Category Archives for Free-for-all

Not so happy Mother's Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

infertility mothers day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

screen time

4 applications & a website I use regularly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

betterworld books dot com

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

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

On being attacked by a dog

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

February 14, 2020

The Details

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Later, I asked Mike and Darlene what they witnessed.

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

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

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

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

Darlene had arrived by this time.

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

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

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

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

Some reflections

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

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

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

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

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

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

advent 3A

Heart trouble & the church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Customer Service--Moccasin Style

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

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

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

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

“I’m sorry, but I don’t know.”

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

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

She could have said,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

sad angel

Christmas Ministry for Broken Spirits*

A reminder from a 2015 post. IMG_8752

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 reasons not to call acquaintances "Sugarpie-Honeybunch"

Featured photo:
My parents &
8 of their 9 grandkids,
Summer 2019

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.

grandmother and grandfather
Daddy dining out with his Sweetheart on board the Majesty of the Seas in May 2019

“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?

granddaddy and beagle

Being Church: Loving Senior Adults

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

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

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

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

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

(completed for Dr. Doug Dickens, PC&C, GWU, 2010)

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

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

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

The Good Immigrant: A Parable Retold

A number of years ago, I led a youth retreat where I preached on the Good Samaritan eight times in four days. Having studied the text deep and wide, I wrote a modern version of the parable to share with the students in worship. It was a good exercise for me--and I thought you might find it helpful as well--to remember that compassion really can transcend any boundary.

imageThen the president of the Woman’s Missionary Alliance stood up to test Jesus. "Jesus," she said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" (And everyone around got all quiet and listened because frankly, they were surprised that she had to ask such a question. Everyone knew that! For heaven’s sake, those words were printed on the city light poles, on banners at the local schools, and on the brand new welcome sign down at the local lake. It was so important, that they’d made it the town mission statement. What was she up to?)

And Jesus said to her (without any sarcasm in his voice at all), "Well, sister, what is our mission statement? How do you interpret it?"

She answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself."

Jesus responded, "Yep! That’s it! Just do that, and you will live a life that glorifies God not just now but for all eternity."

She had another question, though. "But Jesus. Exactly who would you say is my neighbor?"

Jesus said, “Let me put it to you like this:

"A business man was in the habit of exercising after work. At the office, he’d change from business attire to gym clothes, place his valuables in his backpack, and walk over to the downtown YMCA for a work-out before going home. One night, as he headed back to his car over near his office, he was jumped from behind and mugged. They stole all his credit cards, his iPhone, and his laptop. Then, they beat him and left him--broken, bloody, and unconscious--to die.

“Now by chance, the senior pastor of World’s Biggest Church was leaving a ministry meeting in the city and happened to walk right by the unconscious man. The thing was though, he still needed to update WBC’s website and Facebook page before he could go home; he hurried on to his office, asking Siri to remind him to look into the matter later.

“Likewise, the leader of the homeless ministry happened upon the injured man; of course, any other time, she would have stopped. (She would have!) But that night, she was on her way to B-SUB (Bible Study Under the Bridge), and she knew there would be a big crowd waiting on her. She kept walking.

“Then, an Afghan immigrant came along. When he saw the man, his eyes filled with tears, and he knelt beside the man. He noticed the guy’s t-shirt: torn and bloodied, it’s graphic and slogan spewed hate. No matter, the Afghani carefully removed his own head scarf, folded it, and used it as a pillow for the man’s head; then he took off his cloak and carefully draped it over him. The immigrant called 911, remained with the man while awaiting the EMT’s, then followed the ambulance to the hospital. Once they arrived and he saw that the man was getting the appropriate care, the Afghan immigrant stopped by the front desk. He gave them his credit card information to cover the man’s medical expenses and his cell phone number just in case there were any additional needs he might address.”

So, Jesus asked the woman, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who was mugged?”

And the woman said, “Um, well, in that story, I guess it would be the . . . uh . . . the one who showed him mercy."

Jesus said to her, "Mercy. That’s it. Mercy.”

ring theory susan silk

8 lessons from crisis

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.

  1. When people are in crisis, making one more decision just heightens stress. Instead of saying, “What can we do for you?” try saying, “We’re bringing food. Would 1:00 be okay?” or “We are mowing your grass today.” or “Could I come stay with your loved one for an hour while you take a break?” This way, fewer decisions must be made and the person can use existing energy to focus on the crisis at hand.
  2. Food is great. Take food. Really. Particularly wholesome foods and things with wide appeal: potatoes, rice, lean meats, whole grain breads, fruits, veggies, salad etc. Doesn’t need to be fancy at all. Just food.
  3. The right thing to say to someone in crisis is usually, “I’m so sorry.” When you find you want to say more, repeat that. After she passed, many people told us Joyce was in a better place as if this was somehow news to us. We know this better than anyone. We don’t need a reminder. That reality fills our brains right beside our grief that is real and lasting. Just tell us you’re sad too and that you loved her. Or just say, “I’m so sorry.” (Then tell us what time you’re bringing dinner.)
  4. There is no point in saying, "Call me if you need anything." Most people I know would never call a person for help, no matter how much you emphasize "ANYthing." Say, "I'll call tomorrow to see what I can do for you." Then call.
  5. Here’s something: the last thing someone needs during a difficult time is to run out of essentials like toiletries, kitchen supplies, or paper goods. When you provide an assortment of these necessary items, you will be assuring that your friend avoids the annoyance of running out of paper towels or toothpaste later. By the way, I don’t think I ever would have thought of this. Someone brought us a basket of these things and it was wonderful!
  6. Milestone moments matter. As we went through pictures for the slide show we played at the visitation, I saw how often my in-laws participated in the big and small moments of our lives and the lives of their beloved grandchildren. Birthday parties, dance recitals, ballgames, and more: they were there. And when they couldn’t attend, they made sure those moments were not forgotten. For example, in 2016, two grands graduated from high school and one from college. We held a mini-graduation ceremony with everyone wearing caps and gowns and processing in to the living room to Pomp and Circumstance. Corny? Maybe. But what a sacred memory that day is now.
  7. Funerals matter. I cannot begin to express what it meant to us to have over 150 people at my mother-in-law’s funeral. Friends, family members, neighbors, and colleagues came to share their condolences. A lay leader from my church represented our congregation, driving the four hours on a Monday to attend. (We were comforted and touched by his presence.) My mother-in-law’s brother (who has lost both of his siblings in just two months) was blessed by the presence of six members of his church which is an hour and a half away. My sister-in-law’s church is across town; her friends were present as well. Church. I just love it.
  8. We can only build or repair relationships with the living. Don’t wait to tell loved ones how you feel about them and don’t allow little disagreements to soil your relationships. Irritating qualities become endearing the very second they are out of reach. Just go ahead and let that stuff go ahead of time.
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