Sunday, August 2, 2020

Hey Church: What Are We Doing?

God is so patient.

When I think about this season the planet is in-- this historic, incredible, too-big-to-comprehend season-- I am filled with conflicting emotions and ideas. Our Creator is perfectly loving and wise in all His ways, and He is absolutely aware and active in this place, and it's an honor to be alive right now: I was chosen, you were chosen, to be part of this crazy chapter in the life of the planet. He built us with exactly what we need for this season. He knows. 

But there's also that nagging fear of Covid19, of the difficulties facing our students (especially the little ones) and their families, and the sadness that comes with isolation in a society that loves big events, big meetings, dinner parties, game night, and communal everything.

But right now it's 1:18 on a Sunday morning. I can't sleep. I'm thinking about the church.

And when I say "the church" I don't mean the particular church that I go to, necessarily-- I'm thinking of the Church world-wide.

I'm thinking of this thing I keep hearing my favorite teachers saying: be careful about what you put into your mind. Be careful about how much information you are absorbing from the world right now. Be careful where you spend your time meditating. Bill Johnson said it a couple of weeks ago: "If you have more input from mainstream media than from the Spirit of God, your discouragement is self-inflicted." The bible says in Philippians 4, 

"Finally, brothers, whatever is truewhatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things."

Another version says, "meditate on these things."

It's not that it's wrong to have information. I don't think He has called us all to flee to the mountains and never acknowledge the world around us-- there are important, critical, amazing things happening right now that we must be awake for and aware of. No, it's important to know about things that are happening.

But the question is, and I'm asking the question of myself, how much time are we spending meditating on those things and not pulling ourselves and those concerns into His presence?

Because just knowing stuff and diving deep into anxiety is doing no one any good. 

So here's where my mind is at now 1:27: what in the world is the church doing?

And I don't mean, "Why in the world is the church not meeting in her buildings?"

In point of fact, don't tell anyone, but I don't care one thing (at the moment) about going back into buildings if it's just more of the same. World wide: what are we doing?

Here's a question to ask ourselves-- all of us: five year olds, teenagers, youth pastors, elders, bishops, clergy of all collars-- how have we spent the last few months?

It's like the Lord took His finger and pressed PAUSE on the planet, told us to hunker down and be still and just wait for further instructions. But God is the perfect Father/teacher/manager/architect/director/bestfriend/everything: He's always doing more than one thing and not one moment is wasted. So what do we do with months stuck in the house?

Perfect opportunity to get close to God. Perfect opportunity to pursue Him in ways we haven't done since we were brand new to the faith. Perfect opportunity to get serious about holiness.

There is big talk of churches (specifically, one big one out in California) who have chosen to go back to meeting in their spaces. They are loudly defying the government, crying foul against an "oppressive regime" (air quotes around my own interpretation) that is threatening to steal our rights, make being a Christian illegal, etc. I haven't heard anyone use the "how to boil a frog" metaphor yet but it would be a good one (you're welcome to it if you need that argument).

I don't mean to appear to be one of those people that some will say isn't paying attention while the world is burning down around me. I'm aware that there is insanity playing out in both the seen and unseen worlds.

But I would sincerely ask this question of my brothers and sisters-- and I'm not being sarcastic or argumentative-- what have we been doing since March 13?

Did we start strong, aware, having communion every day/once a week as families? Did we pick up our abandoned bible studies or commentaries (I keep promising myself that I'm going to read Watchman Nee's Spiritual Authority one day...), start journals, intend to host socially-distanced neighborhood bible studies? And then, as the sense of crisis abated, or maybe we just got acclimated, we lightened up? As we started seeing toilet paper and hand sanitizer return to our grocery shelves, did the bubble of panic ... subside?

Here's what I'm asking: I want to know what you and I are DOING.

The bible says that the Lord is coming back for a bride who has made herself ready. One of my mentors, Jackie Sheppard, said something to me about this during one of our marathon kitchen table conversations many years ago. She reminded me that in a wedding, the bride is responsible for getting herself ready, not the groom. He takes care of groom stuff. She asked me if I've ever seen a groom coming into the bridal chamber before a wedding. He's not supposed to-- she makes herself ready.

