Published originally January 22, 2011
Certain things bring certain people to mind. Like, at the mention of oatmeal raisin cookies, I think of my father-in-law. That man (inexplicably) believes those are the best cookies on the planet. I can just hear our ongoing debate over the benefits of other cookies, me trying to convince him that a chocolate chip cookie is most definitely superior. If I hear or see a phrase in Latin, in the same instant, my sister (a Latin teacher) comes to mind. I see her (really see her) standing, toga clad, before her students. I hear her voice, so full of passion when she talks about the language she loves. When I see daisies, my friend Traci’s favorite flower, I’m transported to her daisy-themed kitchen.
So, when I saw the order of worship at First Baptist of Marion last Sunday, I just figured the music minister had known Dan Goodman. After all, it was only a few days earlier that we marked the second anniversary of Dr. Goodman’s death. So surely, when “Be Thou My Vision” was chosen for the anthem, it was in his memory; everyone knows that was his favorite hymn.
It was the hymn we sang in the chapel on the day he died. It was sung at his funeral. And whenever someone wants to honor him, they often sing that song, post the title as their Facebook™ status, or Tweet™ a few of its words. “Be Thou My Vision.” Dan Goodman. The two were forever linked.
But the music minister didn’t know Dan Goodman personally. I asked him.
Meanwhile, Dr. Goodman’s wife, Barbara, was already at the early service in another town. She was worshiping that day with one of our mutual friends. On the way to church, Barbara mentioned, “Did you see that Aileen’s preaching in Marion today?” He had. (Facebook™. Gotta love it.) Sometime during their worship service, they made a quick decision to ditch that church and head over to Marion. Now I wasn’t there, so I can’t say for sure how they made their exit. Me, I like to picture them jumping up mid-homily, hurdling over co-pew dwellers, and racing out of the sanctuary. But that’s just me.
Back in Marion, the service began. From the dais, I spotted my friends in the congregation quickly, touched by their presence. I looked at Barbara, always so beautiful, her eyes sparkling, having pulled off this surprise.
The anthem. Did she know yet?
The time came. The choir stood. The organist played. My eyes found Barbara’s. The song began.
And there was Dan Goodman. Rushing out of Greek class saying, “I’ve got a lunch date with Barbara. I can’t be late for Barbara.” There he was before our New Testament class, telling of the early death of his own father, saying how much he would hate for his sons to have to endure what he did. “Maybe that’s why I want all four of us together all the time,” he said, laughing as he told us his boys were beginning to think he was dorky for wanting to be around them constantly. There he was, sunglasses clipped to the back of his shirt, water bottle in hand, standing outside the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. “The Jews believe memory is sacred,” he said. “Sacred memory. It’s just one more way to worship.”
The song drew to a close: "High King of heaven, my victory won, May I reach heaven's joys, O bright heav'ns Son! Heart of my own heart, whatever befall, Still be my vision, O ruler of all.”
The choir took their seats. The organist moved over to the piano bench. And the service proceeded, moved along by the rush of the Spirit, the light of the Son, and the immeasurable, unfathomable, inescapable love of God.
“Thou my best thought, by day or by night; Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.” From stanza one, “Be Thou My Vision.”
To my sweet babies. You: who I held in your earliest days, whose preschool programs I applauded, whose elementary school presentations I attended, whose milestones I’ve celebrated. You: who have cried in my arms, on my couch, and on my shoulder. You: who I have counseled, advised, guided. You who I have loved and who have loved me in return: Hear me.
This US election is not the solution to the world’s problems or the creation of them. This is neither the beginning, nor the end. This is a moment. An historic moment, a game-changing moment, a moment for rejoicing or weeping depending on your perspective. But beloveds, this is one out of many such moments in the history of our nation and of our world.
Are you listening? This is important.
Some of you are delighted with the results of last night’s election. Okay, that’s fine. But don’t be a braggart. Be gentle and be kind. It is not okay, no matter what the world tells you, to call people names, to boast in victory, to bully others with no regard for their feelings, interests, or even opinions.
