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Daddy turns 81

9 ways my dad wins at being a dad

The card I sent Daddy this year for Father’s Day says,

Whenever I see someone with a “World’s Greatest Dad” mug, I knock it out of their hand and scream, “LIAR!
[And then on the inside] You’re Welcome.

In a world full of mediocre cards, I was delighted to find one that was actually humorous and absolutely perfect. For proof, I give you just a few of the ways my father wins at parenting.

Daddy loves our mother.

Part of why Daddy is such a great father is that he’s a wonderful husband. Every Sunday lunch, Daddy (a pastor) would proclaim, “Children, I looked around the whole church this morning and I didn’t see a woman there as pretty as your mama.” We groaned and grimaced, in part because we knew good and well Daddy only had eyes for our mama.

He’s romantic and sweet, but he is also respectful and kind. By loving our mother as a treasure and valuing her as a human being, he has taught us that marriage is more than a social contract or a religious ceremony. It’s a partnership of equals. It’s a romance that never grows old. Indeed, it’s the earthly manifestation of godly love.

Daddy brought a lot of laughter into our home.

Daddy has always been a great story teller. We had our favorites that we would ask for over and over again; he always had new ones in his repertoire to share as well. Daddy loves a good story, and he’s playful too. Some of my earliest memories are of Daddy crawling around our living room, giving my sister and me bucking Broncho rides on his back. “Hold on tight now! You can’t never tell when this horse will rear up on you!”

Plus, he’s silly. True, that silliness often came out first thing in the morning when we were not at all in the mood for such shenanigans. When we were teenagers, he would burst into our room on school mornings singing, “Oh What a Beautiful Morning!” He thought it was hilarious. Us, not so much.

Daddy had high, but reasonable, standards for us.

I can’t say for sure, but my guess is that our father was more involved in our schooling than most fathers in the seventies and eighties. Mother always helped us with school projects, homework, and such, but Daddy did too (yet another way they worked as a team). Daddy always said, “Do your best. If that’s an A, make an A. If it’s a C, then that’s fine too. Whatever you’re doing, do it to the best of your ability.” That’s good parenting right there.

Daddy is a lifetime learner

When I was 14, Daddy was awarded his Doctor of Ministry degree. He comes from a culture of perseverance; so, in 1979, 20 years after his graduation from Mercer University, Daddy walked across the stage with stripes on his sleeves to receive his final academic degree.

His last graduation, however, did not bring an end to his education. Daddy has continued learning. He reads a wide variety of books: from works by the most current theologians to ones from the NY Times bestseller list.

Daddy gains knowledge from books, but he also learns from the people he encounters. He converses with friends and strangers with ease, collecting lessons they’ve learned as he hears their stories. Consequently, he has been introduced to ideas different from his own. On more than one occasion, Daddy has changed his mind. I love that. He does (and thinks) his very best and, to paraphrase Maya Angelou, “When he knows better, he does better.”

Daddy apologizes when he makes mistakes.

Daddy, like all humans (except the one of course), has erred from time to time. Instead of sweeping mistakes under the theoretical rug though, Daddy has this radical practice: he apologizes! Because he does, we have learned that owning your actions enables you to move ahead to the next success. We’ve learned that perfection is a lie; if our Daddy messes up occasionally, we will too. No big deal. Personal responsibility: what a wonderful thing to model for your children.

AND . . .

He trusted us. Daddy knew, as I said, that we were far from perfect. But he trusted us to make good decisions and to right our wrong ones.

He dreamed with us. No dream was too big for Daddy to embrace right along with us.

He worked smart. Daddy worked a lot—long hours and nearly every single weekend. BUT, he also took a day or two off every week and two to four weeks a year we went on family vacations. Almost always, these trips were to visit family. That’s another thing Daddy did right: he made sure that we got to know our extended family.Daddy turns 81

He listened to our questions. Poor Daddy. In my memory, we grilled him after every sermon. We questioned and probed, teasing out any theology we found absurd or unclear. Daddy, a Southern Baptist pastor, not only listened to our questions, he encouraged them. He didn’t always have the answers; in fact, he often introduced even more questions into our discussions. By showing us that our brains could not possibly negate God’s existence, he created space for us to get to know God better. Consequently, our intellectual limitations and rational objections fail to topple our faith. Without ever trying, Daddy taught us that God can handle any questions we can formulate. Until recently, I did not realize the magnitude of this gift. A Sunday dinner served with theological discussion? That was normal for me. Now I know what a privilege it was for me to come boldly to the kitchen table and to be met there with mercy and love.

My daddy. He’s a real winner.

golden love grandparents

Love, Grandmama: A letter about lasting love

On June 10, 1925, before God and the witnesses present, Mabel Louise Cobb, 20, and Jesse D. Martin, 23, promised to love and cherish each other as long as they both should live. And that’s what they did. For better, for worse, from Georgia to Cuba to Brazil and back to Georgia again; in sickness and in health and through the darkness of dementia. They loved (three boys and two girls; 11 grandchildren) and they lost (their oldest daughter in 1961: she was only 33 years old. . .).

