I will create, not destroy

As a parent, I like to think that I can teach my children important life lessons from the safety and comfort of our living room, shielding them from the pain of learning those lessons from real life. The danger in this is, of course, the best lessons are always learned the hard way. Those that stick with you usually come from a scar that is left behind as a reminder to your seasoned heart.

Several months ago, Keller came home excitedly talking about his favorite teacher forming a garden club. He and several friends decided that they would join and from that point forward, it was a passion for them. They discussed what to grow, read about how to grow it, cleared out the garden beds and planted. They patiently waited for the first signs of life from their new hobby, often dedicating their recess time to work and pull weeds rather than play. Over spring break, Keller was insistent that since we lived closest to the school, we needed to check on the garden because going for a whole week without care was unacceptable. He even carried a full jug of water as we walked the half mile from our house to the school because he was unsure there would be a source to get the water once we were there. The boy was all in.

Super Jalapeno

When Keller got to school yesterday, he was greeted by a friend who promptly asked, “Have you heard about the garden? You should go out there.”

When he got out to the garden, he joined a brokenhearted group of friends and together they gained a scar.  Someone had vandalized their garden. Every plant had been violently ripped from the ground, thrown and scattered around the school yard. The tomatoes had been smashed and thrown against the windows of the school. It was total devastation.

With tears and a broken voice, he was telling me about what happened when I picked him up yesterday.  As he talked, my anger grew. I wanted to know who did this. I wanted them to be punished. I wanted them to know how much sadness and pain they had caused a group of amazing kids and their sweet teacher. Before he was finished, I was devising a plan to root out the vandals and make them pay.

But this isn’t a story of destruction and vengeance. This is a story of grace.

When those kids saw months of hard work and dedication laying before them as waste, of course they were upset. Rather than wallow in pity and devise a plan to punish those responsible, they went to work.  They tenderly started picking up the plants and deciding which ones may be saved.  Carrying them like newborn babies, they gently replanted and watered them, propping up the broken stems as much as possible. After they replanted, they cleaned. They didn’t have to. There were fun activities planned for them for the day but they knew there was hard work to be done. They borrowed soap and rags and scrubbed dried tomato from the windows of nearby classrooms. For two hours, they cleaned up the mess that was meant to destroy and made it beautiful again. In the end, their pain was less evident than their love. Their garden may not survive but this beautiful scar will and they are better for it.  We all are.

Before he was done giving the details of their morning, my heart was changed. Their response changed my response. Their hearts changed my heart. Their grace, kindness and love were so big that my anger was eclipsed. Now, I could only see grace, kindness and love. Overwhelming love.

Some days, I tend to narrow my focus on all the turmoil around me. Everything looks broken from this vantage point. I want to demand punishment for every wrong and justice for every hurt. What would happen if I focused instead on Love?

Life is full of difficult seasons. Just as I want to protect my children from learning them the hard way, I’ve always prayed that God would let me learn them from the comfort of my own safe life, watching others go through the hard parts rather than experiencing the scars for myself. This is, of course, impossible. Rather than try to avoid the scars of growth all together, I need to change my response.

I want to open my arms and accept them with love, knowing that those scars will produce something beautiful in my own heart. I want to allow Jesus to look around at all of the broken pieces of my life, scattered like trash and left for ruin, gently pick them up and make them beautiful again. He can do it. He will do the hard work of putting us back together, propping us up and making something beautiful from the brokenness and devastation.

American Jesus

Not very long ago, I realized that I was worshiping a god that didn’t exist. 

I gave him my life years ago, in high school and followed him as faithfully as the Israelites for over two decades. I clung with white knuckles to the rules I needed to follow to be considered faithful by other believers and presumably him, wagging my finger and shaking my head when the world didn’t find those rules as imperative as I. 
The god I worshiped probably looked like me. He was likely white, well behaved, well spoken, wagged his finger at the same infidels that I did, never associated with sinners (if he did, he would only associate with them temporarily unless they changed their ways) and made sure that his disciples and family stayed as insular as possible because the world needed to see that they were “different” and different surely means that we are better than you and find your ways abominable. Deep within me, I was sure he would be proud of my church attendance, my tithe, the fact that I voted republican, sent my kids to church camp and made sure they, too, followed all of the right rules and were considered good little Christians. 
It all worked out very nicely for me until I realized that this Jesus didn’t even exist.
American Jesus looks very different from the Jesus of the Bible. I have spent so much of my life following American Jesus and trying to make him proud…although, if I’m honest, it was as much about making other believers proud of me.
A couple of years ago, I began to feel deep conviction over the way I viewed Jesus and the church. When I saw something that made my pride rise up within me and my thoughts immediately went to judgement, I felt the conviction grow. I knew something was off but I was so afraid to confront it because in doing so, I may have to allow God to do a complete overhaul of my life. I’d have to let go of things I had been sure of, give them up and allow Him to mold them according to the reality of scripture. Since that’s a hard pill to swallow, I ignored it.
Until I couldn’t. 
If I saw a story on the news about refugee children being brought to my city and heard my Christian friends saying, “NO! We don’t want them here! They could be terrorists!”, my first response was to agree. As soon as the thought cleared my brain but before it could exit my mouth, I felt it. 
“Why do you believe that? Is that what my word says?” 
“Yes. No, wait. I’m not sure….No, Lord.”
Turning to scripture, I found this:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

