fly with Christ…

“At least in heaven we’ll be friends again.”

Tears fell from her eyes as she imparted a final hope regarding a relational struggle she’s been dealing with for the past six months. Tears fell from my eyes as well. As a mother, my greatest personal pains have always been attached to the pains of my children’s hearts. Whatever they’re carrying, I tend to carry as well.

It would be easier if I could divorce myself from the struggle, but that’s not the deal. Parenting doesn’t come with pause buttons or expiration dates. Twenty-nine years ago, I didn’t understand the magnitude of what parenting love would encompass, but I did understand at least one thing going in:

I would do everything within my power to keep my children safe.

Safe. Protected. No harm done. Minimal exposure to danger or risk.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that, as it pertains to their safety, my ability to control it was limited.
Fevers. Scraped knees. Upset tummies. Playground taunts. Broken bones. Broken relationships. Outside intrusions of all manners and manipulations. No, I wasn’t going to be able to prevent them all. Multiplied times four and, well let’s just say, my kids’ strife has earned for me my parenting stripes.

Even today, I still want to keep them safe, but after years of not being able to manage it perfectly, I understand something further, something deeper as it pertains to this shaping, parental love:

A mother’s safety can sometimes be restrictive to the neglect of being instructive.

When my well-meaning desire to make their pain go away prohibits their pain from being a way to mature them, then I have limited (and underestimated) the power of the tender moment.

It’s not that I wish pain on them as some warped way of growing them. Never. Oh that our heart-shaping would come to us more through our laughter than through our tears! But I’ve lived long enough, cried hard enough, trod deep enough through my own personal sorrows to believe that they have, in fact, made me wiser and, more importantly, moved me closer to the heart of God.

When I can’t understand the why, I can run to the Who. And it’s there, in that sacred space of aching exploration, where I receive an understanding that cannot be found in a textbook and a rich comfort that cannot be bought from a shelf.

I find Jesus, a Savior who does not retreat from my pain but a Friend who enters into it. Who waits with me. Who stays with me. Who walks with me. Who mentors me.

Jesus comes to my pain, and to the pain of my children, and, if allowed, shapes a kingdom heart—a heart likened unto his own. A heart that lives through the pain so as to rise as a witness because of it.

I don’t know what lies ahead for my daughter as it pertains to her current heart struggle, but I do know that hope lives in her—a hope not anchored in false realities but, rather, a hope tethered to the truth of Jesus Christ. And for that alone (at least this time), I am willing to loosen my grip on the safety net I’ve been holding beneath her so that she might fall into firmer hands…

A God that will not let her go. A Father who will keep her safe and who will grow her into a bastion of strength, grace, and eternal nobility.

No, I cannot keep her safe this time.

Instead, I will allow Him to do so.

So, fly with Christ, sweet one. And, as always,

Peace for the journey,
Mom

Betrayal

Betrayal.

It’s a terrible sting, a wounding not easily salved. Betrayal cuts more profoundly than disappointment because betrayal is rooted in motive. Betrayal is planned deception. Betrayal is attached to the heart. Whereas I am often disappointed by someone’s actions towards me, I am grief-stricken when I am betrayed by someone I trusted, someone I thought was my friend.

And so it is. Almost.

Accordingly, this morning (as a result of the better part of a night), I’ve thought a lot about the betrayal Jesus experienced. It’s easy to find in Scripture. At so many levels and at many points along his earthly tenure, Jesus experienced betrayal from those who surrounded him, but none more so than that from his disciple, Judas.

Jesus’ responses to his betrayer are staggering and are a comforting guide for those of us who are struggling to move beyond the pain of deception’s dagger. Ponder with me Christ’s reactions to his betrayer:

Jesus reached for his feet.

“… so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” (John 13:4-5 NIV)

During that last meal around the table with his closest friends, Jesus did something unexpected. He took off his outer garment, knelt low to the ground, and washed his disciples’ feet. All of them. Surely, his servant-posture brought some level of grief to both Judas and Jesus; the painful exchange grips my heart even now. Jesus touched and tenderly cleansed the feet of the one who would soon betray him – a final gesture of kinship between the betrayer and the Betrayed.

Final gestures of kinship are often present in our personal betrayals. The foot washing—the kneeling and the reaching—is way of extending a loving good-bye in the face of deep disloyalty. It serves a purpose for both parties involved. Never underestimate the worthiness of a gentle foot-washing. Washing and being washed roots deeply into the heart of humanity.

Wash feet. Live on.

Jesus released him to the night.

“As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. ‘What you are about to do, do quickly,’ Jesus told him …” (John 13:27, NIV).

Jesus could have stopped Judas from running away into the night. Instead, Jesus released him to the night’s reckless wandering. Jesus gave Judas permission to “leave the table.”

