For Jayden

July 2021

Losing a child is the greatest hurt in the world. Circumstances of a broken world take all kinds of tolls on children. Childhood cancer and other diseases, like Covid-19, take our children. Accidents in automobiles, on playgrounds, on bikes, in swimming pools, take our children. Guns in wrong hands take our children. Even childhood suicide takes our children. Nothing comforts our loss; we never get over it. We only hope to come through it somehow. Jesus and therapy and time help.

But senseless loss of a child’s life to dangerous dogs is tragedy beyond the human capacity to comprehend. Why would anybody own dangerous dogs? Or dangerous animals of any kind for that matter?

I need to say that I am a dog lover. I have had dogs for most of my life and currently own two. Even good dogs can do bad things. Dogs, as much as we love them, are animals. Whoa. I am too. There are survival instincts not to be confused with aggression. And when aggression is coupled with anger and great strength, that is when dogs and people get into trouble. 

Jayden was seven years old. Snaggle toothed. In her living room there was a toy shelf with farm animals, cars and truck, and tea sets. Just right for a little girl. Her parents had just moved to this new house, and a party was held for Daddy’s birthday in the new house. We were invited because we knew Dave and Heather from their work on Tom’s TV show. Directors and Master Control Operators make TV magic happen behind the scenes. This was the last time we saw Jayden.

On April 27, 2021, Jayden and her Mom, Heather, were in their neighbor’s backyard caring for the two dogs as they had been asked to do. Who knows what the trigger was that the dogs began to attack Jayden. As one who has had two dogs viciously attacked for no apparent reason, triggers may be hidden. And triggers are not likely trained out of a dog.

Heather – even in her fiercest “Mama Bear” mode – was not strong enough to pull the dogs away from Jayden. Heather got mauled in the attack too, so badly that even now… three months later, she cannot feed herself or open the car door. Unimaginable, unexpected trauma. Unthinkable, inconceivable loss. In just a few awful minutes a precious child was mauled to death and her mother left severely injured and forever broken hearted. 

Adding insult to injury and to the gravity of this loss is the dog-owners’ fight to keep these dangerous dogs alive and in their home. All kinds of maneuvering, a law suit, a threatened move with the dogs to another county is raising the suspicion and fear of others to the point that Franklin County Commissioners passed a law that no dogs that have killed will be allowed in the county (where the dog owners planned to move). Dogs that have killed people will be taken and euthanized. Seems like a common-sense law to me.

It also seems common sense to me that dogs who attack… people and other dogs – should be registered on a dangerous dog registry and clearly identified in the community in which they live. We do this for sexual predators; predatory dogs should not have more license than other predators. (Since I first wrote this blog, a story of another attack by dangerous dogs is in the news. It happens more often than we realize.)

I am not singling out specific breeds of dogs; I think any large, strong dog could be dangerous in the wrong hands. There is so much that happens around us that is beyond our control. I think simple laws around dangerous dogs could help save another life, even if not Jayden’s. There is an online petition circulating to address this problem with lawmakers at every level. We may not be able to get a state law – too slow and not politically expedient. But maybe at county and city levels, laws can change so that people who make bad choices about keeping dangerous dogs will be called out. Jayden’s law needs to be on somebody’s books. 

Posted in Spiritual Formation | Leave a comment

Landslide

Today I was at a meeting of sojourners brainstorming about offerings we could make… in prayer… healing ministry… racial reconciliation… lectio life… and on and on to the point my head was spinning and my heart was firing up. Most of the people in the room I did not know, or if I knew their names, I did not know them well. Honestly, I wondered why I was there. 

I am retired. I like to go to the river. Or read in the back yard. I told somebody today that I see myself as a free agent for the Lord. A toad in the middle of the room… parsing wisdom and guidance and affirmation to anyone who came for help. Silly me. Who thinks that’s a life strategy?

As we were brainstorming around the table a woman whom I had never met before asked me about retirement and what was my plan for the next years of my ministry. Well… I am full of complaint. Aches. Fatigue. Stamina problems. Balance issues. Yada yada. Hells Bells, what do I expect at 75? I thought about Stevie Nix.

Several years ago Tom and I had tickets at Greensboro Coliseum to see Rod Stewart and Stevie Nix in concert. I love Rod Stewart for all the old rock and even more for his soft renditions of classic love songs. Fleetwood Mac was a band in my children’s music generation. I loved their music. I especially loved Stevie Nix. My favorite song of hers is Landslide.

