screen time

4 applications & a website I use regularly

Since we’re all quarantined and probably looking at screens a lot, I thought I would share four applications that I use everyday and one website I use way more than my bank account would like. Here you go!

way of  life screen shot from apple
This is clearly not a screenshot from my phone.
I have no desire ever to give up soda.

Way of Life: This is one from the class of applications called “habit makers.” I got the pro version after using the free app and finding it an effective way to keep myself accountable. It’s not complicated to use, just enter the habit you want to track, then mark your progress every day. Your choices are “yes,” “no,” “skip,” or “erase” (the last for when you input wrong data). That’s it. The pro app has no limits on the number of habits you can track: I currently have 18. My list includes things that don’t come naturally for me (like uncluttering); things that should not be hard for me, but are (like putting my glasses in the case at the end of the day); chronic struggles I will always need extra motivation to achieve (flossing, amirite?!); and lots of wellness related goals (like exercising, tracking food choices, and more). If nothing else, the app helps me remember to do things I think are important but frequently forget (like daily sunscreen). I rarely do everything on the list, but I frequently get 80%. Plus, I’ve made my optician, my dental hygienist, and my dermatologist very happy. #worthit

Verses: This is actually one of the daily goals on my Way of Life App—using my Verses App. This is admittedly a niche app and certainly not for everyone as it is a scripture memory app. It’s certainly useful for me, though. I input my weekly sermon text and work on it a little each day (thanks to the Way of Life app). There are several activities (loosely defined as games) that lend themselves to scripture memorization and I find them motivating. In addition, there are a number of biblical literacy tools including an activity to help you memorize the order of the books of the Bible: simply sort the scrambled list of books in the Old Testament or the New Testament. I bought the pro version of this app because I wanted to add other versions of scripture. You might be fine with the free ones, but I wanted to branch out a bit.

JustDanceNow: I loved Just Dance back in our Wii days. Now there is an app! You connect to a screen (I use my laptop) and use your smartphone as the controller. The free app gives you like three songs or something like that. I am trying out a short-term membership to see if I use it enough to merit a longer subscription. So far, I’m finding it fun and a great distraction. It’s not the hardest workout I’ve ever done, but it gets my heartrate into the fat-burning zone, so it’s not nothing either. Give it a try!

BookOrganizer: The free version of this app was just enough to tease me. I bought the complete app almost immediately, but y’all! This is fantastic! See, I have been known—on occasion—to purchase second copies of certain books. It happens like this: I hear about a book that sounds great, I buy it online, put it on the to-be-read shelf (“shelves” if I’m honest), and forget I’ve purchased it.

POINT OF CLARIFICATION: Yes, Sassafras, I HAVE heard of libraries. It turns out, when you are me, it is cheaper (and a whole lot less stressful) to purchase books (see below) than to pay overdue fines. So, settle yourself right on down there Sass. I've got this.

But back to the app. You can usually add books by scanning the bar code, though occasionally you may have to search or enter manually. Then, you can organize books into stacks. For example, I have a “theology” stack and a “children’s book” stack. And others. I have other stacks too . . . ! It’s just that “theology” and “children’s” are the biggest ones—as is true for everyone I’m sure.

betterworld books dot com

Now the website. As you might can guess from my excitement over the BookOrganizer app, I buy a lot of books. Luckily, I found betterworldbooks.com. This virtual used-books store offers free standard shipping and affordable expedited shipping. Plus, for every book purchased, they donate a book to a person in need. (Which is to say, a lot of folks in this world have books thanks to me.) And Better World Books does lots of other great stuff—like offering employees paid time off for volunteering—in an effort to increase equity, to decrease illiteracy, and just . . . well . . .to create a better world.


What about you? Fave apps or websites? Let us know in the comments. Oh, and take a minute to disinfect your keyboard and phone, then wash your hands. I will too.

On being attacked by a dog

WARNING: this story is about a dog attacking me and my dog. While we are both fine, the story could be triggering to victims of violence. Please read with caution.

February 14, 2020

The Details

Spectrum was due by 4 (Wi-Fi woes) so when I got home around 3:35, I hurried to get my beagle, Isabella, out for a potty break before they arrived. We walked maybe 3 minutes before she was done with her business and we turned back for home. Just before I stepped into my yard, I saw Dobby, the neighbor’s dog, cutting across my front yard from my back yard. It was about 3:40 pm at that point.