Watch your language. (You know how I feel about this!) Despite what your government’s leaders may model, it is not right or good to use filthy language. Rise above it. If you feel like a winner today, use language becoming of royalty, not trash.
Finally, if you are claiming this victory as a victory for Christ, please remember that there are people who share your faith, but not your political beliefs. You can be happy about who won or about whom you defeated. This is one of the wonderful things about this nation: you have the unalienable right to your opinion. But this right comes from your citizenship in the United States; as a citizen of the Kingdom of God, you are called to adhere to the message of Christ who said it is the meek, the merciful, and the peacemakers who are blessed, not the boastful, the prideful, and the rude.
Are you devastated this morning? I’m so sorry. I wish I could make your pain go away by swaddling you tighter, by finding your lost lovey, or by binging on Ben & Jerry’s with you. I long for the days when your pain could be wiped off with a cool cloth and soothed by a band-aid. I know this is not one of those days.
I also know this: though you may grieve, you do not have to grieve as those who have no hope. If you feel this is a loss for the Kingdom of God, remember that God’s greatest strength was found on the cross; yet to the world, it looked like an irredeemable loss. This is not a defeat for God. It does look to many of us like a loss for our country, but no election can defeat God. Shoot, even death didn’t.
Now. Things will change because of this election. In all likelihood, you and I will need to become more involved as volunteers and as activists. We will need to take the initiative to protect our environment and to build bridges into relationships with people who are different from us. We need to listen, not just to people who share our opinions, but especially to those who do not. We must take steps to fight injustice and oppression wherever they are found. We must reach out to the strangers in our midst and we must care for the people on the fringes of society.
Here's what I think. I think that you can change this. Your innovative ideas, your unique way of thinking, your particular gifts, your awareness of others; all of these qualities empower you to bring about good and lasting change. Oft quoted American minister and reformer Theodore Parker (1810-1860) said
“I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”*
No doubt, Theodore Parker was frustrated by the inequity of the moral universe; his participation in reform movements led him to fight for women’s rights, public education, and most fervently for the abolition of slavery. His efforts frequently came to little avail. Yet he had hope.
And so do you.
Rest in that hope. Rest in the confidence that love always, always wins. And when your strength is restored, move forward. Create beauty. Encourage conversation. Seek innovative solutions. Reach across boundaries into new relationships. In so doing, even if you didn’t see the results you wanted last night, you will most certainly get a glimpse of God’s Kingdom tomorrow.
I’ve just about had it with this campaign season, in large part because social media is ratcheting up the nastiness to ridiculous levels. Memes are everywhere, as if somehow it becomes okay to say something flippant or mean if it’s accompanied by a cute animal, a famous face, or a cleverly drawn cartoon. How in the world will we make it through to November if our collective behavior continues to plummet below what used to be considered common decency (or—ya know—good manners)?
It’s out of absolute self-preservation that I offer a few tips about social media and politics. (Don’t have time to read the whole post? Then here’s the short version: Be Nice.)
Bottom line: let’s play nicely with one another. It makes for a better world.
What about you? What guidelines do you suggest?
Yep. That was me.
Be jealous. Be very jealous! (Seriously. It was fantastic! Shout out to Kaitlin Mundy for the connection.) I loved it! I had a wonderful time with the kids and I gained lots of new insight into Jesus’ parable, The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).
For example, the road between Jericho and Jerusalem—it’s crazy steep; like over half a mile descent in just 15-20 miles. Also, it was widely known as a danger zone; robbers hung out there all the time. And did you know that it was not uncommon for priests and Levites to live in Jericho and work in Jerusalem, travelling that road to get from home to temple and back again? (I didn’t.) Oh, and the answer that the lawyer gives to Jesus? It’s a verse from the Shema (a passage from Deuteronomy that all good Jewish children learned from birth) paired with a passage from Leviticus (equally well known to the associates of Jesus).
Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Deuteronomy 6:4
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. Leviticus 19:18
Then there’s this: 2 Chronicles 28:5-15 a text that Jesus most definitely knew when he told the story of The Good Samaritan. Read it when you can, but for the moment, let me just summarize it for you. Some soldiers from the North (the Kingdom of Israel—capital city, Samaria) captured a whole bunch of folks from the South (the Kingdom of Judah—capital city, Jerusalem). They weren’t nice to them. God didn’t like that. So God callied a guy named Oded to shake his prophetic finger at Israel and tell them to straighten up, dadgumit. The offending soldiers, Samaritans, responded like this:
“. . . those who were mentioned by name got up and took the captives, and . . . they clothed all that were naked among them; they clothed them, gave them sandals, provided them with food and drink, and anointed them; and carrying all the feeble among them on donkeys, they brought them to their kindred at Jericho, the city of palm trees. Then they returned to Samaria.” (2 Chronicles 28:15)
Crazy, right? Could it be that Jesus, a lifelong student of scripture, took an ancient story and repurposed it for first century listeners? I mean, we can’t know for sure, but what a cool thing to consider, right?
Make you want to burst out in song? Go ahead!
“The B-I-B-L-E! Yes, that’s the book for me!” (Join me now!)
“I stand alone on the Word of God! The B-I-B-L-E!”*
I do so love Bible study. During those focused days, I learned lots of little details and interesting facts about The Good Samaritan. I also learned something far more important. You see, I’ve read this parable many times in my 51 years, but only now have I realized that I had misunderstood something about Jesus’ answer. See, in my mind, Jesus said that the people you serve (the people in need--those people) are your neighbors. But that’s not what the parable teaches. No. Jesus says, “Neighbors are those who act with compassion.” Neighbors, according to Jesus, are people who actually see need and respond. Neighbors are those who cross boundaries to show compassion. Neighbors are ones who behave as if your value is equal to their own.
Do you want eternal life? Jesus says to love God so much that your heart spills over with that love and splashes up on your neighbor; because loving others is how you get to experience the Kingdom of God—on earth, just as it is in heaven.
That, as they say, will preach!
*Want to sing the whole song? Here you go. You're welcome.
I've already written a number of posts about Cameron (some of the most popular on my site actually), but I'm not sure I've ever really let him know how much I appreciate who he is as an individual. Thank you #17*: to Cameron Brown.
Happy Birthday! Can you believe you are 19? And how very cool that Finding Dory came out on your birthday! Pixar & Disney must know what a big movie fan you are. Well, they'd have to; so many of their movies seem to point straight to you!
You're basically Woody, Buzz, Mike, Sully, Merida, Dug, and Dory wrapped into one Cameron. Maybe we should start to call you Wuzikely Merdugry?
Wait! I thought of something better!
Happy Birthday Mr. Incredible! Thanks for being awesome!
In an extended celebration of my 50th birthday on 7-22-2015, I’m writing 50 thank you notes. (Originally I said in 50 weeks. Now I'll just say, over the course of time . . . .) This one is #17. Please click on the tag "50 Thank You Notes" if you would like to read the others.
One of my favorite books is Gary Chapman's Five Love Languages. The truths of this book have guided me in relationships and in ministry. Chapman's premise is that individuals give and receive love in different ways; that is, we speak different languages when it comes to communicating love. Chapman has identified five love languages: Gifts, Physical Touch, Quality Time, Acts of Service, and Words of Affirmation. This week is Teacher Appreciation Week and it occurs to me that Chapman's book offers insight that might help us encourage our teachers.
Gifts. Chapman makes it clear that the cost of the gift is not the issue. A person whose love languages is gifts, feels just as beloved when the gift is a picture drawn by a child as she does when it is a pricey trinket. The point is to have something tangible. Teachers might enjoy gift cards to a nearby restaurant, items for their classrooms such as school or office supplies, or personal remembrances like flowers or photographs.
Physical Touch. Often, when people hear this one, they think Chapman is referring only to intimate affection. Not true. Those who understand love best through physical touch, appreciate hugs and pats on the back, facials and massages. So, some teachers might really appreciate like a gift certificate for a manicure, pedicure, facial, or massage. Manicures are not terribly expensive and are a real treat for some people. (Do remember to cover the tip in your gift though so that the teacher doesn't have to pay out-of-pocket in order to receive your gift.)
