Category Archives: musings

Closing the door

I help with the arts ministry at my church, working with the teens. The goal of this ministry is to help the children and teens in our church see how they can use the arts and their gifts to glorify God and encourage the church. We spend a lot of time on musical things, which is great because I love singing, but we’ve also delved into writing, photography and other artistic endeavors.

This spring, we’re working on a project that will combine photography and writing. We’ve challenged the kids to write about a moment in their journey with Christ and then take a photograph to go with it.

So, to kick things off, I shared mine with them this week. It’s all about how God led me to leave a job I loved to take a chance on a job that he opened the door for me to have.

I knew the door was closing, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. 

This job, these people I loved like family, this work with its eternal focus—it would all continue. But it would continue without me. 

God had opened the door that allowed me to serve here for a season, but He would also be the One to close that door. 

I had known for months that the door was closing. I had cried. I had prayed. I had held on so tightly that my fingers were about to slammed in the door. For more than a decade, God had allowed me to do work I loved alongside people I respected. But quietly, He had begun to move me toward the next step, inching the door shut even as He made a way for a new adventure. 

I didn’t know how or when exactly that door would finally close, but at some point, when all my protests had grown silent, I felt His peace. In the quiet, I knew with certainty that the Lord who led me there would lead me on to the future. 

I had mistakenly believed that this job, this work defined who I was. But what God taught me as He closed one door and opened another was that He knew me better than I knew myself. That his plan was better than mine. 

He closed the door. 

And when He opened a new door, He led me to a place where I felt joy and purpose in ways I never could have imagined. 

“For I know the plans I have for you”—this is the LORD’s declaration—“plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”
—Jeremiah 29:11

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Let’s be the church.

In December 1997 when the Heath High School shooting happened, I was finishing up the first semester of my freshman year of college. Located near Paducah, Ky., Heath High School was a familiar name. My family sometimes drove to Paducah to shop, especially around Christmas. About a two hour drive from my hometown, Paducah was the halfway point on the drive from the bootheel of Missouri to Nashville.

My college years are punctuated by school shootings. In my sophomore year, Columbine happened. When I heard the news, my mind instantly flashed to a classmate we’d just interviewed as an assignment in my first journalism class. She was from Littleton. In the days that followed, I was glued to the news coverage, terrified, shocked, confused. It made the horror of our world and our own capability for evil become more real than they ever had before.

The violence didn’t end there. Virginia Tech. Northern Illinois University, Newtown. The list has grown long in these 20 years. And for those cities, small and large towns and college campuses, the horror of that day leaves a scar that never fully heals. Time in these places are now starkly marked by “before” and “after.” Everything is different, and it will never be the same. Innocence is lost, and evil indeed lives here.

Another city was added to the list this week: Benton, Ky. Located so close to my hometown that our local new station covers the city, Benton is a small town in southwestern Kentucky. My brother spent two summers working at a camp near there, attending church in Benton. What Benton made me realize, perhaps belatedly, was that this violence could happen anywhere. Down the street from my house. In my hometown. At the school my best friend’s kids attend. Where my sweet kindergarteners from church go.

Evil indeed lives here. In this world that is so capable of breathtaking beauty and awe-inspiring moments of true human compassion, evil is also very real.

I had to turn the coverage off this week. As someone trained as a journalist, I want to know the facts, but I find it hard to not become emotionally involved, especially when this tragedy happened so close to my hometown. I can’t not imagine the depth of loss, the grief, the sadness carried by those affected.

I want to live in a world where there are no more alerts about mass shootings that scroll across my phone. I wish that cycles of abuse and poverty and addiction and more didn’t trap people in their currents and pull people under their waves. I wish we as a society truly focused more on putting others first rather than getting what we want for ourselves.

I wish for a better place, but wishing rarely makes anything better.

So I will work for a better place. I will be kind when there is no reason to be kind. I will ask God to help to open my eyes to those in need and help me to see how He would use me.

