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 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!
How about you? Comment below and tell me about a woman you admire.
To 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
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.
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)
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.
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.
It'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.
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.
On August 2, we celebrated our mother's 80th birthday. At her party, I read this tribute. Of course, there are lots of personal references here, but I thought you might appreciate it anyway. First, though, you should know that Mother's grandkids call her Gangi pronounced "gan-gee" with two hard G's as in "Gloria" or "Grace." Also, my grandfather, her dad, was a math whiz who could do complex mathematics faster than a calculator. More explanations below. Enjoy!
Gloria Mitchell, Happy birthday to you!
80 years old? That just can’t be true!
(But if her daddy were here he would write an equation
And tell us for sure, “It’s time for celebration!”)
It was 1938 when she came into the world:
The youngest of five, a sweet daddy’s girl.
A giggly youngster, an award-winning speaker,
A signing teenager for her Sunday School Teacher. (1)
She turned 18 and headed to college.
Mercer provided all kinds of knowledge.
Papa spied her on campus, and thought she was cute.
So he took her sign class, and began his pursuit.
Harold had in his hand a Heinz pickle pin; (2)
And when Gloria accepted, it sure tickled him.
In 1960, they went and got married.
Then headed up north to get seminaried.
Dawn and Aileen, and their baby brother
Made Papa a daddy and Gangi a mother.
They ministered together, preacher and wife,
Dealing with deacons, and other church strife.
Gangi handled it all, and managed the stresses;
But she wore pants to church, forget fancy dresses. (3)
In each of their churches, each town where they roamed,
Gangi converted each house to a home.
Wherever we were, she worked her home magic . . .
Even at Crescent, where Hal’s lizards went spastic. (4)
She held lots of jobs, she filed lots of folders; (5)
But best job of all? A Romanian head-holder. (6)
Actually, the job she does as our parent?
That is the one where she is truly inerrant.
Our birthday parties were best of the best.
And our Easter Egg hunts? They topped all the rest.
She handmade our clothes, on her Singer machine,
Like the best cowboy suit that you’ve ever seen.
She made Easter dresses with purses to match them,
And suits for her pastor to go to work in.
Plus, that isn’t all, our friends also choose her
(Until they play games and end up the losers)!
Once we were five, then each said I do:
Jay, Mike, and Kim, and soon grandkids too.
We were up to 16 by 2004,
And just this year, we added one more.
“You text us all daily, with Bitmoji flair
And we know every morning you lift us in prayer.
So, despite how it looks to everyone here,
It truly is your 80th year.
We try (but we can’t) to name all the lessons;
We cannot even start to count all the blessings . . .
Of having you as mother, aunt, friend, and wife.
We celebrate you and your wonderful life.”
We surprised our parents with a combined 80th birthday/anniversary gift. (They were married on August 14, 1960.) They've dreamed of taking a train trip through the Canadian Rockies. We set up this fundraiser to help them make that dream a reality. While private donations have essentially doubled the amount you see online, we still have a ways to go. Would you like to help us make their dream come true? Every amount counts--single digit donations add up fast! Here's the link: https://goo.gl/ESDQ5A.
My workouts this summer have not been nonexistent; however, they haven’t been what you would call regular either. So, when I got to the gym this morning, I was feeling pretty proud of myself. I started my work-out on a cardio machine, listening to an Audible book while I was at it.
I picked a machine with the TVs behind it because I didn’t want to be distracted by the news. For some reason, I just don’t seem to have an emotional epidermis; things get to me that apparently don’t bother others. Maybe that is why I am so highly attuned to angry voices—something in my brain picks up the tension before the person even looks or sounds very upset to anyone else.
So, anyway, I was happy to find a cardio machine with its back to the incessant media input of the gym’s wide screen TVs. I had just gotten started when I began to sense hostility nearby. I looked over my shoulder and noticed a staff member (let’s call her Carla) about to assist a patron (we’ll call him Josef). Carla, a gym favorite, is legally blind and brings her guide dog along with her to work. She’s worked there four or five years. I thought initially that I had misread things and that Josef was just making an attempt at sarcastic humor.
Within a couple of minutes, it was clear that this was not a good-humored exchange. Josef said things like, “How are you supposed to help me? You can’t even see!” and “Go away and find me someone who isn’t blind.”
Fun fact: Josef is completely blind himself. Carla has been helping him since he joined the gym a short time ago. Previously, he had said she made him feel more comfortable there because of how adept she is at maneuvering around the machines and so on. (Qualification: no doubt something else major was going on with him today for him to act so ugly. Relevant? Sure. A valid excuse for verbally abusing someone? Not in the least.)