I was reminded of Landslide last Sunday at a Family Celebration at the church. I heard it sung and sang along as best I could.  The lyrics rose up in disjointed phrases: “Well I’ve been afraid of changing… but time makes you bolder and children get older… and I’m getting older too.” Aging is new to me. And to have a spirit and a heart and a passion and a love of God and a love of life that out runs the capacities of a 75 year old body is…pardon me, a real pisser. So what is a person to do? 

Self-awareness, when it comes, crashes down like a landslide. When we “see our reflection on the snow-covered hills,” we can run and hide. Or we can meet the landslide head on. I cannot do all things; but I can do some things. I can handle some responsibility; but I cannot hold the weight of the world. I can adapt to new realities and I am willing to make a fool of myself. I am called to love and serve God, my neighbor and all creation. I pray I will, on the ride down the mountain, “do all the good I can, by all the means I can, in all the places I can, at all the times I can, to all the people I can, for as long as ever I can.” (thanks, JW.)

Saying “yes” to life is a choice we make every day till our days on earth are over. I give thanks that a few hours in the company of sojourners seeking to make the world a better place reminded me of that. 

Posted in Spiritual Formation | 4 Comments

If I Could Put You in My Pocket

This is a poem I wrote for my brother after he had a stroke last year. He has never seen it before.

If I could put you in my pocket

I would wrap you in a red snugly

            And dress you in your gray sweat pants

            And the tan socks with the rubber skid proof pads

I would tuck you in my shirt pocket

            The one sewn over my heart

And I would bring you home

I would bring you home where I could see you often

            And sing with you

            And remember the old stories of our youth

            And eat oyster dressing and barbecue and Mother’s chili

At home the chords of our family bind us closely

            In sweet harmony and shared values and mutual affections and love, love, love

If I could put you in my pocket

            We could travel the days of aging together

            Share our faith, our fears, our laughter

We could brag on our children and grandchildren together

            And we could laugh at the day to come

If I could put you in my pocket

            I would never let you move away again.

Posted in Spiritual Formation | Leave a comment

Fruit Bearing

The little plum tree in our back yard outdid herself this year. Hundreds and hundreds of flowers in the early spring yielded thousands of little green plums. The birds and the squirrels loved them even before they began to ripen. 

Spring rains and warm sunlight grew the little green plums. The weight of them became heavier and heavier on the branches of the little tree, so heavy the branches sagged to the ground under it all. The ripening of the plums began and I would like to think the little tree was glad to see her fruit grow and redden in the sunlight. There were plums ready to pick this past weekend. Plump and juicy, the fruit dripped down our fingers as we bit into each delicious one. 

We raced the squirrels to see who would get the most. There were plenty to go around. The little plum tree had borne fruit well. All the pickers, human and other, delighted in what she had given us. Tom filled a bucket and I began to prepare the plums for preserves. We make preserves of figs and pears that grow in our yard. How hard could plum preserves be? 

Turns out, the canning process is a breeze. Boil, pack, seal, pop, done.  What was unexpected was the tartness of the plums after they were canned. Tartness was likely there all along; revealed when the heat was on. Even added sugar could not mask it. Still the process was satisfying and the product is beautiful. We will find uses for it beyond biscuits.

As Tom and I sat on the back deck looking at the little plum tree, now partially emptied of her load, I told him the little tree looked like she had just come through childbirth. The fruit was gone, but the effects of the fruit bearing remained. She was bent over, some branches to the point of breaking. She looked worn out and ready for a rest. Squirrels danced through her branches grabbing the left-over plums and eating them like corn on the cob, sweet juice dripping from their little chins. Delight among the creatures for the fruit that was borne among us was everywhere. 

Jesus speaks a lot about bearing fruit. “We plow the fields and scatter the good seed on the ground…” so we sing in Godspell and read in the Gospels. Soil is prepared; seeds are scattered. Jesus calls us to stay connected; “I am the vine; you are the branches.” Bearing fruit comes of abiding in Christ. The little plum tree is planted and rooted deeply in the soil. She is fertilized and occasionally pruned. She drinks in the water that falls on her and opens widely to the sun. She abides steadfastly through all kinds of weather. Her agency is limited; she is totally dependent on God. It is designed within her to bear fruit; she yields to God’s work through her to bear the fruit she bears.