By 1989, when Granddaddy’s death parted them, my grandparents had been married for 64 years. Oh, how they loved each other! Ten years earlier, reflecting on 54 years of marriage, Grandmama (then 74) wrote to my parents who had been married for 19 years at the time, and had three children of their own. She thanks them for the anniversary card they had sent and proceeds to describe what marriage in the golden years was like for them. Here is what she said.

golden love grandparentsWe do feel most blessed to be as well as we are at our age. And to be as thoughtful and considerate of each other, but as the years go by, one learns that there’s much more to love than meets the eye when we start out our marriages. True love calls for lots of giving and taking. We have to learn to realize we aren’t always right. Even after as many years as you two have been married, there’s still things you probably don’t realize will draw you closer as years continue to pass until finally you become so close you can’t imagine life without one another. It’s a glorious feeling to know that there’s one who loves you and wants never to have to give you up, yet we have to realize any time after we get our age that God could call either of us any day. So, you must live each day for each other and thank Him so much for another day together.

My Grandmama wrote that in 1979, back when people worried about gas prices and the cost of long distance phone calls, and when computers were housed in large buildings rather than back pockets. But the wisdom she shares is truly timeless. When Mother uncovered this letter recently, she said to me, “It’s amazing how her letter perfectly describes how your daddy and I feel about our marriage.” (Mother and Daddy got married in 1960 and just celebrated their 57th anniversary.) Every morning, my parents have breakfast together and share a time of prayer. Every prayer begins like this, “Thank you God for the gift of a new day.”

Today is the 113th anniversary of Grandmama’s birth. There are lots of things about Grandmama that I could celebrate—her love of the color purple (my favorite too); her delicious homemade biscuits; her hearty, full-body laugh. But today I think I will celebrate by trying to apply Grandmama’s words, not just to my 30-year marriage, but to all my relationships. I will try to be thoughtful and considerate, to remember I’m not always right, and to thank God for the gift of a new day. I hope you’ll celebrate with me!

rabbi ben ezra

30 Years and Counting (Blessings)

I was 22; he was just barely 24. We started dating when we were students at Campbell University and two and a half years later we said our vows. How thirty years have slipped away since that day, I could not tell you. But boy, have we made a lot of memories since then. Here, in celebration of our 30th anniversary last November, are just a sample of them.