Quality Time. The important aspect of this love languages is presence. I've heard teachers express deep gratitude to those who support their work simply by being present. Is there a teacher in your life who you might visit this week? You could volunteer to read to students, or maybe you could attend a school program or club event. Teachers give so much time to our students, it can be a real blessing when others give a little of their personal time to be a part of the teacher's world for a bit. If you can invest the time, you will be communicating to these educators that what they are doing makes a difference.
Acts of Service. In this case, the languages Quality Time and Acts of Service are closely related. For some teachers, your presence alone will be encouraging. Others will feel even more blessed if you offer to help them with some of the endless task required of them. This teacher might be happy to leave you in the classroom right by yourself with a necessary task such as grading papers, filing, tutoring, or something else. Teachers rarely have all the help they need. Volunteer your time and teachers whose love language is Quality Time will feel truly appreciated, loved even.
Words of Affirmation. This is the easiest for me to communicate because this is my own love language. I enjoy writing notes or emails, sending texts or messages to tell people I value them. I've also written notes on teachers' white boards and on post-it notes left on their desks. Additionally, I try always to comment on excellence, especially to school administrators. Consider encouraging students to write notes to their teachers. It's never too late: I've heard stories of teachers who received letters from people they taught years, if not decades earlier. These letters are treasures.
Whichever expression you choose, appreciate your local educators this week. And then do it again next week. And the next. Because really: one week couldn't possibly be enough to thank our teachers for all they do for humanity.
And teachers? Thanks. You totally rock!
I met him in the playroom at Mission Hospital in May of 2007. My son was at Mission due to complications from pneumonia. Paxten was there for chemo. Or something . . .
Paxten and I soon became friends. He was frequently in the hospital and I would visit him on Wednesday nights while my children were at church. I'd have around 45 minutes to hang out with him. We played with stickers and playdoh, talked about Ben Ten and Spiderman, and played with his toys, navigating iv tubing and hospital bed limitations. He learned early on that I had to leave at a certain time and as that time drew near, he would distract me from looking at the big clock on the wall. We laughed at his shenanigans, he begged me to stay longer next time, I promised I'd try.
Not quite a year later, his hospital days were over forever. Today marks eight years since my little friend Paxten Andrew Mitchell passed from this life to the next. He was 3 years and 7 months old.
Paxten's dad once told me, "They could find a cure to pediatric cancers, but there isn't enough research done. That's partly because no one wants to talk about kids getting cancer. The thing is, though, that if they would talk about it, awareness would increase. When awareness increases, so does funding for research. When research increases, cures are found."
Research. It really is the solution to the unthinkable.
There are lots of ways you can be a part of that solution. Two great charities I recommend are Saint Baldricks and Cure. Both of these organizations work to fund research and to provide cutting edge equipment to pediatric oncologists. Check them out. Every contribution matters.
If you can't contribute financially, there are other ways you can make a difference. Talk about children with cancer (by far the majority survive and live full lives). Remember, cancer is not contagious. Our kids won't catch it just because we talk about it.
And hey! Just by reading this post, you've increased your awareness. Share it with friends, and you've multiplied that awareness.
What other ways might we join in the effort to find a cure for pediatric cancer? Because a cure must be found. The alternative . . . well . . . it's unthinkable.
That night 18 years or so ago, I had just about reached the end of my proverbial rope.
Our children were nearly 4, 2, and 3 months when my husband got a job in a town 4 hours away. He began working there during the week and coming home on the weekends; the kids and I stayed local, trying to sell our house so we could all move to our new city together. Weekdays, I was basically a single parent with three children under four, a part time job, and house that needed to be tidy and ready to show potential buyers at a moment’s notice.
That was hard enough but the 2-year-old, Baker, was chronically sick. He'd been diagnosed with asthma when he was 15 months old and often had week-long bouts of wheezing during which he had multiple breathing treatments every day. Many times, I would be nursing my infant (Margaret), with Baker cuddled up right beside me, holding the nebulizer mask to his face.
