Category: God


This weekend marked my maternal grandmother’s 97th birthday. Yes, 97. She looks like a spritely 75-year-old, is in excellent health, and until very recently could work circles around anyone half her age. I remember a few years ago when she was in the emergency room with an about-to-rupture gall bladder and the nurse asked her what medications she was currently taking. She said, ‘I don’t take anything’. The nurse turned to my mother and asked the same question, remarking that my grandmother didn’t hear or understand what she had asked. My grandmother, in excruciating pain, fired right back, “I heard you and I understood you. And I will tell you again, I don’t take any medication for anything.”

 My mother didn’t need to say a word.

 This weekend my family also celebrated my youngest son’s 10th birthday. Finally, double digits. My grandmother, his great-grandmother, “Memaw”, 87 years his senior.

 Although we don’t get to spend a tremendous amount of time together, my children adore their great-grandmother. And I’ve been thinking of a few things I hope they have learned from her, passed down generation to generation, reminding them of their roots and the legacy they’ve been given.

1. Family is everything. My earliest memories of my grandmother center around family gatherings. She and my Papa loved nothing more in the world than being surrounded by their children and grandchildren. They loved the churches my grandfather pastored and poured their hearts into the lives of its members, but nothing – and I mean nothing – brought them greater joy than having family around them.

2. Loyalty matters. My grandmother is fiercely loyal. She can correct, rebuke, and even punish a family member who gets out of line, but woe to the outsider who attempts to do the same. My Memaw is one of the sweetest, most gracious and forgiving Southern women you could ever hope to meet. Until you say something unkind about one of her own. Then I would suggest you head for the hills. Fast.

3. Growth is important. My grandmother was a teacher for most of her adult life using a teaching degree she earned in 1934. And at the age of 50, she received her Bachelor of Science degree in Education fromBerryCollege. Yes, going back to college was difficult. Yes, it took time, and energy, and commitment. But she did it. She also learned to drive. And for the record, she was a better student than she was a driver. The roots of my “Lead Foot Lucy” nickname can be traced straight back to her!

4. Change is inevitable. My grandfather was a pastor. Not at one church. Not at two or three churches. In his 57 years as a pastor, my Papa shepherded seven church congregations spread out over three states. My grandmother always made it an adventure, a calling, an opportunity. And she always made it home. No muss, no fuss. Just set up house, share the (one) bathroom, gather the family around the table for a home-cooked meal, and say the blessing. Make friends, embrace change, celebrate birthdays, holidays, and babies, and be grateful for the pillow on which you lay your head at night.

5. Marriage is forever. My grandparents were married for almost 60 years. When my Papa, her beloved Charles, was dying of cancer she was his advocate, his caretaker, his nurse, his meal planner, his gentle bath-giver, his prayer warrior. She was strong as he grew weaker, and she bravely held his hand as he left his earthly body to embrace immortality. Memaw taught us how to grieve loss and celebrate life in the same breath. She cried and she laughed and she hugged long and hard those who shared her grief. And she has faced head-on the years without him, sadly at times, accepting that it is not yet her time to be reunited with him. When it was suggested at one time that she consider re-marrying, she looked away and softly said, “it’s not for me; Charles was my one and only.”

6. The Bible is true. I don’t know how many times my Memaw has read through the Bible but she can teach it as if she wrote it herself! (No disrespect intended.) When she talks about her favorite passages or verses in the Bible, they truly come to life. Her love for God’s word is the foundation and cornerstone of her existence. And anyone who has ever met her knows that to be true about her. She doesn’t preach the Bible to those around her. She doesn’t have to because she lives it every single day.

7. Prayer works. My Memaw has spent hundreds, probably thousands, of hours throughout her life praying for her family, her friends, her community, her country, and the world. When she awakens during the night, instead of getting a warm glass of milk and going back to sleep, she gets on her knees and prays for whoever is on her heart and mind. And she stays there until she feels a peace about climbing back under the covers. I’ve heard her tell of many a night when she prayed right on through the night until it was time to start the day’s work. My life is living proof that her prayers were heard and answered.

8. Eternity is forever. I can’t remember a time (almost ever) when my grandmother hasn’t reminded us all that she wants nothing more in the world than for her family to be together. Forever. Eternally. She reminds us all how important it is for us to stay in right relationship with God, to love Him above all else, and to be obedient to His leading. Through teary eyes and strained voice she pleads with us all to be sure, be absolutely sure, that we know where we will spend eternity. And then she smiles that sweet little smile, cocks her head and whispers, “I love you all so much.”

 Happy birthday, Memaw. Happy birthday, Stephen. As I find myself standing between the young and old, it occurs to me that the distance between 10 and 97 is not really very far. Not when it’s measured with love.

I heard on the radio this morning a news story about a video trend exploding across the country on YouTube. It’s a video called “Do you think I’m pretty?” and apparently it goes something like this: 12 and 13-year-old girls are making videos of themselves, talking to the camera and telling a little bit about their friends – or lack thereof – at school. The question at the end of the video is, “Well, do you think I’m pretty? Or do you think I’m ugly? Tell me the truth.”