  1. We married in North Myrtle Beach, SC on a rainy Friday--November 27, 1987--and by Sunday I had moved into Jay’s apartment in Panama City, Florida. He was stationed at Tyndall Air Force Base at the time. Within the next few weeks, I invited Linda Reiman and Janet Elmore—also newly married to 2nd Lieutenants—over for lunch. A chance to make friends AND use my brand-new Christmas china: win, win! I don’t remember the full menu, but I do remember the desert: homemade peppermint ice cream. I still have the recipe. AND I remember Linda and Janet, two women who made my transition into the foreign world of military life so much easier.
  2. We moved to Oklahoma in January 1988; Jay would be stationed at Tinker Air Force Base in Midwest City, Oklahoma. The drive to Oklahoma from Florida—in two cars, before the days of cellphones—was interminable and not just because of the distance. We crossed into Oklahoma during an ice storm that slowed traffic to an excruciatingly slow and dangerous crawl. Luckily, it did not turn out to be any kind of omen. We absolutely loved living in Oklahoma.
  3. Jay went to survival school soon after we moved to Oklahoma—March as I recall. It was the first time I had stayed alone in our apartment overnight, and I was terrified. Don’t know why I was so convinced that I was the one who would not survive those few weeks—after all, it was Jay who was experiencing a prisoner of war simulation . . ..
  4. After about six months of looking and visiting, we joined First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City, the first church we belonged to as a married couple. Seven years later, the sanctuary’s 100+ year old windows were blown out by the explosion orchestrated by homegrown terrorist Timothy McVeigh at the nearby Alfred P. Murrah federal building. That day, 168 people died and 680 more were injured. (Back then, we thought it would be the most tragic event of its kind in our lifetime.)
  5. In the Sunday school class for young couples at FBCOKC, we met a couple who married just five months before we did—Vic and Debbie Averitt. The first time Vic and Debbie invited us to join them for lunch after church, we accepted but we were so nervous! At the time, we were 22 and 24, lived in a just-barely-average two-bedroom apartment, and I was unemployed. Debbie and Vic were in their thirties, owned a beautiful home, and were established in successful careers. What kind of restaurant would such affluent, mature people choose? “I hope this place takes credit cards,” Jay said as we walked to our 1985 Chevrolet Cavalier and they headed over to their Volvo. “I don’t have much cash!” We followed Debbie and Vic to the fine establishment they had chosen: the local version of today’s IHOP. (We didn’t need the credit card.)
  6. Another young couple—fresh grads of Oklahoma State University—joined First Baptist OKC a few months later: Ken and Kimberlee Spady. Ken was beginning his career in agricultural science and Kimberlee studied law at OKC University. Kimberlee’s easy laugh and vivacious personality paired perfectly with Ken’s quiet strength and steady presence. In my memory, our friendship formed instantaneously.
  7. As soon as housing became available at Tinker Air Force Base—around 1990—Jay and I moved from our place at Lakeview Apartments in Northwest OKC, to a three-bedroom house on base. It felt huge! To me, living on base seemed a lot like college life. Everyone was about the same age (not quite adults, but on our way), we shared some communal spaces (officer’s club, BX, etc.), and we had few pressing responsibilities (no mortgages, for example). I loved it.
  8. Jay took up biking in Oklahoma and would go for extended rides of 50-75 miles. Soon, he was participating in triathlons and biathlons around Oklahoma, giving us a great opportunity to see some remote parts of the state. This will surprise all of you readers, but I played the role of spectator, not participant. (You’re shocked, I know.)
  9. After a couple of employment flops, I got a job in Chickasha as a recruiter for the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, “Oklahoma’s ONLY public liberal arts university. Gooooo Drovers!” USAO was a great place to work. The only problem? Chickasha was a 55-minute drive from Midwest City. It got old. Fast.
  10. In 1990, Jay took his first leisure trip to that popular vacation spot known for attracting (or is that attacking?) international tourists. Yep, Jay and hundreds of his closest friends received an all-expenses paid trip to not-terribly-beautiful Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
  11. In November of 1991, you may have noticed that the world was suddenly vastly improved. That would have been when our niece Rachel Elizabeth Webster (now Breckenridge) was born. We met her that December when she was still small enough to fit comfortably in my two hands. My palms still tingle at the memory.
  12. That 55-minute drive I mentioned? It drove me to resign from USAO so I could go back to school and complete my degree before Jay got out of the Air Force in 1992. I finished my MEd at the University of Central Oklahoma in July of 1992, just before we moved back east where Jay would go to NC State for his Master’s in Atmospheric Sciences which he completed in 1994.
  13. In August of 1992, we moved to a tiny apartment (exactly the size of a two-car garage) with a huge monthly rent (and still the cheapest we could find) in Cary, NC. That apartment . . . oh my. It was underneath a large home in a nice neighborhood (as garages so often are). The couple, smiling at each other with pride, told us they had renovated the space themselves. (This explained the mismatched paint, uneven molding, and the lovely rooster motif.) I am certain that the apartment had some insulation. I mean, surely the original builders included a layer above the garage, right? Anyway, we could neither cool the place in the summer nor heat it in the winter. What an adventure!
  14. We bought our first house in Sanford, NC in 1993. Painted pale yellow with black shutters, it had a front porch—swing added—and a big yard. One teensy little drawback—our yard backed up to an elementary school. (I could hear the tardy bell from my kitchen.) Still, it was my favorite house and if it were twice as big and in Asheville, I’d live in it today.
  15. Our three children were all born in the same room at Central Carolina Hospital in Sanford, NC. (Not, however, at the same time.) Trellace, born in 1994, was 3 ½ and Baker was not quite 2 when Margaret joined the family in February of 1998.
  16. For about six years, I worked at Central Carolina Community College. My first supervisor at CCCC was Dr. Matt Garrett. He and his wife Becky had three teens (or almost teens) at the time. We learned so much from the Garretts about so many things: leadership, marriage, parenting, faith, and so much more. Of the many gifts we were given during our time in Sanford, NC, the Garrett family is one of our favorites.
  17. Keisha McLeod Petty and I also worked together at CCCC; having her as a co-worker for those six years is another of God’s gifts to me and my family. The kids grew up knowing and loving her and her husband Jeffrey Petty. A lot has changed for Keisha and Jeff since we moved from Sanford. Through it all, they have become even more beautiful and an even greater example for my family of abiding faith and enduring love.
