Wednesday, December 10, 2014


Recent events have many of us thinking, pondering, meditating on the state of relations among the diverse individuals who make up our nation. This evening, I'll be attending a meeting at my Atlanta church, Renovation, to discuss just that. Praying toward that end, I've reflected on my early days at Renovation, back in January 2011. I wrote the following after one of my first times there.

Continuing our orchestral performance, we haven't heard yet from the Communion section. Yesterday's communion at Renovation Church brought me to my knees, but not at a rail.

The pastor of this unusual church is a Louisiana-bred (read African, Cajun, French, Cherokee) former pro football player and trained lawyer who went to seminary and moved to Atlanta without a job because God told him to plant a church here.

My kind of guy. Eclectic. Not to mention passionate.

Communion there is more in the line of the liturgical churches where the communicants go to receive the sacraments, rather than passing them to one another in the pews. (Or opening up a pre-packaged wafer and grape juice from a bucket. Gag.) At Renovation, the pastors (or celebrants or I don't know what they call them here yet) stand around the perimeter of the room, each holding a tray with a cup and a loaf. We tear the bread ourselves (very visceral, very meaningful) and dip it into the cup and then partake. It grabbed my heart the first time. His body broken for me (by me), His blood shed for the remission of my sin (and I stain the body with His blood). Almost a swoon, but not quite.

Yesterday we sat on the second row, so instead of going to an assistant on the side, we were to go forward to receive communion from Leonce, the pastor mentioned above. As he began the celebration, I knew something special was coming. I could not take my eyes away, first from his face, then from his hands. Huge, powerful, beautiful, smooth, black hands, dwarfing the loaf he held. I wondered about the color of Jesus' strong hands, holding the loaf that night in the upper room, preparing to allow Himself to be broken. I wondered if His hands were large or small, rough or smooth. I knew they were beautiful.

And the next section of the orchestra joined in. I read last summer, for the first time, Uncle Tom's Cabin. The character of Tom so embodied the love of Christ, so inspired me anew to faithful following. The story in all its pain and ugliness and darkness still had light throughout because of Tom's unwavering faith in Christ Who ultimately must triumph. And the music of that story, and of that terrible period of our nation's history, joined the song of communion.

So suddenly Leonce was not just a man, any more than I am just a woman. We were both standing in the stream of history, of His story (as the Christian curriculum providers like to say), and we were both fully aware of all that has gone before and of where God wants to take us. This is a church founded specifically for the purpose of reconciliation, of renewal and renovation in the relations between and among all races in the city. We lost power during the last service and found out yesterday that it was because a man had stolen a car in an adjoining county, and running from police he had run into a phone pole and knocked out power for a several-block area. "Welcome to church in the city," Leonce said with a smile. "This is why we're here."

I braced myself to walk down the steps to the Table, grateful for a rail to hold along the way. I concentrated on not letting my tears fall before the Meal. I determined to look in Leonce's face, into his eyes, after receiving the sacraments. And so I did.

I made it back to my seat as my vision blurred, and I fell to my knees in front of the folding chair, letting the tears flow freely as I thanked the Almighty Who preserved a people who were beaten and torn and degraded and debased, and in His mercy also preserved those who brought down the whips and forged the chains that kept them there. It meant the world to me, as I told Leonce at lunch, to be able to bow and receive communion from this brother, this man whose history is so very different from mine, who is now willing to give what was withheld from his people for so long, even at the cost of receiving more of the same treatment.

Humility. Meekness. Power under control. In Christ's name and for His sake. Amen.

 This post is included in my forthcoming book, From Fortress to Freedom, due out December 2014. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Open the Gates

In the months since January 2011, when God released me from a self-imposed fortress of rules and restrictions, I have come to understand more of the truth which makes us free, as promised by Christ when He walked among us. I have run and danced and imagined myself flying; I have played and rejoiced and celebrated in myriad ways. I have never lost the awareness, though, that not everyone is living free.
Our bondage is sometimes personal, but there are cultural bonds as well, walls built of old hurts as well as new ideas, education as well as ignorance, good intentions as well as wrong motivations. They combine to construct nearly invisible fortresses that protect us from the unknown or misunderstood. Those fortresses also become prisons that keep us from being free to become what we are created to be: joyful creatures at peace with God and one another. 

The walls of some of those fortresses have become quite visible in recent days, in the harsh lights of events in Ferguson, MO, and Tompkinsville, Staten Island, NY, among others. Within our fortresses, it is impossible to find lasting meaning and peace in these situations, but it is exactly these kinds of circumstances that make us want to retreat to safety. I don't believe retreat is the best course, though. I think it's long past time to lay down arms (defensive and offensive), open the gates, and advance onto the field of battle not as warriors, but as peacemakers. To end the conflict, we all need to do the grueling work of finding, acknowledging, and releasing our own biases and fears.

My friend Judy Wu Dominick writes: "We need to come to terms with the truth that anti-any-kind-of-person bias is ultimately an act of violence against the image of God in them." Her essay is a long but very worthy read. If you are troubled by any part of the recent events in Ferguson, MO, I join Judy in her challenge that you "prayerfully ask the Lord to help you divest yourself of your assumptions and pursue understanding through earnest questions, with the eyes of a child who is learning something for the first time."