One of the most difficult issues I faced with my asthmatic son was that he didn't like to take oral medication. And when I say he didn’t like it, I don’t mean he was mildly disinclined. I mean he would run screaming and crying through the house as if I’d just threatened to remove his tongue. No kidding: there was no oral medication he would abide. Those bubblegum flavored pain relievers that kids beg to take because they are so sweet? No deal. Delsym? The delicious cough syrup that tastes like a gourmet orange sauce you'd add to a fancy desert? He spat it out like poison.
So that night, Baker was in the midst of an asthma crisis for which the pediatrician (who we’d seen earlier that day) prescribed oral steroids. At the time—I hear it’s better now—liquid prednisone tasted about how I suspect motor oil would taste if you added a touch of raspberry flavoring. Getting prednisone in that child required the kind of good cop/bad cop pairing that police officers might use to soften the most unrepentant offenders.
Already (yuck alert!) my boy had been throwing up mucus, massive amounts too. It was vile. I explained to Baker that either he had to take the medicine or we’d have to go to the hospital. (I wasn’t exaggerating.) Much to my surprise and relief, he summoned the intestinal fortitude and swallowed the dose.
Victory! A fleeting one.
A few minutes later, while I carried baby Margaret in her sling as I held Baker, perched on my hip, my boy lost the dose, throwing up at least as much as he had earlier, only this time it was tinged an undeniable raspberry color. He’d aimed for the floor, and mostly made it, except for the 1/4 cup or so that landed in my hair and down my back.
Naturally, his wheezing spiked immediately, as did Margaret’s discomfort and therefore her screaming.
Before I even realized it, Trellace, always the helpful child, went to get something to help clean up the mess. Oh look! There’s a refill jug of soft soap! Let’s use that! You guessed it: while trying to get some soap on a cloth to clean up the mess, my four-year-old spilled the ENTIRE jug of soft soap.
(Pause. Have you ever tried to clean up soap? What do you use? Soap is out. And you can’t use water ‘cause that just makes it worse. A trowel maybe? I’m asking, you see, because I don’t know the answer.)
Somehow, in the midst of that disaster of an evening, I found myself on the phone asking for help. I don’t remember now if the phone rang in a Holy Spirit kind of way or if—perhaps even more miraculously—I found the strength to reach out. I couldn’t tell you.
I just know this. When I asked Becky Garrett for help, she came. I think maybe her teen-aged daughter was with her; I’m not sure. But when she left, my hair and my clothes were vomit free, Trellace was in her pj’s, Baker’s breathing sounded less like whistling (thanks to a successful second attempt with the medication), and Margaret was content. Not a trace of soap remained on my floor, my dishes were clean, and my laundry was folded. The cacophony had quieted; harmony was restored.
That’s Becky. She’s the kind of person who brings peace with her. I think chaos just shuts down when she appears. I don’t know how she does it. No idea. But I know that when I was holding on—barely—to the frayed ends of my rope, Becky arrived, gently took the rope from my hands, and gave me a net instead. She looked just like Jesus.
In a continued celebration of my 50th birthday on 7-22-2015, I’m writing 50 thank you notes in 50 weeks. This is number 14. Click on the tag "50 Thank You Notes" to read the others.
Just ran across this little gem and thought I'd share. Moral of the story: you're never too old for romance. (Margaret and Jessie are reunited now. No doubt they are lounging on Heaven's bright shores, cuddling like a couple of teenagers.)
By the time I met Margaret Gill, it had been a long time since she’d buried her first husband. Margaret came to love late the first time—she was in her 50’s then, in her 70’s when he died. And that was really enough. She was surprised by love way back then anyway as she never really expected to have a sweetheart. It was a good marriage too. She spoke of him as you would a good friend—one who had befriended you when you least expected it and stood by you through life’s ups and downs. Margaret clearly had a fondness for husband #1, no doubt about that. But there was no comparison between the way she talked about him, and the way she talked about Jessie.
Jessie and Margaret met in their retirement home. They were married only a short 10 months before he passed away—a tragedy mitigated not one bit by the fact that he was 90 something. They felt an instant attraction to one another and began spending time together going out to dinner, sitting by the fire. After a couple of years, Jessie convinced Margaret to marry him. He was 93 and she was 91 when they tied the knot. (She didn’t wear white as she’d been married before don’t you know.)