So instead of allowing this moment to become one defined by partisan politics, believers, let’s be the church. Let’s mourn with those who mourn. Let’s pray as we’ve never prayed before. Let’s love and serve to the best of our ability.

Let’s be known by our love and shine some light in one of our country’s darkest moments.

Lessons in the rubble

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A chapter in my life came to a symbolic, cinematic end today. The new owners of the LifeWay property in downtown Nashville imploded the Draper Centennial Tower to make room for the upcoming Nashville Yards project.

16989468115_baabbbeaf5_zI spent 12 years working every day in that building. Twelve years that spanned only two offices (a rarity for anyone who works at LifeWay past a year). Twelve years of hard work, amazing coworkers and lunches in the cafeteria.

I watched from home, via livestream. As the building crumpled in on itself, I thought about the memories those hallways and offices held. Those EC planning meetings where we laughed until we cried. The week of feasting before Christmas, department meetings and Monday devotions. That time my friend Jason and I watched the trailer for a scary movie and both screamed when something creepy suddenly showed in the video. That weird sticky eyeball that we threw onto the ceiling of my office and it got stuck and stayed there. I kind of hope it’s still there, somewhere in all the rubble. There were stand-up meetings, tough conversations and people who would stop whatever they were doing and pray for you. Cart luge. Birthday celebrations. Practical jokes. Laughter, a good share of tears and so many hugs.

I will admit that the implosion affected me a little more than I expected. I understand and agree with the need for change and know the new LifeWay building just a few blocks over provides better resources for the nature of the work in today’s world.

But after the tower fell and the smoke began to clear, I realized a couple of things.

  1. It was just a building. It wasn’t the building that made those 12 years of my life so special. It was the people, the relationships. My coworkers. The talented people who graciously wrote for me for years and those who trusted me with the words they’d birthed into the world and allowed me to prune and shape them. Many of my coworkers became more like family and those relationships continue today. The building may be gone, but those are the things that last.
  2. In the end, only the things that really mattered will last. Buildings fall. Jobs change. Stuff is just, well, stuff. What mattered within those walls was those relationships and the shared goal of the material we created. We were there, united under one mission: to create resources that God used to draw people into deeper relationship with Himself. I hope that even now, the resources I worked on continue to draw students closer to God. The fact that He would use our humble efforts is amazing, to say the least. The walls where we planned and prayed for those resources are gone, but the mission continues. At times, the work may have felt like just meeting deadlines, but it was work with an eternal impact.

And eternal things last.

 

Let’s be us.

Last night, at the close of a long week filled with news reports that saddened and depressed me—the news of Charlottesville, Va., incredibly ignorant comments leveled against a very well spoken DACA student who wrote a well-informed, respectful op-ed piece in the Tennessean— I was aimlessly scrolling through my Facebook feed. I ran across a post from a journalist I like, Steve Hartman, who has made a living simply telling the stories of regular people from around the country, detailing their struggles, the moments in their lives when everything changed, their day-to-day lives and the acts of service, attitudes and tasks that help us to recognize that everyone—the people next door, that man down the street, that person whose politics you don’t agree with—have a story to tell and something to offer.

Steve hosted “CBS Sunday Morning” yesterday, and took to social media earlier in the weekend to point out that he wasn’t an anchor and never had been and went as far as to admit that he was nervous. He asked for advice on which tie to wear, having bought two since he never wore them, and chose the yellow one, the clear viewer favorite.

As the hours left in Sunday began to wane, Hartman took to social media to thank his fans, not just for their wardrobe advice, but also for their encouragement. “You say I make you cry. But you turned the tables this weekend,” he wrote. “Many of you sensed I was a little outside my comfort zone and wrote things like, ‘You got this!’ It helped. It felt like a team effort.”

But it was Hartman’s next few words that shone a little light into the darkness of this weekend.