Not everyone wants to stay at the table, friends. There are times in our lives when we, too, need to release our betrayers to the night’s reckless abandon. In keeping them at the table, in a place where they have long-planned to leave, we delay the painful outcome. Scratching at an oozing wound simply prolongs the healing.

Let go. Live on.

Jesus received his kiss.

Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: ‘The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.’ Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, ‘Greetings, Rabbi!’ and kissed him. Jesus replied, ‘Friend, do what you came for.’” (Matthew 26:48-50)

Do what you came for. The Betrayed looked at the betrayer and, once again, gave his consent (perhaps even the push he needed) to seal the deal. No longer would the betrayal be kept secret; instead, a signal was given to all present that, in fact, the trust that had once existed between Jesus and Judas, had been forever broken. The end was near; the cross was close. Soon, within a day’s time, it would “be finished.”

There comes a “finishing time” (praise God!) to all the betrayals we’ll know, a moment when the acceleration of the end is clearly seen and evident to all. In receiving the kiss from our betrayers, we can know that the end of it is near. It’s not that we don’t from time to time, feel the sting of that moment all over again, it simply and profoundly means that we are no longer strangled by it … pinned down and defeated because of it. All betrayals lose their grip on us when the cross is finally high and lifted up for the entire world to see.

The betrayer’s kiss cues the cross’s arrival.

Hang on. Jesus did. And because he did, we can live on.

And now, this…

If today you are in a season of betrayal, if you or someone you love has felt the sting of deception from someone you forever trusted, then I encourage you to lean into your Savior’s story. He has so much to share with you, so many ways he wants to love you through your pain. I can’t help but think that one of the many reasons Jesus was able to reach, release, and receive his betrayal was because he knew that, somewhere down the road, you would need the witness of his story—his strength, his pain, his hope. If that’s you, then by the very good and tender grace of God, know this—

Betrayal is not the end of your story. Jesus is. And He will never, not ever, betray the love that he has for you.

As always, and most tenderly in this season of pain, peace for the journey,

the sermon that was never heard…

I had a dream last night. So strong in its witness, I needed to “get it down” on paper this morning. Perhaps in doing so, it will get down to a deeper place inside of me so that I might more fully live it outside of me.

The sermon that was never heard.

Allow me to explain. In May of 2016 my father was scheduled to preach at the Garner UMC. There was nothing particularly unusual about this event. Dad was often called upon to “fill the pulpit” on occasions when the pastor wasn’t available. As a professor of preaching at Asbury Seminary for over thirty years, and as a pastor of several congregations in the last fifty years, my dad has always been a natural choice for such occasions. His spiritual journey, as well as his giftedness in and eloquence for telling a story, have allowed him notable stages from which to deliver God’s message. But no stage was more glorious and important to my father than one holding a wooden pulpit overlooking an audience of Sunday morning seekers. Accordingly, dad rarely refused an opportunity to fill a pulpit.

I had planned to make the two hour trip to Garner to hear my father speak that Sunday. My mother texted me early in the morning to tell me not to come, that dad wasn’t feeling well and wouldn’t be able to preach. Later that day, when pressed for more details, dad revealed that he was having trouble reading his sermon notes, that his thoughts were jumbled up inside of him. And while he didn’t have any manifestations of a physical illness, he knew something was wrong. So did we. Thus began the unraveling of the diagnosable mystery known as a stroke.

For the last nineteen months, we’ve walked with dad through this period of redirection. The adjustments have been numerous. And while dad’s aphasia has altered his daily routine, it hasn’t changed his heart or his passion for telling the story. Certainly, the “stage” has changed; they’re smaller now, more intimate. His words are fewer and, sometimes, aren’t delivered as eloquently as he would like. But the warmth is there, the smile, the laughter, the love … always the love from dad. And through it all, we’re all learning to make peace with…

The sermon that was never heard.

The words that were never spoken that Sunday morning. The “text” that (some would say) would be my father’s final declaration from the pulpit. And this morning, after tossing and tumbling all night long, after mulling over what my father’s final benediction might have been from the pulpit that morning in Garner, I have decided that God is still writing that sermon. That after nineteen months of altered steps and interrupted dialogue, the sermon that was never heard is still preaching its witness.

And therein, folks, lives and breathes the greatest story ever told. When the curtains are drawn, the script is lost, when the words won’t come, and the audience has departed, what remains is the sacred echo – the deafening whispers of the sermon that was never heard.  

Like my father, perhaps even like you, I have a few more stories I’d like to share, a few more moments of dialogue I’d like to give to the world. But I am no longer convinced that these are the “sermons” that God will most thoroughly use to live and give his witness. What I am growing convinced of, however, is that…

Not every sermon needs a stage.

Not every manuscript needs eloquence.

Not every word needs to be spoken.

Instead, our “sermons” just need to be lived in the shadow of Almighty God. With warmth. With smiles. With laughter. With love … always the love.