The bride's responsibility is to make herself ready.

The Church is the bride-- and you and I are part of that. It's not the responsibility of Certain People in the church to make us all ready-- it's each one of us, individually.

Maybe my thoughts are jumbled up here-- let me try to land this plane:

While we are arguing about what the government is or is not trying to do to The Church, there are millions of souls crying out for hope. While we are typing angry missives on Facebook, Twitter, blogs (doh!), or recording conspiracy videos for YouTube or wherever, there are people who are looking for one morsel of freaking hope to cling to. 

And we are hogging it all. Hoarding it. We have shelves of hope in our homes-- we have fourteen versions of the bible scattered throughout our houses, countless unfinished Bible study workbooks, and access to more excellent teaching across the globe via livestreams than we have time to watch, and we are determined to make a stand and meet in our buildings and turn on the lights and sing the same worship songs and rally the troops from the pulpits to defy the godless governors who are attempting to convert our nation to agnosticism but for what purpose?

Tell me, Church, where is the cry for personal holiness? Where is the movement to confront and demolish strongholds in our lives, in our families, and in our communities? Where is the movement that must start with every individual believer that will show forth the fruit of fearless humility and zeal for the Lord Himself? Where is the rallying cry to confront racism in our hearts; pornography that is trying to steal our men; and unbelief that quenches any sense of authenticity and power in our worship? How are we, the Bride, pursuing holiness as a Body to make ourselves ready for our Bridegroom?

As it is, we have done the thing we have always said that we hate: we have erected country clubs in our neighborhoods. We have pulpits filled with men and women who are not even certain that they believe in God anymore because they have been so abused and so defeated by parishioners who are mean and critical and easily offended. We have churches with beautiful sanctuaries and facilities but who have lost sight of the mission: Jesus Christ and Him crucified. We tolerate all kinds of sin in our congregations and because we fear men more than we fear God, we are sitting in pews next to brothers and sisters who are drowning, silently crying out for a lifeline, for someone to reach through their veil of shame and cry FREEDOM with our own testimony (Rev 12:11). 

Instead, we look away and [sort of] play nice.

We would rather gossip about someone's sin than to get into the pit and pull them out of it.

Having a form of godliness but denying its power (2 Timothy 3).

Instead of focusing the bright beam of our anger and frustration on the sin in our own lives and the constant attack of the accuser of the brethren, we are on the war path to sit in pews. To get back to...whatever it is we were doing in March. Why?

Understand, I love corporate worship. The bible says that we must not neglect the gathering of the brethren. I am aware of the huge gift it is to be a believer who lives in a nation with religious freedom.

But that's just it, Church: we are free to practice our faith. The government that is telling you-- rightly or wrongly, who knows?-- to stay home on Sundays is not telling you that you cannot be a believer. They are not confiscating our bibles. They are not forbidding us to have house church or worship together in our living rooms or yards. 

But are we?

Are we having Zoom bible studies? Are we interceding on the walls of our cities? Are we pursuing God while we have unprecedented access to time alone? 

Church, we are fighting the wrong fight. Our fight is not against flesh and blood. Our battle is not with presidents, governors, mayors or each other. 

We have been called to prepare ourselves for the Bridegroom. He has called us to walk in holiness. We've been called to tell the good news of what He has done for us and make disciples. He has given us everything we need-- heck, He even tells us in John and 1 John (2:27) that the Holy Spirit Himself is able to teach us everything we need to know. 

So there it is. 

It's 2am now and I still have so many thoughts in my head, but this one persists: seek God while He may be found (Isaiah 55). He doesn't live in our brick buildings with steeples on them. I'm sure He likes them, but He says that He has taken up residence in us (Ephesians 3:17). How are we maintaining these temples? What sins are we allowing to live in the holy place that is our hearts? Why are we so concerned with proving points and asserting rights while we continue to entertain or just ignore habitual sins in our personal lives that render us powerless?

