Since we’re all quarantined and probably looking at screens a lot, I thought I would share four applications that I use everyday and one website I use way more than my bank account would like. Here you go!
Way of Life: This is one from the class of applications called “habit makers.” I got the pro version after using the free app and finding it an effective way to keep myself accountable. It’s not complicated to use, just enter the habit you want to track, then mark your progress every day. Your choices are “yes,” “no,” “skip,” or “erase” (the last for when you input wrong data). That’s it. The pro app has no limits on the number of habits you can track: I currently have 18. My list includes things that don’t come naturally for me (like uncluttering); things that should not be hard for me, but are (like putting my glasses in the case at the end of the day); chronic struggles I will always need extra motivation to achieve (flossing, amirite?!); and lots of wellness related goals (like exercising, tracking food choices, and more). If nothing else, the app helps me remember to do things I think are important but frequently forget (like daily sunscreen). I rarely do everything on the list, but I frequently get 80%. Plus, I’ve made my optician, my dental hygienist, and my dermatologist very happy. #worthit
Verses: This is actually one of the daily goals on my Way of Life App—using my Verses App. This is admittedly a niche app and certainly not for everyone as it is a scripture memory app. It’s certainly useful for me, though. I input my weekly sermon text and work on it a little each day (thanks to the Way of Life app). There are several activities (loosely defined as games) that lend themselves to scripture memorization and I find them motivating. In addition, there are a number of biblical literacy tools including an activity to help you memorize the order of the books of the Bible: simply sort the scrambled list of books in the Old Testament or the New Testament. I bought the pro version of this app because I wanted to add other versions of scripture. You might be fine with the free ones, but I wanted to branch out a bit.
JustDanceNow: I loved Just Dance back in our Wii days. Now there is an app! You connect to a screen (I use my laptop) and use your smartphone as the controller. The free app gives you like three songs or something like that. I am trying out a short-term membership to see if I use it enough to merit a longer subscription. So far, I’m finding it fun and a great distraction. It’s not the hardest workout I’ve ever done, but it gets my heartrate into the fat-burning zone, so it’s not nothing either. Give it a try!
BookOrganizer: The free version of this app was just enough to tease me. I bought the complete app almost immediately, but y’all! This is fantastic! See, I have been known—on occasion—to purchase second copies of certain books. It happens like this: I hear about a book that sounds great, I buy it online, put it on the to-be-read shelf (“shelves” if I’m honest), and forget I’ve purchased it.
POINT OF CLARIFICATION: Yes, Sassafras, I HAVE heard of libraries. It turns out, when you are me, it is cheaper (and a whole lot less stressful) to purchase books (see below) than to pay overdue fines. So, settle yourself right on down there Sass. I've got this.
But back to the app. You can usually add books by scanning the bar code, though occasionally you may have to search or enter manually. Then, you can organize books into stacks. For example, I have a “theology” stack and a “children’s book” stack. And others. I have other stacks too . . . ! It’s just that “theology” and “children’s” are the biggest ones—as is true for everyone I’m sure.
Now the website. As you might can guess from my excitement over the BookOrganizer app, I buy a lot of books. Luckily, I found betterworldbooks.com. This virtual used-books store offers free standard shipping and affordable expedited shipping. Plus, for every book purchased, they donate a book to a person in need. (Which is to say, a lot of folks in this world have books thanks to me.) And Better World Books does lots of other great stuff—like offering employees paid time off for volunteering—in an effort to increase equity, to decrease illiteracy, and just . . . well . . .to create a better world.
What about you? Fave apps or websites? Let us know in the comments. Oh, and take a minute to disinfect your keyboard and phone, then wash your hands. I will too.
WARNING: this story is about a dog attacking me and my dog. While we are both fine, the story could be triggering to victims of violence. Please read with caution.
Spectrum was due by 4 (Wi-Fi woes) so when I got home around 3:35, I hurried to get my beagle, Isabella, out for a potty break before they arrived. We walked maybe 3 minutes before she was done with her business and we turned back for home. Just before I stepped into my yard, I saw Dobby, the neighbor’s dog, cutting across my front yard from my back yard. It was about 3:40 pm at that point.
“Oh, Hi Dobby,” I said, “What are you doing . . .” That’s the last thing I remember before he rushed towards me and Isabella.
Dobby, a rescue dog who belongs to our next-door neighbors, is noisy, but skittish. He barks a lot, but our dog does too. In fact, Isabella and Dobby have had an ongoing conversation for several years. One would hear the other and respond enthusiastically. So, when I saw Dobby, I wasn’t even a little nervous.
