Category Archives: dad

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,

life beyond the 51/49 principle

The 51/49 principle. That’s what my daddy calls it – the not so scientific (much less highly spiritual) approach to making decisions.

Your gut leanings . . . 51% in one direction; 49% in the other. When in doubt, go with the 51%.

When making smaller decisions, the 51/49 principle seems to carry less weight. When making larger decisions (those choices involving critical, life paths)? Well, the 51/49 principle is a bit harder to digest. Personally, I prefer the 99/1 principle when choosing a critical, life path—a two-by-four to the head that clearly says, “This is the way; walk in it … ” (see Isaiah 30:21). Unfortunately, that kind of clarification has rarely been my privilege over the years. Instead, I’ve learned to trust my gut, even when it teeters within a few percentage points of taking the alternate (often times, less desirable) path.

Sometimes, 51% is all I get. But every now and again, a 99% shows up . . . maybe even 100%, and there is no need for agonizing deliberation. I am grateful for those occasions; I’ve learned to be obedient to them as well.

Like three weeks ago, when I walked through an open door that (trust me when I tell you) wasn’t even on my radar – not one little bit. Three weeks ago, I was heart-deep in wedding preparations—a season filled with enough emotional trauma to clutter and confuse reasonable thought processes. Choosing the color of my toe-nail polish was a struggle, much less choosing a life-path. Still and yet, a choice presented itself, one that would not only alter my life, but also the lives of my family. That decision?

After fifteen years of being a stay-at-home mom, I’ve decided to take a job outside the walls of my home. Instead of homeschooling my children, I’ll be teaching someone else’s children – fourth graders at a small Christian school just down the road. If this opportunity hadn’t come about in the way that it did, I wouldn’t have had the courage to walk through this door. Even a year ago, I wouldn’t have had the strength. A year ago I was busy giving away all of the contents of my teacher boxes in an effort to lighten our load prior to our move to this community. After hauling that mess around for years, I had no intentions of ever, practically using any of it again. I kept one banker’s box, the contents of which are less practical and mostly sentimental.

And so, I’m starting from scratch, walking down a road I never imagined I’d be walking down again, and I’m doing so with a 99/1%, two-by-four affirmation in my pocket that will, undoubtedly, buoy my “want to” as this season unfolds. It may not make a lick of sense to others, but it makes perfect sense to me. Accordingly, I offer no apologies or explanations to the naysayers; I simply walk through this open door in obedience, knowing that the favor of God and the shine of heaven rest upon me.

This is my next, and I’m ready to turn the page, ready to let go of any previous notions of what I thought I should be doing (those 51/49 wranglings of the heart) and ready to step into the 99% I know that I should be doing. It’s just that clear and, relatively, simple. How grateful I am for a reprieve from the constant, internal debate regarding my next!

I don’t know where you are today as it pertains to choosing a life-path. Maybe you are contentedly walking with a 99% affirmation in your heart; maybe less contentedly, hovering between your 51 and your 49. I understand them both. This is the life of the faith . . . walking forward with God and trusting that, even when it’s with a 51/49 affirmation, he will establish your steps as you go and strengthen your witness for his glory and his renown.

Step on, friends. Step forward. Step always with God. These next steps matter. You can make them confidently, knowing that, wherever the path leads, you’ll never walk alone. Not ever.

Rest in the company of our King today. As always . . .

Peace for the journey,

PS – The winner of Leah’s study, HeBrews: a Better Blend, is Rebecca! Please be in touch with your mailing address, friend.

Watering the Kingdom Garden

“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” -1 Cor. 3:6-7

Today was watering day at Ebenezer UMC. I took my watering can and applied it heartily to the souls planted there in that green and growing garden. I am grateful for the privilege, for a walk in the lush abundance of God’s mercy. They are his blossoms—a heavenly-loved group of about a hundred, who cloister in that sacred space each Sunday morning. Today, God entrusted me with their care, a ministry normally reserved for my father. Graciously, daddy surrendered his pulpit to me and to my heart and granted me full rights to speak as the Spirit led.

It’s a sacred gift, especially considering that next Sunday will be my daddy’s last at Ebenezer. These are hallowed days for him, his “shaking hands with his tomorrow”, counting them slowly and lingering in their richness. A chapter in his story is ending so that another one might begin. I’m honored to have written a few closing lines in this one.

My prayer going into today was that the Holy Spirit would weed out the unessential words and empower those that were vital. By all accounts, it seems that my prayer was answered. Still and yet, upon reflection during my two-hour drive home, I recalled some words left unsaid – words I wanted to release and words that felt (to me) really weighty, really significant. Those words? Well, something along the lines of . . .

“Years of training build a soul, strengthen a stride, and foster endurance in the heart of a seasoned saint. Strength grows in the darkness.”

