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Amelia Goyri de la Hoz

Visiting La Milagrosa

On our visit to Havana last week, Jay and I visited the Colon Cemetery, home of the grave of Senora Amelia Goyri. Poor Amelia died in childbirth at just 23 years old; her stillborn son was buried in the same grave at her feet. Her husband, consumed by grief, could not grasp the fact that he had lost his family. He convinced himself that Amelia was only sleeping and had door knockers installed on her tomb. He visited her daily, knocking three times to awaken her and then, when his time was up, backing away from her tomb so that he could keep it within eyesight as long as possible.

Years later, the tomb was exhumed; witnesses claimed that the bodies were in fact not decomposed, and that the baby was now in his mother’s arms. Word spread, and Amelia became known as “The Miracle Woman.” Her tomb was turned into a shrine visited by people from around the world who came—and continue to come today—to ask Amelia for miraculous favors (mainly for the healing of children). Guests often bring gifts to Amelia’s tomb; many of these are a sort of thank you note etched in stone—a permanent acknowledgement that Amelia’s miraculous touch has not gone unnoticed.

I found the site agonizingly poignant. Having loved children who have left this world for the next, I sympathize with these grieving adults who want so desperately to right the incomprehensible wrong of beloved children suffering. I want to knock three times and back away, trusting The Miracle Woman Amelia to take away the pain in the world. I really do wish it were just that simple.

The truth is, though, that we live between the “already” and the “not yet.” We already get glimpses of the new heaven and the new earth where “death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.” We see glimpses that prove that justice really can prevail, that show what God’s love feels like, or that illustrate how it feels to live in the center of God’s perfect will. In those times we are certain of who God is and whose we are. They don’t last long enough though . . . because we just aren’t there yet.

Brokenness remains. Death threatens. Hope falters. Grief lingers. And it can feel like “not yet” really means “no way.” But friends, hear the good news: in Christ there is always a way. In Christ, we are already there.

teacher retirement

Teaching: Miss P's Retirement Rationale

May 1, 2019

You know what I wish? I wish that this post had lost its relevance. It's been five years since I wrote it, and I wish I could archive it as I have other posts which were time sensitive.

Nope. Still. Only more so.

April 4, 2014

“I never used to think about retirement,” the teacher said. “I thought I would teach forever. Now though, thinking of retirement is the only thing that keeps me going.”

This teacher—I’ll call her Miss P, short for Miss Pedagogy—has been teaching since 1985. She has a master’s degree in her field and has completed independent study with experts of international acclaim. Long ago she lost track of how much money she has spent on her own continuing education. In addition to those costs, Miss P spends an average of $1000 a year on her classroom. Much of that money goes to student needs and resources that enhance learning.*

“I love teaching. I love my students; I even like most of them,” Miss P said, chuckling the way you do when something used to be funny, but isn’t anymore. Her attempt at levity flattened as she continued. “But I can’t do it anymore. I just can’t.”

Those who know the life of teachers could guess possible reasons.

  • Declining benefits, lengthening school year, stagnant wages.
  • Shortened lunch and planning periods, increased class size.
  • More and more assessments, less and less time to teach an ever expanding curriculum.

Indeed, these things are frustrating for Miss P, but not frustrating enough to make her leave the career she loves. She talked about how expectations of parents and administrators have changed over the years. In fact, let’s just think for a minute about what we, the consumers of public education, expect from our teachers. We expect them to

  1. Come to school early or leave late in order to tutor our children.
  2. Sponsor clubs and organizations relevant to their subject (or to our student’s interest).
  3. Take our money for tickets and concessions at our children’s extracurricular sports events.
  4. Attend at least some of these sporting events.
  5. Chaperone school dances.
  6. Attend competitions such as Science Fair, History Day, Band Contests, and Odyssey of the Mind.
  7. Take our children on field trips that exceed the limits of the school day.
  8. Take our children on overnight, multi-day learning excursions. (Miss P, like many of her colleagues, has taken kids on international trips during her own spring break.)
  9. Meet us for parent conferences when our work schedule allows—typically long before or way after school hours.
  10. Put our children’s needs before their own families’ needs (see 1-9 above).

Oh. We also expect them to take a bullet for our kids if some maniac comes onto the campus brandishing assault weapons. And do you know what? I am positive that nearly every teacher I know would do just that. Miss P certainly would.

But it’s not these expectations that have caused Miss P to spruce up her resume and scan websites for job openings. Nope. It’s something else.