This is what is eternal

God, I am so grateful for your patience. I am so undone with gratitude for your patience with me. Thank you that there is not one political figure or any person in authority of any kind who intimidates you. Thank you that you are full of shalom. I thank You for holding back what I deserve and pouring out mercy instead because Jesus took all of what I deserve with His perfect life. 

Help all of us, Lord, It's so hard to see through the smoke on this planet. Help us see what You are doing, and help us to train our sights on the proper enemy: everything that would separate us from You. Help us to cultivate kindness and walk in humility and abolish everything in our own lives that causes us shame and makes us walk away from You.

Help us to see the perfect Father that You are. 

Help us to trust You. 

Help us to make ourselves ready for You.

We cry out to You for a cure to this virus-- we want what we had: freedom. But God, help us not to waste this time while we wait. God, help us to lift our vision higher-- to not be so earthbound that we get lost in planet skirmishes that block the lost from seeing and finding You. The fact that You haven't revealed a cure for the virus tells me that the other work isn't done. Thank you for what feels like an extension on the assignment. I trust Your sovereignty. 

And I can't wait to raise my voice in song to You with other believers. It's all I ever want to do. But help us not to miss what you are doing while we wait.

"I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.
Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen" (Ephesians 3)

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

The Voice in the Tunnel

It's that month.

It's the spring.

It's the time of year when things are blooming and being born and being renewed and my heart always seems to go down into the basement of my memories, shuffles around for the emotions that are kept in a bag down there, and drags it up the stairs to the kitchen table. I rifle through my thoughts about loss and life and the rest of the story, and it always comes back to




Re. Re. Re. "Again" or "back" or "once more."

This year's spring is one of the most beautiful I can ever remember.

Don and I were talking about it the other day when we were driving out to my childhood friend's farm. We were wondering, is it always this gorgeous and we just miss it because we're so busy with distractions? Because we're stuck in our classrooms and come home at the end of the day and collapse on the couch in exhaustion? Because SPRING normally means testing and stress and students seem to lose their minds in the spring?

But this year, we are on a forced stop.

And he would be getting ready to turn eleven.

So, what do I want to tell you?

I want to tell you that life really does go on after loss and disappointment. I'm the voice at the other end of the tunnel from you, yelling "HEY!! There are people laughing at old episodes of Seinfeld down here!" but you can't really hear me clearly because you're weeping. I know you're weeping.

It's okay that you're weeping. You need to weep.

I'm the voice at the other end of the loss of a baby to stillbirth and then to miscarriage and then to miscarriage and then to just aging out of the system, yelling, "HEY!!! There are people who can hold people's babies and go to baby showers and talk about their pregnancy experiences down here with very little wincing!" but it's hard for you to hear because you still can't even walk into the nursery that you curated for that warm, squeaking bundle of all your hopes that won't ever sleep there.

I'm the voice at the other end of the tunnel that is writing down on a slip of paper and sending it like an airplane down the tunnel to you, with letters written in all caps and highlighted "Hang on tight to your husband! Don't let this death cause you to kill each other! You're both hurting-- it just looks different on him! Hold him close! Give him space! Take a walk! Never, ever blame each other! Let go of your guilt!!" and maybe you can read this note if you squeeze your eyes against the tears that seem to mostly want to get you when you're all alone at 3:22 in the morning.

I was talking to Caroline the other day, mentioning how this is the month that we spend time planting flowers in honor of baby Benjamin, except that I was distracted with the sheer number of people who had decided to break quarantine to go to Lowe's (look, I just wanted a fern!), so I told her, "Yeah, so I need to think about what big thing I want to plant for what's-his-name this year," and then we were both really quiet for a second...and then I burst out laughing.

He's so real still. So real that I could refer to him so casually, like he was just another person in my world.

Because he is.

He is not here-- he is some other where. But he is there.

It was another sign of healing. Like a tiny green sprig suddenly growing from the bark of a plant you thought was a goner.

And I will plant another hydrangea in the spot where the one I planted for him died because that's what plants do sometimes and it doesn't mean anything at all, it just means that the planet works and soil is real and some plants need more sun than others. The living or dying of my yard plants that all seem to shout his name does not mean that it was my fault that he died or that I would have been a terrible mother to him.

