(As the summer winds down, my teacher friends are gearing up for another school year. Over the next few weeks, I'll be rerunning some of my favorite posts about teachers as a reminder of how much educators do to make the world a better place. Let's all thank a teacher today; and let's vote for education reform that honors the good work that our teachers do and respects the value of every single student.)
It’s the rare 18 year old who starts college with the same major she has at her graduation. Even rarer is the one who approaches retirement in that very same career. My friend Lisa is just that extraordinary. What is this compelling field you ask? The answer: middle school education! Middle. School. Ed.u.ca.tion. Teaching pubescent 12 and 13 year olds who giggle when someone says “duty” (“She said doody!”) and who pass gas with smug aplomb. That’s what Lisa signed up for nearly 30 years ago.
It’s true. Even when we were in college, Lisa (Allen) Henson couldn’t wait to teach seventh graders. Some could argue (successfully) that she’s crazy. Just flat-out crazy. But I say she’s a hero. Her commitment to education, inspires her colleagues and transforms her students. Well, just listen to this story she told me a while back.
“Honestly, the entire seventh grade faculty talked about him.” Lisa explained. “They said Jackson* constantly disrupted their classes; and that no matter what they did he just did not respond to discipline.”
Apparently, Jackson’s academic record isn’t exactly admirable. He scores in the lowest percentile on standardized tests. It seems he just never really understands much in the classroom. Or at least, he doesn’t understand the things that are measured on state mandated multiple-choice tests.
Lisa continued. “I couldn’t believe they were talking about the Jackson I knew. I never had those problems with him. Never.” So one day Lisa just asked him. “Hey Jackson? Why do you behave for me and not for the other teachers?”
Jackson, as big as a man, loomed above Mrs. Henson. He looked down at her and said, smiling, “Because you expect me to, Mrs. Henson.”
(Thanks to Lisa and to all our other educators. You matter. You are our heroes every single day!)
A number of years ago, I led a youth 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 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 immigrant 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 graphic and slogan spewed hate. No matter, the Afghani 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 immigrant 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 Afghan immigrant 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 her, "Mercy. That’s it. Mercy.”
Technically, in the biological and legal sense, she's no relation. Meredith, daughter of my dear friend Debbie, was born July 4, 1995 at 25.5 weeks; her identical twin fell victim to twin to twin transfusion. Meredith lives 1000 miles away, but for nearly 15 years, our families celebrated Thanksgiving together. I'm so very grateful to have this grown-up miracle in my life.
My beloved Meredith,
Who could have ever guessed that a baby who weighed less than two pounds could make such a big impression on my life? You slipped into this world three months before you were due, right by yourself (your identical twin went straight to heaven, bypassing Earth altogether). Immediately, though, you found yourself surrounded by love—family, friends, medical staff—and found within your tiny little self, the spirit of a champion. I am so very thankful for you, sweet girl, and I thought it was time I tried to tell you how grateful I am for the gift of YOU.
Thank you baby Meredith, for surviving your shaky beginning. Somewhere in your amazing self, you found the will to thrive. So, after four months in NICU and I-can’t-even-remember-how-many days on the ventilator, you went home. It was only a few weeks later that I got to hold you for the first time. Thank you, tiny one, for smiling at me so readily. I can still recall the feeling I had, holding all five pounds of you (a pound for each month of your life), looking into your beautiful brown eyes. You made me feel like I was the only person in the world. Thank you.
Thank you little girl Meredith, for always being delighted to see me. (You’ve always been so easily delighted.) Thanks for crawling up in my lap, for letting me read to you, for playing games and watching movies with me, for letting me push you on the swings. And as hard as leaving always was, thanks for always holding on so tightly to me, asking me not to leave, begging us to stay longer next time. Oh how I loved every precious moment of those fleeting days.
Thank you middle school Meredith, for being so unexpectedly full of spunk. I know it wasn’t easy. I’m so grateful for the grit in your makeup that kept you moving forward. Middle school is just the worst, isn’t it? I’m so grateful that you survived those difficult times. Thanks for liking me when it was hard even to like yourself. It felt so undeserved and it felt like treasure. It still does.
Thanks high school Meredith, for sticking with it. It is just so very hard . . . being. Especially in high school. But you connected and found friends I’m certain you’ll have for life. Thanks for not giving up on my Meredith during high school. I’m eternally, endlessly grateful.
I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am to have you in my life, but I’m even more grateful that you let me be a part of yours. Thanks for emailing, Facebooking, texting, and SnapChatting with me. Thanks for loving me from far away and for still wanting me to be with you. I’m so very grateful.
You will have nieces and nephews of your own before you can truly know how gratified my heart is that you are a part of my life. So thank you dear girl. Thank you for being Meredith.
I loved you before you were born.
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.
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?!"
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.
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
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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)
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!
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.
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!
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.
May 1, 2019
You know what I wish? I wish that this post had lost its relevance. It's been five years since I wrote it, and I wish I could archive it as I have other posts which were time sensitive.
Nope. Still. Only more so.
April 4, 2014
“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.
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
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!
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.