  18. While in Sanford, Jay and I belonged to First Baptist Church (a recurring association, you’ll notice). We made many great friends there, among them Mark and Traci Willis. We have maintained our friendship with Mark and Traci, raising our families and navigating the complexities of life together. Yet another Sanford blessing!
  19. In May of 1998, Jay left his position with the State of North Carolina to accept a position with the National Climatic Data Center (now National Centers for Environmental Information) in Asheville, NC. From May until October of that year, Jay commuted to Asheville from Sanford. He lived in Asheville Monday through Thursday and spent the long weekend at home in Sanford. That went on for six extra-long months.
  20. We bought our third house in October 1998: 24 Cedar Trail in Asheville. (We’d sold the little yellow one and bought a size larger while we were in Sanford.) Margaret was just shy of nine months old; Baker was 2½ and Trellace was 4½. Our address falls in the A.C.Reynolds/Oakley school district, so approximately five minutes after we moved to Asheville, all three of our kids were attending Oakley Elementary, then ACR Middle, then graduating from ACRHS.
  21. In the fall of 2003, Baker and Trellace both made their professions of faith and were baptized by their Papa, my dad. Margaret was baptized in 2013, also by Papa. Beautiful.
  22. Remember that great trip Jay took back in 1990? It was so much fun that 14 years later he went back to the region for a second vaycay (that time to Tikrit, Iraq as part of the NC Air National Guard). Just before he left, our family joined—you guessed it—First Baptist Church of Asheville.
  23. From 1991 to 2003, our 12 (biological and otherwise) nieces and nephews entered the world. We have seven boys ages 26 to 14 (Cameron, Lane, Jake, Mitch, Connor, Cage, and Banks) and five girls ages 26 to 15 (Rachel, Emma, Meredith, Allie, and Anna Kate). They are all such wonderful people and we are privileged to share their lives.
    While today, all of our nieces and nephews are healthy, their birth stories are not all uneventful:
  • Meredith Averitt, born in 1995 at 25.5 weeks, weighed 1 pound 12 ounces and was about 12 inches long at birth. Her life hung in the balance for months; her identical twin had slipped past earth and gone straight on to heaven. Meredith’s survival, her vitality, brings me to my knees with gratitude.
  • Emma and Mitch Weiss (born 1997 and 1999), both had health concerns at birth due to my sister’s obstetric cholestasis—a liver disease that causes multiple problems, most predominantly chronic and insatiable itching. We could have lost any one of them. It was a harrowing time.
  • From day one, Anna Kate Willis’ gregarious personality and can-do attitude assured all of us that she would triumph over the medical limitations inherent in her cerebral palsy diagnosis.  Through multiple surgeries (we love Shriner’s Hospitals!) and countless therapy sessions, Anna Kate has maintained her strong will and indomitable spirit; at 15 years old, she is strong and independent—spending as much time as possible riding her horse, Houdini. Nieces and nephews: one of our life’s most delightful surprises.
  1. I thought it was cute, certainly nothing upsetting. So, when I was told that almost-3-year-old Baker might have a developmental speech disorder, I thought it was nonsense. I had him professionally evaluated, though, and then reluctantly consented to having him enter speech therapy after his third birthday. I learned that while there are plenty of appropriate developmental speech patterns, Baker’s did not fall within that range. For example, he called Trellace, “Hada” and when he said words that started with “s,” an “f” sound came out (“soft” sounded like “fof”.) Anyway, he had great therapists and after six years, he graduated from the program at 9 years old. (Seeing as now he pretty much uses his voice to make money, I’d say the treatment was effective.)
    Many adorable stories feature Baker’s unusual speech. Here’s one of the favorites. We were at the allergist’s office and had been there for some time. (Both Baker and Margaret had appointments; Trellace was along for the ride.) By the time we left, the kids were tired and hungry. As I was checking out, the clerk offered the children a sweet treat for good behavior. Baker didn’t hesitate to accept, responding loudly with great enthusiasm, “I want a GREEN sucker!” At least, that’s what he meant to say . . ..
  2. When Trellace was 8 years old, she got a bit of a tummy ache which turned out to be appendicitis—a diagnosis that occurred sometime after the appendix ruptured, shortly before the surgery to remove it. Peritonitis, as it turns out, is nasty business. Because of the superb medical care at Mission Hospital, Trellace got better just in time for us to go on our annual trip to The Woodlands, TX to spend Thanksgiving with the Averitt family—a tradition that we kept up for more than a decade.
  3. I had just finished teaching a fitness class and the kids were waiting for me there in the studio at the YMCA when it happened. Suddenly, Margaret began crying out in pain, describing the symptoms of a classic migraine; she was six years old. By that time, she had grappled with asthma for two years. Thanks to modern medicine for quality pharmaceuticals and to chiropractic care for healing adjustments, Margaret keeps both in check these days. Never a pushover, Margaret wasn’t about to let a little bit of neurological distress and respiratory dysfunction slow her down.
  4. This next story spans most of our 30 years of marriage, so allow me to truncate: when I was 42, in January of 2008, I returned to college for the third time, this time to Gardner-Webb University to pursue my Master’s of Divinity. I graduated in December 2010. In Fall 2017, I headed back to Boiling Springs, NC to begin my Doctorate of Ministry which I’ll finish in 2020.
  5. One weekend in the fall of 2011, I was out of town for a speaking engagement. Jay called me to tell me that Baker had gone to the school’s homecoming dance with a girl I had never met. (An aside: apparently my husband had never met ME seeing as he mentioned this casually and in passing. This was Baker’s FIRST date!) A few weeks later, they made it “Facebook official.” That Facebook status didn’t change until March 2017 when Addison Cook said YES to becoming a Lawrimore. (On May 19, 2018, they’ll change their status once more to “married.”)
  6. Our nest emptied out in the fall of 2016 when Margaret went to NC State, following her brother who had gone to UNC Greensboro and her sister who graduated that same year from Georgetown University. As of now, Margaret is a sophomore, Baker is a senior, and Trellace is in the PhD program at New York University.
  7. Both of our sets of parents have passed their 50th Mine are at 57; Jay’s just celebrated their 60th. Despite their share of health complications, all four continue to thrive, a fact that we never take for granted. Jay’s sister Jill and her husband Ted will be married 30 years in January; Aileen’s sister Dawn and her husband Mike are up to 27 years; Hal, Aileen’s brother, and his wife Kim had their 26th anniversary this past December. Add all that up and you’ve got about 200 years of marriage. Makes our 30 seem like just a short chapter in a really long and beautiful love story. We are grateful.