The fruit we bear, you and I, is not of our own agency. Rather it is seeded by God, watered by grace, and born of love. Saint Paul writes about the fruit that is borne through us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Fruit manifests itself in justice and righteousness.  

The fruit we bear can be tart, bitterness just below a sweet surface. We watch the world around us soaked in conspiracy, toxic rhetoric, mean-spiritedness, untruth; much tartness lives loudly among us. The work of fruit bearing in the world can bend us over and break us down and wear us out. A walk through the garden reveals what is growing and what it is producing. 

A gardening guru I watch on YouTube says to take a walk through your garden at least every other day to see what is growing that doesn’t need to be there. Pull out the weeds. Have faith that as we abide and stay connected to Christ, all will be renewed to bear what is good and right. Time again to taste the sweetness of God’s garden and remember to whom we are connected. Such goodness as this is worth preserving. Amen. 

Posted in Spiritual Formation | Leave a comment

Pondering the Paradox

What are we to make of the dynamic tensions of life? The either/ors? The gains/losses? Few, if any, of us are not thankful to turn the page on 2020. Stark dichotomies, paradoxes, winners and losers that mark divisions and a binary way of looking at the world in the ways we have looked at the world in 2020 completely dismiss God’s work in it all. God created the oneness of all life, the interdependencies, the drive to be family and community, the call upon every creature to honor creation and all life.

We are children of the One who says, “ I am the beginning and the end, the first and the last….” The encompassing work of God’s love holds us pole to pole, year to year, through all beginnings and endings, all gains and losses. God holds all, even those things we try to use for purposes of self congratulation and adulation as if human accomplishment matters one whit. Power is illusive; it is only valuable when it benefits someone who has none. Voice is empty unless it champions the least among us. Empathy, sympathy, humility, authenticity, joy and love are the bridge that make life’s losses, life’s hurts, life’s grief even bearable.

The divisions of 2020 have become tiring and trite. Anybody can sling mud. Anybody can create chaos. Anybody can sow animus. Where are the champions of goodness? Who is leading us to green pastures? I am weary of the ugliness of 2020 both the politics and the way our country has responded to Covid. I remain confused that something as innocuous as public health could become a lightning rod of political tribalism. So much so that a third of a million Americans are dead.

I remember as a child being sad for the loss of the old year and a little anxious about the unknown of a new year. I remember asking Mother to embroider the number of the old year on my pillowcase, so I would not forget it. I don’t want to forget 2020. I think this has been a year when so many of our flaws as a nation have been exposed. It will remain to be seen if we would rather live the disruption stirred in 2020, or if we will rise up to meet our challenges with renewed vigor and hope. God’s promise is sitting right in front of us. There is so much work for the Spirit to do in our hearts. 2021 is ahead and waiting to be written. I pray the voices of hate and division will be quieted in the disarming wave of love we will bring through the power of the Holy Spirit. Let us love one another, for love is of God. From the losses, let us find the gain. From the hurt, let us find the healing. From the darkness, let us find the Light that has been born among us. Amen.

Posted in Spiritual Formation | Leave a comment

Wanting. Waiting.

We say we want peace.
Yet we stockpile weapons,
Guns. bullets.
We build walls and harbor hate.
Suspicions and thirst for power rob peace.

We say we want joy.
Yet we resist forgiveness
Close our hearts
Wallow in self-pity
Hold onto old hurts.
We are full up with no room for joy.

We say we want hope.
Yet trust is hard to come by
Doubt and conspiracy are easy
Questions and truth complicate
We want easy and simple
Hope seems illusive when life gets hard.

We say we want love
Yet we are fearful and afraid
Isolation of the heart looms large
We are protective, locked in, closed up
Where will love enter if vulnerability is lost?

Four candles shine light on expectations.
Christ come. We wait for you. Only you can save us.

“O Come, O Come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”

Posted in Spiritual Formation | Leave a comment

5 Days Out

As I checked out at the Food Lion today, a young Black woman checking out my order, said to me, “ I like your button.” I was wearing my “Women Vote” button. I have had 500 of them printed since 2018. Anytime anybody comments on it, I give them one… or 10. Some of my family hate it; I do it anyhow. The young woman said to me that her son questioned why she wanted to vote. Her child told her, “Only old people vote.” She told him that he was wrong; voting was especially important this year. I checked out with a hopefulness that felt good. We shared a hopeful moment that this election in 5 days could change the course and heal the harms of the last 4 years.