“The thing is,” she told me, “no one ever gives me the benefit of the doubt anymore. Not the parents, not the administrators, and certainly not the school board. There’s this assumption that I’m going to harm the children in some way; that I am the enemy, not the advocate, of students. It’s exhausting.”

Here's what I think. I think teachers should receive higher pay and better benefits; and I think we ask way too much of our educators. We need to address these things and correct them. Period. And in the meantime, let's start with this: respect. Seriously, let’s just go ahead and treat our teachers like the professionals they are. The average teacher is an enthusiastic expert in her field, not a mediocre bureaucrat manipulating the system of tenure. Despite her dwindling wages, she works long hours and attends school events after work and on weekends and (get this) loves doing it. Extraordinary!

Can we please stop talking about the occasional incompetent teacher as if she is the norm? Click To Tweet

So, can we please stop talking about the occasional incompetent teacher as if she is the norm? Instead, let's give our teachers the benefit of the doubt; let's start saying “Thank You," and “I'd like to help.” Seems to me that's the least we can do for those who daily give their lives—both literally and figuratively—for our children.[bctt tweet="So, can we please stop talking about the occasional incompetent teacher as if she is the norm? Instead, let's give our teachers the benefit of the doubt; let's start saying “Thank You," and “I'd like to help.” Seems to me that's the least we can do for those who daily give their lives—both literally and figuratively—for our children."

*Some of Miss P's money goes to cleaning supplies. At her school, the maintenance staff does little more than trash collection in individual classrooms (budget cuts, you know). Plus, her school is infested with mice. She’s complained for years, for more than a decade actually, about the ubiquitous mouse poo that testifies daily to the pests’ presence. Until she gets an active response, Miss P will try to keep the room as clean as possible in an effort to deter those furry little delinquents. All in a day’s work.

Palm Sunday 2019

Celebration & Sadness: Palm Sunday 2019

From the 1957 Broadway production of West Side Story

When I was a teenager, I saw the movie West Side Story for the first time. This Romeo and Juliet remake is the 1961 film adaptation of a Broadway play by the same title. The first time I saw the movie, I didn’t know how it would end so it caught me off guard. (SPOILER ALERT: It was a Romeo and Juliet remake, for goodness sake!)

It is bitterly sad, but the music is so delightful—plus, it stars Rita Moreno and Natalie Wood—so I allowed myself to watch it a second time. I figured since I knew the ending, it would not be as hard to watch. But knowing in advance was so much worse! I kept bracing myself for the heartbreaking end; I couldn’t enjoy the music as much because I knew that the singing would come to a painful stop. I put myself through that madness more times than I want to admit; each time, the sense of foreboding deepened. And each time I wished that the ending somehow could be different.

Palm Sunday is kind of like that for me. I love seeing the kids waving the palms and celebrating the triumphal (ish) entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. It’s just that I know what’s coming. I know that Jesus has a long week ahead that will not be marked by praise and thanksgiving, but by violence and rejection. I keep bracing myself for the coming trial and crucifixion.

I want to shout to Jesus, perched as he is on his juvenile mount, “Don’t believe it! It’s not real! They'll turn against you Jesus! Run while you still can!”

But then I hear Jesus reach through time, whispering, “Stop and listen! Listen to the joy. Listen to the hope. Yes, pain is coming. There will always be pain. But in this moment, lift your voice and sing! Sing because you can. Sing with all creation. Sing, because there will be plenty of time for weeping. Today, we celebrate!”

canoe and mountain

CBFNC 2019: Canoeing the Mountains

On March 28, I joined other leaders in Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina (CBFNC) as we listened to Dr. Tod Bolsinger share wisdom he presented in his book Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory (IVP Books, 2015).

Bolsinger’s book had been recommended to me by many when I began my ministry with Ecclesia Baptist in August 2018. I downloaded the audio version and listened to it right away, finding it both insightful and compelling. In Canoeing the Mountains, Bolsinger uses the metaphor of the Lewis and Clark Expedition (in search of a northwest water route in the 19th century) to explore church leadership in the 21st century.*

For today’s church, our “canoes” are practices that have brought us success in the past; our “mountains” are the conditions that were not present at all in earlier seasons of the church. The current frustration of attracting young people to church serves as a great example. Back in the 1970’s, for many of us, church was THE only activity; in 2019, the buffet of extracurriculars is endless. When I was a teen, a church could get a new ping-pong table and attract a crowd of students instantly; today, churches are giving freebies to kids and youth to entice them to go on a free trip to an indoor trampoline park—and even these tactics fail to impact weekly attendance.