A few even said, “You’re one of us!” I thought a lot about that. I thought — who exactly is “us?” Who are all of you who choose to follow, friend, and even advocate for a news reporter? I know from experience how diverse you are. Your backgrounds and political beliefs vary widely. So then who is “us?”
Maybe we’re just the hopeful. Maybe we’re the people who still believe the world is mostly good. Regardless, I’m grateful we found each other.

In a week where there has been so much division, so much us v. them, so much hatred against others because of skin color or immigration status or whatever, it was good to be reminded of the word “us.”

The thing that makes us “us” is our humanity. And when we choose to look at another person and regard them as lesser, we aren’t just hurting them, we’re hurting ourselves. What happened in Charlottesville is wrong; there’s no other way to say it. As a Christian, I cannot condone bigotry and racism. We are made in the image of God, and when I degrade you, I degrade Him.

So this week, let’s live, think, speak and act with an “us” mentality rather than a “them” mentality.

Let’s be us.

The long farewell

I didn’t grow up a Glen Campbell fan.

My parents listened to a wide variety of music when I was growing up. Songs of the 70s. The Oak Ridge Boys. Gospel and Southern Gospel music. Some Simon and Garfunkel, a little Linda Rondstat, the Eagles.

But never Glen Campbell. And truth be told, even if you asked me today, I’d probably only be able to tick off his biggest hits, the ones everyone knows, like “Rhinestone Cowboy,” “Wichita Lineman,” and “Gentle on My Mind.”

But Campbell’s brutal honesty about his Alzheimer’s and his long farewell to his fans, well, it captured my heart. A songwriter and singer so talented, so beloved, so known who was willing to be that vulnerable and loved his fans so much he was willing to take the risk—I couldn’t get past that.

Here’s why.

On a cold, damp fall day about six years ago, sometime around Thanksgiving, I think, my dad and I unlocked the door to my grandmother’s empty house and quietly walked through the “back porch” sitting room, past the kitchen and dining room and into Grandma Ruby’s rarely used living room. The house was empty and beginning to take on the look of a long term yard sale as various members of the family worked to go through her belongings.

Grandma’s long farewell had begun years earlier when dementia began to rob her memories. We lost her in bits and pieces. I became a face she recognized and a name she knew, but the face and the name didn’t match anymore. She once told me when I visited, “I remember Mandy, but I don’t see her much anymore. But I love her.”

By the time her long farewell ended in early June of 2011, it was hard to know where in time Grandma lived in her memories. What I knew when she passed away was that she had made a forever mark on my heart. Grandma Ruby would always live in my memories, in my heart.

So that chilly afternoon, when my dad and I stood in her living room, the one with the picture window that faced the south, where the afternoon light would filter in, gilding the furniture and burnish the walls, we stood at the huge stereo console that now sits in my parents’ basement and flipped through the LPs housed inside. I’d recently gotten a record player and my dad wanted to see if any of his old Letterman LPs were still there (they were and I have a bunch of them). But I happened on several Glen Campbell albums and took them home with me.

My dad said they probably belonged to my grandma, so I took them, too. I wanted to hold in my hands and listen to something she had liked, to have a little piece of her at home with me. So that Glen Campbell Christmas album and By the Time I Get to Phoenix came to Nashville.

I listen to the Christmas album every year while decorating my tree. The first year, it was just to find out what it was like. The second was to remind me of her. With the third, it became a tradition.

Last night, when I heard that Glen Campbell’s own long farewell was over, it only seemed fitting to pull out one of the albums and take a listen.

So I listened, to the A and B-sides, with the blinds wide open and the afternoon sun filtering in, gilding the room.

 

And I remembered.

Give a gift

Earlier this week, I went to a funeral. During the service, the younger brother of the man we were there to honor stood up to speak. As he stood behind the podium, his voice shaking a little as he spoke about his brother, he looked out at the crowd and locked eyes with a group of men who had been his brother’s college teammates.

