Category Archives for Faith

Not so happy Mother's Day

Mother's Day: it's not always Happy.

By the time I learned my friend had been struggling, she was four years into infertility disappointments. I asked her if she wanted me to tell her in advance if my husband and I decided to start a family. She said that as hard as it was, she would rather know beforehand.

So, I told her. And then three weeks later, my pregnancy test came back positive.

I did not call her to tell her. I just sent her a postcard that said something like, “I am. It’s not fair. I’m sorry.” When she was ready, she called me and we cried together. As it turned out, our oldest children were born months apart, thanks be to God. But still. Her pain made me aware of something that I’ve never forgotten: not everyone loves Mother’s Day.

To the young women like my friend who want desperately to be mothers, but still have empty cradles, my heart hurts for you and for all of the Should-Have-Been mothers: those who have suffered infertility, miscarriages, or failed adoptions. I see you friends and I'm so very sorry you are in this place of pain.

I see you too, women who longed to be mothers but couldn't for whatever reason: those who never married or were never in partnerships that produced children; those who have illnesses that make parenting difficult, impossible, or irresponsible; those who have obligations to other family members—disabled parents or siblings, for example—that have prevented you from parenting. I pray God has given you children to mother throughout your life, and that these gifts have comforted you in your longing.

infertility mothers day

"To those who don’t feel Happy this Mother’s Day, I see your pain, and I am so very sorry."

Then, there are those of you who have other reasons for disliking Mother’s Day. I know of a mother who died when she was in her thirties; she had three children. The subsequent step-mothers who entered those kids' lives were not what you’d call nurturing (or sober, for that matter). I'm pretty sure Mother’s Day was not their favorite holiday. Whether you are estranged from your mother or are grieving mothers who are no longer on this side of heaven, I understand why you may not feel celebratory on this second Sunday of May. I get it.

I hear you women who choose not to have children and prefer not to advertise why you made this choice. I didn't always. Please forgive my ignorant intrusion. (When will you have kids? Why NOT?!) I didn't know better; I do now. I'm so sorry.

Maybe you don’t want to be a parent. Frankly, I wish more people who did not want children would make this decision. But maybe it’s something else. I once knew a couple who decided early that they would not have children. Before they married--in their TWENTIES--they took surgical steps to eliminate that possibility. I thought it was rash and ridiculous and I had all kinds of opinions that I'm sure I shared way too freely. (I was also in my twenties.) Twenty years into their marriage, one was diagnosed with a debilitating, inherited illness that required the other spouse to become the full-time caregiver. No doubt, this probability advised their decision two decades previously. There’s almost always more to the story.

And the thing is, Mother’s Day is EVERYWHERE! Honestly. If you appear female and are above the age of 25, you can’t check out from your local dollar store without being wished a Happy Mother’s Day. Shoot, you can’t even send a Bitmoji without seeing Mother’s Day greetings. YouTube or radio commercials, fliers in your mailbox, Google ads on your screen . . . Snapchat will have filters, Instagram and Facebook will be flooded with tributes and pictures and special frames . . . And all this is fine, it really is. I mean, this is the way of the world and I’m not tying to fight it.

But . . . and here’s my point . . . I will not make it the focal point of worship. I will reference Mother’s Day in the prayer and maybe the announcements. But we will let the celebrations take place in the world, not in the church. See, I am too aware of the Mothers-never-to-be, the Motherless children, and the Children-less Mothers in our midst to add to their pain.

The world does a wonderful job of celebrating Mother’s Day. And I celebrate it too, grateful as I am for my amazing mother and my beloved children. At church, though, I celebrate the love of God made manifest in Jesus: the love that comforts the childless and brings hope to the motherless, that draws us all together as one family--mother, father, sister, brother--and offers to each of us the peace that surpasses all understanding.

gratitude for gratitude

Grateful for Gratitude

gratitude for gratitudeWhen Mother's phone rang, she was delighted to see my cousin's name on caller id. Peggy and Mother text daily and Mother figured the call was just a routine check-in. It was not. Peggy's 88 year old mother, Ann Mitchell, had passed away in the wee hours of that morning. Peggy was calling to tell Mother the news. (Ann was the wife of my dad's brother Edward.) 

Though she was shocked by this news, Mother had been expecting to learn of a sister-in-law's passing. Just not that one. Her sister-in-law Iris Martin (the wife of her brother who passed in February this year) had been under Hospice care for several days. She knew that call would come at any minute; and it did, later that day. Iris passed away peacefully that same night, less than 20 hours after Ann's passing.

The next morning I called Mother to check on her and Daddy, to see how they were coping after such a grief-filled day.