And that’s the first lesson I’ve learned from the whole thing. See, I’ve known my whole life that dogs of any breed can snap and lose their ever-loving minds. When I was in first grade, a preschooler in our community was mauled by a police dog. I have vivid memories of her struggles and the subsequent comments my dad made about dogs: “Under the right circumstances, any dog will bite, maybe even attack.”
I knew this, but I now realize that I didn’t really believe it. I’m a dog lover. I’ve never been bitten by anyone else’s dog, and any bite I’ve gotten from my own animals was under adverse conditions that made a bite the only effective means of communication. So, when Isabella and I would be out walking and fenced-in dogs would bark at us, I didn’t jump or run or react. I might remark, “Well, hello there Noisy! Aren’t you unwelcoming today!” And Isabella and I would continue our walk. Lesson number one (a four-plus decades one that has lain in wait): Dogs will bite. And also, it hurts when they do.
Anyway, Dobby’s presence in my yard that day didn’t give me immediate cause for concern. I greeted him. He barked at Isabella. She barked back.
And then in a flash he was on her and I was trying to get between them, but Dobby was stronger and faster and Isabella is a beagle princess, not a fighter, so she was trying to get away and I was screaming and screaming and screaming for help, and no one was coming, and I thought he was going to kill her especially when he went for her throat because he got her by the jugular and started to pull back and shake her. I got her away from him. (Isabella has rope burns from the leash which was looped under her tummy.) Losing his hold on her neck, he went for her leg, then he dove for her underbelly; at one point I thought, maybe he’ll pull her leg off and will be distracted by that and we can get away. I kept screaming for help, trying to find more volume from deep in my core and failing, fearing my voice would give out before help came. Eventually, I just curled down over Isabella, with my head and face covered and tried to keep hers covered as well.
A humor break: Isabella is a submissive dog; always has been. Still, she wanted to protect me somehow, so from under my left arm she barked intermittently at Dobby. I am not fluent in beagle, but I think she said something like, “Please don’t do that!” or “That’s not nice!” or “Please stop!” Valiant effort but, bless her heart, not effective in the least.
Not able to gain purchase on his target, Dobby went after me, grabbing my right arm. Just as he did, I saw the blood dripping from around his teeth and gums. I knew Isabella had been bitten badly.
And that’s when Mike, a neighbor from the next street over, came running down through the woods. The structure of our neighborhood is like an amphitheater with our house at the base and Mike’s at the rim. The acoustics are such that I can hear him talk on his phone when he is outside . . . and I have significant hearing loss! So, my screams carried up to his ears and he came running, as did Darlene, a woman who lives near him.
Later, I asked Mike and Darlene what they witnessed.
Mike said, “Dobby had a firm hold on your right arm growling and tugging. [I was yelling but] he never let go until I was only three feet from you and then Dobby turned, showed his teeth, and started growling at me.”
Darlene said, “The dog had hold of something and and was shaking it, but I couldn’t tell from where I was if it was your arm or your dog.”
Mike picked up a limb to threaten Dobby which got the dog to respond. Then, Mike chased Dobby back to his driveway and returned to check on me. Before he got to me, Dobby was back, headed for me and Isabella, still huddled on the ground. This time, Mike chased Dobby all the way back to his home where the teenaged son met him at the door and took possession of his dog.
Mike’s a big guy—well over six feet tall—with a big voice. “That dog was not afraid of me at all,” Mike told me. “Not at all.”
Darlene had arrived by this time.
“I knew from the blood either you or your dog was badly hurt,” she told me. “When I arrived, I saw it was your arm and just made sure you kept pressure on it to slow the bleeding. Then I called 911.” (She made the call at 3:54 pm, meaning the whole thing lasted between 10-14 minutes.)
The EMTs arrived in minutes, examined my arm, said I should probably see a doctor, and offered to drive me to the hospital. I declined, more anxious to get Isabella to the vet, but Jay (who had arrived about the same time as the EMTs) assured them that I would be going to see a doctor shortly. Animal control had arrived too; they made a report, and impounded Dobby.
The end result is that I’m fine and Isabella will be. My arm is very sore and bruised, but not broken. There are a few puncture wounds and the outline of a dog mouth imprinted in my skin, but the bone was not compromised, so healing should be quick and lasting. Isabella’s injuries were worse than mine. She had wounds at her throat, groin, and eye along with miscellaneous scratch and bite marks. However, she had quick surgery thanks to the good people at Cedar Ridge Animal Hospital, and will be just fine.