So how do we change this? That’s exactly what Dr. Bolsinger discussed at last week’s meeting. First, he noted what does not bring about change.

  • Fear. On the Sunday following the tragedy of September 11, 2001 U.S. churches were overflowing. Just one year later, church attendance was at an all-time low.
  • Facts. Raise your hand if you know how to eat right and exercise. Now keep your hand up if you always do all those things. Exactly. (Same is true for any unhealthy habit. The knowledge that it is unhealthy does not usually bring about lasting change.)
  • Force. Bolsinger shared a fascinating statistic: when told by doctors to change their behaviors or die, 90% of patients do not make the necessary changes. Doctors can’t force us to make healthy choices, no matter how much they threaten us.

Bolsinger then talked about what does bring about change.

  • Relate. Hearing each other’s stories helps us to understand one another and thereby change our approaches accordingly.  (For example, take a person who is highly critical of those who come into the country without legal documentation. Pair them with a person who has traveled that path. As they share their stories, understanding can result, which could lead to a change in behavior.)
  • Repeat. Facts may not bring about change, but they do make us aware of what we might need to do to change. The way to achieve permanent change is to repeat a new behavior until it is a habit. (For example, think of the person who goes to class but does not understand the subject matter. The student keeps going, keeps doing the assignments, keeps asking questions. In time, the student learns the content thanks to repeating it in a variety of ways over time.)
  • Reframe. When we think of things in a new way, we can bring about change. (For example, imagine the church that thinks the only way to grow is to draw people into its building. They decide that maybe they could, instead, go where people are already gathering. By relating to these communities and repeatedly visiting them in their own settings, the church begins to experience new growth.)

Bolsinger reminded us that change typically does not come about quickly. That is, it is more akin to the slow-cooker simmer than to the microwave zip and zap. In that same vein, he said that effective church leadership grows from a mindset that causes us to “Stay calm, stay connected, and stay the course.”

Bolsinger’s presentation—and his book—contained much more insight than the bits I’ve highlighted here. And, I think all leaders facing unfamiliar circumstances (whether in the church or elsewhere) will find helpful guidance here. Check it out and let me know what you think.

*Lewis and Clark sought a water route through the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase and were therefore equipped with canoes and the necessary tools for a water journey; instead, they encountered the Rocky Mountains and had to form new plans in order to progress.

we are all broken in different ways

Condemn the accused? I'll Pass.

Each week, I write a short piece for Ecclesia Baptist newsletter. This week, Aileen did in fact go on (as I tend to do). So for my wider audience, a post on sin. (Spoiler alert: I'm against it.)

Pastor Whatzizname and Father Whatchamacallit abused.
Michael Jackson molested.
Aunt Becky cheated. (AKA Lori Loughlin)

WHAT?! Not Aunt Becky!

After a year (or a decade) of heroes falling from grace (Matt Lauer, Kevin Spacey, Charlie Rose, Bill Cosby), you’d think we would have become numb to it. But Aunt Becky (Loughlin’s Full House character)? Who’s next? Big Bird? As followers of Christ, what do we do with this damning information? Is there no one worthy of trust?

One thing that is helpful when considering what we hear on the news is realizing that these stories make the news BECAUSE they are the EXCEPTION to the rule. If this were normal behavior, no one would care. Think about it. A headline like “Awesome teacher has another great day in the classroom,” does not sell papers. It doesn’t, because this is nothing new. It happens every day.

It is also not true that these horrific things are happening more frequently. It’s that we are better at detecting them than we were decades ago. Really. Just look at the 10 Commandments and you’ll see that these issues have always existed.

It’s still upsetting; of course, it is. But this latest disclosure is not reason enough to wash our hands of humanity and give up on people all together. Instead, let’s all try to remember this: the perfect human? That was a one and done deal. The rest of us will disappoint each other. So we should all be more careful about mounting folks (celebrities, pastors, or whoever) on pedestals. Human beings were just not made for that.

Another thing to remember? God loves the notorious sinner every bit as much as God loves run-of-the-mill sinners like you and me. Certainly, they—and we—must be held accountable for sin. But maybe we should be more focused on our own need for grace and forgiveness and less distracted by the sins of others. Paul tells us that “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and John reiterates that message saying, “If you say you have no sin, you deceive yourself and the truth is not in you.” (1 John 1:8)

No doubt, God grieves when we sin. But God never stops loving us and always forgives us. Let’s spend our time pondering the overwhelming grace of that truth, and not get wrapped up in the sordid details of the sin of others. In that way, we honor the gift of God’s grace and love to all of us.

mother playing cards

Int'l Women's Day: My Favorite Woman

I have been blessed by many strong women in my life. There were school and church teachers, neighbors and mothers of friends, and many strong women in my own family. But if I had to pick just one woman to honor today, there's just no competition.