“Oh, Hi Dobby,” I said, “What are you doing . . .” That’s the last thing I remember before he rushed towards me and Isabella.

Dobby, a rescue dog who belongs to our next-door neighbors, is noisy, but skittish. He barks a lot, but our dog does too. In fact, Isabella and Dobby have had an ongoing conversation for several years. One would hear the other and respond enthusiastically. So, when I saw Dobby, I wasn’t even a little nervous.

And that’s the first lesson I’ve learned from the whole thing. See, I’ve known my whole life that dogs of any breed can snap and lose their ever-loving minds. When I was in first grade, a preschooler in our community was mauled by a police dog. I have vivid memories of her struggles and the subsequent comments my dad made about dogs: “Under the right circumstances, any dog will bite, maybe even attack.”

I knew this, but I now realize that I didn’t really believe it. I’m a dog lover. I’ve never been bitten by anyone else’s dog, and any bite I’ve gotten from my own animals was under adverse conditions that made a bite the only effective means of communication. So, when Isabella and I would be out walking and fenced-in dogs would bark at us, I didn’t jump or run or react. I might remark, “Well, hello there Noisy! Aren’t you unwelcoming today!” And Isabella and I would continue our walk. Lesson number one (a four-plus decades one that has lain in wait): Dogs will bite. And also, it hurts when they do.

Anyway, Dobby’s presence in my yard that day didn’t give me immediate cause for concern. I greeted him. He barked at Isabella. She barked back.

And then in a flash he was on her and I was trying to get between them, but Dobby was stronger and faster and Isabella is a beagle princess, not a fighter, so she was trying to get away and I was screaming and screaming and screaming for help, and no one was coming, and I thought he was going to kill her especially when he went for her throat because he got her by the jugular and started to pull back and shake her. I got her away from him. (Isabella has rope burns from the leash which was looped under her tummy.) Losing his hold on her neck, he went for her leg, then he dove for her underbelly; at one point I thought, maybe he’ll pull her leg off and will be distracted by that and we can get away. I kept screaming for help, trying to find more volume from deep in my core and failing, fearing my voice would give out before help came. Eventually, I just curled down over Isabella, with my head and face covered and tried to keep hers covered as well.

A humor break: Isabella is a submissive dog; always has been. Still, she wanted to protect me somehow, so from under my left arm she barked intermittently at Dobby. I am not fluent in beagle, but I think she said something like, “Please don’t do that!” or “That’s not nice!” or “Please stop!” Valiant effort but, bless her heart, not effective in the least.

Not able to gain purchase on his target, Dobby went after me, grabbing my right arm. Just as he did, I saw the blood dripping from around his teeth and gums. I knew Isabella had been bitten badly.

And that’s when Mike, a neighbor from the next street over, came running down through the woods. The structure of our neighborhood is like an amphitheater with our house at the base and Mike’s at the rim. The acoustics are such that I can hear him talk on his phone when he is outside . . . and I have significant hearing loss! So, my screams carried up to his ears and he came running, as did Darlene, a woman who lives near him.

Later, I asked Mike and Darlene what they witnessed.

Mike said, “Dobby had a firm hold on your right arm growling and tugging. [I was yelling but] he never let go until I was only three feet from you and then Dobby turned, showed his teeth, and started growling at me.”

Darlene said, “The dog had hold of something and and was shaking it, but I couldn’t tell from where I was if it was your arm or your dog.”

Mike picked up a limb to threaten Dobby which got the dog to respond. Then, Mike chased Dobby back to his driveway and returned to check on me. Before he got to me, Dobby was back, headed for me and Isabella, still huddled on the ground. This time, Mike chased Dobby all the way back to his home where the teenaged son met him at the door and took possession of his dog.

Mike’s a big guy—well over six feet tall—with a big voice. “That dog was not afraid of me at all,” Mike told me. “Not at all.”

Darlene had arrived by this time.

Isabella will be in the cone for another 10 days. Zingo is keeping her company.

“I knew from the blood either you or your dog was badly hurt,” she told me. “When I arrived, I saw it was your arm and just made sure you kept pressure on it to slow the bleeding. Then I called 911.” (She made the call at 3:54 pm, meaning the whole thing lasted between 10-14 minutes.)

