless. When I was a teen, a church could get a new ping-pong table and attract a crowd of students instantly; today, churches are giving freebies to kids and youth to entice them to go on a free trip to an indoor trampoline park—and even these tactics fail to impact weekly attendance.

So how do we change this? That’s exactly what Dr. Bolsinger discussed at last week’s meeting. First, he noted what does not bring about change.

  • Fear. On the Sunday following the tragedy of September 11, 2001 U.S. churches were overflowing. Just one year later, church attendance was at an all-time low.
  • Facts. Raise your hand if you know how to eat right and exercise. Now keep your hand up if you always do all those things. Exactly. (Same is true for any unhealthy habit. The knowledge that it is unhealthy does not usually bring about lasting change.)
  • Force. Bolsinger shared a fascinating statistic: when told by doctors to change their behaviors or die, 90% of patients do not make the necessary changes. Doctors can’t force us to make healthy choices, no matter how much they threaten us.

Bolsinger then talked about what does bring about change.

  • Relate. Hearing each other’s stories helps us to understand one another and thereby change our approaches accordingly.  (For example, take a person who is highly critical of those who come into the country without legal documentation. Pair them with a person who has traveled that path. As they share their stories, understanding can result, which could lead to a change in behavior.)
  • Repeat. Facts may not bring about change, but they do make us aware of what we might need to do to change. The way to achieve permanent change is to repeat a new behavior until it is a habit. (For example, think of the person who goes to class but does not understand the subject matter. The student keeps going, keeps doing the assignments, keeps asking questions. In time, the student learns the content thanks to repeating it in a variety of ways over time.)
  • Reframe. When we think of things in a new way, we can bring about change. (For example, imagine the church that thinks the only way to grow is to draw people into its building. They decide that maybe they could, instead, go where people are already gathering. By relating to these communities and repeatedly visiting them in their own settings, the church begins to experience new growth.)

Bolsinger reminded us that change typically does not come about quickly. That is, it is more akin to the slow-cooker simmer than to the microwave zip and zap. In that same vein, he said that effective church leadership grows from a mindset that causes us to “Stay calm, stay connected, and stay the course.”

Bolsinger’s presentation—and his book—contained much more insight than the bits I’ve highlighted here. And, I think all leaders facing unfamiliar circumstances (whether in the church or elsewhere) will find helpful guidance here. Check it out and let me know what you think.

*Lewis and Clark sought a water route through the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase and were therefore equipped with canoes and the necessary tools for a water journey; instead, they encountered the Rocky Mountains and had to form new plans in order to progress.