Gloria M. Mitchell: Born in 1938, the fifth child of Louise Cobb Martin and Jessie D. Martin, my mother grew up knowing without a doubt that she was a beloved daughter and sister. Throughout her childhood, her father talked of her attending college; it was no surprise, then, that she went to Mercer University following her graduation from Albany High School.

She was homesick but made friends quickly and was soon dating the “ugliest boy you ever saw” (according to my dad, her next boyfriend). Daddy had seen her on campus; heard she was teaching a sign language class; and registered for the class. It wasn’t long after their first few dates that they knew this was no temporary relationship; they married in 1960 after both had graduated college. From there, they moved to North Carolina where Daddy went to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary to further his education for the ministry. He graduated three years later. My sister came along that same year (1963). Then they had me in 1965, and my brother in 1969.

While my dad has the title Pastor, my parents minister as a team. Mother is extraordinarily gifted at ministry: she has written thousands of cards and notes over the years, made hundreds of meals to deliver to those in need, and visited countless people who needed encouragement.

Understand, though: her role as a pastor’s wife did not mean that she was a pushover. In the 70’s when such things just were not done, she wore a pantsuit to church—the first woman in the congregation to do so. She also refused to sing in the choir and never joined WMU. Those were not things Gloria Mitchell felt called to do. So she didn't do them. (No matter what the congregation had to say about it.)

Mother is also an amazing mother. She raised us to be adults, not children. When the time came, she was able to release us to our own lives and dreams. That doesn't mean she shoved us out of the house and washed her hands of us. Nope. Even now, when we get to her house for a visit, we are welcomed with great joy, boundless love, and a fridge full of our favorites.

So, I’m grateful for her in many ways and there’s a lot about her that I admire. Here lately though, I’ve been most impressed by her ability to age with grace. Mother has always been an attractive woman and she still is; but that’s not what I’m referencing. It’s other things.

  • Mother is involved in the lives of all her grandchildren. The ones who live close by don’t play a game or celebrate an accomplishment without my parents being right there on the sidelines cheering for them. She has six grands who don’t live nearby, and she texts each of them every single day. She sends them funny pictures, photos, or—most frequently—a Bitmoji. Oh yeah, she has the Bitmoji app.
  • Mother uses her smart phone like a boss. She keeps a record of her medicines, her emergency contact info, and a list of all her allergies in her notes app. She Googles as easily as a 14-year-old and she texts as often as she calls. And she’s 80 years old!
  • She can make online reservations as well as anyone. She often defers to my brother to make online purchases, but she could do it, I know she could.

Mother reads, exercises, tries new things, makes new friends, and plays any card or even board game you can name. (Unless you are related to her, Don't try to beat her at Rook. It won't go well.) She also never meets a stranger, laughs easily and often, and enjoys a funny you-tube video as much as the next person. My mother is 21st century level awesome. And when I grow up, I want to be just like her!

Just a few of the other strong women I've featured on my blog over the years. (Click on the names for their stories.)

  • Anna Anderson: She was my choir teacher when I was a child; it's a beautiful thing that our paths have crossed again.
  • Kathi Arrington: My cousin has overcome much in her life and has given back in a variety of ways.
  • Joanna Chantemerle: Neighbor, wife, superchick, Joanna is wonderful!
  • Becky Garrett: A selfless hero, Becky rescued me many times. This post just shares one of those.
  • Edna Jackson: Aunt Edna, may she rest in peace.
  • Joyce Lawrimore: My mother-in-law is one strong woman. Read this post and see for yourself.
  • Keisha Petty: My former coworker Keisha is a person you can trust to be there for you, no matter what.

How about you? Comment below and tell me about a woman you admire.

What is Advent

What is Advent?

What is AdventTo hear retailers tell it, the Christmas season started just before Halloween. From CVS to Sears, stores have been festooned in red and green for weeks. The virtual world is no better. Before we even had a chance to design our holiday cards on shutterfly.com, social media had started revisiting the controversies of Christmas Past: what will Starbucks put on their cups this year? how will we greet each other? is there really a festivus for the rest-of-us? Indeed, the world seems to define the holiday season by what will sell best, whether it’s novelty socks or news articles--fake or true.