"Well," she said. "Its hard. Life is fragile. These are more reminders of that." 

I agreed and repeated my sympathies to her. We talked some more about the lives of these two women, recalled stories, and shared memories.

"It is sad," she went on. "It is so very sad, especially since we can't have proper services for them." She's quick to add that the quarantine is worth the inconvenience and she's happy to wear a mask if it keeps people well; that doesn't mean there are not difficulties though. Not having funeral or memorial services for loved ones is indeed hard; Mother is right to grieve that loss.

"I loved Ann and Iris dearly; I am grateful for their lives and am sad they are gone." She paused, took a breath, and continued. "But, Daddy and I are just going to keep on living," she continued. "We are going to exercise and eat right and take our vitamins. We are going to do everything we can to embrace the life we have been given and not take one second of it for granted."

CAVEAT: Mother knows good and well that the 15 children/spouses and grandchildren/spouses in her immediate family cannot bear even the mention of losing either her or Daddy. There's a chance she was doing what she has done since she became a mother: taking care of her child. By speaking hope in the face of grief, she certainly protected me from additional pain. She's like that.

The call ended--Mother had to get to her exercise--but the wisdom she imparted during that conversation has been bumping around in my brain ever since. And it seems to me, it boils down to this: gratitude. See, losing these two sisters-in-law brought Mother & Daddy's losses to 10 family or friends-like-family in about two years. It's a lot. But Mother chooses to be grateful even in her grief. She's grateful to have loved those she lost. She's grateful for her children and grandchildren and husband and friends. But that's not all. My mother's automatic reaction is gratitude. Really. 

I don't know if she's always been this way--I certainly remember a number of parental lectures that could hardly be described as appreciative in nature--but I have noticed that Mother isn't getting so much older as she is wiser. These days, her default is gratitude--whether it's for the nice clerk at the store, the birds in her yard, or the comfort of her favorite chair. 
(For the record, Daddy has ALWAYS been optimistic, a real Happy-Head; he's been known to be grateful for bumper to bumper traffic: "So good to have all these tourists supporting our businesses down here!" Insert eye-rolling emoji.)

These are uncertain days for sure. Adding gratitude into the mix doesn't mean we discount the difficulty. Gratitude and grief do not cancel each other out; but having a grateful heart surely does make the grief easier to bear.  In Philippians 4:6, the Apostle Paul says it like this: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God."

At the top of my gratitude list is the gift of healthy parents who still teach me every day. And also computers. And beagles. And a working washing machine and dryer. And lots of other stuff . . . . What about you? What fills your heart with thanksgiving?

Thank You Mother
Mother and I, December 2015

Angry teen grateful for teacher's kindness

"Remember that student I had several years ago?" my sister asked. "Well, actually," she clarified, "he wasn't even my student; he had the other Latin teacher."

Important detail: My sister has taught Latin for 100 years or so at the same school. Her Latin program has grown well beyond her classroom, even over to the middle school. All kinds of kids take Latin there--not just the stereotypical brainiacs. Really, there are as many levels of ability in Latin 1 as there are in a regular gym class there. This student was not an academic all-star and had plenty of barriers to his success in life.

She told me his name and reminded me that their relationship began over an altercation. His behavior had caused a major disruption in the classroom next to hers, so much so that she stepped out of her room to address the situation. It was not good. She was furious for a lot of reasons and he made the unfortunate mistake of sassing back instead of remaining quiet and respectful. An administrator came upon the scene and the student got himself a before-school detention the next day. 

By the following morning, my sister had (naturally) given it lots of thought; she hoped to meet with the student that day. He seemed like a nice enough kid who had just got carried away in the moment. Plus, she knew his home life wasn't exactly one of privilege. So, it was fortuitous that they encountered one another first thing, quite by accident, in the same place where the argument had occurred. She called him aside, apologized for raising her voice. and admitted ways she thought she could have handled the situation better. Essentially, she allowed herself to be appropriately vulnerable, offered the student a little piece of herself, and made amends. 

Over the next three years, they developed a teacher/student friendship of sorts. She'd greet him in the hallway, ask him about his track meets, and encourage him whenever she could. You know, like she did all of her students.

I thought I remembered the story and told her so.

"Anyway," she said, "Did I tell you he came back to see me at Christmas? He's in college now and he stopped by on break. He's doing great. So great!" She laughed a little as she went on. "He told me he'd seen all his other teachers but 'saved the best for last.'"

She told me that he came in, gave her a huge, feet-off-the-ground hug, and told her all about college: his success in track, his scholarship, his leadership responsibilities. She was delighted with his success, but was a little surprised by his enthusiasm at seeing her. She said something like, "Why me?"