“Oh Jessie,” Margaret crooned when recalling their time together. “Never in a lifetime did I expect to experience a love like that. Oh how we loved one another. Jessie . . . he was my life’s gift."
“It’s like real-life Tetris,” Josh said, laughing.
“Every time we load stuff, it’s hilarious,” Sarah said. “We have to sit around the drums. And the microphones are, like, here,” she said holding her hands on either side of her head and gesturing forward and back. Josh pivoted on the restaurant bench and leaned back. “One time Andy had to sit like this,” he said, lifting his legs to place his feet on an imaginary drum.
“And there was always something wrong with that car,” Sarah said, shaking her head, somehow frowning and giggling at the same time.
“The Jeep Liberty! That was fun!” Josh said, meaning it.
Sarah looked at me, making eye contact. “It wasn’t fun.”
“It was!” Josh laughed as he ticked off the crises they faced. “We ran out of gas once; the breaks went out one time. And it would just start smoking for one reason or the other. It was great.”
“Josh enjoyed it. I didn’t.”
We were having lunch at White Duck Taco Shop in Asheville, talking about Josh Linhart and Sarah McCoy’s new music venture. These two have been performing together since 2011 when they were college sophomores majoring in music at Mars Hill University. Now, five years later, they are two of the four musicians in the newly formed group, WHYM. Sarah is the vocalist and plays keyboard and guitar; Josh plays percussion; Andy Little, also a MHU grad, plays bass; and Nathan Culberson, a graduate of University of North Carolina in Asheville, plays electric guitar.
“Why the new name?” I asked them. (For the previous 3-4 years, the musicians of WHYM were known as The Friendly Beasts.)
“Mainly because our sound is so different now.” They spoke as much to each other as to me, so it’s hard to remember who said what. “Back then, we were college students who wanted to jam together. We did things as cheaply as possible; we were amateurs.”
“Now we are taking it up a notch. We’ve hired technicians to help us with production and we’re doing things professionally.”
“So even though the four of us were together as The Friendly Beasts, WHYM is really a whole new band.”
“WHYM.’ I’ve been trying to figure out what it means,” I said as Sarah and Josh seemed to wait for my answer—as if it was up to me to come to my own conclusion. “Is it initials for something? Is it from another language? Is it a play on the word ‘whim?’”
Silence. We sat there, thinking, not talking, about those four little letters. Sarah was the one to respond.
“It’s not any of those things. It’s really about the sound of the word. We wanted a single syllable that had a soft sound. We brainstormed a lot of different sounding words, and this one just seemed to fit. But we don’t really know what it means exactly. It’s a mystery.”
“The meaning will work itself out,” Josh added. “Kind of like our faith.”
“When we were younger, we saw things as more black and white. Now we have questions and we allow room for those questions, for the mystery, in our music.” (Their words began to merge again.)
“And not just in the lyrics, but also in the actual music.”
“We have been wanting to think about uncertainty.”
“Not to worry about it . . . “
“To leave space for it. And to be okay with uncertainty.”
“We think it’s more authentic.”
If WHYM is anything, it’s authentic. These musicians have been raised in the church; all four came to know Christ early in life. (Three of them are actually pastors’ kids!) They have lived their faith, wrestled with it, questioned it, and have kept believing. Their music draws listeners into a safe space where followers of Christ don’t have all the answers, where mystery is expected and therefore is not nearly so scary. As a youth minister, a parent to teens, and a friend to many college students, I can attest that this is the kind of safe place our students are seeking: a place where Jesus is Lord, the Holy Spirit moves in the most mysterious of ways, and humanity is beloved by God, even when they are uncertain.
WHYM started a Kickstarter campaign that lasts until March 3. Every donation—from $1-$5000—grants free music and additional rewards. (Just $5 gets you their new release, coming out in May!) Would you consider supporting them? If you do, down the road, you and I can both say, “You know that amazing band WHYM? I helped them get their start!”