As of this morning there are over 4 million hits on these videos from thousands of adolescent girls across the country. Four million! The host of this particular morning show made an interesting point: “Whether or not a young girl believes she is pretty is one thing; but there is no way she can possibly be prepared for the avalanche of cruel comments that will be posted in response to her video. Even if she’s drop dead gorgeous, people will say mean things just because they can. And because there’s such tremendous anonymity on the internet, you can say anything you want and no one has to know who you are.”

This is cyber bullying on steroids. What young middle school-aged girl, already insecure and overly sensitive, is not going to obsess over every negative comment posted and then dismiss the positive ones? What is it in our psyche that makes us unable to appreciate our own selves? Not in a puffed-up arrogant way, but simply because we are uniquely our own. The radio host and his crew decided to focus on one particular video and traced the girl back to a city in Colorado. Frightening in and of itself, this opens up a whole new world to pedophiles and would-be traffickers that someone can be so easily tracked down from a video posted on the internet. When the crew called the mother and told her what they had watched featuring her daughter, the mother said she had no idea the video even existed.

Please hear me: I am not condemning this mother. No one can possibly know her story or why she didn’t know about the video. Maybe she’s a single mom working two or three jobs because a dead-beat dad walked out on his family. Maybe she’s struggling to slay her own dragons and has lost her child or children in the process. Maybe she wasn’t taught by her own family’s example how to be a good parent and she simply doesn’t know what to do or how to connect with her own kids.

My point is simply this: somewhere in this young girl’s mind and heart, she is desperate for someone to affirm her, validate her, and tell her what she longs to hear. “I am valuable to someone.” It goes way beyond physical appearance, although I would bet this is the only way she knows how to express her need for attention. Be better, be thinner, wear nicer clothes, be more popular, have prettier skin/hair/makeup. The list goes on and on and on.

What does it say about our society as human beings – created and designed for relationship – when our children are screaming into cyberspace for attention and affirmation? The internet is a wonderful tool, no doubt, but as with every other advance throughout human history, it must be kept in balance. We must ensure that it falls way down the list of priorities in our lives, and certainly not allow it to be the barometer for our children’s love and appreciation of themselves and each other.

I fear we are losing our children to a world, a society, an environment that is not even real. And the only way to protect them – to snatch them from the grip of a cyber-society that is nameless, faceless, and shameless – is to regularly connect with them. They need to hear our voice, they need to feel our touch, they need to see our smile and embrace the warmth of our approval.

A friend said to me recently, “You know, I’ve come to realize my children will never love me as much as I love them. They can’t comprehend that kind of love. They’re not made that way.” It was a stunning revelation. She’s right. But what really struck me as I chewed on that statement throughout the rest of the day is this: our Heavenly Father can say exactly the same thing about us. We will never love Him as much as He loves us. We can’t comprehend that kind of love.

Our love for each other and especially our children is broken at best. We all have wounds that shape and, unfortunately at times, define us. Our perception of ourselves and the lens through which we view and respond to the world and people around us has to constantly be checked, evaluated, and adjusted. And I’ve found a great place to work on those adjustments: the word of God.  Check it out:

Genesis 1:27 “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

Psalm 139:13-16 “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

Proverbs 4:23 “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”

Isaiah 49:16 “See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands…”

Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Matthew 6:26 “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”

Luke 12:7 “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

We humans are a fantastic mix of fragility and strength. We endure excruciating physical and emotional pain, we accomplish the seemingly impossible, and we press on against insurmountable odds. But at our core, in our heart, we are as fragile as a word, a look, a touch. And no one knows this better than the One who gave us our very breath. So walk gently with the world around you.

The mark you leave behind may very well be a permanent one.

I’ve just watched again, for the umpteen-gazillionth time (that’s a Southern expression for a bunch) the ASPCA’s commercial featuring Sarah McLachlan’s soulful ballad ‘Angel’. It is a tear-jerker to be sure. Sad, lonely, and abused animals fill frame after frame while the singer’s haunting melody drifts woefully along in the background. The ASPCA nailed it with this one. Their two-minute ad has garnered over $30 million in donations since it began its TV and website appearance in 2007 – an unimaginable windfall in the world of nonprofit fund raising from a single campaign.  I’ve also seen an increasing number of advertisements for ‘nutritionally sound’ dog and cat food, more ‘comfortable’ methods of leashing and grooming our pets, psychiatric care for stressed-out pets, and one particularly new brand of food that is bought from the refrigerated section and kept in the refrigerator at home because it’s made from 100% fresh ingredients! Exactly the same food we eat – minus the preservatives, additives, and fillers.

Is it just me or have we gone a little pet-crazy?

Let me be quick to say, I love animals. I’ve had numerous dogs and cats throughout my life, a few fish, and even a lizard for almost two years (and if you know me, it was truly a sacrifice of love for me to allow any kind of reptile inside the house). I draw a hard line on rodents. Absolutely not. No way. Not happening. But I’m getting off point…

I really do love animals and have experienced the ecstasy of puppy kisses, the amazing birth of kittens (three different litters), blue-ribbon worthy photographs, and the abiding loyalty from a pet that only its owner can understand and appreciate. I’ve also suffered through the agony of emergency vet appointments, lost and runaway pets, accidents (two dogs hit by a car), injuries (one dog bitten by a snake), mental instability (a cat who went crazy), and saying good-bye to a four-legged friend who shared life with us for 18 years. I often referred to our flat-coated retriever, Tiger, as my second oldest child.