Black and White, Just Alike

One of my all-time favorite stories (at the end of this post) and worth a re-run. 

Before I moved to North Myrtle Beach, SC in my junior year of high school, I lived in Goldsboro, NC. Back in the 1980’s when I was a student there, Goldsboro High School lacked diversity. Everyone there looked alike—at least to the few of us who were of the paler variety. Evidently we white folk couldn’t differentiate between the colors of mocha, caramel, and dark chocolate. I guess we couldn’t tell the difference in hair texture, color, and style either. And, perhaps we didn’t notice the zillions of variances in facial features, body structure, height, weight, and so on. We were, after all adolescents, and by nature not that discerning. Anyway, I don’t know the ethnic percentages at GHS, I just remember that when we saw white faces, we waved; they were probably our relatives.

When I lived in Goldsboro, I was blessed: African-American role models were the norm for me. My favorite teachers, Mrs. Delaney and Mrs. Hayes, were strong African-American women; our principal, Mr. Best remains the standard by which I judge all school administrators. He is an enormous man in my memory. “His biceps are the size of our football players’ quadriceps,” we often quipped. But it was his presence, not his size, which looms large in my recall: how he commanded the boisterous hallways by striding silently along, nodding at students, calling them by name. He died young, a loss to the community and to the world.

seymour johnson afb

Goldsboro is an Air Force town; race boundaries blurred early there. So, if I’d get off the bus to find my mother was not yet home, I’d go to the home of the African-American couple the Hightowers. Mr. Hightower had retired from the Air Force and was always home during the day, usually tending the roses in his yard. I spent many afternoons there learning about the delicate flowers he loved so well.

The Hightowers lived on one side of us in a house about the size of ours. On the other side was a house twice as big and parked out front was the son’s BMW. This family was also African-American. Sometimes I caught a ride from school with Darryl, who didn’t have to ride the bus since, well, he had the BMW and all.

Recently, chatting with a friend who coaches girls’ basketball, I got a chuckle when she told me about something her nearly-all-white team experienced. They were playing at a school that must have been something like Goldsboro High School was back in the 80’s because most of the students at the rival school were African-American. My friend’s team was not bothered by the circumstance, played a good game, and headed to the locker room. On the way, they passed a few middle-aged men from the rival school and my friend over heard a bit of their dialog. Observing the pasty skinned opponents, the men shook their heads and commented quietly to each other, “Man, look at those girls. They all look alike!"

"Red and yellow, black and white,
they are precious in his sight,
Jesus loves the little children of the world!"

dexter avenue baptist church

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Kitchen

Dr. Sheri Adams led a class on Civil Rights and Religion in May 2009 which included a tour of key historic sites from the Civil Rights Movement. One of the places we visited was the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church parsonage where Martin and Coretta King lived during their ministry there. This story comes from that experience.

I am standing in my Grandmother Martin’s kitchen. It’s true: Grandmama died nearly 14 years ago and her kitchen was dismantled long before that, but I’m telling you, this is her kitchen.

Her resin dishes are laid out on the Formica table ready for supper—though I remember them being a pale pink, not this mint green. The table setting includes a bowl of pecans. Granddaddy often collected pecans from the yard to be cracked after supper; and for the record, he and Grandmama called them “pea ca’ns,” giving equal emphasis to the first two syllables and letting the third one slip in for free. (Only those uppity carpet-baggers from the North used the term “puhcahns,” spitting out the “puh” just to get to the “cahns.”)

The ceramic napkin holder is new to me. I’m not surprised it’s in her kitchen though since it has strawberries on it; Grandmama did love her strawberries. Her oven, probably still hot from cooking biscuits, looks like it always did and her Frigidaire does too. The coffee pot—a percolator—has not changed at all. The kitchen shelves hold the usual, everything from Jewel® shortening to HotShot® bug killer in the pump and shoot tin can. Granddaddy murdered many a 6-legged intruder with that beastly weapon.

“’Get out of town within three days,’ the caller threatened, ‘or you’ll be sorry,’” The docent’s words drew me out of my reverie. “Martin knew this threat was different.”

“The call had awakened him and he could not get back to sleep, so he left Coretta and newborn Yolanda asleep, and came in here to the kitchen.”

This kitchen: this kitchen that looked so much like my Grandmama’s.

“He made himself a cup of coffee, but says he never even took a sip. And he sat down at his kitchen table. By the way, most everything in the parsonage here is authentic; however, this table is not the one that was here at that time, but it is very much like the one Martin sat at that night.”

(And it’s very much like the one my Grandparents sat at in their kitchen in Georgia during those very same years.)

My divinity school colleagues—19 of us counting students and professors—crowded into the parsonage's tiny kitchen and stood around the little table. Studying civil rights and religion, we were travelling to significant sites in the South, learning more about faith’s role in the Civil Rights Movement. Coming to the end of this tour of the Birmingham parsonage of Martin Luther King, Jr., we found ourselves spellbound by our guide’s retelling of the famous  “kitchen table epiphany.

“Martin sat here, full of despair. He thought of Coretta, and baby Yolanda. He thought of all the threatening phone calls. He thought of all he had to lose. He sat here in the wee hours of that morning and cried out to God, confessing his own doubts, his own weaknesses.

“When Martin recalled the story, he said it was at that moment of confession that he heard the voice of Jesus say to him, ‘Martin Luther stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And lo I will be with you, even until the end of the world.’ He heard Jesus tell him he would never be alone, no matter what.” The docent looked up to heaven, lifting her hands as if in thanksgiving. Then looking down, she shook her head slowly.

“And he didn’t give up. Not even three days later when his house, this house, was bombed. You see Martin was right: the call he got that night was more than just a prank. It was a real threat. What a blessing that Martin had just reaffirmed his calling and his faith right here in this kitchen.”

This Montgomery, Alabama kitchen that belonged to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., an African American Baptist preacher and the leader of the Civil Rights movement. This kitchen:so familiar to me that it could have been in the Albany, Georgia home of Mrs. Mabel Louise Martin, my white, Southern Baptist grandmama.