Genesis 1 tells the story of creation. God swept over the waters. God separated the light from the dark. God breathed creation into being and that includes us humans. Out of dust we are created because God breathed. Only once a year we remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return. How is such hubris born of dust? Oh, yes, the Garden. Blind obedience versus free will. Guess which one God gave us? And look at what we do with it.

The most important election of my lifetime is going on right now. There are 5 days until Election Day 2020. I have watched presidents since Dwight Eisenhower. Some have been better than others. Some have been orators. Some strategists. Some have had extra-marital affairs. Some have walked to Sunday School to teach a class. None of them have been as publicly vile and despicable as our current president, Donald Trump.

We saw him for years as a brash, conceited, corrupt, bully, businessman and television reality personality. Even in 2016 when he was running for office, his character was indecent and incendiary as he mocked people and called them petty, ugly names, just like a schoolyard bully would. Then he got elected. I prayed he would grow into the gravitas of the Office of the Presidency. He has not.

In the book of Esther, there is a verse that says we are called to times like this for purpose and for good. There are 5 days for us to stand up for good, for decency, and for a return to empathy and compassion. We all need to VOTE. And we need to vote for change and a deep breath of peace and quiet. We need to VOTE for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and enough Democrats to change the Senate and hopefully break the logjam that has become our government. Perhaps over 4 years of relative calm, we will capture a new vision for this nation. Maybe hate can be tamped down and ugliness be put back in a box while we work on the real issues that plague us: Covid-19, health care, climate change, jobs, education, voting rights, racism, justice and inequity.

I know the dissing that will come with my posting this piece. The negative comments will be listed under my post or spoken behind my back. I also know that if this time passes without my speaking into this election situation, I will regret it forever. We have real problems that cannot be solved until our moral compass is reset. God change our hearts for good. Give us courage to do that which is honorable and right. Help us be not afraid to welcome and love one another. Lead us, Lord. Lead us into righteousness. May my will be your will. Amen.

Posted in Spiritual Formation | Leave a comment

Finding 50 Righteous Men

“How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave is their sin. I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know,” so saith the Lord to Abraham in Genesis 18. The outcry must have been great, 24/7 on cable channels and in daily newspapers around the world. Sodom and Gomorrah must have been very depraved.

Licentiousness, injustice, violence, evil-doers are thriving, yet Abraham pleads for them. “Suppose there are 50 righteous men within the city; will you then sweep away the place?” The Lord replies, “If I can find at Sodom 50 righteous men in the city, then I will forgive the whole place for their sake.” 50 righteous men; therein lies the conundrum.

A boy scout of a man runs for elective office; his text messages reveal an inner life hidden from the public persona we see. His opponent has gall; who knows what skeletons may inhabit his own past? A purportedly righteous man is president of a Christian college. Then, whoa! He gets caught with his pants down. Literally. Another man who, if we are honest, mocks, bullies, lies, sleeps around, pays porn stars off. And what do you know, he is the president. Complicity with what is obviously wrongdoing is a plague unto itself; and 214,000 plus people have met a swifter death than they needed to because there have not been 50 righteous men to impact outcomes. We wait for shoes to fall in a world of millipedes and the shoes drop by the dozens.

Sodom and Gomorrah fall. They might blame it on God, but it appears, the people of the city have such blindness to their sin, they collapse on their own hubris. The writer of Genesis says the people are so blind, they cannot find the way to the door that will let them out of the coming destruction. The account of the fallen city bears a message for us today. Are our eyes open enough to see what is going on; are our ears open enough to hear the message?

Righteousness is not the same as goodness; not the same as niceness. Righteousness means right relationship – with God, with our fellow humans, all with whom we share the planet, with all creation that includes the animals and the natural order. Can we be counted among the 50 who are righteous? Can we even ask ourselves, and give honest answers, without being defensive and self-protective. Will we find a way to confession and compassion? Or will we turn to pillars of salt and melt into the coming storms?  

Posted in Spiritual Formation | Leave a comment

When Rancor Enters the House

My husband, Tom, writes editorials that appear in newspapers across the state. Recently he wrote two columns dealing with racial reckoning. I read them before they were published. I give thanks for the justice journey my husband is on. He is using his voice to speak truth into the racism that has permeated our nation since the 17th century.

Tom’s awakening, however, has been met in ugly ways that make their way into our house – through the mailbox and the inbox. I have read his mail. Not only is a lot of it sickening, it is saddening, grievously saddening. What are we coming to?