However, it strikes me as of late that we as a society have elevated our pets to an almost god-like position within the family. People name pets in their wills (think Leona Helmsley), provide air conditioned dog houses (remember Tammy Faye Baker?), and buy puppy treadmills for their dogs to enjoy a pleasant walk inside when the weather outside is frightful. For the super-elite (or insane), pet owners now have the opportunity to provide the Fauna Sauna Heated Spa Bed. At a cool $850, their pet will enjoy lounging on an elevated, heated spa bed to relax muscles and treat anxiety. I’m not making this up, folks – it’s out there. Google it.

While I deeply appreciate the work that animal rescue organizations do to promote spay/neuter campaigns and punish animal cruelty, it flabbergasts me (another Southern expression for shock and amazement) that the loss of even one cat or dog in a shelter is intolerable. Extreme measures are taken – and accompanying exorbitant costs – to provide emergency surgeries, treatments, foster parents, etc. Sadly, many of these pets don’t survive in spite of the monumental efforts on their behalf. And if a female dog or cat is pregnant? The call to action is desperate, if not hysterical. We must not lose a puppy or a kitten!

What does this elevated pet status say about us? Rabbi Shmuley Boteach reflected in a 2009 Huff Post Healthy Living article, “…I met [a woman] recently in a Manhattan office. Seeing that an enormous Great Dane sat next to her desk, I inquired as to why the dog was at work and not at home. Her reply startled me. “My husband and I divorced about six months ago and we share joint custody of the dog. And since she’ll be going back to him this weekend, I want to spend as much time with her as possible.”” (July 20, 2009).

Really? What could possibly be going on in our minds and hearts that would cause adults to fight over who gets to spend the most time with their pet but not their own children? I think I have an idea…

Unconditional love.

We crave it. We bounce through relationships trying to find it. We read books and visit counselors and attend seminars to learn how to give and receive it. But we are human. Imperfect, broken, and flawed. And emotionally intimate relationships are fragile. Our very nature shuns vulnerability. Since the Garden of Eden, we have been trying to hide our nakedness, physically and emotionally. But our pets don’t tell us we are overweight, or financially irresponsible, or negligent housekeepers. Our pets don’t blame us for a divorce, or become disrespectful teenagers, or get strung out on drugs. They don’t cheat on us, or hurt our feelings with an ill-timed remark, or give us the silent treatment after an argument.

They simply love us where we are, for who we are. They are happy to be with us, whether lazily spending the day watching TV or going to the park for a brisk walk and a game of frisbee. They wag their tails from the simple joy of being called by name, tenderly scrubbed around the ears, or given a crunchy little dry treat out of a box off a shelf in the laundry room.

We love them because they do not judge us. They do not compare us. They love each of us individually and uniquely. And we don’t fear losing their love. Hmmmm….sound vaguely familiar?

Check out Psalms 139:13-16:

“For you [God] created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

God knew every one of our days before we took our first scared, cold, naked, vulnerable breath. He knew about first days of kindergarten, hurtful nicknames, straight As, first dates, college classes, divorces, lost jobs, car payments, vacations, and cancer. And He knew our nature would be to reject him, to run from that which knows us too well. Still He loves us. Still He pursues us. Still He died for us. Still He answers prayers, performs miracles, provides unexpected blessings, and remains faithful when we are not. Is it possible that we are trying to fill a void intended for God with a pet? Satisfy our craving with the creation instead of the Creator? The Bible tells us that He calls us by name, knows the hairs on our head (which change daily), and has our name carved on the palm of His hand.

Enjoy your pet(s). Love them. Provide your best care. But remember: at the end of the day no pet, no spouse, child, friend, or significant other can fill the void intended for our relationship with God. And the next time you have a cool $850 laying around? Give it to a local children’s shelter. Your pet won’t know the difference and you could very well be the hands and feet of Jesus to someone who needs to know they are special, valuable, and unique.

In the 2011 thriller “Unknown” starring Liam Neeson, Dr. Martin Harris (played to perfection by Neeson) is an American bio-tech wizard who suffers a head injury as a result of a car crash while in Berlin for a series of summit meetings. After lying in a coma for four days, Dr. Harris wakes up in a German hospital to find that he still knows who he is. Unfortunately, his wife does not. Neither does anyone else from his personal or professional life. Without divulging all the twists and turns in case you haven’t seen the film, Dr. Harris embarks on a vigilant journey to prove he is who he remembers himself to be. At one particular turning point, his German doctor attempts to comfort him by offering that who he remembers himself to be may be, to his dismay, nothing more than who he wished himself to be prior to the accident.