This is a complex situation that involves lots of humans. I’m an animal lover. And Dobby is a family pet. His family loves him. They are good people who take care of their pets. This incident is evidence of a fencing problem, not a character flaw. I am not a perfect pet mom and have made my share of mistakes. I at least understand containment problems with dogs—I have had beagles for heaven’s sake. So let’s all try to remember the Golden Rule here and treat them (in the comments) as we would want to be treated. They are suffering too. I cannot imagine how upsetting this has been for them.
Dobby is a rescue. His current family did not train him to attack. Perhaps that was a part of his former life; it is for so many dogs. (And by the way, let’s make that stop.) I’m very sad for Dobby. I know he just snapped due to something in his past that came slamming into the present. At some point, he was a puppy who was mistreated and neglected. Ultimately, those who use animals for harm are the ones who create this kind of perfect storm in the first place.
Still, I have been changed by this attack. It was terrifying. I thought it would never end. I thought I’d have to call our kids and tell them Isabella was gone. As a result of the attack, I will always be more cautious around animals. I’ll start carrying something to defend myself and my dog when we go for walks.
One thing keeps looping through my brain through all of this: what if Isabella were my human daughter (don’t tell her, but she’s 100% canine), and Dobby were her boyfriend? It happens all around us you know. A little boy is abused, neglected, used for the wrong reasons. His past slams into his present and prevents him from having healthy relationships. He grows up and meets a girl who realizes the danger too late. You know the stories . . . they are legion.
I don’t know the answer to these problems, but I do know all of us are both broken and beautiful, and that God loves us beyond and through all of our imperfections. I know all children should be treasured, loved with an everlasting love. I don’t know what will happen with Dobby, but I know I will continue to try to love the people in my life deeply and fully as Christ loves me. My daily, fervent prayer is that the love I share will, by the power of the Holy Spirt, seep into cracks of pain and regret and will bring hope that empowers and transforms. Lord, in your mercy, hear my prayer.
"Strengthened Hearts" a sermon from James 5:7-10 (11), (Advent 3A)
It’s never good when my husband starts a sentence with, “I talked to your mom today.”
As it turned out, my dad had been experiencing symptoms for several months. A tinge here. Out-of-breath there. But when his jaw began aching, a classic symptom of heart problems that was new to me, it all came together for him and my mother. They called the cardiologist who immediately put him on medication and scheduled a heart cath for the following Wednesday.
For those of you who haven’t gone through such a thing, you may not realize (I didn’t) exactly what a heart cath is. For my dad, they went in through a vein in his arm and inserted a dye that would show the technicians the condition of Daddy’s heart. I don’t understand it fully, but I know this: Your heart needs blood to flow through it. If the blood can’t flow through, you have a heart attack. You don’t want to have a heart attack. What they found out was that in three separate locations, Daddy had blockages that were allowing no more than 20% of the blood to flow through. My Dad needed to strengthen his heart.
That’s what James tells his readers in todays text. “Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.”
The book of James was written by . . . well . . . by someone. Theologians do not agree who that was. Early on, church scholars believed that James was written by the brother of Jesus. Later scholars uncovered evidence that this might not be the case, based on when the letter was written and when James the brother of Jesus died. It now seems that the book represents the teaching of the brother of Jesus though it may have been written down and edited by disciples of James. Whoever wrote it, it was aimed to instruct (probably) ethnic Jews who followed Christ. And it is not so much a letter as a list of directives kind of like proverbs, except that for James, the main point is that following Christ has to do with action, not just feeling. James says love God, love neighbor, then DO something about it.
My parents had chosen to go to a hospital close to home for Daddy’s heart cath. They wanted to stay with the doctor they knew as long as possible, even knowing that they could not do stents at that hospital. Well, the cath indicated a need for three stents. Do you know what a stent is? (Again, I didn’t.) It’s a tiny tube made of something like stainless steel netting. Doctors insert a little balloon into the tube and then place the whole thing inside the clogged artery. Then, they inflate the balloon to make the tube bigger which opens up the artery. They deflate the balloon and remove it, leaving the patient with increased blood flow. In my dad’s case, the doctors found that he had 99% blockages in those three places. He got the stents and went home feeling much better. But before that, Daddy was only getting 1% of the blood he needed from three places and he was walking around like no big deal!