But the church defines the season in a different way. The Christian church celebrates the season of Advent for the four weeks preceding Christmas Day. But what is Advent? Too many of us don't have any idea. So, in an effort to help remedy this, I thought I’d offer this somewhat academic post about the Advent season. Here you go: your very own Advent Primer.

The world shouts, “Hurry up! You’re so far behind!” The church whispers, “Be still. Listen.” The world says, “You’re not doing enough! You’re running out of time.” The church says, “This is the moment. Be fully present in it.” Click To Tweet

History & Tradition
The name, “Advent,” comes from the Latin, adventus, meaning “coming.” During Advent, Christians focus on the incarnation of Jesus Christ and on Christ’s eventual return, thereby highlighting both the humanity and the divinity of Christ. Advent is a celebration of the mystery of the trinity, made manifest in Jesus Christ who was fully human and simultaneously fully God.
Interestingly, the church has not always recognized this season leading up to Christmas. By the fifth century, the church had begun toying with the idea of a time of preparation prior to the celebration of Christ’s birth. Modeled on the Lenten season (40 days of fasting prior to Easter), Advent was observed in the West long before the Eastern church adopted the idea. By the 11th century CE, most countries had set aside approximately four weeks before Christmas for focused liturgy, abstinence, and fasting. Today, both Catholic and protestant congregations observe Advent as a time of reflection and contemplation.

A part of Advent worship is the lighting of the Advent wreath. Traditionally, the wreath, circular in design and made of evergreen branches includes five candles: four around the wreath and a center Christ candle. The candles are lit in successive weeks, adding one each week until Christmas Eve when the Christ candle is lit along with the four candles encircling the wreath. The Christ candle is white. Often, the candles for weeks one, two, and four are either blue or purple, depending on the church’s preference or tradition. The candle for the third Sunday is usually pink or rose in color. However, opinions differ widely on how best to represent the Advent season through the color of the candles. I'm sticking with the white center, purple, purple, pink, purple arrangement in this post because that is what the churches I've served have done. (Pick your battles, as they say.

Anyway, themes for Advent are hope, peace, joy, and love. As with the colors of the candles, there is some variance in the order of these themes. Almost always, though, "hope" comes first and "joy" is third. I've only recently learned that some church traditions flip the second and fourth themes.  Again, I revert to the order I've followed in my ministry (and, full disclosure, what my daddy has always done in his). Plus, I think we can all agree that this is not the most urgent argument in the Kingdom of God, right? When it comes to candle colors and the order of Advent themes, I'm thinking we can make like Elsa and just "let it go," am I right?

Hope, the First Sunday of Advent
The candle lit on this day is blue or purple and is sometimes called the Prophecy Candle. On the first Sunday of Advent, the church reflects on the coming Kingdom of Christ. Texts for this Sunday are eschatological in nature. According to www.webster.com, eschatology is “a branch of theology concerned with the final events in the history of the world or of humankind.” But, the focus of this day is hope, not fear or anxiety. You see, we can get glimpses of God’s kingdom every day. Celtic Christians call these glimpses “thin places,” places where heaven seems to touch earth. On this Sunday of Hope, we can rest in the knowledge that in Christ, the Kingdom of God will certainly come in the future; let us also anticipate encounters with these thin places in which we experience the Kingdom of God in the here and now.

Peace, the Second Sunday of Advent
On the Second Sunday, we light the blue or purple Bethlehem Candle and the church remembers the Hebrew Prophets. It may seem confusing that today’s candle is called the Bethlehem Candle and we’re talking about Hebrew Prophets, when last week’s candle was named Prophecy. The confusion arises from our misunderstanding of the work of Hebrew prophets. Often, modern people think of the verb “prophesy” as a synonym for “predict.” But an Old Testament prophet was not a kind of ancient soothsayer who predicted future events with eerie accuracy. Instead, they were truth-tellers, delivering divine words of warning and of redemption to the people of God. Today, we look to Bethlehem, where Redemption was born.

Joy, the Third Sunday of Advent
On the third Sunday of Advent, the pink Shepherd’s Candle is lit. The candle is pink in commemoration of an ancient tradition in the church. In the early days of the church, the seven-week term of Lent was the only recognized liturgical season. On the third Sunday of Lent, the church took a brief break from fasting to celebrate the joy that was forthcoming in Easter. On this day, the Pope gave a pink rose to a congregant. Churches today use the pink candle in tribute to this custom from the church’s earliest days and as a reminder of the coming season of Lent.