Words like that. But even though they were never spoken aloud (and after letting myself off the hook for not saying them), I came to the conclusion that the folks at Ebenezer UMC probably already know this about the darkness. Many of them have lived in and through the shadows of the night and have come forth as gold – strong people forged because of strong sorrow. I saw the strength in their eyes and felt it deep within – unspoken words spoken between us, spirit to spirit through the Spirit.

And therein, the soil of my soul was watered as well. Just knowing that we were doing this thing together (walking the kingdom road shoulder-to-shoulder and sharing kingdom truth at soul-level) moved me to a posture of worship on the ride home and to shouts of praise all along the I-95 corridor. I may not always perfectly deliver God’s Word to others, but I am perfectly willing to lend my heart, mind, and soul to the process when given the opportunity. There is always a great blessing that arrives on the backside of such godly obedience.

God is the grower of good things. The rest of us? Well, every now again, we get to hold the watering can that pours out his grace, truth, and love. This is holy privilege, friends. This is God’s kingdom in us and through us. Let’s not spend our days measuring the growth in the garden. Instead, let’s spend our days nourishing it with the holy waters of heaven.

This is the best we can do. We can count on God to do the rest. As always . . .

Peace for the journey,

on following dad . . .

Through the front windshield, I could see that they were talking – daddy telling a story to my thirteen-year-old son, sharing a ride together in that ’93 Chevy truck that’s been in the family for over two decades. I followed closely behind, staying in the lanes where he stayed and making the turns when he turned. He was leading me down an unfamiliar path, but I didn’t mind. I trust my daddy, and I knew that at the end of our ten-mile trek, we would arrive at our intended destination—my son’s apartment.

On our agenda? Moving my eldest child out of his current apartment into my parents’ home, where he will temporarily reside until he takes the hand of his bride in July. My husband did his due diligence last weekend in moving our second-born son out of the same apartment into his new living quarters. Needless to say, it’s been an exhausting couple of weeks for both of us.

Moves do that. They deplete us of our reserves. There are multiple, moving parts to every relocation. Whenever we rearrange our living situation, we can expect some rearrangement in a few other areas of our lives.

The heart.

The mind.

The soul.

A physical move is so much more than a change of address. A physical move shapes our interiors as well. Maybe not so much in a way that others notice but certainly at a level where we feel the shift within.

I’ve moved a lot over the years, lived in five states and changed my address at least twenty times. Moving is a tenet, perhaps, of the journey I’ve chosen, albeit not always an easy acceptance within. I’ve wrestled with a few changes of address and heartily welcomed some others. All twenty of them have shaped me, left their mark on me, and added their witness to my story.

By faith, I’m still standing. By faith, I’m still willing … to move as God directs, whether a move involving myself or in helping my children with their own moves. Why? Because there is something built in that place of relocation, a brick-upon-brick, cementing together of my interior because of my unyielding belief that God is up to something. That faith is stretched and strengthened with each move. That with every box packed in an old place and unpacked in a new location, a soul is asked to go deeper with God.

And really, when it gets down to the nitty-gritty of soul-matters, shouldn’t we all want to go deeper with God?

I want to go deeper with God, even when it’s hard. And so, I followed my daddy’s pick-up truck this weekend and helped my son with his relocation. In doing so, I allowed my soul to move to that place of surrender … again. To saying “yes” to the change that is coming. I cannot stop the packing on this one. I can only unpack my heart before the Father and allow him to keep building up these surrenders into a strong tower of personal faith.

How grateful I am for a windshield that allows me to look through and beyond my front bumper and to see my daddy in front of me, leading the way to our intended destination. He has taught me so very much about embracing new chapters in the journey and about putting a foot to the pedal of faith, even when it’s hard. No doubt, his ability to press forward has better enabled me to do the same.

For as long as time allows (and as long as the engine holds out), I’ll keep following closely behind my daddy, with or without his Chevy tail-lights to guide me. I trust him, and the guiding Light that has guided him for seventy-six years will lead us both safely to our final destination where we will unpack our belongings for the last time and where we will share the same address for all of eternity.

Lead on, daddy. I’m right behind you.

Happy Father’s Day.

One of the great people of Garner – aka “my dad”

Garner, NC. That may ring a bell for some of you; it’s the hometown of American Idol winner, Scotty McCreery. I like it for two other reasons – my mom and dad. They moved there several years ago to be nearer to their grandkids. Not long ago, my dad sat down with the Mayor of Garner to talk about life in this beautiful city. I want to share his interview with you. After watching it, you might just want to relocate to Garner! Garner, NC, is not my hometown, but my parents? Well, they’ll always be my home. Wherever they lay their heads, my heart rests there as well.

May the peace of Christ rest upon you this weekend, friends.

To watch the video – go HERE! 

PS: The winner of one of Leah’s books is Sonja! I’ll be contacting you privately to secure your choice.

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