The EMTs arrived in minutes, examined my arm, said I should probably see a doctor, and offered to drive me to the hospital. I declined, more anxious to get Isabella to the vet, but Jay (who had arrived about the same time as the EMTs) assured them that I would be going to see a doctor shortly. Animal control had arrived too; they made a report, and impounded Dobby.

The end result is that I’m fine and Isabella will be. My arm is very sore and bruised, but not broken. There are a few puncture wounds and the outline of a dog mouth imprinted in my skin, but the bone was not compromised, so healing should be quick and lasting. Isabella’s injuries were worse than mine. She had wounds at her throat, groin, and eye along with miscellaneous scratch and bite marks. However, she had quick surgery thanks to the good people at Cedar Ridge Animal Hospital, and will be just fine.

Some reflections

This is a complex situation that involves lots of humans. I’m an animal lover. And Dobby is a family pet. His family loves him. They are good people who take care of their pets. This incident is evidence of a fencing problem, not a character flaw. I am not a perfect pet mom and have made my share of mistakes. I at least understand containment problems with dogs—I have had beagles for heaven’s sake. So let’s all try to remember the Golden Rule here and treat them (in the comments) as we would want to be treated. They are suffering too. I cannot imagine how upsetting this has been for them.

Isabella and her favorite human a day or so after the attack.

Dobby is a rescue. His current family did not train him to attack. Perhaps that was a part of his former life; it is for so many dogs. (And by the way, let’s make that stop.) I’m very sad for Dobby. I know he just snapped due to something in his past that came slamming into the present. At some point, he was a puppy who was mistreated and neglected. Ultimately, those who use animals for harm are the ones who create this kind of perfect storm in the first place.

Still, I have been changed by this attack. It was terrifying. I thought it would never end. I thought I’d have to call our kids and tell them Isabella was gone. As a result of the attack, I will always be more cautious around animals. I’ll start carrying something to defend myself and my dog when we go for walks.

One thing keeps looping through my brain through all of this: what if Isabella were my human daughter (don’t tell her, but she’s 100% canine), and Dobby were her boyfriend? It happens all around us you know. A little boy is abused, neglected, used for the wrong reasons. His past slams into his present and prevents him from having healthy relationships. He grows up and meets a girl who realizes the danger too late. You know the stories . . . they are legion.

I don’t know the answer to these problems, but I do know all of us are both broken and beautiful, and that God loves us beyond and through all of our imperfections. I know all children should be treasured, loved with an everlasting love. I don’t know what will happen with Dobby, but I know I will continue to try to love the people in my life deeply and fully as Christ loves me. My daily, fervent prayer is that the love I share will, by the power of the Holy Spirt, seep into cracks of pain and regret and will bring hope that empowers and transforms. Lord, in your mercy, hear my prayer.

All about Margaret

Want to get to know my 22 year old? Just tap here and you'll find lots of stories about the youngest of my three kiddos. My favorites? Let's see . . .

I think this one is funny. It's the one about the ice trays.

This one is just so sweet. It's the one when she's playing with Baker. But it also shows her preschool sassiness.

Oh and this one is precious. It's about when there was a tornado warning at her school one time.

Margaret holding her heart--the baby Isabella.
Margaret and Isabella Christmas 2019
Margaret's fridge pics
broken and beautiful

Still "Don't Know Beans about Praying"

cottonpatchgospelBack a lot of years ago, I wrote a post about the struggle of praying in the midst of brokenness. Here's an updated version for 2020.

“Similarly, the spirit also helps us out in our weakness. For example, we don’t know beans about praying, but the Spirit himself speaks up for our unexpressed concerns. And he who x-rays our hearts understands the Spirit’s approach, since the Spirit represents Christians before God.” Romans 8:26-27 The Cotton Patch Version

Clarence Jordan (translator of The Cotton Patch Version) is right. I don't know beans about praying. Prayer absolutely blows my mind: God, the creator of the universe, wants to be in communication with me? I really can't grasp that.

But I pray anyway. I pray to music. I pray Scripture. And I pray for loved ones. (Names changed.)

  • For Alma and Beatrice and Carol, homebound by circumstances outside their control in need of more comfort than I could ever provide.
  • For Denise and Elmer, Florence and Grayson, Helen and Ian whose sons died a decade ago yet the pain is new every morning.
  • For baby Jenna in the hospital and for Karl in prison.
  • For families I know--too many--born into poverty, struggling to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, only to find they have no boots.
  • For the ailing, the lonely, the grieving, the depressed, the hurting . . .