“Hey buddy,” I said when I’d gotten off the machine, “Settle down there.”
“Who are you?”
“Well, I’m a patron who pays my monthly fee just like you and you have gotten so loud that you disturbed my workout.”
“I have told her to go away and get me someone who can see and she’s still standing there.”
Me, to Carla: “Let’s walk over here.” She was trembling by this time, visibly upset. “I’m sorry there are people who behave like that,” I said to her. I walked with her to the wellness center desk as she tried to figure out how to handle the situation. She filled me in about Josef (I’d not noticed his visual impairment) and their relationship to this point. She told me, by the way, that recently, these kinds of things have been happening more frequently. (I cannot even . . . I truly cannot . . .)
At some point, I went to retrieve my things. I turned back to Josef and said, “Dude, that was rough. You just ruined my workout and messed up Carla’s whole day.”
“Screw you! I don’t care about your workout. It’s all about me. Go away!”
So, I did--go away, that is. (Incidentally, the whole time this altercation was unfolding, I was saying to myself, Be a non-anxious presence. Be a non-anxious presence. Be a non-anxious presence. #pastoralcare101)
I submitted a comment card detailing the incident and told Carla I would go ask others to do the same. At the time of Josef’s verbal assault, all the cardio machines around him were occupied. I knew others had to have heard it.
Well, maybe they did, but didn’t want to get involved; or maybe they were all so internally focused that they truly did not notice what was going on around them. In either case, not one of them was willing to complete a comment card.
Carla thanked me repeatedly, I gave her my contact information, and I went on my way.
Oh, one more thing. I haven’t been to that branch of my gym in more than a year. I only went today on a whim. Or so I thought.
On my last Sunday at FBC Weaverville, I read this little ditty at the reception following worship. It is set mostly in the context of this congregation, with lots of personal references. But for what it's worth, here's my Seussian farewell to FBCW.
“It’s a really good church,” my friend said to me.
“You know Jim McCoy, the pastor?" said he.
“Yes, I think so, he sings (did you say?)
In the pizza place on Main Street with Kirk McKay?"
So five years ago, with a smile on my face
I came here to join you at this very place.
To minister here with you and with Joy
And also of course with the singing McCoys.
Our students in college, we had five of them,
Molly and Marley, the twins and Dylan.
Plus Alex, and Chelsea, and Jennifer Sell
Came over each week from U of Mars Hill
Now they’re all grads, and Jordan is too
And Shelby’s a senior at NCSU
So much has happened, we’ve had lots of fun
Remember the Sunday of Benjamin’s run?
And when Corbin said “Actually I have found
That I’d rather hear music with ambient sound.”
Aiden, the red head, who told us his brother
“Cannot settle down, he’s really a bother.”
We cleaned up the church and spruced up the yard
I told you some stories and you gave me your heart.
Baptisms, weddings, and funerals (so many)
We worshipped, we laughed, and we shed tears a plenty.
Thank you dear friends, for how you’ve loved me
With God as our parent, we’re all family.
Today was my last Sunday as Children and Youth Pastor at First Baptist Church of Weaverville, NC. I will begin my new role as pastor at Ecclesia Baptist on August 12. I wrote the letter below for the August 2018 FBCW newsletter that came out today.
For five years, I’ve been a part of the FBCW family as member and as minister. Reflecting on my time here, I’m struck by how much life we have shared since I joined you. Back when I started, Garrett Spivey was in the 7th grade and—much to his frustration—was barely 5’0 tall. David Stone was on crutches and Christin, pregnant with Jonathan, was on bedrest. Dave Miller still drove the golf cart for the fair ministry, Dawn and Irene Edwards sang in the choir every Sunday, Mary Porter crafted handmade cards for the CARE Ministry, and Juanita Mantel was making delicious magic in our kitchen.
Indeed, our church family has experienced the fullness of life during these past five years. Now as we transition from what has been to what will be, I am reminded of lessons I have learned from my own family over the years.
As a preacher’s daughter, I left churches several times throughout my childhood. In my grief over leaving beloved church family, I would cry out to my mother that I wished I had not made any friends at all in that place because leaving them was just too hard. My mother consoled me saying, “It is always right to love with your whole heart. Fearing the pain of loss is never a good enough reason to withhold your love.” Thank you, FBCW for loving me well. My prayers is that you will love your next ministers with as much devotion as you have loved me.