With the weight of his very identity teetering precariously on his frustrated shoulders, Dr. Harris turns to his doctor and remarks, “It’s like a war between being told who you are and knowing who you are.” And then with the desperate fear of utter madness closing in he asks, “which one do you think will win?”

Hmmm…being told who you are or knowing who you are? If asked for a show of hands, almost certainly the vast majority of our society has at one time or another been told they are something that, in fact, they are not: Lazy. Stupid. Fat. Incompetent. Ugly. Uncoordinated. Too short. Too tall. Clumsy. Pathetic. No good. A mistake. An accident. While any of these adjectives may be unhealthy or unproductive ways in which we live, they are in no way representative of who we are

The bad news is this: we humans are complex physical beings with a complex system of emotions. We thrive (or deteriorate) on relationship, community, and a sense of belonging. And because of this God-designed need for relationship – the Bible tells us that God observed it was not good for man to be alone – we embrace what we are told about ourselves. We soar to unattainable heights because someone believes in us; we plummet to unfathomable depths because another does not. Fragile characters indeed.

The good news is this: God makes it abundantly clear in His Word that human beings were made in His image. We are the only part of all His creation which He referred to as ‘very good’ (Genesis 1:31), “made in the image of God.” An image is defined as ‘an imitation, representation, or similitude…; a physical likeness or representation…; an optically formed duplicate’. Look around. What does that tell you about God? God is short and tall; God is blonde, brunette, and red-head; God is freckle-faced and olive-complected; stocky and statuesque; curly, straight, and bald. While we are daily bombarded with being told what we are, it is vitally important that we know who we are. God doesn’t make mistakes. In spite of the fact that we often misuse (or don’t use at all) the gifts and talents we’ve been given, the simple truth is that we are who God created us to be.

When I look in the mirror there are plenty of things I don’t like staring back at me (and I won’t elaborate on them on the off chance that you haven’t noticed them). But what would happen if when we looked in the mirror we saw what God sees? Far beyond the physical reflection, what if we could see His image? His likeness? How would it change what we are told we are if we filtered it through knowing who we are?

God gave us an incredible, extravagant gift in the person of Jesus. He gave him in the form of a human baby. In the image of God; in His likeness. I can only imagine the things Jesus must have been told about himself as a growing boy….conceived out of wedlock (shameful and humiliating); born in a stable among smelly animals (you don’t really think they cleaned up just because a baby was coming, do you?); raised by a carpenter (not exactly the most prestigious job in town); different; strange; downright weird. But Jesus knew who he was and it didn’t matter what people said about him.

You may say, “you’re right, Dawn, but he was God’s son after all…of course he knew who he was!” Ah, but wait a minute. The Bible also tells us that he was fully human, embracing all the traits (a/k/a weaknesses and limitations) of man. He was thirsty and hungry; He was tired; He felt physical and emotional pain; He was tempted. He suffered. But he kept his focus on what he knew to be true, not what others told him.

At this Christmas time of year, I’m reminded once again that God doesn’t make mistakes. He knew exactly what He was doing when he offered Jesus to the world through a tender young woman and a brave young man. And for all the ways He could have chosen to send us a savior, He opened wide the door to eternity through the fragile cry of a newborn.

Being told who you are or knowing who you are? Learn the truth. And win the war.

Last week a dear friend of mine shared a post on facebook which, quite
honestly, has dominated my thoughts and kept me awake for several nights now. Her name is Dawn and, coincidentally, we share not only our name but the same birthday month – how cool is that? And for the sake of clarity, she is the younger Dawn by far!

Dawn and I met through our childrens’ sports activities and have become good friends. Mikey, her oldest son, has the biggest, most heartwarming smile you’ve ever seen. He loves to share hugs, high fives, and french fries at baseball games. Mikey is also a special needs young man with Down Syndrome. When our families first met, he called me ‘Mrs. Hood’. I laid my hand on his arm and pleaded with him, “Mikey, please don’t call me Mrs. Hood – it makes me feel old. You can call me Miss Dawn.” He threw his head back and laughed big and hard, then smiled and said, “okay, Miss Dawn.” He now refers to my in-laws as Mimi and Papaw and has a not-so-secret crush on our daughter Rachel. {smile}

I am blessed to know Dawn and her family. All of her children – Mikey included – are fierce athletes. Their daughter Ashley has college scholarship potential as a softball player; she also excels academically. Their two younger sons, Evan and Zach, are baseball and football superstars and Mikey, although on a special needs baseball team, far exceeds the physical and mental abilities of his teammates. As I’ve observed their family dynamics over the years, I’ve learned that Dawn and her husband Mike rarely make concessions for Mikey. They hold him accountable for his behavior, his speech, and the sometimes belligerent taunting of his sister. Having never spent a significant amount of time around a family with a special needs child, it has been fascinating to watch how they treat him – literally – just like any other kid. Somewhere in my brain I wrongly assumed there would always be the ‘making excuses’, the ‘indulging’, the ‘oh, I’m sorry’.