Yeah, I gotta tell ya. I don't know beans about praying.

But thanks be to God, knowing is not necessary. Romans 8:26-27 (NRSV) says “Likewise 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. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (emphasis mine)

And when I read that I sigh: a sigh of relief. I sigh because suddenly I remember, I’m not alone.  I sigh, I breathe, remembering that Alma is not alone, and Beatrice isn't and neither is Carol. The Spirit is sighing with me, magnifying those sighs, translating them into words that I can't seem to find, building them into bridges from the hearts of the hurting to the very heart of God.  I sigh knowing there's a bridge for Denise and Elmer and all grieving parents and that Karl and Jenna can cross it too. And I sigh so deep within my spirit, beyond the flood of tears that chokes my heart for those living in the grip of poverty. I sigh with relief because as I do, I find that the Spirit is already there; the bridge is already built. Everyone has brand new boots with nice long straps. I don't have to find the words to the perfect prayer; because “. . .God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes” for me.

Even though I don’t know beans about praying.

Ahhhhh.

grandparents

Dementia Humor: Grand Breakthrough

Grandmama and Granddaddy Martin

My grandparents with their beloved poodle Mimi.

(My grandmother would have been 115 today, January 24, 2020, if she had not passed away a month before my first child was born in 1994. I love to imagine her laughing in heaven--at her jokes and everyone else's!)

“Where're we going?” Grandmama, buckled in tight, sat in the passenger’s seat of her ancient sedan.

"We're going to Loris, to the Doctor’s office.” (Mother took Grandmama everywhere: to the doctor’s, to the hairdresser’s, to Sunday school.)

“How long’s it going to take us?” Grandmama stared out her window; her bright eyes seeming to take in the scenery. Mother knew better. Dementia clouded all of Grandmama’s experiences these days.

“Well, it’s about 15 miles,” she told her mother, “ It'll take us about 20 minutes.”

“Oh.” Grandmama nodded and slipped back into the mystery of her musings.

It was hard for Mother. Time was when she and her mother could talk without pause about anything. Once a vibrant, feisty, confident woman, Grandmama had been slowly slipping away for years. This meek soul who now inhabited her body often seemed like a stranger to her beloved daughter, my mother.

In a moment, though, Grandmama perked up again.

“Where’re we going?” she asked, looking over at the one person she always remembered.

“We’re going to Loris, Mother, to the Doctor’s office.”

“Hmm. How long you think it’s going to take us?” Grandmama asked, clueless.

“Well,” Mother said, “It’s about 15 miles. It should take us about 20 minutes.”

“Oh.” Grandmama nodded and turned back towards the passenger window.

The silence didn’t last long.

“Where’re we going?” Grandmama, smiling innocently, looked at Mother, waiting for her to answer.

Mother took a deep breath. “Actually,” she said, “We’re, uh, going to the Doctor’s office. It’s in, ya know, Loris.”

Grandmama nodded, but wanted to know more. “So, how long’s it going to take us to get there?”

Mother unfazed replied again, “It should take us about 20 minutes. It’s about 15 miles.”

“Oh,” Grandmama said. “Well. I guess I ought to know by now. I've asked you three times.”

Vulnerability in the Body

Vulnerability in the Body of Christ*

What’s the deadline for New Year’s resolutions? I mean, are we supposed to be all resolute before the ball drops or do we have until, say, Feb. 1?

The reason I’ve not written my resolutions yet is that I really don’t know where to start. There are so very many things about me that need fixing. I need to eat more healthfully and exercise more diligently. I need to do a better job with time management. I want to read and write more. My house, my office, my car — each needs a thorough cleaning and a sustainable organization system. I need to be more committed to daily quiet time. And of course I’ll also resolve — as I do every year — to read the Bible through (I practically have Genesis memorized).

Holy moly — it’s a lot. And here’s the thing: when I look at this list, I get so overwhelmed that I want to clear off a place on my couch, curl up with an entire turtle cheesecake, and binge-watch The Golden Girls.

Of course, if I did make and manage to keep all those resolutions, I’d be perfect. Only problem? There’s no such thing as absolute perfection. I learned this in a machine shop, of all places. I was working at a community college at the time and was with a group of students who were interested in our machining major. As we toured the shop, the department chair explained to our group that students would learn to use equipment to manufacture parts that were identical to within a fraction of a millimeter. He went on to say, “Of course, no two things are exactly the same; there’s no such thing as perfection. We just get as close to that as possible.”