 

seraphim

From Despair to Hope Sans Seraphim

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Published originally February 2009

"In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.’ " Isaiah 6:1-3

“In the year King Uzziah died. . .” Remember the year? It was an awful year. For the people of Judea, it was the year King Uzziah died. King Uzziah had been such a great king. During his reign, they were prosperous and peace ruled in their land. But when he died—well it felt like all hope died with him.

What year was it for you?
“In the year the shuttle crashed. . .
“In the year of September 11. . .
“In the year of the Virginia Tech Tragedy. . .
Or is it more personal?
“In the year my mother/father/sister/brother died. . .”
“In the year of my divorce. . .”
“In the year my favorite teacher died. . .”

It’s the year hope dies. The year that what was, is no more. It’s the watershed moment: when everything before and after is defined by that moment. Everyone get’s it when you say it. They nod, knowingly, as if to say, “Oh, that year. Yeah. That was awful.”

“In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the LORD sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.”

I wonder what Isaiah was thinking when he went into the temple. Was he thinking, “I’m so great—righteous really—that I will lead the wretched ones out of their despair into God’s Glory. (amen)” That is, was he full of himself? Or. . .was he empty? Did he go to the temple thinking, “I’m not up for this. My hope is gone. How can I lead the people of God into his glory?”

We can’t know what he was feeling, but we know this: Isaiah went to the temple. Last Tuesday, I arrived at the divinity school to find out one of our professors, a man younger than I, had died. Soon after I learned of his death, I heard we would be having a chapel service in a few hours.

It was a terrible day. It was like the year the shuttle crashed. It was like September 11th. I felt shock, confusion, grief. It was that day. You know the one?

Like Isaiah went to the temple, I went to the chapel. By grace, I was not met by the fearsome vision that Isaiah beheld. But I did see God there. I saw God in the tear stained faces of my godly professors, struggling as we were to make sense of this tragedy. I saw God in the hunched forms of students, embraced by other students. I heard God in the stories, the testimonies, the music. God filled up that chapel last Tuesday.

In the year king Uzziah died, Isaiah went to the temple. And despite his despair, Isaiah saw God there. But Isaiah did not stop with that one visit to the temple. Isaiah kept going back. Sometimes, he surely felt the full presence of God’s glory. Sometimes, though, I bet he came away with little more than a meal plan for the upcoming week. Still, he kept going back to the temple, going back to worship. And somehow, I’d say miraculously, he found his way out of the darkness of grief; he found his way back to hope.

advice for struggling friend

Tempted to give advice? Don't.

Original Publication: July 31, 2012

“Oh, she’ll be fine!”  “She’ll love it there!”  “She is so ready for this new stage!” (And my personal favorite . . .) “Honey, it will be much worse on you than it will on her.”

True. Every single statement: absolutely true. In fact, because everyone knows these things are true, you will never need to say them to another mother whose child is going away to college. She already knows this stuff.  Trust me (more on this in a later post).

But NOT saying something can be so difficult can’t it?

For example, if someone has a stomach bug, it takes true restraint for me NOT to tell them to drink plenty of water. Everyone knows that gastrointestinal upset in the extreme can lead to dehydration. I know that everyone knows this. But I feel the urge to tell them, just in case they’ve been living under a rock.

Here’s another one. I’ve actually tried not to say this; I can’t do it. My kids leave this house, keys in their hands, and I’m going to say . . . (say it with me now) . . . “Drive carefully!” I can’t help myself.

There are more critical times than these though, when people seriously do not need our comments.

Like when my sister was pregnant. She had a highly uncommon obstetric liver disorder that caused her to itch constantly, from the inside out. It was miserable, plus it was life-threatening to her and to her baby. She finally got some relief from an internationally renowned specialist and both she and the baby managed just fine, but here’s the thing: long before any doctors knew what was causing her symptoms, complete strangers would come to her aid.

“Have you tried lanolin? That stuff is amazing!”

“No, go with cocoa butter. It’s better.”

“Girl you need to get yourself some hydrocortisone cream. That’ll take care of you.”

Naturally, she had tried all these things and dozens more before she got her diagnosis. She knew all that and was painfully tired of hearing such things. In fact, not only did she not need to hear their advice, she really needed not to talk about her maddening condition at all.

The truth is, people usually do not need us to correct, advise, counsel, or admonish them. They need only for us to be with them: completely—silently—with them.

 “They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him,  for they saw that his suffering was very great.”                                                                                          Job 2:13

elevating preaching 2017

Elevating Preaching Conference 2017

During the 2017 Elevating Preaching Conference held at my alma mater, Gardner-Webb University, attendees heard three preachers whose words challenged and inspired. It was, as always, a fantastic conference, refreshing and instructive. Here are a few of my favorite moments.

Elevating Preching 2017

Dr. Kevin Crosby

Preaching Session 1: Dr. Kevin Cosby, Senior Pastor, St. Stephen Church, Louisville, KY
Acts 5:29, Matthew 16:21

“You cannot get away from the musts of life.” Cosby explained that there are different kinds of musts—ones from the outside (civil laws and social obligations, for example) and ones that come from within. Musts, according to Cosby, are about conviction, not convenience. He challenged us, “Where does your MUST come from? Your must cannot come from the Law, but from Grace.”