My perspective was always based on the family’s and the inspiring way in which they completely and totally embrace Mikey. (Although it has never crossed my mind that they would do anything else.) But I never thought about it from Mikey’s point of view until last week’s facebook post from Dawn. On a regular morning, in the midst of a regular weekday routine in which two parents were preparing themselves for the workday ahead and four children were eating breakfast and grabbing book bags for school, Mikey said to Dawn, “I don’t want to be a special ed kid, Mom. I want God to fix me.” 

Whoa. Shut the front door. If this were a scene in a movie, the moment would freeze on the big screen accompanied by deafening silence.

My kids have said a few things over the years that have stopped me in my tracks, but what could any parent possibly say in response to a statement like this? Dawn shared that this is a recurring topic with Mikey and also bravely shared how it breaks her heart. Mikey knows he is special needs; knows he functions at a different level and pace; knows he will always live life ‘differently’ from his siblings. And it frustrates him. More than how Dawn responded to his statement, I’ve been reflecting on Mikey’s simple, innocent proclamation: “I want God to fix me.”

We all have things we would like for God to ‘fix’: finances, marriages, wayward children, jobs, physical features that we label ‘too much of’ or ‘not enough of’ or ‘just not the way I want’. But when is the last time we asked God simply, ‘fix me‘? I have to admit, God has really been dealing with me in this area (no, actually it’s been more like hammering – I do have a stubborn streak). I tend to look at what surrounds me and want those things to change. The ‘If only…I just wish…why can’t I…or why don’t they…’  Maybe what I need to be looking at is me and what needs to change.

I heard a sermon recently by a man, well into his 70s, addressing this very subject. His text was 15 little words nestled in the middle of Psalm 37, “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (v.4). Dr. Hill put it this way: “if you try to delight in what you desire, your desires will never bring you any delight.”  His point was this: until I delight myself in the Lord first (the result of which is a contended heart), my desires will never satisfy me. You guessed it: hammer firmly in hand, nail placed strategically right between my eyes, swing with intent. Bam!

Will God ‘fix’ Mikey? I don’t have any idea. Conventional wisdom, the history of medicine, and DNA would all say no. But everyone who knows and loves Mikey would tell you he doesn’t need ‘fixing’. Is this a pat-on-the-back, “just give God the desires of your heart, son” quick fix? Absolutely not. I don’t doubt for a moment that God created Mikey in his mama’s womb exactly the way He planned. I don’t question that His purpose for Mikey’s life is of any less importance than any other person on planet Earth. Does knowing that make it easy? Of course not. Does it satisfy Mikey’s desire to be more like his siblings and their friends? Probably not. Does it explain God? No more than understanding how a clock works explains eternity.

The lesson is for me. For us. Fact is, we live in a broken world. There always have been and always will be circumstances and situations that we wish could be fixed. But how would those circumstances and situations change if nothing changed except the heart through which we look at them? Thank you, Dawn, for offering me a view behind closed doors; and thank you, Mikey, for being you.

I think my Christmas list will be short this year: Dear Santa, I want God to fix me.

A pastor friend of mine was sharing the story recently about an afternoon early in his ministry when he and another minister friend were relaxing on a bench looking out across a church campus. The church was quite old and had gone through multiple building additions and renovations over the years. As with many churches of its day, the cemetery sat immediately next to the sanctuary and so the rest of the campus had been built up around these two original structures. While the two men sat looking out across the campus my friend was letting his eyes and mind wander among the tombstones, imagining the men and women who were buried there. Had they lived long, productive, influential lives? Or in the eyes of the community had their lives been cut short, robbed of opportunity? Had they been blessed with good work and happy marriages? Children? Were they prayer warriors or troublemakers? Interrupting all these thoughts the other minister commented, “Man, I would give anything to be out there right now!” Shocked and more than a little concerned, my friend responded, “Whoa! Wait a minute, brother. Things aren’t really that bad are they?”

At that moment each of the men realized what the other had set his eyes on. My pastor friend was looking at the cemetery. The other minister was looking just beyond at the playground.

While Christmas centers on the birth of the Savior, I find myself spending lots of time thinking about Mary. Barely grown past childhood, this tender young woman was chosen to carry the son of God in her womb. Out of all eternity, God chose her.  GOD. And morning sickness, swollen feet, and backaches. I look at my own daughter, almost 13, and wonder: if she came to her father and I with the news that she was pregnant – but adamantly maintained her virginity – and told us that an angel had visited her to announce that she would become pregnant by the Hoy Spirit, what would we say? My first inclincation in 21st-century lingo would be to look at her and sarcastically ask, “Really?” My husband would probably be tempted to look at me and exclaim, “She’s your daughter!”

Surely, Mary knew from that first moment of the angel’s visit (which probably would have landed me in the funny farm) that a hard road awaited her. Shame, humiliation, gossip, rejection, finger-pointing and murmuring as she walked through town and attended services at the temple. What would the news of her pregnancy do to her family’s good name? Did anyone really believe Joseph had been visited by an angel as well? Or was he simply trying to orchestrate a cover-up of his own immoral behavior? Was Mary able to share with her mother her fears, her cravings, the first little butterfly of movement in her womb? Did she laugh or cry when the son of God rolled over in her belly and kicked at her ribs?