I was astounded! What I heard him say was: “Do your best. Don’t be careless or unprofessional. But when you’ve done your very best, be content with the result.”

Recently, I heard echoes of this ideology while reading Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly. A self-titled researcher storyteller with a Ph.D. in social work, Brown says: “Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving for excellence. … [It] is not self-improvement … [or] the key to success. … Perfectionism is self-destructive simply because perfection doesn’t exist. It’s an unattainable goal.” (Maybe she is a machinist in addition to being a university professor and a world renown scholar. Just a thought.)

Brown takes issue with perfectionism because she considers it to be one of the barriers to true connection. She believes “connection is why we’re here. We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.” And connection, according to Brown, cannot happen if we hide behind a façade of perfection. She says that in order to form true community, to connect, we must allow ourselves to be vulnerable, to be imperfect.

That makes sense right? I mean, who wants to be around someone who (we think) is invulnerable and perfect? It’s irritating. Plus they make us nervous. Being around flawless folk causes our vulnerabilities to leak out all over the place.

So if Brown is right and we must embrace vulnerability to make real connection, what does that mean for the church? Surely we should be able to find authentic community, real connection, in the church, right?

Yes. Absolutely. I believe that God calls us into community from the Garden to the Revelation. We, the church, are the Body of Christ. How can we be the Body if we are not connected? We can’t.

The problem, though, is that too often we come to church wearing our costumes of perfection. We come with our beautiful families, our harmonious marriages, our successful careers. We know we’re wearing costumes; we sit in our cars picking the lint of shame off of them before we enter the sanctuary. What we don’t believe is that anyone else is wearing one. We believe they (whoever “they” are) have everything together. Their kids are always so well-behaved; their careers are upwardly mobile; they read through the Bible every single year. We look at them and our shame deepens and we become convinced that we have to work harder on our costumes, shine up our shields of perfection.

Let’s don’t, though, OK? Instead, let’s set aside our vain attempts at perfection. Let’s agree that each of us is broken in countless ways and let’s be OK with that. Let’s resolve to be vulnerable. Let’s be the Body of Christ.

*This piece was first published on January 11, 2015, by Baptist News Global (formerly Associated Baptist Press). I'm delighted to be associated with this great organization and am honored to be among the gifted writers and thinkers featured there. Watch for my BNG column, appearing on the second Monday of each month at baptistnews.com.

advent 3A

Heart trouble & the church

"Strengthened Hearts" a sermon from James 5:7-10 (11), (Advent 3A)

It’s never good when my husband starts a sentence with, “I talked to your mom today.”

As it turned out, my dad had been experiencing symptoms for several months. A tinge here. Out-of-breath there. But when his jaw began aching, a classic symptom of heart problems that was new to me, it all came together for him and my mother. They called the cardiologist who immediately put him on medication and scheduled a heart cath for the following Wednesday.

For those of you who haven’t gone through such a thing, you may not realize (I didn’t) exactly what a heart cath is. For my dad, they went in through a vein in his arm and inserted a dye that would show the technicians the condition of Daddy’s heart. I don’t understand it fully, but I know this: Your heart needs blood to flow through it. If the blood can’t flow through, you have a heart attack. You don’t want to have a heart attack. What they found out was that in three separate locations, Daddy had blockages that were allowing no more than 20% of the blood to flow through. My Dad needed to strengthen his heart.

That’s what James tells his readers in todays text. “Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.”

The book of James was written by . . . well . . . by someone. Theologians do not agree who that was. Early on, church scholars believed that James was written by the brother of Jesus. Later scholars uncovered evidence that this might not be the case, based on when the letter was written and when James the brother of Jesus died. It now seems that the book represents the teaching of the brother of Jesus though it may have been written down and edited by disciples of James. Whoever wrote it, it was aimed to instruct (probably) ethnic Jews who followed Christ. And it is not so much a letter as a list of directives kind of like proverbs, except that for James, the main point is that following Christ has to do with action, not just feeling. James says love God, love neighbor, then DO something about it.