Shocked, he said "Ms. Mitchell! There would BE no ME without YOU!"

Whoa. Exaggerate much? I mean, she remembered him, but she couldn't recall anything special she'd done to merit the accolades. He had not even really been her student, for goodness sake. So she asked him to clarify. His response?

"Ms. Mitchell," he said. "You came back. No one ever came back. But you did. You came back."

That's all. And that's everything. 

In these difficult times, when human connection has to be more intentional than ever, let's remember to keep going back. It may not seem like anything to you. But to someone else, it could be everything.

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.

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.

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.

A beagle and her Zingo

My dog Isabella has a toy that she absolutely adores. We call it Zingo (official name: Wacky Zingoz™) and if you know the popular Webkinz™ toys from the early 00’s, you may remember it. It’s essentially a triangle with a face and arms and legs. In its original form, Zingo has a voice; when you press its center, it says one of its phrases in a high pitch voice. (Note: Rare is the voice box that is a match for Isabella’s adoration; she loves the sound right out of most of her toys before they can get on my nerves, thanks be to God!)

Isabella absolutely loves Zingo. When she was a puppy, we had to make sure we had one with us on trips or she would be so agitated we could do nothing with her. The problem? You can’t get Wacky Zingoz™ in stores any more. The only place you can find them is on eBay or some other such used-goods site. So, occasionally I go online to search out Zingos. I’ll buy one or two whenever I can find them so I have extras–just in case.

Of course, Isabella knows none of this. Isabella just knows
that Zingo makes her feel better. She doesn’t know that if she lost the one she
has now, I would just give her the one that I have as a backup. Isabella thinks
Zingo makes her life whole. The truth is, I am the one who provides her with
Zingo.

Anyway, I’ve used this example in sermons because Isabella’s love for Zingo makes a great illustration. You know: the power is not in the toy, but in the toy provider. In the story, Zingo plays the idol that distracts humanity—played by Isabella. And yeah, I play the loving provider who indulges beloveds. Not a bad gig if you can get it, amirite?

Recently, I used this story as my children’s message and
took a couple of Zingos as props: Well-loved (aka smelly and gross) Zingo from
Isabella’s toy basket and Brand-new Zingo that stays hidden in my closet. To
protect the congregation, I slipped Well-loved Zingo into a plastic baggy so that
it could keep its aroma to itself. When I got home, Isabella spied her Zingo in
plastic and couldn’t wait for me to get it out. She took matters in her own
paws and I videoed the exchange.

Isabella frees Zingo

granddaddy and beagle

Being Church: Loving Senior Adults

A decade ago when I was in divinity school at Gardner-Webb University, I completed an assignment for my Pastoral Care and Counseling class that was insightful at the time and continues to prove useful to me now. The task was to complete a systemic model for care in the church using Erikson's Stages of Development.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/forbesoste/

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about pastoral care for those in Erikson's last stage of development: Mature Adult, ages 65 +, Ego Integrity vs. Despair. I pulled up my project to review the thoughts I had back then when I was elbow deep in pastoral care textbooks. In my opinion, these ideas are helpful to anyone who desires to show love to people in this late-in-life stage.

I offer that portion of the project below with one caveat: it is more academic than what I usually post here. SO . . . If it's more than you want to read, would you just do this one thing: check in on my father-in-law a senior adult you know. For example, offer a ride to Tuesday morning Bible study at the church. Or plan a breakfast outing; maybe the senior adult you know loves to go out to breakfast. Talk to them. Find out what his or her interests are. Ask for help; it's so nice to be needed. Don't forget about him, whoever he is. I bet it's really hard on his family who aren't local. I bet those who live locally would really appreciate co-travelers in this grief journey. You know, whoever they are. My 97 year old friend Mary said it best: "Just don't forget about us. Remember us."

(Watch for an upcoming post with specific how-to ideas and feel free to comment and offer ways you would like to see the church meet the needs of senior adults or ways you've seen this kind of ministry done well.)

granddaddy and beagle
Isabella Beagle (with Granddaddy in the background)

PASTORAL CARE: A SYSTEMIC PLAN
(completed for Dr. Doug Dickens, PC&C, GWU, 2010)

Mature Adult, ages 65 +, Ego Integrity vs. Despair.

Mature adults need pastoral care to help them feel connected and valued. Pastoral care at this stage includes care for the children of the mature adults and often care for their aging parents as well. Mature adults must be cared for so that they do not despair.