In the face of all these questions I am reminded of a simple, yet profound statement made by Mary immediately upon the angel’s revelation of God’s incredible call upon her life. “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled,” Luke 1:38 NIV.  Mary’s eyes were set on her Redeemer, the Author and Finisher of her faith. She didn’t question whether or not God was able to do what the angel foretold (as did the elderly Zechariah upon the announcement that his barren wife Elizabeth would bear a son). Mary didn’t doubt what God was going to do, she simply asked in childlike faith to understand how He was going to do it. God’s messenger answered her and Mary embraced the first step of a journey that brought the world a Savior.

As the calendar moves us closer to the day we celebrate the giving and receiving of gifts, food and family, and the wonder of Christmas morning, let us remember that the most excellent gift of God came through one woman who had her eyes set on eternity.

May the word of the Lord be fulfilled in us this Christmas season and throughout our lives.

How do you say goodbye to someone you’ve known almost your whole life? He’s not family (at least not by blood relation) but he’s absolutely family. I met Larry Morton when I was 12 years old and he was 31. He was married to a sweet, pretty young woman named Ruth Ann. Our families become instant, lifelong friends. They had moved to the Atlanta area from Canada and my Southern family provided endless hours of entertainment for Mort as he observed our quirky sayings, behaviors, and food choices. He loved to practice his southern drawl on my name, calling me “Daaaaawwwwwwn” then flashing his Santa Claus smile. Mort lived with wild abandon, drove a corvette, rode a motorcycle, water skied, snow skied, and (fill in the blank with every other adventurous outing imaginable). I played the piano and it was not unusual for Mort to buy me a new piece of sheet music and bring it over to our house. One of his favorites was “The Entertainer”, a tricky little ragtime piece that I worked hard to master. When Mort and Ruth Ann had their first (and only) child, Nicole, I was convinced she was mine.

Mort taught my brother and me how to water ski at Lake Lanier on a warm Saturday morning in early summer when I was in high school. He showed me how to put my feet in the skis, hold the rope correctly, and lean back. Keeping my knees together and pulling hard when he hit the throttle on the boat, I came up out of the water on my first try! For many years after, my brother and I could not get enough of those early mornings and long days at the lake. Mort, my Dad, my brother, and I would go very early, meeting Ruth Ann and my mom later in the day to eat and hang out at a little cove we discovered. My confidence grew and it wasn’t long before I tried to slalom. That’s when the fun really began! Many a boyfriend tried to survive a day on the lake with my Dad, my brother, and Mort. Very few made it back for a second one.

Mort and Ruth Ann took me to my first professional hockey game – the Atlanta Flames. I was hooked from the first drop of the puck. Going to the games with them was the only time my parents ever let me stay out late on a school night. The highlight of those games came one night after a tough win and a few broken hockey sticks. I managed to wrangle a stick from one of the crew and Ruth Ann and I walked down to the locker room, waiting patiently for those enormous athletes to start leaving. Ruth Ann stood there with me as I sheepishly asked them to sign the stick, which they all graciously did – every last one of them. With my stick covered in Atlanta Flames autographs, I sneaked it in the house later that night and gave it to my brother for his birthday. I thought Mort and Ruth Ann were the coolest people on the planet.

We introduced Mort to my Mom’s hot buttered biscuits and my Dad’s famous ham. He introduced us to Verner’s ginger ale. It has just the right mix of sweet and burn; I love it to this day. Some of my family’s favorite meals come straight out of Ruth Ann’s kitchen. She had been a school teacher in Canada and I was fascinated by her stories of how they did things ‘up North’. Mort and Ruth Ann were easy and comfortable to be with and Mort was the kind of man who always made you feel better after you had been around him, even if only for a few minutes.

I recently heard a Bible study teacher sharing about I Corinthians 13:13, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”  He asked what our thoughts were on why love is the greatest. A few people offered up the canned answers: because God is love; because love is a choice; because you can’t have faith and hope without it; because …” And then he explained it in a way I don’t think I’ve ever heard before. He said that faith is something we have here and now that the Bible promises will become sight. Hope is something we have here and now that the Bible promises will be made complete. But love? Love is eternal. Love is past, present, and future. Love will remain love for all eternity. Amazing, isn’t it? How a simple, different way of looking at something – even a word – can open up a whole new concept of what it really means. I can’t help but believe that God gave me the opportunity to hear these truths just a week before we learned that my dear friend, one of my heroes, is on his way Home.
 
Mort, even now your faith is being made sight. Your hope is being made complete. The love you gave your family and the love they gave you will go on forever. Rest, my friend. I love you.

Ask any median adult (by that I mean 55 or older) where they were in 1963 when JFK was assassinated and I will guarantee they can tell you not only where they were but what they were wearing, what they were doing, and who they were with. There was no internet, no text messaging, no Facebook posting, no cable news, no Skype sharing. Yet the whole world knew what had happened within minutes. And the whole world was shaken. America mourned the loss of a beloved president and grieved a little boy’s sweet, final salute to his Daddy.