Now this, I think, is what James meant. I think James looked around at the early Christians and thought, “Y’all can totally do better than this. You have so much more potential than this.”
And I think they (we) knew it. I think they felt twinges of bitterness but dismissed them. Afterall, those OTHERS out there don’t realize how hard it is. They take things for granted that we have to work so hard for. Little pricks of jealousy and sharp pains of judgment—sure they aren’t pleasant, but its not like everyone doesn’t feel that way from time to time. No need to pay extra attention to those not-necessarily-Christ-like feelings.
I imagine they had moments when building the kingdom of God just flat wore them out—and frankly, those moments were coming more and more. Did they have to do everything? Why wasn’t anyone else working at this? And anyway, what’s the point? People just fall back into old habits of poverty, addiction, and abuse. Why bother? It’s too hard.
But James saw the symptoms. And when they started outright arguing with each other, judging each other for the slightest imperfection, well James knew something had to be done. They were better than this. Like, you know, 99% better.
So he gives them all kinds of advice. He tells them things like, “You’re going to have trials in life,” and “Side with the poor; don’t be dazzled by the rich,” and “Always ask for wisdom.”
It’s not easy! James knows that. He also knows it’s a better way. So he offers them some . . . stents . . . to open up their hearts.
Now these stents are different than my Dad’s. These aren’t made of metal but of wisdom. And the balloon is not like my dad’s either—it’s made of patience. James says, we need to open the flow of your hearts so love can flow through. Let’s insert some wisdom, inflate that wisdom with patience, and see if that does the trick.
When my Dad left the hospital and when he awakened Saturday morning, he was feeling great. But then, my mother began to notice that something was not right with him. She took his blood pressure and sure enough, even with all that had been done to strengthen his heart, his blood pressure spiked, and my mother had to get him back to the Emergency Room. They ran lots of tests and determined in the end that the problem was related to a medication that needed tweaking. They took care of it and he’s fine now.
But what if Mother, having noticed the problem, just let it go. What if she said, “Well, you know, I hate to bother him. He just had to go through so much. . . . It’s not my heart so why not let it go . . .” Because of my mother, my daddy has a strengthened heart. Folks, we need each other.
Even with wisdom bolstered by patience, we cannot expect to build Christ’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven without each other. That message is woven throughout the book of James. He repeatedly uses the plural “You.” He says “among” as in 3:13 meaning you are in a group, not alone. James says, if we are to look like Christ, we must strengthen our hearts with wisdom and patience. And we are to do it together. We simply cannot do it alone.
Church. It is for the faint of heart. But it is also for those with strengthened hearts. It’s for you. It’s for me. It’s for us. Together. Amen.
I was in the waiting area when the woman rushed in, snapped her umbrella closed, shifted her parcels to balance her load, and approached the receptionist.
“Hello; could you tell me what time Mr. Person-Next-Door will be in today?”
The clerk smiled apologetically; this was clearly not the first time she had been asked a question like this. “We are no longer the same practice,” she said. “And so, I’m sorry, but I don’t know what their schedules are.”
The woman put her packages on the floor and stood again. “Oh. Well . . . will he be in at some point today?”
“I’m sorry, but I don’t know.”
“Okay, well do you think you’ll be here when he arrives?”
“I will be here until five,” she said, still—against all odds—warm and friendly.
She could have said,
But she didn’t. She just hung in there with the woman, hearing her, being present.
“Oh good! Surely they’ll be in by then. Can I just leave this with you?”
“Of course. You’ll let them know they are here?”
The woman was picking out packages one by one, “What? Oh yes. I’ll leave them a message.” She plucked one package on the desk. “This one is for Person-one. Can you just write her name on it? I forgot. That’s it. ‘Person-one.’ Perfect.”
To be fair, there was not a line of people waiting. The place was actually pretty dead other than the woman who usurped all the receptionist’s time. Still, I’m sure she had things to do.
“Oh I didn’t put the name on this one either. It’s for Person-two. Can you . . .?”
She thanked her, propped the door open with her foot while she opened the umbrella out in the rain, and then she was off. The receptionist turned back to her computer and continued working.
I approached the reception desk, greeted her, and said, “Wow! I’ve led workshops on customer service and I could not have done better myself. That was amazing!”
“Oh,” she said, waving off my compliment, “Thanks! I didn’t mind.”
“Clearly. You were so kind and patient with her!”
“Well, it’s raining. I just put myself in her place. I wouldn’t have wanted to take those packages in and out of my car in the rain either.”