If we can get to that place of settled peace, friends, then the sermon that was never heard surely will be boldly proclaimed with a depth and with a clarity that may not come otherwise. So…

Thank you, Daddy, for teaching me how to live with an unwritten, unspoken, and unfinished script.

And thank you, God, for making it count eternally. As always, 

Peace for the journey,

Nine Miles with My Grandpa…

Grandpa and I at Uncle George’s -1975?

We drove my Grandpa Al home yesterday.

Well… sort of.

He wasn’t really my grandpa. My Grandpa Al died in 1994 at the age of eighty-three. The man we drove home, Howard, is seventy-four but could have passed as Al’s brother. Short in stature, round in the belly, missing hair and missing teeth – all the makings of the grandpa I remember so fondly in my heart.

It had been a busy, exhausting day for us. Sunday services (and all the drama therein), followed by a mid-afternoon funeral, punctuated by picking up pizzas for the youth group with no Sunday afternoon nap squeezed in between, can quickly consume one’s energy. Accordingly, as the sun slowly began its descent, my husband and I decided that a quick trip to McDonald’s was in order, not necessarily to fill our empty stomachs but, instead, to fill our depleted, emotional tanks.

As we were exiting our cars, Howard was exiting his hard day’s labor as an employee of McDonalds. His gait indicated his tiredness, as well as his arthritis. We made small talk and blessed him to an evening of relaxation. After all, he’d earned it. Eight hours of cleaning bathrooms and refilling the condiment bar would leave even a robust youth longing for a pair of pjs and a night’s lounging on a comfy sofa.

Once inside the McDonalds, I realized that my patience wasn’t equal to the long line waiting to be served. Hence, we moved our patronage next door to the Bojangles. Same story. A longer-than-I-was-willing-to-wait-for-line greeted us, and we made our exit to the car. Suddenly, I was no longer feeling hungry; instead, I was feeling lost … unable to focus and ready to head back home, unfed and unfilled. We hadn’t traveled far before we noticed him – the tired McDonald’s employee walking under an overpass. He, too, was headed for home. Ten minutes earlier, we had talked to him in the crowded McDonald’s parking lot next to our car. It never occurred to us that he didn’t have one of his own.

Something broke inside of me. A sadness that lent itself toward compassion.

“We need to give him a ride home, Billy. There isn’t any housing close by, and it’s getting dark. If my grandpa had put in a hard day’s labor at McDonald’s and had to walk home, I hope someone would stop and give him a ride.”

Tears slipped quietly down my face as my husband made a u-turn. We slowed our vehicle as we reached the underpass, and I rolled down my window.

“Sir, we just met you at the McDonalds a few minutes ago. Can we give you a ride home? You look like you’ve had a long day, and we’d like to help you out.”

Without hesitation and with much effort, he made his way into the back seat of our van. He dropped his brown canvas bag onto the seat next to him and began to tell us his story. He told us he sure appreciated the kindness and that we didn’t need to take him all the way home, just up to the Nic’s Pic (a local gas station). From there, he’d thumb his way home.

“Where exactly do you live, Howard?”

“In McColl.”

McColl, South Carolina, that is. Nine miles away from where we picked him up in Laurinburg, North Carolina.

“That’s an awful long way to walk to work. Is your car broken down?”

“No ma’am. I’ve been hitching rides to work for (… wait for it) thirty plus years now. If you’ll just drop me off at the Nic’s Pic, I’ll get a ride home from there.

“Howard, we’re going to take you all the way home. Tonight, we’ll get you home a little earlier than usual so that you’ll have a little more time to relax.”

And so, for the next nine miles, we got to know our new friend. We told him a little of our story, but mostly, he told us nine miles’ worth of his. Three marriages, a daughter he hadn’t seen in decades and with no understanding of where she might be, crippled up with arthritis and punching the clock at McDonalds for at least thirty years, well, even though his biography read more like a tragedy, he didn’t seem overcome or undone by it. Instead, he seemed content, like he’d made some sort of peace with what I perceived to be his less-than life.

As we approached McColl, he gave us the short-cut instructions to get to his house. Driving the back streets of his neighborhood, I couldn’t help but feel uneasy. The dilapidated homes, the junk piled up therein, and the occasional wandering inhabitants, quickly had me checking the door locks. My sobering assessment of Howard’s seemingly declining neighborhood didn’t match his own.

“There are some nice houses back in here … nice mill homes. My third wife left me one, even though it is falling down around me. Now she was a good one. I wish I’d had her longer.”