On this Sunday, the church recalls the ministry of John the Baptist. John connects the prophets of old who spoke of righteousness, to Jesus Christ who embodied it. John the Baptist resembled an Old Testament prophet, yet as contemporary with Jesus, his message carried a unique sense of urgency. The biblical account the birth of Christ places the shepherds on the scene at the time of the nativity. Their rush to the manger resulted from their understanding of the magnitude of the moment. There is only one more Sunday of Advent. Time is drawing nigh! On the first Christmas, the Shepherds understood the immediacy of the moment; and during his ministry, John the Baptist did too.

Love, the Fourth Sunday of Advent
The last Sunday before Christmas the church lights the remaining blue or purple candle, the Angel Candle. Texts focus on Mary, the mother of Jesus. As we await the coming of Christ, we recall the joyous proclamation of the angels and Mary’s faithful obedience to God. When the angel Gabriel delivered his message to her—that she, a virgin betrothed to be married, was pregnant with the son of God—Mary gave herself fully and completely to God’s plan for her life. On this fourth Sunday of Advent, we look to Mary’s example for guidance on how we might also fulfill God’s purpose for our lives.



Advent. It’s intentional and slow, not harried and fast. The world shouts, “Hurry up! You’re so far behind!” The church whispers, “Be still. Listen.” The world says, “You’re not doing enough! You’re running out of time.” The church says, “This is the moment. Be fully present in it.”

This Christmas, let’s stroll through Advent, enjoying the sights and sounds of the season and with hearts full of hope, peace, joy, and love, let us listen for the whispers of the Holy Spirit.

(Check Wikipedia for this year's Advent dates.)

 

First published in 2015, edited and republished annually. Most recent edits 2018

Good News! 6 reasons (+4 more) to celebrate in 2018

Need a little good news? Feeling like the world’s just getting worse by the day? I was too, so I did a little research—academic and personal—and thought I’d share what I uncovered.

  1. We get to live longer. According to the UN, life expectancy has increased all over the world. This makes me happy because I plan to enjoy grandchildren, grandnieces, grandnephews, and great-grands. Maybe even the great-greats! Sweet.
  2. We are winning at beating poverty. Some of the things being done—access to public education, improved job preparedness, increased minimum wage, better education regarding reproductive health—are making a difference. Don’t get me wrong: we have a long way to go; but this post is about good news, so chin up! (Think I’m just sugar-coating? Check out this article: https://ourworldindata.org/poverty-at-higher-poverty-lines.)
  3. We are smarter about water usage. If you watched the movie The Book of Eli, you might suspect our frivolous use of H20 could lead to the apocalypse. But, by all accounts, we are doing better preserving the world’s water supply. So, don’t be worried that the earth is seconds away from devolving into an arid dust ball. Just turn the faucet off, like all good humans should do anyway. (But I highly recommend The Book of Eli, if for no other reason than you get to hear Denzel Washington quote from the King James Version of the Holy Bible. Be still my heart.)
  4. We have eradicated (or almost eradicated) a number of deadly diseases. In my mother’s childhood days, the fear of polio was real and valid. Mother recalls outbreaks in her region that would cause parents to quarantine their little ones. Today, I bet few children have even heard of it, much less know what it is. Polio still exists in some places, but the number of children paralyzed by it is smaller and smaller every year. In the US, we have vaccines that protect us from diseases that can permanently alter health or worse. We no longer fear things like measles, mumps, or rubella in this country; and globally, the number of these once common maladies is lower than ever. Thanks to advances in medical research, even AIDS/HIV is no longer a death sentence. That’s some good news right there! Want the details? You’ll find more info here: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/05/7-deadly-diseases-the-world-has-almost-eradicated/
  5. We are beating cancer. Innovations in cancer treatments and early diagnosis methods have reduced cancer deaths by 25% in the US. There’s still a lot to learn on this front, but the good news is that cancer research and development is leading to real solutions. (Have you hugged a scientist today?)
  6. We have really great young people! Stop believing the hype about how lousy kids are today. It's just not true. Stop believing the hype about how lousy kids are today. It's just not true. Click To TweetThe teens and twenty-somethings I know are awesome! They protect the environment, consider new ideas critically, shop locally, engage politically, and are widely diverse in their interests and convictions. Even if you had no other source of hope, this would be enough. Today’s young people are making change happen bit by bit. They have their eyes on big picture topics—things like peace, justice, wholeness—and aren’t distracted by the way things are because they are too busy thinking about the way things can be.

And there’s lots more! Really. There are many things going extraordinarily well in our nation and in our world. It’s just that bad news sells better. That’s one reason why news outlets tell stories that play on our fears: so we’ll stay focused on their channel or website and buy the stuff they are advertising.