Fast forward to 2001. Not since that fateful, tragic day in 1963 has this country come together in crisis like it did on September 11th. Rescue workers from all over the country traveled to New York, DC, and Pennsylvania to provide whatever assistance they could to whomever needed it. People opened their homes and businesses to complete strangers, providing shelter and safety, a drink of water, a comforting embrace. Members of Congress (Democrat and Republican alike) sang ‘God Bless America’ on the steps of The Capitol. Churches opened their doors on a non-Wednesday week night to host prayer vigils for the dead and their traumatized survivors. Rudy Giuliani, his voice near breaking with emotion stated, “when the final numbers come in, it will be more than we can bear.” Somehow that observation stings in my heart and mind more than any other from that day.

I can tell you almost every detail of our lives from 9/11: Rachel was a toddler, still in her pajamas, playing in the den with our two dogs Tiger and Bo. I was still in my pajamas as well, enjoying my coffee while Rachel played. Richard had gone out to run an errand that morning and as I answered his phone call there was no mistaking the seriousness in his voice: “Turn on the TV. Turn on the news. I’m on my way home.” Minutes later we sat glued to the TV, trying to convince ourselves that it was air traffic controller error, a horrific computer glitch, something. Anything. And then the second plane crashed into the tower. This was no accident we whispered, as if whispering somehow made it less true. Rachel continued to climb on the dogs and serve them tea from her toy kitchen set, completely oblivious to the fact that our lives had changed in a moment. Nothing would ever be the same. Nothing.

We spent that afternoon and evening trying to explain to almost-12-year-old Alex what terrorists are and what drives them to commit unspeakable acts of violence. We tried to put in perspective that God was in those tragic final moments for the thousands who lost their lives. And that it wasn’t wrong to pray that the people responsible would be brought to swift and sure justice. Over the next days and weeks, we drove a little slower, spoke kinder words to strangers at the grocery store and gas station, shed tears without hesitation or embarrassment, and made the time to say, ‘I love you.’

We engaged in an unparalleled rally of American pride, unity, strength, and resilience. We recited the Pledge of Allegiance with stronger voices, steadfast resolve, and unwavering confidence in WHO WE ARE as Americans. We drew comfort from a president’s tender yet unmistakeably strong message of hope. Yes, we suffered a severe blow at the hands of madmen that day. We bore the grief of millions on our broad American shoulders. We endured the mocking humiliation and shame of those who thought they had won the victory. We swallowed the bitter gall of death. But we need to remember there is One who had already done it all before.

For all the men and women who serve and fight bravely every day for our freedom in America, I know the One who served and fought bravely for our freedom in eternity.  He suffered severe blows at the hands of madmen. He bore the grief (and sin) of millions – no, billions – on his perfectly broad, sinless shoulders. He endured the mocking humiliation and shame of those who thought they had won the victory. He swallowed the bitter gall of death. And he came back victorious. He won the battle and He has already won the war. For you. For me. For the world. On this tenth anniversary of 9/11 as we remember and reflect, I encourage you to get to know Him.

His name is Jesus.

In my mid-20s, I was part of a small Bible study group which was, truth be told, probably more of a ‘find your spouse’ study group than anything else.  We had a lot of fun and spent ridiculous amounts of time together as a group.  Church functions, discovering new restaurants, pool parties, bowling, Christmas decorating, weekend trips, shopping, football, Spades tournaments that lasted for days, New Year’s eve parties, and more than a few late night races between those of us who had fast cars (and yes, I was one of them). One particular weekend, very late on a Saturday night, we were exploring how we felt about the serious topic of life.  Everyone had to write on a piece of paper one word to describe how they felt about death. We scribbled on our papers and folded them up, laid them in a basket, and one person began reading all the words out loud.  “Scared”, “dark”, “alone”, “final”, and “trapped” were just a few of the sentiments.  Then our self-imposed leader read mine: “peace”. 

Now don’t get me wrong: I love being alive and want to squeeze every moment I have out of it. A friend said to me recently (in her elegant, slow Southern drawl), “Dawn, I hope when you reach the end of your life, there’s no more dance left in you.”  Her simple statement hit me deeply as someone who has faced a terminal illness and, praise God, lived to tell about it. I truly don’t have a death wish. But as far back as I can remember, I’ve never been afraid of it.  Death has always seemed to me a warm blanket of rest. And letting go. And peace.

For the past several years, I’ve had the wonderful privilege to be part of a volunteer ministry at my church whose primary focus is caring for families as they navigate the dark waters of a loved one’s terminal illness.  As one of the leaders, I am often the first point of contact for a family after they have been advised by their doctor that it’s time to ‘call in hospice’. Our small band of volunteers serve as a sort of liaison between the family and hospice care. Many of them have never heard of hospice and don’t fully understand what it is, so we help them understand the language of ‘end of life’ care.  We also help with the daily tasks of life: housecleaning, yard maintenance, preparing meals, laundry, grocery shopping, and day-to-day errands, so that family members are able to focus on caring for their loved one.