My parents had chosen to go to a hospital close to home for Daddy’s heart cath. They wanted to stay with the doctor they knew as long as possible, even knowing that they could not do stents at that hospital. Well, the cath indicated a need for three stents. Do you know what a stent is? (Again, I didn’t.) It’s a tiny tube made of something like stainless steel netting. Doctors insert a little balloon into the tube and then place the whole thing inside the clogged artery. Then, they inflate the balloon to make the tube bigger which opens up the artery. They deflate the balloon and remove it, leaving the patient with increased blood flow. In my dad’s case, the doctors found that he had  99% blockages in those three places. He got the stents and went home feeling much better. But before that, Daddy was only getting 1% of the blood he needed from three places and he was walking around like no big deal!

Now this, I think, is what James meant. I think James looked around at the early Christians and thought, “Y’all can totally do better than this. You have so much more potential than this.”

And I think they (we) knew it. I think they felt twinges of bitterness but dismissed them. Afterall, those OTHERS out there don’t realize how hard it is. They take things for granted that we have to work so hard for. Little pricks of jealousy and sharp pains of judgment—sure they aren’t pleasant, but its not like everyone doesn’t feel that way from time to time. No need to pay extra attention to those not-necessarily-Christ-like feelings.

I imagine they had moments when building the kingdom of God just flat wore them out—and frankly, those moments were coming more and more. Did they have to do everything? Why wasn’t anyone else working at this? And anyway, what’s the point? People just fall back into old habits of poverty, addiction, and abuse. Why bother? It’s too hard.

But James saw the symptoms. And when they started outright arguing with each other, judging each other for the slightest imperfection, well James knew something had to be done. They were better than this. Like, you know, 99% better.

So he gives them all kinds of advice. He tells them things like, “You’re going to have trials in life,” and “Side with the poor; don’t be dazzled by the rich,” and “Always ask for wisdom.”

It’s not easy! James knows that. He also knows it’s a better way. So he offers them some . . . stents . . . to open up their hearts.

Now these stents are different than my Dad’s. These aren’t made of metal but of wisdom. And the balloon is not like my dad’s either—it’s made of patience. James says, we need to open the flow of your hearts so love can flow through. Let’s insert some wisdom, inflate that wisdom with patience, and see if that does the trick.

When my Dad left the hospital and when he awakened Saturday morning, he was feeling great. But then, my mother began to notice that something was not right with him. She took his blood pressure and sure enough, even with all that had been done to strengthen his heart, his blood pressure spiked, and my mother had to get him back to the Emergency Room. They ran lots of tests and determined in the end that the problem was related to a medication that needed tweaking. They took care of it and he’s fine now.

But what if Mother, having noticed the problem, just let it go. What if she said, “Well, you know, I hate to bother him. He just had to go through so much. . . . It’s not my heart so why not let it go . . .” Because of my mother, my daddy has a strengthened heart. Folks, we need each other.

Even with wisdom bolstered by patience, we cannot expect to build Christ’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven without each other. That message is woven throughout the book of James. He repeatedly uses the plural “You.” He says “among” as in 3:13 meaning you are in a group, not alone. James says, if we are to look like Christ, we must strengthen our hearts with wisdom and patience. And we are to do it together. We simply cannot do it alone.

Church. It is for the faint of heart. But it is also for those with strengthened hearts. It’s for you. It’s for me. It’s for us. Together. Amen.

Customer Service--Moccasin Style

I was in the waiting area when the woman rushed in, snapped her umbrella closed, shifted her parcels to balance her load, and approached the receptionist.

“Hello; could you tell me what time Mr. Person-Next-Door will be in today?”

The clerk smiled apologetically; this was clearly not the first time she had been asked a question like this. “We are no longer the same practice,” she said. “And so, I’m sorry, but I don’t know what their schedules are.”

The woman put her packages on the floor and stood again. “Oh. Well . . . will he be in at some point today?”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t know.”

“Okay, well do you think you’ll be here when he arrives?”

“I will be here until five,” she said, still—against all odds—warm and friendly.

She could have said,

  • “Well, let me check my global mind-reader app and I’ll let you know.”
  •  “See, I wouldn’t know that would I? Since WE’RE NOT THE SAME PRACTICE!”
  • “As it turns out, the neighboring businesses do not fill us in on their schedules as much as you might think.”
  • “I can look that up for you at howtheheckdoiknow.com.”
  •  “One moment please. I’m going to need to go scream my head off and I’ll be right back.”

But she didn’t. She just hung in there with the woman, hearing her, being present.

“Oh good! Surely they’ll be in by then. Can I just leave this with you?”