Be blessed.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

A Ramble on the Beach

I went once to Wrightsville Beach. Our friends - we all - had left Goldsboro and drifted far, liberated leaves on an autumn wind, our colors scattered to brighten other lawns. We collected ourselves at their new home in Wilmington to celebrate the connections, and they took us out to the seaside, out to the edge of forever. God's visible power had come blowing through, last hurricane season I guess, and humans and machines had "re-built" His beach. It was a horrid, coarse sand full of seashell shards that scraped shoes and scrubbed bare feet, but it got worse. The water was deceptively soothing in color, a pale aqua-blue, but the yellow flags warned we must take care. I'd not seen such waves before on the gentle Mediterranean and South Carolina beaches I'd visited. This was a damaged coast, and it had lost the gradually sloped shelf that should have sent whispering swells smoothly forward to caress silky white sands. The waves tossed angry white manes a few short feet from shore, then galloped in to pound their heads against the wall of ground up, spit out, dumped in skeletons that served as a beach that year. There was no bed for them to lie in to rest themselves before the long run back to sea; nor was there any place for human feet to stand before climbing onto the backs of the waves. A three-foot sheer drop marked the edge of land, and the bottom fell steeply away from there. To swim was like leaping over a racetrack fence in the second turn onto the backs of horses about to enter the home stretch. These were not patient, easy, playful horses. They were busy and in a great hurry, of course, and we bathers were troublesome distractions. Thus were we trampled and tossed and ultimately thrown back against that same wall we'd descended for the sake of this pleasure. Shell bits sanded the skin off our bare places, and the grit interposed itself in the tight spots between suit and flesh. Gasping for breath and grappling for handholds, we quickly reached the limits of our desire to swim on that particular day, at that particular beach.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Faith in What?

Thinking about faith, and what it is, and why it matters. The world as we perceive would not exist if not for faith. We cannot live in community without faith. I'm not sure we can live at all without it. We have to have faith in certain basic things, don't we? I pondered a bit; what do you think?

we all have faith in something. what do you believe?

do you believe that if you follow the traffic laws
everyone else will, too? anyone else?

do you believe that the price of a loaf of bread
will stay the same from the bakery shelf to the checkout line? in this country?

do you believe that mothers and fathers
never want to hurt their children? maybe not often?

do you believe that wars are fought
for high and noble reasons? or reasonable reasons?

do you believe that your friends
will always have your back? if they're able?

do you believe that if you're careful with your money
you'll never do without? much?

do you believe that if you work smart and study hard and live clean
you'll get your dream job? or at least a job?

do you believe that if you treat people right
they'll appreciate you? respect you?

I don't.
I don't believe any of those things.
The more I see, the more I learn, the less I believe. The less I trust in people or things or patterns or systems, or even experience.

But I believe God is real, and loving, and active.
For me, that faith
is enough.

It is enough, because even if no one else follows traffic laws, and I lose property or health or life as a result, my faith says that God is still real, and loving, and active. That means He's still in control, since He's God; and He's taking care of all of us, including me, since He's loving; and things will work out for the best, since He's active.

It is enough, because even runaway inflation can't stop God's work, and we ought to be relying on Him for provision, anyway, not a bakery or an economy or a government. He is the Bread of Life, and the price for us to have that bread has already been paid, and we can therefore be full citizens and participants in the perfect Kingdom of God.

Mothers and fathers aren't perfect, and neither are children. War is hell. Friends fail us. Even when we do all the right things, life is difficult. That's to remind us that we aren't supposed to be able to live by our standards of what's good or pleasing or perfect.

Instead, we can interpret the disappointments as challenges to switch around our faith. Instead of believing in people or policies or processes that seem to make the world go around, we can follow the advice in Romans 12:2: "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will" (NIV).

We can choose to believe that when things are out of our control, they're still in His control, so we don't have to get too bent out of shape about things like traffic and inflation and anger and war and on and on. We can choose to accept the task of finding what is good and pleasing and perfect in what He is allowing to happen in our lives.

faith in that
is enough.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Secret Garden

There is a secret garden far away with clear water flowing over smooth stones into a small pond. Today I saw a moment of video from the garden, because the gardener shared it online. I’d seen still images of the place before, but I hadn’t listened to it. Today I heard water singing and dancing over stones, and I breathed deeply and enjoyed the moment of peace. Then, right in the middle of my moment, I heard the evidence that not everyone has a peaceful place to be: I heard sirens wailing in the near distance.

This garden, you see, is not in the remote countryside, where only the gardener, God, and His insentient creation can hear the music of the water. It is not in an ancient holy site blessed by centuries of spiritual reflection. It is not on the grounds of a church or a monastery or an abbey. The garden is in a city full of His beloved, souls who are made in His image, fallen from grace and struggling along to somewhere, mostly unaware that there's even a better somewhere to be. It is a place of stillness in the middle of commotion.