Of course, there are other reasons why we think about the negative more than the positive. But the reality is that there are great things happening all around us. The problem is that too often we just fail to see them. I’m trying to do better at that. Here are a few things I noticed just today.

• The city picked up my trash. BUT they also picked up my recyclables. This was not a thing when I was a child. I did not even know what the word meant.
• My computer is in my lap. MY LAP! A machine that allows me (among other things) to shop, bank, connect, and write, is both portable and affordable. Listen, back in the 1980s I typed my college essays. On a TYPEWRITER. (It was electric, not the Royal Upright I used in high school, but still.)
• Today I learned that a member of my church is experiencing complications from surgery; but everything that is wrong can be fixed. Today’s medical care is tantamount to the magic of yesteryear. It’s amazing.
• And today, I met a woman whose baby was born 14 weeks before his due date. And he is fine. Completely fine.

Good news. It’s encouraging, don’t you think?

So what about you? Anything hope-filled in your day?

"For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. "
2 Timothy 1:7 (ESV)

blue ridge parkway

3 new favorites in Asheville, NC

blue ridge parkway

Photo credit: Jay Lawrimore 2018
Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville, NC

Chicken Salad Chick

When I saw their sign in an Asheville, NC shopping center, I was doubtful. I mean, I like chicken salad as much as the next Southerner; but I figured this place would be toast quicker than you could say, “I’ll have a sweet iced tea to go!” A restaurant called “Chicken Salad Chick?” Yet another niche business that found its way to our touristy town in hopes of getting a toe hold.

Then one day I was in the area and feeling a bit peckish, as it were. I gave it a try.

Y’all. Dadgum. This place is fantastic! Listen, the chicken salad is exceptional—positively scrumptious. But there’s more.

  • Their menu includes other entrée items for those too chicken to try their trademark fare.
  • It’s cute as a bug’s ear. Fun colors and whimsical designs. It’s adorable!
  • The décor includes framed sayings that are downright hilarious—at least to this Southern chick.
  • And each meal comes with a little cookie frosted with the only real icing there is: buttercream. Makes you go weak in the knees!

So seriously, do yourself a favor and visit your closest Chicken Salad Chick. They’re not just in Asheville! But if you must travel to get to one, you should totally choose this one. Then after your lunch, you could go over to Duncan and York, an amazingly awesome gift shop just down from Chicken Salad Chick.

Duncan and York

This little winner of a market drew me in, pulling my attention through its door and around the store. They have all kinds of local merchandise, from stickers and stationery to jams and jellies. (Fun fact, sending local treats to college students = great idea!) Unique gifts (the baby section—too cute!), clever greeting cards that are humorous without being tacky (hallelujah!), and more. I loved it. Then, I found out this: IT’S OWNED BY TWO LOCAL WOMEN. I was like, “Okay, so I know you are the cashier and not the one in authority here, but you should totally advertise that!” A locally owned market filled with products from local artisans and merchants? Sweet.

Now, if you want cheap, just go right on over to the Dollar Tree. Duncan and York is not a bargain shop. However, when you purchase from them, you are investing in Western North Carolina. So, it’s sort of a BOGO: BUY a fun, interesting, locally made gift from these Asheville-based entrepreneurs, and GET the satisfaction of a double investment in our community. (Duncan and York’s location is in downtown Asheville.)

10th Muse Coffee

Okay one more. Recently, I happened into a way cool coffee shop called 10th Muse Coffee. It’s just outside of Biltmore Village on the corner of London and Biltmore. Great coffee, tea, and chai, a gazillion (I counted) specialty drinks, and a variety of food choices. Still, the thing I love about 10th Muse is the feel of the place. It is housed with another retail shop and an artist’s studio in a repurposed packing plant. The décor is eclectic and sort of retro-chic. It reminds me of the seventies—only cooler. Board games are there, inviting patrons to stay and play awhile. The tables—painted with chalk paint—are accented by little tin pails holding jumbo sticks of pastel chalk. Also, and this is huge for me, the music is spot-on—great selection and not too loud.


So there you go. Three great stops to add to your fall WNC visit. You can thank me later. Perhaps by treating me to lunch. Or a shopping spree. Or coffee . . . I’m flexible like that.

college choice

Choosing a College: 4 TRUTHS, 4 MYTHS

Choosing a collegeIt's that time of year: admissions decisions are being finalized, scholarship applications are due, and students are trying to decide where they’ll attend college in the fall. They get lots of advice: sound counsel that really does help and trivial platitudes that don’t do anyone any good.