“You were his friends and his brothers,” he said. “But really, you were his heroes. And because you were his heroes, you were mine, too.”

There it was: a gift.

On this day of all days, he could have stood behind the podium and let his words focus on himself, the depth of his own loss and grief. But in a moment, he gave a gift to men his brother had loved.

A gift of graciousness. Of kindness.

In our world, it’s so easy to become focused on ourselves, our needs, our issues, our problems, joys and concerns that we don’t see the needs of others. To become so focused on what we want to say next in the conversation that we don’t even listen to what the other person has to say. To be so intent on what we’re doing or what we’re interested in, that we roll right past the friend who is hurting, who simply needs someone to notice.

So this week, rather than to focus solely on ourselves, let’s seek to give gifts. Gifts of graciousness and kindness.

The gift of listening before we speak.

The gift of inclusion.

The gift of patience, respect and honor.

When we find ourselves turning inward and our own needs and concerns become our only focus, let’s ask God to open our eyes to the needs and concerns of those around us so we can give gifts.

100 words on home

I want to go home. I say those words often. In quiet moments when I’m tired or feel forgotten or alone. When parts of life seem hard or stressful. When there’s a longing in my heart, a feeling that all the joys and beauty of this world can’t seem to fulfill. Sometimes, it’s a desire to go home to visit my family, to go to a place that feels comfortable, where I feel cared for. Sometimes, it’s a longing for my own house. But more often than not, it’s a longing for my true home, where all will be made right. Eternity is written on my heart, and the longing gives me hope.

Someone else’s kitchen

I think about them sometimes.

Our names, hidden under a layer of paint, marking our heights throughout the years, climbing up the wall next to the door to the cellar in a house that I’m no longer free to visit.

The names of my cousins at the top, Chris always the tallest. My brother’s name, then mine, always the shortest. So often on a Sunday afternoon visit to my grandparents’ house, we’d grab a pen off the old roll-top desk in the hallway, measure our heights and write our names on the paneling, imprinting our mark on the wall in the old house my grandmother bought during World War II when my grandfather was still overseas, and she was a young mother trying to figure out life at home without him.

After my grandmother passed away, we spent months cleaning out the house. There was an auction and eventually the house was sold. Before it went on the market, my mom and my aunt painted the kitchen, covering up the names and heights that we’d etched into that wall over the years.

But I still think about those names sometimes.

About how underneath that layer of paint in someone else’s kitchen, they’re still there. And I wonder, if the new owners ever run their fingers across that wall and feel the writing in relief and wonder what it is. Or maybe they don’t know or care and the secret stays hidden beneath the paint and they are none the wiser.

And maybe, if I’m honest, I prefer it that way. That the names stay hidden beneath that paint, just as they are hidden in my heart and mind. That they’re a sweet secret between my grandparents and the grandkids that no one else can see.

There, in someone else’s kitchen is a silent testimony that we were there, and we were deeply loved.

 

20 years later

Twenty years ago this week—almost to the day—I graduated from high school.

(This is the moment when you should all respond with exclamations and comment on my youthfulness. But I digress.)

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Though the day was two decades ago, I still remember so many moments from it. The graduate breakfast at the Methodist church. My white cap and gown that required you wear white underneath it. The short trip to the Bernie School cafetorium (yep, cafetorium) from my parents’ house with my brother, during which we had a fight, probably because I was nervous and on edge about giving a speech. I still regret that fight even though I can’t remember what it was about. I remember the joy of seeing people I didn’t expect who had come to see me graduate and the reception my parents threw that afternoon and the friends who stayed late into the evening, knowing that our lives were somehow changing.

Twenty years later as I think back on my high school graduation and consider the Class of 2017, a few thoughts come to mind.