On his church’s decision to stay in an area of Louisville considered dangerous and inhospitable to the Gospel, Dr. Cosby spoke of the transformation that has taken place in that neighborhood saying, “It’s Black Christian Gentrification! [The church now has] the land of the Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Bud Lights!”

[By the way, check out the church website for evidence of this amazing gentrification.)

Preaching Session 2: Dr. Kimberly Moore, Senior Pastor, Emmanuel Missionary Baptist Church Gastonia, NC
“I May be Tired, but I won’t Quit.” Jeremiah 20:7-9

Dr. Moore, referencing how exhausting ministry can be, pointed out that Jeremiah was also tired, weary of the obstacles he continued to face. Dr. Moore challenged us,
“Realize WHO is fighting for you! Where you are is not your destiny. I know you are tired, but you have to remember [your struggles are] taking you somewhere. . . .”

She added that in the face of overwhelming difficulty, we might do as Jeremiah did and offer praise to God. She said that we don’t necessarily need to praise God for the hardships, but rather offer praise for what you know God WILL do. She concluded, “You’ll find that praise is your strength!”

Preaching Session 3: Dr. Wade Bibb, Senior Pastor, Central Baptist Church Beardon, Knoxville, TN
“Insignificant People” II Timothy 1:3-18

“It is dangerous to preach to insignificant people,” Dr. Bibb said. “Because sometimes they listen.”

Dr. Bibb recalled a time when he had listened to the pastor of his small church and had become quite the 12-year-old evangelist. In an admittedly immature method of discernment, 7th grade Bibb picked out the child in his class who was most often in trouble. Despite fear and trembling, he approached his intended target saying, “I want you to know that God loves you, and I love you, and I will be praying for you.” He continued this routine for a week or so, his unchurched friend becoming more and more open to the idea of a God who loves all people. Bibb’s efforts were thwarted, though, when his pastor suggested that perhaps Bibb shouldn’t bring his friend to their church. “He should go to his own church,” the pastor said, meaning a church that was as homogeneously African American as his church was Caucasian. Bibb then had the task at just 12 years old to find a way to say to his new friend, “God loves you. And I love you. But you can’t come to my church.”

Community Worship: Dr. Cosby
1 Corinthians 16:8-9.

Before beginning his message, Dr. Cosby summarized the day’s events up to that point.
“People in our lives are like elevator buttons. They take you up or down. They add value or take it away. Today, you people have taken me up!”

After reading the text, Dr. Cosby pointed out how foolhardy it was to start a church in Ephesus. Ephesus was the home to the cult of Diana; it was an idolatrous place that would most certainly be closed to the Gospel of Christ. But Paul says he will stay in Ephesus to build the church.

“Starting a church in Ephesus would be like starting a girl scout troop in a brothel. Starting a church in Ephesus would be like Al Sharpton going to recruit at the annual conference of the Knights of Columbus Ku Klux Klan.”

Fear though, has no place in following God’s purpose for our lives. Dr. Cosby illustrated this concept through a story of birds sitting in a tree above a berry patch. They were hungry and loved berries, but wouldn’t approach and eat because there was a scarecrow in the patch. “They were letting a stick wearing clothes and stuffed with straw keep them from being filled.” Dr. Cosby drew an undeniable parallel between those birds and those of us who are followers of Christ, hesitant to do God’s work. He pointed out “No farmer puts a scarecrow somewhere there isn’t something of value. If I were you, I’d fly around looking for scarecrows because wherever they are, there is value!”

dr. kimberly moore gardner-webb university

Fellow Gardner-Webb University alumna, Dr. Kimberly Moore

Small Group Session: Dr. Moore

Regarding the task of preaching, Dr. Moore summed up her convictions with two directives: “Just be you. Just preach Jesus.” Amen!

Thanks to CBFNC and Gardner-Webb University for a wonderful day of faith and fellowship.

Raindrops on roses

52 of my favorites

It’s my 52nd birthday. Here (in no particular order) are 52 of my favorites.