I’m full of puzzles, and here was one for today: I smiled when I heard the sirens. It made me smile to know of the gardener being there, actively, intentionally inhabiting a peaceful place. The smile broadened as I realized we are called to be a peaceful place, and that we get to be that no matter where we are, even in a busy, hurting, noisy, unsettling place.

I believe we all can find such peace if we focus properly. “Be still and know that I am God,” He said in Psalm 46:10. That wasn't a sometimes-when-you-feel-like-it good idea way back when. That's a lifestyle choice right now. In the middle of a city, even in that very emergency vehicle we heard, we are able to pay attention, to choose to believe that God is, that He is good, that all things have a purpose, that this moment is all we have so we may as well love in it, rejoice in it, bless in it. When we do that, we’re all secret gardeners. We create space to enjoy peace ourselves, but we are actively, intentionally involved in being a peaceful place, sharing ourselves (and Himself) with all who are willing to sit and abide and receive.

I think even God Himself smiles at secret gardens like that.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Why I Love to Teach, or The Joy of "x"

“Why?” is a perfectly reasonable question. Fortunately, I ask it often, so when one of my students inevitably wonders, I generally have a good answer ready. Any subject can inspire such a query, but solving for the unknown ("x") is almost  guaranteed to have the effect eventually.

Today my beginning algebra student asks, "What do we use this for?"

He says it rapidly, words running together with a zzzzz sound, like a bubbling consonant soup spilling out onto a hot stove. His eyes dart from notebook to textbook to table and almost to me as he freezes his pencil hand, but his feet are still fidgeting, running under the table, off on adventures he can't quite follow until he figures this out.

The expression under his pencil is 15y + 9x - 6x - 1y.

I tell him a story about apple picking, yellow and red apples, losing some, figuring out how many of each we still have.

He nods, not wanting to disagree, but still not quite there. He probably figures he’s not likely to pick yellow or red apples, so maybe I didn’t understand his question. "They said in another class yesterday, when we were talking, that after Algebra 2 the math isn't for any reason."

I'd been helping in that class, it turns out; I’d heard that. "Ah, well! About halfway through Algebra 2, you'll get to a kind of math that works with ideas and imaginary things. You can't pick up apples or boxes to explain it."


"But people who need to make imaginary things real, those people use that kind of math. Like an architect who can imagine a cool-looking building. He has to figure out if he can actually build it. Will it fall down? How can he support it? Will the wind twist it too much? How many people can move around in it?

"So that other math helps people like that, people who imagine things. It helps them make them real."

Now he's with me. "I can imagine a LOT of things."

"Well, then you might just like Algebra 2!"

The hand unfreezes and pencil hits paper. The eyes stop searching and focus first on the textbook, then on the notebook as he starts copying down the next problem. "Yeah, so if I can just figure out the formulas and just do it, I can kinda fly with it."

Or something like that. It was really fast, and kinda buzzy. But he was smiling!

I love this stuff.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Stepping Forward

"I've been to a lot of airports. But I haven't flown much."

I wrote that nearly four years ago. It's about to be published in my book, From Fortress to Freedom, in a chapter called "Staying Behind." I re-read it today while proofreading the manuscript for the book. In the past two days, I've dropped off my son at an airport and bid farewell to a dear friend headed to another airport. And I still haven't flown much. I realized, though, that I don't feel like I'm staying behind any more.

I want to make some notes now, pile up some stones here on this side of the river, to remind me I've come this far. It took nearly fifty years for God to convince me of the truth that He loves me just as I am, and it's taking nearly thirty (so far) for me to believe that my husband loves me unconditionally as well. Out of fear of rejection, I've stayed behind and hidden behind and deliberately fallen behind for all these years. Now I'm seeing that I don't have to have that fear or that behavior. So at last, I am beginning to take shaky first steps into speaking my mind, asking for help, taking a stand, and charting my course. I'm learning to express who I am. What evidences can I stack up here to celebrate?

- I went on a beach trip with women friends and no family members for the first time in my life.
- I wrote and published The Mom's Guide to Surviving West Point with my friend Lisa Browne Joiner.
- I took three different dance/exercise classes; dancing with strangers: pretty radical.
- I participated in a practical drama class - not drama as history, not stagecraft - actually learning how to act.
- I got over my fear of trying new foods so now a menu looks like an adventure rather than a mine field for me.
- I auditioned publicly for a vocal solo (and got it); I am finding my own singing voice rather than copying others'.
- I took charge of managing my mother-in-law's suddenly complex medical care in her last days.
- I assisted in directing several dramatic performances.
- I substituted as a classroom teacher for the first time, with no advance notice, and I was able to manage the students as well as get some productive activity completed.
- I met several new friends and am now cultivating new relationships.
- I weathered what might be called a mid-life crisis, I guess, that severely challenged my marriage, and together with my husband I am daily learning to have a better marriage.
- I submitted two of my own books to a publisher and one has been accepted!

That's twelve first-times, twelve stones of testimony, as many as the leaders of Israel placed to remind them of crossing the Jordan. It marked their entrance into the Promised Land, and I feel as if I've landed in a promised place, too.

I guess maybe I've flown a bit after all!