  1. Time passes quickly.
    My high school graduation may have been 20 years ago, but I’m finding out that what my parents used to say when I was growing up is true: it doesn’t seem that long ago. While I’m by no means ancient, high school doesn’t seem like it’s two decades in the past. On that Sunday afternoon in 1997, I would have found it hard to imagine myself in 20 years, but I probably would have thought that I would be much wiser at 38, that I’d understand more of life’s twists and turns, perhaps that I would be more “successful” by the world’s standards. Maybe I am a little wiser now, though. At 38, I better understand that being “grown up” doesn’t mean you know all the answers or have it all together; it may very well mean that you’re willing to admit you don’t.
  2. Be open to a change of plans. 
    Class of 2017, you undoubtedly have plans for how your life will go. That is right and good, and I’d be worried if you didn’t. But one thing I’ve learned in the past two decades is that life often doesn’t go as planned. I had an idea of how my life would go when I graduated high school. I would go to college, maybe grad school, I’d live in an apartment in a city on my own for a bit “just to see if I could.” I’d be married, and I’d have kids. Many of those things have come true; others didn’t. But things I didn’t really plan for or imagine happened, too. I never would have dreamed that I would go to grad school and earn a theology degree. I spent a decade of my life using that degree to be an editor of curriculum and devotional material for teenagers, a job I loved. But when God closed that door and opened a new one, He gave me a job I never would have imagined that I find absolutely fulfilling. Have your plans and work hard to achieve them, but don’t hold on to them so tightly that you can’t walk through the doors God will open in your life, opportunities you can’t even fathom right now that lead to fulfillment, joy and hope.
  3. Cherish the moment, but see it as the beginning of a new chapter. 
    Without a doubt, high school graduation is a milestone to be celebrated. But rather than seeing it as the end of something or the highlight of your life, recognize this moment as the start of a new chapter. What is behind is the past and the future lies before you. Don’t hang on to the “glory days,” thinking your high school career was the best days of your life and nothing else can compare. Don’t dwell on the bad choices or circumstances that defined those years either. Graduation is the start of a new chapter, a turning point, a beginning. Embrace it as such and walk forward believing the best really is yet to come.

 

Thoughts on Commencement

I’ve been working at a small Christian university in Nashville for almost two years. Today was the second Commencement Convocation I’ve attended as an employee.

Until I worked at a university, there were things about graduation that I never considered. Like the sheer logistics of scheduling different venues around campus for the various ceremonies, hoodings, receptions and dinners. The sheer terror of the possibility of rain and the fear of the phrase “activating the rain plan.” The intricacies of parking and traffic, seating, volunteers, sound systems and live streaming. Making sure there are enough photographers, shuttle drivers and more.

There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work that goes into making sure commencement is a successful event, and it’s a ton of hard work by people across campus who mostly do so without fanfare or notice. There’s a sense of accomplishment when the event is over, and you know it’s gone well.

Yet even with all the work and stress involved in a successful graduation ceremony, that’s not why I love commencement. I appreciate the pageantry and symbolism, the regalia and the alma mater and sense of school spirit.

Those things are all special, but I love commencement because of the sense of hope that permeates the day. I like to stand just to the side and watch the faculty and graduates march in behind the university president, smiling and happy. I listen as strangers congratulate them. My heart swells with joy as I see them revel in their accomplishments.

Some are traditional undergraduates, finishing bachelor’s degrees and ready to head out into the world of first jobs, grad school, apartment living and marriage. Others are adults who spent nights and weekends finishing degrees, who worked so hard and so diligently to finish a degree, to say they did it, to fulfill that promise they made to mothers and fathers, sons and daughters so long ago that they would indeed graduate from college. There are MBA grads and physician assistants. The students who become Dr. So-and-So in that one moment when degrees are conferred, one tiny moment that somehow encapsulates all those years and months of work.

To see the students whose stories I’ve told, who have worked for me or whom I’ve gotten to know. To smile and congratulate them. To share in a tiny bit of their joy.

I love graduation because of the hope and the sense of community. The knowledge that we are all part of something bigger than ourselves.

So congratulations, Class of 2017. We celebrate with you.