The responses he has gotten go far beyond healthy debate on issues. They are accusatory, demeaning, calling him a Marxist, calling him anti-American, accusing him of being a socialist. Usually people know us before they hate us. Pre-formed talking points amplify the hate-full echo chamber that surrounds so much that is going on today.

I can turn the radio off. I can turn television off. If I hear one more time….”you Democrats” or “you Republicans,” I will vomit. Party names have become slurs. There is no civility across the spectrum. But usually the ugliness is out there, not in here. It feels so dirty in the house.

So interesting to me that the pandemic has made me realize some things. First, how precious life is. Second, I can live a more sheltered, cloistered life and be perfectly fine with it. I have remembered prayer without ceasing and thanksgiving for all creation. I am happy with a small life. Then we open the mail.

One thing both Tom and I have decided. We will work for justice and equity. The naysayers, deniers, conspiracy theorists, and white supremacists will live with whatever consequences their words evoke. As for me and my house, we will love God and neighbor and speak truth with love. Bring it on, people. I will add your names to my growing prayer list. God save us all.

Posted in Spiritual Formation | 8 Comments

September Silence: A time of prayer for the healing of the world.

September Silence: A Time of Prayer for the Healing of the World

O Lord, in your mercy, hear the prayers of our hearts. Your world groans and your people weep in the sickness, fear, and disruption that envelopes us. We need to come apart from the world in silence and prayer. We need silence as the season changes into a new flu season, more time indoors, and a political storm swirling around us that will not end even with an election. Have mercy on us, Lord. Teach us your ways in a time that feels in freefall. Catch us in your grace and love and heal us that we may find our way back to wholeness and You. Amen.

This invitation goes out to you, A Virtual Church, for a time of reflection and prayer as we live these stress filled days.  You are invited to find a favorite space, a chair outside in the chilly morning or a quiet spot inside. Light a candle, get your journal, your Bible, and art supplies if you would like to doodle your prayers. Set aside an hour for silent prayer and meditation. I am providing prompts for worship and prayer. God will find you wherever you are.

Morning Prayer

Early morning light breaks and day begins; You are still with us.  Praise for the morning. Praise for creation. May the praise and thanksgiving we offer you fill us with hope and assurance that all is well. In this time of silence, O Lord, hear our prayer. Amen

Read Psalm 66. What does it speak to you today?

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Intercessions:

  • For the Church – its ministry and mission – its leadership, pastors and lay people – for the Bishops – for clarity in ways to be the church during this pandemic – for each of us to go deeper in the ways we love and serve God
  • For the State – For our governor and legislature and all who lead and make decisions on behalf of the people of North Carolina – for agencies of the state that are strained under the pressures of Covid – Health and Human Services and all who serve the people working with infrastructure and natural event problems
  • For the Nation – for our president and the congress that they will do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly on behalf of all the people of America – for judges and justices that their decisions will be thoughtful and fair – for all who serve in positions of power, that they may see themselves as public servants and serve to benefit the many and not only the few.
  • For students, teachers, principals, administrators of schools from pre-school to graduate school.
  • For the Media – for all who seek truth and transparency. Let fairness prevail. Let the rhetoric subside all around. Let our media remember lessons of kindness and truth telling.
  • For Health Care Workers and First Responders – prayers of strength and health for all who serve on front lines – Covid caregivers, fire fighters, EMC and Rescue workers
  • For all Essential Workers – Mail deliverers, grocery store workers, Amazon delivery people, Fed Ex, UPS, Pizza and other food delivery workers, for all the low wage workers in the stores that remain open
  • For all who suffer – for those with Covid 19, for families who worry and fear for their loved ones whom they cannot even visit – for all who have lost jobs and incomes –
  • For peace in our communities – for reckoning with racism in our country and state – for healing and forgiveness for all who have faced racism and hatred – a prayer for police and all who are in harm’s way today –
  • Add your intercession here:

In your great mercy, Almighty God, we offer our prayers, our hearts, and our time today to rest in you and find renewal. Give us guidance and boldness to find new life even in our weariness. Strengthen us through the power of your Holy Spirit that our hope will indeed be renewed. Lead us to still waters, to deeper faith, to good decisions, to greater charity, to lasting equity, and righteousness that comes from you. Thank you for the gift of life and breath this day.  Amen.  

Posted in Spiritual Formation | Leave a comment