There is no time or energy for hiding behind masks here. Grieving before a loved one draws their last breath takes on many faces, and we have learned that no one has the right to dictate how another walks down the path to good-bye. Sometimes they need to laugh so they don’t fall apart.  Sometimes they need to vent – and there are no rules about language here. Sometimes they need to weep. Bitterly. Sometimes they need to ask questions and try to answer what is destined to remain unknown.  Sometimes they need to sit and embrace the silence. But they don’t want to be silent by themselves. There is an unspoken comfort that comes from simply having a warm body close enough to reach out and touch. Even if they don’t

People often ask why we do what we do – especially when they hear about us for the first time.  “You mean you go into a stranger’s house and clean their toilets?” Yes.  “Why on earth would you practically move in with someone who’s dying?” Because they need us.  “Wow – you guys are weird.”  The families we care for would disagree.  There are many answers, and we all respond in our own way. But for me, the answer is two-fold: meeting people at the point of their need is what Jesus does. Not to over-spiritualize or set ourselves up on some kind of pedestal, but for me it is truly that simple. However, a very strong secondary driving force, and probably what drew me to this in the first place, is that I feel very much at home with people who are broken.  Whether they are broken because of their own choices or choices that were made for them or choices that were forced on them, I am drawn to them.

After being unemployed for almost a year (three days shy of one year to be exact) I’ve been incredibly blessed to begin working with an organization whose focus is providing a safe haven for ministers and their families in crisis. It is a comprehensive, intense program (on average from 12-15 months in duration) which offers relocation, housing, counseling, and childcare when necessary in an effort to provide healing and restoration to ministers and their families who have had to walk away from their calling – as a result of their own actions, or the actions of their home church.  I was initially thrilled about this opportunity because it meant I would be writing – and getting paid for it!  But it didn’t take long for me to realize that once again, I’m submerged in an environment where people’s lives have been shattered.  Men questioning their failures. Women questioning their marriage. Children questioning their future. 

The vast majority of the time, I will not personally interact with these families. Most of them I will probably never even meet.  But what we are doing is helping them put their lives back together. The ‘safe haven’ we provide is guiding them to an honest and authentic relationship with God, themselves, their families, and their church. It is a painful process. Peeling back years of unresolved or unexplored issues to face the core of their own souls.  And then to slowly, gently provide the balm of restoration. To help them stand again, scarred from the battle, but equipped with tools to win the war. I can’t say I love my job because it doesn’t feel like a job. I love what I am a part of. I love knowing that families have a place for hope.

And I feel very much at home.

I must admit, I was absolutely convinced that after 33 days of trial and only 10 hours of deliberation, Casey Anthony’s jury would hand down a guilty verdict.  Yesterday afternoon, sitting in the waiting room of a doctor’s office with my Mom (who fell and broke her shoulder over the weekend), I was absolutely stunned when a ‘not guilty’ was announced on the more serious Murder 1, Murder 2, and Negligent Homicide charges.  Facebook posts went through the roof, Twitter was all aflutter, and every cable channel except Disney and Cartoon Network provided up-to-the-minute commentary.  One newscaster offering her own particular flair for drama was practically salivating over the assumed guilty verdict just moments prior to the live announcement.

After hours and hours of research over the last two weeks about filicide – the deliberate murder of a child by a parent – I have learned that approximately 400 children under the age of 5 are killed in the United States every year.  That’s more than one child every single day!  And the large majority of these precious little ones are killed by a biological parent – not another family member, foster or adoptive parent, daycare provider, or stranger/predator.  Those we are born to trust the most are the very ones who have viciously, violently robbed these babies of life, liberty, and the simple joy of a frozen popsicle on a hot summer day.  If you increase the age of children to 12, the numbers go up even more.  In fact, the most life-threatening risk to a child under the age of 15 is their own parent.

Right about now, you’re probably sitting at your computer or holding your iPod shaking your head, wondering what happens in the mind and heart of a parent to move them from the normal, everyday frustration of parenting to not only thinking about but actually carrying out the murder of their own flesh and blood. This can’t even be stretched to ‘mercy killing’, where a parent might possibly argue that death was an act of kindness. No, not by any stretch.  This is the cold-blooded, premeditated, planned and rehearsed killing of a defenseless human being.  Now, if your blood pressure is rising and you’re starting to squirm, keep reading.

In 2008, approximately 1.2 million abortions were performed in the United States.  More than 50% of those abortions were performed on women between the ages of 21 and 25.  Cold-blooded, premediated, planned and paid for killing of a defenseless human being.  As much as we cry out for justice on behalf of little Caylee Anthony’s murder, had her mother opted for an abortion anytime prior to the birth of her daughter on August 9, 2005 we would call it ‘a woman’s choice’.  Caylee was murdered and callously tossed away in a garbage bag before she could celebrate her 3rd birthday with cupcakes, lemonade, and girlfriends.  But over a million little Caylees die every year in legal abortion clinics throughout the US before they ever draw their first breath.

For all the outrage Casey Anthony’s verdict has brought to the surface, it would do us well to recognize that until we as a people put inestimable value on human life – all human life – we will continue to reap what we have sown.  Selfishness will prevail.  And we will grieve the heart of God who knit us together in our mother’s womb.

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