Once when my father resigned from a church, a number of members told him that if he was leaving, they were going to leave too. He was deeply aggrieved about this which I found surprising.
“Daddy, that should make you feel good! It’s because they love you so much!”
“Oh no, Aileen,” Daddy said. “The church is bigger than any one person, even if that person is their minister.”
I have never forgotten this wisdom. It is painful when someone leaves our church family; that pain is not relieved by breaking the fellowship, but by wholeheartedly honoring our covenant to each other.
My brother was a youth minister for more than two decades. When he would begin a new position, he inevitably faced resistance by those whose loyalty remained with his predecessor. Far too often, when he proposed changes or offered new ideas, he was regaled with nostalgic tales of times of old. It was exhausting for him and it limited his ministry. We have certainly shared some wonderful times together. Store those memories and open your hearts and minds to make new ones with my successor.
We’ve had five golden years together. In the words of Amy Grant, “Let me say once more that I love you...and I love the ways that you love me.”
Grace and peace!
TRIGGER WARNING: childhood cancer, loss of child
It was the day before my birthday and my younger kids and I were visiting with our friends the Chantemerles—Joanna and her two children—in Charlotte, NC. It was hot (it’s always hot in Charlotte in July), so we took our kids to nearby Carowinds to the water park, Carolina Harbor.
It was a beautiful day, but I was not at all in a festive mood. My friend Kim from Oklahoma City was in the hospital due to complications from a recent surgery; her son, Caleb, the same age as my youngest daughter, was at home with the rest of the family. I kept my Nokia flip-phone handy; I did not want to miss her call.
You see, Kim and her family had been suffering through an unimaginably difficult year. March of the previous year, Kim had triumphed over breast cancer. The joy over this victory faded quickly, though, because in April the family learned that Caleb had a rare and deadly form of cancer called DIPG (Diffused Intrinsic Pontine Glioma). By that day at Carowinds, Caleb had lived with DIPG for 15 months.
A month earlier, Kim had gotten more devastating news. She had a new cancer—no connection to the breast cancer—and would have to undergo surgery to have a chance at a full recovery. Around that same time, Caleb’s condition began declining rapidly. Kim had the surgery and returned home to join the family in attending to Caleb’s palliative care. Unbelievably, she soon began experiencing excruciating pain and was rushed back to the hospital for emergency surgery. That was where things stood on that day, July 21, 2009.
Meanwhile, my kids and their friends played in the water park, enjoying new independence at the ages of 11, 13, and 15. Joanna and I pulled a couple of lounge chairs together to serve as headquarters for the day, directed the kids to check in with us hourly, and sent them on their way.
The call came. Kim sounded numb, hollow really.
What do you say to someone who is in the hospital recovering from emergency surgery while her son slips into the hereafter back at home? I don’t know. I couldn’t tell you what I said; I just remember being determined not to lose it emotionally while I was on the phone with her. I held it together for the few minutes we were on the phone, hung up and released the fragile hold I had on my state of mind.
About that time the children stopped by for their check-in and Joanna told them about the call. I was crying, head in hands, but immediately became concerned for my kids who had just heard this devastating news. When I looked up, my youngest was reaching for me. She wrapped the two of us in her towel and drew me close. She looked back at the rest of our group and explained, “She’s sad because this reminds her of when Paxten died.”
She was right. I don’t know if it happens to everyone, but when I lose a loved one, all other losses rush forward into the present. The aunt who passed away when I was six years old, the grandmother who died when I was in college, and yes, my little three-and-a-half-year-old friend, Paxten, who died the previous year, also from cancer. . .those and others crowded into my heart for their share of the sadness, managing to multiply, rather than to divide it.
Yes, my daughter spoke the truth: I did feel a sweeping, all-encompassing grief in the minutes following that phone call. But I also felt a pain piercing past all previous ones, a one-of-a-kind sorrow, instantly and specifically formed by the passing of 11-year-old Caleb Spady.
After a few moments, the sounds of Carolina Harbor seeped back into my awareness: loud music proclaiming “Summertime’s calling me,” children squealing as they waited for the bucket hanging above to dump cold water on their heads, parents calling out, “Walk!” and “How about a snack?” and “Come dry off!” Just another day at the water park.
And a day I will never forget.
(Today, Kim is in good health. She and her husband Ken live in Oklahoma with their sons Seth and Luke. Their son Jacob and his new wife live not very far away.)
And now, dear brothers and sisters,
we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died
so you will not grieve like people who have no hope.
For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again,
we also believe that when Jesus returns,
God will bring back with him the believers who have died.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 (NLT)