My precious grandparents, Al and MayBelle

And part of me wished the same. He shouldn’t be alone, not now. Not ever. And for nine miles last night, he wasn’t. I wasn’t. Instead, we were together, sharing a ride and sharing our lives – a tiny intersection on the long road toward home. Grandpa Al has been gone from my life for twenty-three years now, but last night, a part of him was with me, reminding me that this life is meant to be shared. That in some sense, we’re all really close to being family. All it takes to arrive at that realization is opening up our eyes to see those around us and opening up our hearts (and car doors) for conversations therein.

As Howard exited our car, he left me with a final word of benediction:

“There sure is a lot of evil in the world these days, but there’s still a lot of kindness. Thanks for the ride.”

And with that, our nine miles together came to a conclusion. What began as a quest to fill my hungering stomach was met, instead, with a meal to fill my hungering soul.

Grandpa Al, his son (Charles), and great-grandsons, Nick and Colton – 1993

 

There sure is a lot of evil in this world, but there still is a lot kindness. So, give kindness to others in this season, friends. Share nine miles or more with the person you meet at McDonalds, being willing to cross the state line should the occasion dictate. In doing so, you just might recognize a brother, a sister, maybe even a grandpa from your past.

In some greater sense than I fully understand, we’re all really close to being family. As always…

Peace for the journey,

The Old Guard

Arlington National Cemetery, May 2017

“Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.”

Those are the words chiseled into the marble sarcophagus that holds the body of an unidentified military veteran from WWI. In addition, two other unidentified soldiers from WWII and the Korean War are memorialized at the same site in separate crypts. A fourth, previously unknown soldier from the Vietnam War (later identified through DNA testing at Michael Blassie) rested there until 1998 when his remains were moved to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery. Since 1937, the Tomb of the Unknowns has been guarded 24/7-365 by a select group of soldiers known as Tomb Guard sentinels, an elite group of soldiers from the 3rd US Infantry Regiment – “The Old Guard.” The soldiers rotate throughout the day, ceremoniously and meticulously marking their steps, following a prescribed protocol of duty. It’s fascinating, sobering and sacred, to sit as a ringside witness to such tribute and honor. For these soldiers, their service isn’t played out on the battlefields of Afghanistan or Iraq.  Instead they surrender their duty, give their time and their best, on the battlefield known as Arlington National Cemetery, all for one sacred, privileged purpose.

To guard and protect the unknown – an American soldier known but to God.

And tonight, in the quieting moments after a week that has forced my faith to new heights and my knees to deeper prayer, I am thinking about those unknown soldiers, their stories and the secrets they keep encased within those crypts. Most tenderly, I’m thinking about the soldiers who, for the past eighty years, have given up their days and their nights for the sole purpose of guarding and protecting this mystery.

Sometime in the distant past, on a landscape not my own, three soldiers died on different battlefields while defending the rights of liberty. And while their identities currently remain a mystery, their earthly remains are heavily defended by The Old Guard.

As it is with the Tomb of the Unknowns, so it is with my life. So it is with yours.

a sentinel from The Old Guard – Arlington National Cemetery, April 2017

There are many mysteries, countless unknowns attached to our stories. The previously written chapters of our lives are safely scripted and bound within the annals that bear our names. But there are other pages, other secrets, chapters to come, and chapters writing themselves in this very moment, that are unidentified to us. And this can be scary at times because we have very little control over the unknowns; instead, we can only bear witness to them as they arrive and pray for God’s grace to hold them as our own. And when we’re shaken by newly discovered realities – when the unknown is finally identified and brings us fear rather than peace – as Christians, we have a deeper reality that we can cling to, a known truth that will cover our hearts and our minds like a warm blanket on a bitter winter’s night…

The Old Guard is standing near.

Marking his paces. Guarding his own. Rain or shine. 24/7-365. Back and forth before the crypts that carry the fullness of our lives – the mysteries, things known to us, and things known but to him. For this Soldier, his service is no longer played out on the battlefield known as Calvary; instead, he surrenders his duty, his time and his best, on the battlefield known as our lives, all for one sacred, privileged purpose.

To guard and protect the unknown – a soldier’s story, our stories, known but to Him.

See him there, friends. Oh how carefully Jesus Christ is guarding your tomb. Your surrender is precious to him, and in his great love for you, he has promised you his protection. What you cannot see, what you cannot know, is already seen and known to him. Your unfolding mysteries are not a mystery to him. He knows your story. He knows what’s at stake. He’s laid down his life for yours, and you can be sure that he’s not going to let the enemy rob your surrender of one single glory.

The gates of hell may rattle and shake its cage against you today, threatening your capture. But take heart. The Old Guard is standing near, and the gates of hell are no match for the protective, loving reach of this Sentinel. He has given his life and his pledge to bring you safely home. He will keep his word. It is his highest honor to do so 

So rest in honored glory today, Christian soldier. You and your unknowns are known to God. He can be trusted with the rest of your story. As always…

Peace for the journey,

PS: Psalm 91 has been a balm to my soul in this season. You may read it by clicking here.

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