  1. Nephews and nieces. I always knew I’d love having my own children, but nothing prepared me for the blessing of my nephews and nieces. The joy they bring to my life is an ongoing delight.
  2. Rosa Parks. And Ruby Bridges. And Brown of Brown v. Board. And so many more. These women gave me the opportunity to have friends I could never have known without their courageous acts.
  3. Carrot cake. As I recall, the first time I tasted it was when Mother was trying out a new recipe. I’ve loved it ever since. Especially with extra cream cheese frosting. The best! If you’re in Western North Carolina, you can get great carrot cake at My Father’s Pizza in Black Mountain and in Weaverville at Well-Bred. I mean, it’s not my Mother’s, but it’s worth the drive!
  4. Diet Mountain Dew. (Don’t judge.)
  5. My kids’ friends. Who knew that my kids’ besties would become friends of mine? What unexpected gifts.
  6. Dinner on the deck. When we were kids, summer meant cookouts with friends and meals eaten outside. These days, as soon as it’s warm enough, my family eats on the deck. Food’s just better out there.
  7. Jane Eyre. Best book ever.
  8. Church. From Five Points Missionary Baptist Church (now Forest Hills) in Wilson, through First Baptist Church of Marion, to FBC Weaverville. I love church: I loved two-week long revivals (I went with Daddy if he preached out of town) and VBS that was also two weeks. Church is truly one of my favorite things. No kidding.
  9. School. You might suggest I’ve over-educated myself. You’d be right.
  10. 80’s hair. No seriously. The big hair styles of the 80’s? I totally rocked those.
  11. This is Us. This TV show premiered in September 2016 and is, I’m not even kidding, my favorite television show ever. I love it.
  12. Microphones. Especially when I’m holding one on stage and I have a huge audience before me.
  13. Bob Newhart. He’s hilarious.
  14. My parents' screened-in porch. Even more when homemade ice cream and great storytelling is involved.
  15. Caswell Beach, NC. It is heaven on earth. I do not exaggerate.
  16. Beagles. Loud as can be, but still my favorite breed.
  17. Encyclopedias. I mean, not now. But in their day, encyclopedias mesmerized me. I loved reading our World Book 1971 set. So much information on one book shelf!
  18. The library. Ahhh. My happy place.
  19. Pop music. When I was in college, a professor told me that adults stop listening to pop music and gravitate towards classical, country, or oldies. I thought that was a sweeping generalization even then and it has not proven true for me. I listen to what my kids do. Well, more or less. I don’t listen to opera or organ music like my son, or bassoon sonatas like my daughter, but you get the point.
  20. The NC mountains. Yeah, I know they aren’t the Rockies, but they are home.
  21. Jimmy Carter. The guy is 92 and is still building houses. That is impressive enough, but he is also still teaching Sunday school! Fantastic!
  22. Clementines. Oranges that are easy to peel=Perfection.
  23. Zero Bars. I rarely eat them anymore, but they are the standard by which I measure all other candy bars.
  24. Boat riding. Oh how I love riding in a fast boat! And
  25. Water skiing. It’s a little like flying, a little like walking on water, and a whole lot of fun.
  26. Queso. Liquid cheese=culinary delight.
  27. Drinking straws. Especially the purple ones.
  28. Purple. The best color of them all!
  29. Porch swings. When I sit in a porch swing, I’m transported to the 1970’s and my grandparents’ house in Albany, Georgia where I listen to my cousin sing and play her guitar. Or I find myself in one of a dozen other special places that are marked by the presence of an inviting swing. Sweet.
  30. Denzel Washington. I appreciate beauty; what can I say?
  31. Ellen Degeneres. Every day, she reminds people to be kind to one another. What a wonderful world it would be . . ..
  32. Tie Dye. My garment of choice is almost always something tie-dyed. Favorite tie-dye? Purple of course.
  33. Tervis cups. Lifetime guarantee, endless varieties, lids with straws. (See #27 above.)
  34. Podcasts and
  35. Audiobooks. When I discovered these, it transformed my long drives into time-just-for-me. I listen to my favorite speakers or authors and instead of being drained by driving, I’m energized by new information.
  36. Bananagrams. No other game compares to this fast-paced scrabble-style word game. Want to play? Let’s get together!
  37. Video chat. Of course, there’s nothing like the real thing (baby), but seeing my loved ones faces when we chat is pretty close. I’m grateful for this technology that, at least momentarily, eliminates the distance of my far away friends and family.
  38. Bullet Journaling. Changed. My. Life.
  39. Nonfiction. I do love a good story; but I’ve gravitated towards nonfiction my whole life. (I can still picture the biography section of my elementary school library.) True stories always called out to me even louder than their imaginary counterparts.
  40. History. My favorite subject, my undergraduate major. Love it.
  41. Preaching. Never expected to love preaching like I do. Such a beautiful surprise.
  42. Finding Nemo. Best animated movie ever made. This is fact, not opinion.
  43. Board games. There are few board games I don’t enjoy playing. Even when I’m not very good at the game, I still enjoy playing.
  44. Also card games. I don’t remember learning how to play cards. I think I was playing solitaire before I was in school. I played Crazy Eights and Go Fish, Canasta and Rook, and just about any card game you can name. A side note: my mother had played cards all of her life like I did. Daddy though, was never allowed to play cards and knew absolutely nothing about them. My mother taught him the basics (like how to hold the cards in his hand without dropping them all or showing them to the other players) and eventually he could play Rook with the rest of Mother’s clan. Pretty sure she never let on to Daddy’s mama though. That would not have been pretty.
  45. Watermelon. I like watermelon even if it’s not that great. But a cold Congo watermelon? That’s a taste of the divine!
  46. Carol Burnett. Nobody does it better. She is the master.
  47. And Tim Conway. Have you seen the skit where they are playing password and Tim Conway goes off about Siamese elephants? Drop what you’re doing and watch that right now.
  48. Children’s books. One of the best parts of my job as a children’s minister is reading picture books to children. Sometimes, like if it’s my birthday or something, my own children will sit and listen to me read their favorites again. That right there? That’s life at its finest.
  49. Robert Lake Park, Montreat, NC. I took my kids there when they were little, and I took the kids from church there last week. Putting my toes in that icy cold creek and watching kids play in the water and the Montreat park—that’s one of my favorite things ever.
  50. Yellow roses. From the first time I saw them, they were my favorite flower. Put those with daisies and you get Aileen’s favorite floral arrangement.
  51. Grace. Grace is my hands down favorite thing. I mess up all the time. When someone offers me grace, it’s just the best. The absolute best.
  52. My birthday! It is infinitely better to get older than the alternative.