  • Physical Care
    • Mature adults need an allotted space that is familiar and welcoming. This is particularly important to senior adults who are losing their vision or their mobility. Familiar space makes church attendance more feasible within their limited abilities.
    • Church transportation should be made available to mature adults who are unable to drive. (Or who may be hesitant to drive at night or long distances)
    • The church should be accessible to members who struggle with mobility issues. That is, elevators and ramps should be readily available. Restrooms should be adaptable for those with mobility impairment.
    • Bible study materials, church newsletters, and other church publications should be printed in large, easy-to-see print.
    • Hearing assistive devices should be available in worship spaces.
    • Leaders should be sensitive to hearing loss—a common problem in this population—and should attempt to speak clearly and directly to mature adults. (Look at people when you speak and be sure listener can see your lips move.)
  • Emotional Care
    • Church members should be sensitive to the needs of mature adults who are experiencing life changes such as retirement, illness, or loss.
    • Churches should offer topical studies on budgeting, aging, aging parents, grief, and other such topics that relate to mature adults.
    • Support groups and classes for grieving mature adults should be made available.
    • Mature adults should be paired with younger adults who they can mentor.
    • The church should celebrate milestone moments with mature adults. Moments such as marriage of children, becoming grandparents, or retirement all offer opportunities for celebration.
    • Weekend retreats to interesting locations should be offered to mature adults. These weekends away increase connectivity and provide opportunities for developing new relationships.
    • Entertainment opportunities of interest to this age group should be frequent and accessible. Church transportation should be provided.
  • Spiritual Care
    • It should not be assumed that mature adults have made decisions about their faith. Therefore, persons in this age group should also be invited and encouraged to make faith commitments.
    • Biblical instruction must not neglect the basics of the faith. Leaders should not assume that all Bible study participants know the old, old stories.
    • The church should provide assistance to those planning memorial services or funerals. The care should involve not just technical and logistics help, but also emotional support throughout the process.
    • Senior adults should participate in and volunteer for mission activities.
    • Mature adults who are also mature believers should be included in the church diaconate and on other committees within the church. They should be encouraged to lead Bible study classes also.
    • Mature adults should assist in worship leadership. By participating in church music, reading scripture, taking offering, or leading in other ways, mature adults can feel valuable to the congregation and therefore less likely to despair.
    • Members should be sensitive to particular needs of mature adults, offering encouragement to those who are dealing with parents growing old, their own physical limitations, loss, relocation, and retirement
    • Members should avoid using labels to refer to other church members. Stereotypes should also be avoided. Instead, the message of God’s love should be paramount.

Teachers: Public School Ministers

(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.)

First Baptist Church, Weaverville, NC (2014)

“What is a minister?” Zach* asked. (Zach always had a question, a comment, or--frequently--an outburst of some sort.)

It was Wednesday afternoon and seven-year-old Zach was one of about 12 kids in attendance at Kids for Christ (KFC). This program meets weekly after school and includes a variety of activities including Bible story time. The KFC’ers get off the school bus at the church and their parents come for them at 7:00 pm.

That afternoon I was helping Cozette, the Bible story teacher; we were focusing on Isaiah 66:13 and talking about mothers. (It was the Wednesday before Mother’s Day.) Both kids and leaders shared stories and talked about what we had learned from our moms. I showed them a picture of my mother and explained that she taught me a lot about ministry.

“When I was a little girl,” I told the kids, “My mother often cooked twice as much supper as we needed so that we could share a meal with another family. She also visited people, wrote notes, taught Sunday school, and did lots of other things that showed me how to be a minister.”

That’s when Zach’s hand shot up. “What is a minister?” he asked.

“Great question,” I told him. I wanted to answer accurately: the word itself could relate to positions outside a church. “A minister is someone who takes care of people and spends time with them. Like me, I work here at the church and I am the Minister with Youth and Children. So, I spend time with you guys and help take care of you.”

“And I’m a minister too,” Cozette, said. “I visit people in group homes and I help them with things they need.”

“Oh!” Zach said, nodding. “Like a teacher.”

Wow. What a response. See, Zach—a loveable and bright little guy who is eager to learn—is not the quietest fella you will ever meet. My guess is he does his share of squirming, speaking out of turn, and just generally pushing the limits of acceptable classroom behavior. And yet, the description of a minister, made him think of teachers.

Teachers.

Teachers. Overworked, underpaid, and up to their lanyards in standardized tests.
Teachers. Who stay after school for special events and come in early for conferences with parents or students.
Teachers. Who spend their own time and money because they love what they do and they want to do it well.
Teachers. Who take time to minister to a fidgety little boy who sometimes forgets the rules.

Teachers. Ministers.

“Yes,” I told Zach. “A minister is like a teacher.”

*Name changed for privacy.

the good samaritan

The Good Immigrant: A Parable Retold

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.

imageThen 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.”

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