“And that,” I told her, “is the key to good customer service.”
Put yourself in the other’s place; see through their eyes. It’s a good rule for customer service. And, ya know, for life.
What if, for you, it’s actually NOT the most wonderful time of year?
What if it’s your first Christmas (or your 51st) without your beloved?
What if you’re fighting physical, mental, or emotional illness?
Or what if you are so financially strapped that every holiday message just seems to remind you of what you are not able to buy for your loved ones?
In the United States, we put high expectations on each other during the holidays. The truth is, if you don’t watch out, if you do in fact pout, you’ll be labeled Ebenezer Scrooge faster than you can say, “Falalalala.” Indeed, our culture demands that we be jolly, happy souls, listening for sleigh bells and roasting chesnuts. Exhausting!
It’s true. For some, Christmas cheer is taxing rather than encouraging, no matter how genuine the well-wisher may be. Each year, I know people for whom the season is difficult; but this year, the holiday blues seem a lot more common. Maybe the pervasive commercialism of the US is wearing on folks; maybe 24-hour news is not such a good idea after all, what with the incessant reports of violence and tragedy. Whatever the reason, as the Body of Christ, we are called to attend to this phenomenon with the love of God. So how do we do this? There are many ways, but here are a few I find helpful.
This year, before we go rocking around the Christmas tree and flinging glad tidings like so much mud, let’s try to remember that not everyone is feeling joyful. Let’s be patient and encouraging, even to those who seem more like the Grinch hiding above Whoville than like beloved children of God. And listen. You might just hear the voices of angels praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth, peace!”
*This piece was first published on December 14, 2015 by Baptist News Global. I’m delighted to be associated with this great organization and am honored to be among the writers and thinkers featured there. Watch for my BNG column, appearing monthly at baptistnews.com.
If it happens in other parts of the country, I’m not aware of it. It might. As far as I know, it’s just a Southern thing.
But every time it happens, I wonder if this will be the time he just loses it.
“What are you having to day, Sweetheart,” she says to my octogenarian father, resting her hand on his back as she fills his upturned coffee cup.
He shifts in his seat, his jaw set. She can’t tell she’s annoyed him; but we can. He places his order and hands the menu to her.
“I’ll get that right out for you Sugah,” she says, as she turns to go.
Daddy cannot stand it. He shakes his head, and mutters just loud enough for us to hear, “I’ve got one sweetheart. And it’s not her.”
In the South, whether you are checking out at a grocery store, signing in at your doctor’s office, or ordering your breakfast, you are likely to become, “Sweetie,” “Honey,” “Sugarpie,” or any of a gazillion other faux endearments.
There are several ways this is offensive. For one thing, using such familiar terms is just inappropriate. These pet names are meant for . . . well . . . pets, loved ones. Not strangers. Maybe at one time it was fine to greet a person you’d never met as you would a six-week old cocker spaniel. It isn’t now. A simple “Sir” or “Madam” will work; or skip the address all together and just make eye contact. That should do the trick.
Secondly, its sexist. Would it be okay for a waiter to put his hand on a woman’s back and call her “Hot Lips?” Of course not. I mean, yeah; they got away with it on MASH. But that show was set in the 50’s, so I think we can safely say that behavior is, at least, outdated. Using intimate greetings for strangers is just not okay these days—if it ever was.
Third, I think it is ageist. My parents are young 83 and 81 who neither look nor act like octogenarians. It’s patronizing and disrespectful for mere acquaintances to address them as they would children. My father pastored churches for 40 years before retiring to start a business that he and my mother ran for almost 20 years. He has his doctorate, for goodness sake! And my mother is a mentor to more young women than I can count and has good friends the age of her children who hang out with her because she’s great company. My parents text with their nine grandchildren regularly, go to soccer games and band concerts, and in May 2019 they went with my husband and me on a cruise to Cuba.
But you know what? Their vitality should not even play into this discussion. Older adults should be addressed with deference and respect regardless of their physical or cognitive condition.
I know there are those who would say, “I don’t just speak that way to senior adults. I use endearments with everyone!” Okay. In that case, it’s not ageist. It’s just sexist and offensive.
Others are thinking, “But that’s just the way I am! Why are people so sensitive?” Okay, you can be whichever way you choose and that’s fine.
All I’m saying is that there are reasons why people may not want you to call them “Sugarpie-honeybunch.” Why not just call them by their names instead?
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.
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.)
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.
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.”
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.