“For he who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to it’s neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” Romans 13: 8-10

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” …”I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:35-36,40
Lather, rinse, repeat every single time I tried to hold tightly to a belief I’d long used to puff out my chest and polish my halo. 
I heard a speaker recently tell of a pastor from Zimbabwe who was giving account of all the miracles his church sees in Africa to a group of American believers. He said that in his country they often see God perform miracles because God is their only hope. Jesus is all they have to cling to and because of that, they see him move through miracles that Americans believe do not exist outside of scripture. He told them that he believes that in America, we don’t see these miracles because we have so many options, so many things in which to place our faith. His church only has Jesus.
For so long, I lingered in the belief that Jesus just didn’t call everyone to radical love. It was great for missionaries and maybe even pastors but for a regular girl like me, he understood that I just didn’t have the time, resources or calling to do live the kind of life it takes to see him actually perform miracles. I thought serving in my local church, teaching a Bible study to a group of ladies who were a lot like me was enough. Don’t hear me wrong, that’s exactly what I was called to do. But, it’s not ALL I was called to do. Loving others the way Jesus loves them isn’t going to happen by checking off a box and attending church regularly, there has to be more. We can’t just go to church, we have to BE the church.
My pastor taught today that the first step in our experience with Jesus is Information. We learn about him and want to learn all we can about being a believer so we fill our head and heart with religious information. We figure out our theology along the way and we know all the rules of what we believe. For some, that’s where they stall out and that’s what stands out about them. Let’s not forget, it’s those with all of the correct religious information that killed Christ because he didn’t adhere to the rules. We must move on to the next steps of inspiration and transformation if we want our relationship with him to grow. We must let our transformation be what stands out to others. 

“The Lord says: These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.” Isaiah 29:13
We teach the world nothing of the love of Christ by demanding that they adhere to our beliefs or we will turn our backs on them. The world cannot see Jesus in our demands that every life matters, if we walk past the hungry and do nothing, allowing them to literally die of starvation because we think they should have worked harder to get themselves out of this situation. The world wants nothing of a Jesus whose people demand rights for the unborn but do nothing for the orphan. No one wants a relationship with a Jesus who is pleased with his followers for labeling every prisoner a burden who is getting what they deserve. 
When our sin and filth is exposed to unbelievers, it’s easy for them to use that as an excuse to stay away from Jesus if the pretense that we don’t sin is what we used to tell them that Jesus loves us more than them in the first place. How can they believe that His love is not worthless if you have spent your time telling them they need to be perfect (like you) in order to earn his love and then they find out that you are a fraud? If you are a fraud, then He must be, too.
I don’t have all the answers, I’m still daily learning who Jesus really is. I’m finally letting go of all of the knowledge and rules that have been so important to me and allowing him to replace them with love. I’m still battling the acidic words that spring into my heart with every new hot button issue and asking Jesus to remake my beliefs into His. It is a process that has been both painful and sweet because as I learn more, I love more. My heart is changing and I’m clinging to Him, valuing no other options and yearning for his miracles.

Your Story Matters


I spent a good part of my life not telling my story. Throughout my childhood years, I was told that my story was a secret and that I should never tell it because it would hurt people who had done so much for me. I was told that even those closest to me wouldn’t understand it and would love me less if they knew the truth.

As a teenager and young adult, I feared that telling my real story would make people dislike me. My story didn’t line up with all of the perfect families that I saw around me. In college, I was surrounded by people who seemed to ooze perfection and they had the happy family portraits to prove it. And, so, I polished up every detail that needed to be polished in order to fit in. If I told only the good or funny parts of any story carefully plucked from my life, people would laugh and they would like me. They would believe that I was worthy of their time and their presence. I thought that if I was funny and self deprecating enough, my story wouldn’t make people feel awkward and uncomfortable. I perfected the art of telling my story, without lying, but leaving out the parts that made people do that head tilt of pity. The parts I shared made me feel like I was just like everyone else and that is really what I wanted…to be like everyone else.

The first problem with this belief was that, after years of perfecting my façade, I started to believe it. And once it all came crashing down, the devastation came that my perfect life, the one that I created in order to be liked, was gone and I was left to face the story I’d had all along. There was no denying that this thing wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t polished. Every good punchline in the world wasn’t going to make people laugh and forget the ugly.

The second problem with my fake story was that it was no good to anybody. I’ve already established that it was bad for me but it was also bad for others. I was essentially feeding the lie in others hearts that maybe their story wasn’t pretty enough to share. They would hear my polished version and suddenly their story feels even dirtier and too risky to share.  And, so, without meaning to, I was telling the people that I loved that their story needed to be wrapped in pretty packaging or else be kept quiet.