It's just that that type of hydrangea needed way more sun than it was getting on that side of the house.

I am the voice at the other end of the tunnel who knows that you can't hear me clearly, so let me just sing to you and maybe it'll encourage you that, even though you can't make out the words, you know that it's a song.

There's a song.

You can hum until you can sing.

He is worthy of it all.
He knows your every pain.
He knows why He created you.
You are not forgotten.
You are not alone.
Your arms ache, and He knows.
But He comes with healing in His wings.
He is the God who sees you.
He is El Roi.
He is worthy of it all.
He sees you.

You'll make it to this end of the tunnel. You will. There are so many sisters down here waiting-- we'll sing you through. You'll make it.

Saturday, March 21, 2020


In the South, and I can only speak to the South because I'm a Southerner, there are so many things we love to have in our yards, but at the top of the list:

Magnolia trees
Cherry blossoms...

There are loads more, but these are what I'm thinking about today.

So, there is a little patch beside our back patio, which is made of 100 year old bricks from one of our chimneys (that sounded so fancy!) that Don designed and its gorgeous. Anyway, in this patch are gardenia bushes. Two varieties. They're beauties.

But I've let the weeds grow up and of course, this is the time to weed, so I shocked Don and told him I wanted to do it today. I got my little garden gloves he bought for me and went out there and started pulling.

And pulling.

And pulling.

These weeds-- you know these weeds-- are kind of sticky and incredibly stringy. They're weak as anything, but they get crazy long.

And I realized today that they're killing these bushes.

These regal, gorgeous bushes. Strong branches, survived several winters, are never hardly fertilized, and these puny little ugly weeds have been choking them to death.

As I started pulling, I realized that they were wrapping around the bases of the bushes and those lower branches were looking poor.

No one planted these weeds. They blew in, opportunists, looking for any place they could settle in and leach nutrients and shade from something stronger. They'll never produce any fruit that is beneficial and they'll continue to grow until they've completely taken the life from the gardenias.

Unless they're stopped

Jesus, talking about the Pharisees, said, "Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots...." (Matt 15)

Something Don and I have been praying for the last couple of years is that every thing that has not been planted by the Lord would be uprooted.

Back to the weeds-- it's not going to be enough, my way of pulling these weeds up. I'm not digging deep enough. There are root systems under the dirt that have been established bc of my neglect. For now, I have given the branches freedom to soak up nourishment and sunlight, but the work in that area must go deeper.

I wonder.

I don't want to waste this season. There is nothing, not one thing, that God cannot redeem and pull around to see victory. Not death, not loss, nothing.

I know what I speak of.

So, pray with me that this will be a season of uprooting the weeds that have taken root in the church. The vines of error and carnality that have begun to grow up with the gardenias and choke the life out of them.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Enough Sunlight

So many things change all the time. So much change happening around me.

Apparently, my personality type craves change, and I guess that's true in some ways-- I'm in a calling where my clientele change every nine months and I have some freedom about the way I do things and the materials I work with-- but there are some things I like to stay the same.

One of those things, for me, is my classroom.

I love my classroom.

I love the way the sun pours through the windows in the mornings-- I know it's done battle for me on days when sadness would want to wrestle me to the ground.

I love the sound of the band practicing outside my window in the fall-- I love to watch the kids playing in the yard before they get on the buses. It reminds me. It reminds me that these big boys and girls who swagger down the hallway and puff their chests out when being told to be quiet are really children still, and that expression leaks out of them still at the end of a day where they have been confined to cold, hard spaces. It reminds me that they are not widgets. I love to hear them scream with laughter.

I love the old brown chalkboard that Don and I found behind the ratty old whiteboard that had been drilled over it for who knows how many years? It's perfectly chocolate brown with no blemishes...except this one area where now-graduated students have left their marks-- my name in Mandarin or in fancy script, or a "your favorite student" note, or a joke. I have a graduation gown hung over that area in my room-- to protect the message, but also to serve as a reminder to students that this gown is what they're working for. That day that they walk across the stage-- that's the first of many finish lines.