“Of course. You’ll let them know they are here?”

The woman was picking out packages one by one, “What? Oh yes. I’ll leave them a message.” She plucked one package on the desk. “This one is for Person-one. Can you just write her name on it? I forgot. That’s it. ‘Person-one.’ Perfect.”

To be fair, there was not a line of people waiting. The place was actually pretty dead other than the woman who usurped all the receptionist’s time. Still, I’m sure she had things to do.

“Oh I didn’t put the name on this one either. It’s for Person-two. Can you . . .?”

She thanked her, propped the door open with her foot while she opened the umbrella out in the rain, and then she was off. The receptionist turned back to her computer and continued working.

I approached the reception desk, greeted her, and said, “Wow! I’ve led workshops on customer service and I could not have done better myself. That was amazing!”

“Oh,” she said, waving off my compliment, “Thanks! I didn’t mind.”

“Clearly. You were so kind and patient with her!”

“Well, it’s raining. I just put myself in her place. I wouldn’t have wanted to take those packages in and out of my car in the rain either.”

“And that,” I told her, “is the key to good customer service.”

Put yourself in the other’s place; see through their eyes. It’s a good rule for customer service. And, ya know, for life.

sad angel

Christmas Ministry for Broken Spirits*

A reminder from a 2015 post. IMG_8752

What if, for you, it’s actually NOT the most wonderful time of year?

What if it’s your first Christmas (or your 51st) without your beloved?

What if you’re fighting physical, mental, or emotional illness?

Or what if you are so financially strapped that every holiday message just seems to remind you of what you are not able to buy for your loved ones?

In the United States, we put high expectations on each other during the holidays. The truth is, if you don’t watch out, if you do in fact pout, you’ll be labeled Ebenezer Scrooge faster than you can say, “Falalalala.” Indeed, our culture demands that we be jolly, happy souls, listening for sleigh bells and roasting chesnuts. Exhausting!

It’s true. For some, Christmas cheer is taxing rather than encouraging, no matter how genuine the well-wisher may be. Each year, I know people for whom the season is difficult; but this year, the holiday blues seem a lot more common. Maybe the pervasive commercialism of the US is wearing on folks; maybe 24-hour news is not such a good idea after all, what with the incessant reports of violence and tragedy. Whatever the reason, as the Body of Christ, we are called to attend to this phenomenon with the love of God. So how do we do this? There are many ways, but here are a few I find helpful.

  1. If you know someone who has lost a loved one—especially in the last 12 months—know that pain is not increased when the dearly departed is mentioned. The reverse is actually true: people who are grieving often fear that you and everyone else have forgotten the person who meant so much to them. By remembering, you offer momentary comfort. So mention the deceased by name; maybe even share a personal memory or two. Your thoughtfulness will be a blessing to the bereaved.
  2. Remember that grief doesn’t expire. For the fatherless child or the childless mother; for the brother who no longer has a sister, the friend missing a trusted confidant, the wife who never wanted to be a widow . . . heartache never misses a holiday. The good news is that comfort can be new every morning. Send a note, make a visit, or turn a chance encounter into an opportunity to reminisce about the one who has died. To the person grappling with grief, your words will be a welcome reminder that they are not alone.
  3. Blessed with an overabundance of Christmas cheer? Consider taking up the slack for someone who can’t seem to muster up any of their own. It is difficult to deck the halls or bring figgy puddings when coping with illness or caring for someone who is. Help decorate, bake a meal, run an errand, do a chore. But, and this is key, don’t expect people to ask you for this help or even to accept it at first. Just be persistent and determined. Your efforts matter.
  4. Know people with financial difficulties? You don’t have to be insulting or judgmental in order to offer real help. Slip an anonymous gift card into their Bible or other belongings. Do they have children? Offer to babysit. Like to cook (or pick up take-out)? Deliver a meal and be sure to take enough so leftovers can stretch one meal into two. But be a friend, not a rescue worker. Nobody wants to be a project.
  5. Most importantly, watch your language. Avoid platitudes like, “Cheer up! It’s Christmas!” No one has ever responded to such advice by saying, “Well okay! Thanks so much for telling me that! I’ll cheer right up now!” Likewise, the statement, “There are plenty of people who have it worse than you.” I mean, so what? That reality doesn’t alter the pain being experienced in the moment. Validate the speaker with words of support and understanding, not nagging criticism and worthless advice.
  6. Don’t expect a complete and instant turnaround. Healing takes time; you may not see any evidence that your ministry has been a blessing. Trust God. Your gifts will draw interest over time.