Here are a few of the most common statements I've heard.

  1. Truth: Waiting until the last possible minute might be good. As other students turn down scholarships, money is made available to holdouts. In the last week of April 2014, my son’s scholarship awards went up daily. DAILY! So take your time. It might just pay off.
  2. Truth: Visiting campuses also pays off. Sometimes, when you are on the actual campus, you just get a feeling. Trust that feeling. You want to be in a place where you feel comfortable, at home. I’d argue that the feeling is more important than the quality of the major. (Students change majors all the time. The feeling is a lot more reliable.)
  3. Truth: You might not get that feeling right away. It might have to grow on you; trust yourself. Some people fall in love more slowly and more systematically. It’s the same with choosing a college.
  4. Truth: Talking to other people helps. Talk to teachers, mentors, and adults who care about you. Talk to friends, current students, and alumni. You’ll gain new information and insight that will make it easier to make your choice.

Unfortunately, students also hear things that are more myth than truth and are neither exceptionally helpful nor entirely true. Here are just a few of those.

1. HOPEFULLY FALSE: “This will be the best four years of your life.”

Really? It wasn’t the best four years of my life and I had a great collegiate experience. But best years of my life? Not even close. Frankly, there’s not much that compares to my childhood summers: homemade ice cream under the carport; watermelon seed spitting contests; roller skating, bike riding, playing in my playhouse. Those were some great years. But then, the last four years have been good too. And the four before that. Life is full of great years, so at the very least, you’re overstating.

But there’s a bigger problem with this statement. Expectation. Expectation can just flat slaughter reality. See, no matter how good college is for you, I promise you it won’t be perfect. You’ll have some life-changing experiences, but some of those you would just as soon have lived without. College can be wonderful. It can be difficult. It can be wonderfully difficult and difficultly wonderful. But don’t set students up to approach the next four years as the highlight of life. That’s just not true. And if it is, that’s sad.

2. SOMEWHAT FALSE: “You’ll meet the best friends of your life while you’re in college.”

For me, this is somewhat true, but I’ve also developed friends since graduating college who are more like family than friends to me. Before Facebook, I’d kept in touch with three or four of my closest friends from college. Now I’ve reconnected with many I’d lost contact with and I’m grateful for that. But I’m also in touch with childhood friends and friends I’ve made since the late 80’s. You can make friends whenever and wherever you are. My brother-in-law’s closest friends are high school buddies. My sister’s besties are co-teachers. So yes, hopefully college students will meet and keep new friends. But I for one am grateful that I didn’t stop making friends when I left college.

3. POSSIBLY FALSE: "You’ll be fine."

This may be one of the most dangerous things we say to students. Here’s the deal: way too many college students are anything but fine. Depression and anxiety spike during these stressful years. Suicide on the college campus is consistently on the rise. If students go into college thinking everyone else is fine and they are the only one struggling, they can feel isolated and resist mental health resources because of the fear of being different from the masses. A lot of college students find these years difficult and confusing and lonely. So adults, instead of “You’ll be fine,” how about we say, “I’ll always be here for you,” and mean it. And students: it’s okay if you aren’t okay. I promise you are not the only one. Reach out to people you trust and look into collegiate mental health services. Sometimes, we all need a little help to be "fine."

4. FALSE: “It doesn’t matter where you go.”

First of all, this is flippant and dismissive. If you are trying to make a decision that affects your future, it is not helpful for someone to say the equivalent of “Stop whining and get on with it! Your concerns are invalid.”

Secondly, it does matter, but perhaps not for the reasons you think. It’s not because of the college's reputation or status; the quality of the school and its majors are important, but the truth is you can find quality at just about in college or university. There are exceptions, but mostly academic experience is shaped by personal investment.

But it does matter where you go to college. It matters because of the connections you will make both personally and professionally. How many people do you know who are married to someone they met in college? A lot, right? And that best friend thing—most college graduates have made dear friends along the way, friends who have shaped their lives in profound ways.

That’s not all though. During the next four years and beyond, your professors and advisors will share more than academic knowledge with you. They will also pass along information about job openings and career opportunities; they will be your references for graduate school or employment. It matters that you choose a college where the faculty appeals to you.

Indeed, it doesn’t necessarily matter where you go in terms of national ranking; but it totally matters that you choose a college that feels right to you.

So good luck students! And no matter what other advice you get, remember this:

Choosing a college matters; YOU matter more.

This post was first published March 9, 2016. 

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