I love the old school (literally) wooden closet at the front of the room. It's crammed full of things I might need one day: a small fan, a box of construction paper, a couple of my old winter coats, an old Agnes Scott sweatshirt, an umbrella, and boxes of just...things. Taped inside my door is a poster that I made a bunch of my students sign, many years ago that says, "When I die, I want the people I did group projects with to lower me into my grave so they can let me down one last time."

I love the solid wood cabinets and shelves, pulled from the pile of old cabinets and shelves at a school being remodeled in Decatur by my old department head, Dr. Jackson. I love that they were rescued by her and how heavy they are and how real they are. They have gone with me to three classrooms at HHS. Solid old school (again, literally) furniture.

I love my furniture. I love the flexibility I have with the stools and chairs and the design of the tables. I love that my students get to sit on padded seats when they get to my room. I love that they can sit on four different types of chairs.

But mostly, it's this sunlight pouring through the windows.

I just walked in to the room, back from a meeting, earlier this morning  and I thought to myself, I hope my classroom doesn't get moved next year. Being in this space has lifted my soul when so many things have threatened my peace over the last few years.

And do you know what that God of mine whispered to my heart as soon as I though it?

"Don't you think I can fill any space you're in with enough sunlight to fill your heart?"

Sigh. He is so good.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Eternally Undefeated

He is eternally undefeated.

Sunday afternoon, I lit a bunch of candles, made a pot of good (locally roasted) coffee, and sat in the living room with some of my friends. We bundled up in quilts because my beautiful old house always seems to be cold in the living room, but it's always cozy.

As is always the case with these dear ones, we immediately dove into conversation about the center of the universe.

Is there any conversation worth more? Is there any idea more noble? Can our words be spilled on anything more noble? 

Once, when I was a struggling teenager who had a perpetual smile for the world but was grieving hard all the time at home, in front of my family (as so many teenagers are wont to do), my mom passed me this note (on the second row on the left hand side of the church at Rockdale Baptist):

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:8

We will fix our eyes on these things.

Our God is eternally undefeated.

There is no foe who poses a problem for the God who created leaves. The King who is the mastermind behind wind. The One who understands why the ostrich lays her eggs to warm in the sand (Job 39). The Master who tells the waves where to stop. There is simply no foe to match Him.

And yet, we worry.

But when you sit in a quiet living room with other Jesus lovers, there's this thing that begins to happen. You begin to brag on the Lord. You lean in close to hear each other recount the good things He is doing in each other's lives and in each other's realms of influence. You rejoice at victories and hold on through trials and sit back, blown away, with personal victories. 

Here's what we recounted:

--Near death, but God didn't let it happen.
--The tabernacle of David
--God isn't new
--Leaders who fall, but God redeems
--Brazil (come on! God is always showing off in Brazil!)
--My cat 

...and more...

Here's why I'm writing this: Get some friends who will sit and talk with you about the things of God. And listen to them. We have a body that is filled up with lonely people, and I am noticing among my students that the loneliest among them seem to be the ones more consumed with talking about themselves than about listening to the people around them. Find people who want to sit and study His word together; who want to talk about what He is doing

At that time, those who feared the LORD spoke to one another, and the LORD listened and heard them. So a scroll of remembrance was written before Him regarding those who feared the LORD and honored His name. “They will be Mine,” says the LORD of Hosts, “on the day when I prepare My treasured possession. And I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.…Malachi 3:16-17

Oh, I want Him to eavesdrop on my conversations and write down what I say so He can remember it! Send us friends like that, Lord! Make us a friend like that!

Tuesday, February 12, 2019


I’ll use the paint you
Handed me and
I’ll use the canvas
You taught me
To cut
And staple.

Here, I’ll
Use the rake you
Handed me
I’ll drag it
Along earth
And flesh.

Here, I’ll use
The book you
Opened to me
And I’ll
Knock against
Thoughts and ideas,

But you
Can’t see me from where
You sit now,
Can you?
I sat in your
Toiled in your
Groped through your

But I had the answer
In me
All along.
And you, who
Proudly boast
So many languages cannot
The words I already had.

You earthbound fighter,
You planet-hugging hoper—
You cannot see.