This year, before we go rocking around the Christmas tree and flinging glad tidings like so much mud, let’s try to remember that not everyone is feeling joyful. Let’s be patient and encouraging, even to those who seem more like the Grinch hiding above Whoville than like beloved children of God. And listen. You might just hear the voices of angels praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth, peace!”

*This piece was first published on December 14, 2015 by Baptist News Global. I’m delighted to be associated with this great organization and am honored to be among the writers and thinkers featured there. Watch for my BNG column, appearing monthly at baptistnews.com.

Remembering Aunt Edith

Aunt Edith. 1932-2019

Edith Grace Mitchell Storey, (87) passed away October 23, 2019, 36 years to the day after her mother left this world for the next one. Earlier this month, Edith mentioned in conversation with her brother Joe that she would be seeing her mama really soon. Though she had not yet had the stroke that took her to heaven’s gate, she had seen a glimpse of the near future and faced it with hope.

Born in 1932 when women wore their hair in Hollywood waves and men slicked theirs back with Brylcreem, Edith was the fourth child and the third (and last) daughter born to Naomi Carter and James Powell Mitchell. Within the next 15 years, the Mitchell family added four more boys, bringing the total to seven children, following the tragic loss of their oldest daughter in the mid 1930’s.

Even in her youth, Edith entertained family and friends by playing the piano. Throughout her life, she played for church and for loved ones. Memories of singing around the piano as Edith played span decades and generations; oh “the joy we shared as we tarried there …!”

After graduating from Brinson High School, Brinson, GA, in 1948, Edith went to work as a telephone operator before marrying in 1951. Soon after, she graduated from beauty college and eventually had her own hair salon in her home. Nieces and nephews, children and grandchildren, made magical memories in that garage-made-parlor full of beauty. Plastic curlers became finger puppets, perm rods took rubber-band wars up to a whole new level, and few could resist climbing into her chair for a dizzying spin.

Edith cut and styled from bouffant to mullet, from pompadour to buzzcut, and from Greg Brady tight perm to Farrah Faucette feathered bangs. But in her beauty shop, Edith did much more than hair; Edith made magic. Clients and friends might arrive burdened, but they left hopeful. They might come beat down, but they left built up. They might enter feeling unworthy, but they left feeling loved.

Aunt Edith's dryer chair from her beauty shop, in its new life as a chair in her kitchen.

As an adult, Edith developed her artistic skills through painting. Seeing the beauty in the world was an innate gift of Edith’s, so it only made sense that she would excel at translating natural wonders into artistic masterpieces. Her painting was not just a leisurely hobby. She took her craft seriously and worked with a variety of media—acrylics, oil, watercolor—and surfaces—fabric, wood, metal—to create lasting representations of the world around her. She realized the value of her work, so while she gifted plenty of her works of art, she sold a good many too. Edith and beauty: they worked well together.

Edith’s first marriage gave her two children, four grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren, and 5 great-great grandchildren. As matriarch of her family, Edith saw to it that her beloveds knew Jesus Christ. Each night up until very recently, the family—all who were close enough to make it—circled around Edith for family devotions and prayer time. If Edith said she would pray with you, she meant it--she and her whole family would.

Uncle George and me with Aunt Edith looking on in the background. Circa 1990

Edith’s second marriage to George Storey (1987-his death in 1998) brought her four step-children and 11 step-grandchildren. It also brought her the love of her life. Shortly after they were married, she remarked, “We love taking care of each other so much that we bump into each other in the kitchen trying to get the other one coffee!” Following George’s passing, her grief was surpassed only by her gratitude for the gift of this late-in-life love.

Once during a difficult time in her life, Edith remarked about her circumstances, “You know, this is not what I had planned for my life, but just look at the blessings around me!” She gestured around her one room apartment, “When I set my easel right there, the light is just perfect for painting! And look at the yard. It has plenty of room for my little dog to run around and play. And when I pull this curtain, I have two rooms, not one.” Because she saw the beauty, everyone else could see it too. “Pray for what you want,” she told us. “Then trust God to give you what you need.”

Condolences for the family may be left in the online guestbook at www.watsonhunt.com. Watson-Hunt Funeral Home has been entrusted with the arrangements.

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