Category Archives: family fun

a time to keep

Packing while unpacking.

It seems like a contradiction, but it’s really just a delicate consideration about things kept, things discarded, things remembered, and decisions therein. One doesn’t pack up a house … a history … without a little unpacking of the soul alongside.

A time to keep and a time to throw away, as Solomon would say.

Such has been my portion since April 10th, the day I first learned of our impending move to Benson, NC. It almost seems like yesterday when our moving van pulled up to the parsonage in Laurinburg and we began to unpack our lives here.

Six years of living history in this space. Six years of being loved, being sheltered, being known, and being well-cared for. Saint Luke UMC has been a good place to grow and to rest our hearts. Some would call us crazy for leaving this place, this congregation and this community. In fact, on paper, it doesn’t make much sense as far as pastoral moves go.

But every now and again, “what makes sense” gets trumped by something greater, something higher, something more akin to choosing “what’s best for now” over “what’s been best for the past six years.” And that best for us?

Moving closer to home.

“Home?” you might ask.

Yes, home. You see, for me, home is portable.

It’s not a place. It’s a people. It’s not a house. It’s a family.

And my membership in a family began a long time before I married Preacher Billy. Before I was part of the Olsen family, I was part of the Killian family. Before I was a pastor’s wife or Nick, Colton, Jadon, and Amelia’s mom, I was a daughter. I still am. I belong to Chuck and Jane, and they belong to me. We’ve been a family for fifty-three years.

I spent the first twenty-one years of my life living under their roof in Wilmore, KY. Eight years later, I returned home for an additional three years where they continued to parent me as well as their two young grandsons. I moved away from Kentucky a final time in 1998, and four years later in 2002, my folks followed suit, relocating to North Carolina to be closer to their family. Dad left his fruitful career as a professor at Asbury Seminary to pastor two small churches in Mayodan, NC, while mom came along for the ride as his help-mate.

Apparently, “home” was portable for them as well.

Not a place, but a people. Not a house, but a family.

Us. We are that family. We were the reason they uprooted their existence of thirty plus years and said good-bye to their community, their countless friends, and their comfort. If you asked them today, I don’t imagine they’d voice any regrets. Their great sacrifice has been our great gain. The life we’ve shared together because of their being closer to us cannot be calculated in dollars and cents. It can only be measured in the heart, in those deep kinds of ways that shore up a foundation, solidify a history, and fortify a future. My parents brought “home” to us seventeen years ago.

Two months from now, we will have the rich privilege of returning the favor … of bringing “home” to them. For how long, only God knows. But for however long he ordains, we will be able to “do life” more practically with our parents. More time together. More face to face. More memories made because of more access. And that, friends, is what is best for now.

A home delivery to the Killian family from the Olsen family.

Indeed …

A time to keep.

Even so, Lord Jesus, grant us your peace for the journey as we walk these next steps in absolute faith and expectation. Amen.

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

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,

“Mother of the Bride” Review and Give-Away…

*This giveaway is now closed. Congrats to Cindy G. who will receive a copy of the book via Amazon. 

I love a good book, especially during these summer months when I have both the time and the energy to absorb a new story. And while I always have a compelling, fiction story sitting bedside, my favorite books fall into the category of non-fiction – truth-tellers, stories of “Been there, done that, and have the battle-scars to prove it”, a come-alongside-you-for-the-journey kind of book that feels more like a companioning presence than an uninvited stranger.

Cheryl Barker’s book Mother of the Bride: Refreshment and Wisdom for the Mother of the Bride is one such book. To clarify (lest any of you think my thirteen-year-old daughter has recently become engaged), I am not currently an official MOB (mother of the bride). I hope to have that honor in a season to come. As the mother of three older sons, I’m mostly sitting on the sidelines in that department.

But it’s fun to dream, is it not? When I was in college, my girlfriends and I saved up our spare change in order to purchase the latest bride magazines at the grocery, check-out stands. We’d cut and paste our favorite images into a notebook of sorts, planning for a perfect wedding, all the while praying anxiously (and rather insistently) for the perfect groom to slide onto the scenes of our lives. For most of us, that moment came. When it did for me, the worn and torn bridal pages from those earlier years were nowhere to be found. Instead, my mother and I started the process from scratch. Bless her heart; she didn’t have a come-alongside-you-for-the-journey kind of book in her pocket. Instead, she had me. Again, bless her sweet, patient heart.

Had Cheryl’s book been around then, no doubt it would have been a huge blessing to my mom, a gentle hug to remind her of all that’s good and right and honorable about her role as the MOB. Mother of the Bride truly is a “gem” for the wedding journey. Included in this beautifully packaged book are twenty-three seasonal vignettes written to highlight the special moments of the bridal journey. Each entry concludes with practical planning tips, as well as personal pampering ideas. There’s even a space for journaling your thoughts as you reflect on Cheryl’s heart-felt renderings. Some of my favorite vignettes include:

To Have and to Hold … Until She Gets Married

This vignette is all about the “letting-go”; whether you’re a MOB or a MOGroom, this is a relatable tug of any mother’s heart. A favorite quote from this selection is: “Let go of your daughter with grace and you’ll find her calling on you with joy.” (pg. 43)

Bye-Bye, Comfort Zone: Diving into Unfamiliar Waters

No doubt, the MOB will wear many hats during the wedding-planning process, some more comfortable than others. Cheryl challenges MOBs (and women everywhere) that “… each time we square our shoulders and say good-bye to our comfort zones, it leads to growth and more self-confidence.” (pg. 74)

Be Very Careful: No Do-Overs for the MOB

This reflection is a gentle reminder for MOBs to consider how important her responses/reactions are during a season where first responses are measured (and well-remembered). Cheryl writes, “Some situations, like various tasks or games, lend themselves quite well to do-overs. However, when relationships and feelings are involved, that’s another matter. Even if we get a second chance, the memory of the original situation will never be entirely wiped out.” (pg. 97)

My MOB and me, 7-19-97

Also included with the twenty-three vignettes are wedding venue worksheets – a very practical, thought-out list of questions to keep in mind when planning for your daughter’s special day. Truly, Cheryl has given all MOBs an inspiring gift in writing Mother of the Bride: Refreshment and Wisdom for the Mother of the Bride. She’s thought of everything and has packaged it beautifully as her “gem” to you during your special season of love and grace.

As for me and my future as a MOB, well, I’ll tuck Cheryl’s treasure away for a season longer. But when that day arrives, when my little girl looks at me with dreams of satin and lace and budding bouquets, I’ll know where to start. I’ll start with a hug from a friend named Cheryl who “once upon a time” penned a few thoughts about the glorious steps that await me as a Mother of the Bride – a come-alongside-me-for-the-journey kind of book that feels more like a companioning presence than an uninvited stranger.

Thank you, Cheryl, for writing your story and for inviting me to the wedding. What a lovely celebration this has been!

PS: Hey readers – leave a comment today for a chance to win a copy of Cheryl’s Mother of the Bride. The deadline for entries is July 17th.

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