I believe that the biggest gift to a hurting heart is simply, a “Me, too.”  To look one another in the eye, wrap our arms around each other and simply say, “Me, too, friend. Me, too.” Your story doesn’t have to look the same as everyone else’s. Your pain doesn’t have to be the same. A “Me, too” can simply mean, “I see your pain. I see the dark and ugly parts of your story and guess what? Bring ’em out, sister. I have some, too. You are not alone. I’m here and you matter.”

I encourage you to share your real story. Not the version of your story that you clean up and spit shine until the ugly parts are no longer visible. That kind of story is good for nothing. Your story matters. It matters to you, it matters to God, it matters to others. There is someone out there who needs to hear your truth because your truth will shine light into their darkness. Your truth can help someone step from their own shame and into redemption and love. Once your story has freed them, they will share their story with someone else and before you know it, we are all living in the freedom of truth. Your story matters.

The House That Built Me

I’ve never been a very sentimental person, but as I age, I certainly hold a few things close to my heart that I once took for granted. This house is a perfect example. I grew up here and never considered that there would be a day when that front door wouldn’t welcome me home.

My grandparents bought this house right around the time I was born and it was home in every sense of the word. Walking up those paint chipped front steps (where I perfected my dance routine to Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All”) into the front door every day gave me a feeling of security that I wouldn’t recognize until I was an adult. My family no longer owns this home and hasn’t for many years but one look at it takes me back to my childhood.

Along the edge of the front yard, there was once a beautiful old Mimosa tree. My Mamaw would tell me to pay attention to that tree when I was outside playing because when the leaves closed and the tree went to sleep, it was almost time for me to do the same. Over to the right of the house was a gorgeous Dogwood, whose branches held me as I plotted my next adventure. In the back yard, she taught me to hang clothes on the clothes line and the proper way to take them down. For hours at a time, I would sit up on the riding lawn mower and pretend that I was a school bus driver, using the lever that raised and lowered the blade as my handle to open and close the door for my students. Once I had driven them safely to school, I would take a few steps over to my makeshift classroom and teach them their lessons for the day. I was too much of an over achiever to have only one pretend job.

That sidewalk leading to the front door proved more nemesis than friend on Christmas Day when I was about ten years old. Santa brought me a new bike and I tried to hop onto the sidewalk as I rode, but the front tire didn’t quite make the jump. Those paint chipped front steps left a nasty gash beneath my right eye. I got plenty of attention to make up for it and pictures (and a scar) that will still elicit sympathy!

Over the years, I’ve tried to think of my favorite place in this house but I couldn’t narrow it down. My first thought was the kitchen because I loved sitting at the table watching my Mamaw cook. She rolled out her biscuits just so and every single time, she’d take the last bit of dough and roll it back and forth lengthwise between her palms to make it a special shape…just for me. We called it my “Roly Poly” biscuit. Along one wall of the kitchen sat her sewing machine. She could make anything, often without a pattern. I loved watching her sew. I was amused when something would go wrong and she’d curse but more amused when I saw her finished product.

The living room where I sat with her watching her “stories” in the afternoons is another favorite place. I’d sit on the couch in the evenings between my Mamaw and PaPete, watching Matlock and knowing that there was no place I’d rather be. This is the room that welcomed you into the house when you entered the house and although I knew so much of what to expect when I walked through that door, one thing was never certain…the furniture arrangement. Mamaw was notorious for moving furniture around often. I don’t know if she got bored or just liked to exercise her decorating skills but the furniture placement never stuck around long. The living room is bittersweet for me, in some ways. It was there that my PaPete took his last breath, in my arms. If I think about it too much, I feel like I’m still there, begging God not to let this be it even though I know it is. It’s almost been 20 years now.

Really though, if my heart was forced to choose a favorite, it would be the master suite. Whether it was nestling in between my favorite two people to sleep or sneaking into the bathroom to rifle through my Mamaw’s huge supply of makeup and hair products, this room still holds my heart. I watched many UNC basketball games sitting in the middle of their bed, often crying, cheering or bargaining with God that if He’d just let them win this one, I’d be SO good. Playing hide and seek with cousins, this room is always where I would hide. I felt safe there and my cousins never seemed to know if it was ok to go in so they often wouldn’t look for me there.

Several years ago, I was home for a visit and as J. and I passed the house, it was vacant but there were a couple of contractors outside doing some work. We stopped and explained that this had been my home and asked if we could go in. They were happy to oblige and I was surprised at the butterflies in my stomach as we entered. So many things surprised me that day, actually. In my mind, this house was huge. There were four bedrooms and plenty of space for everything we needed. Walking in as an adult, it was so much smaller than I remembered. It was in the process of being re-modeled but to me, it looked so much the same that I could picture just where everything should be. I felt the oddest peace as we walked from room to room looking around and telling stories. Until we got to the back of the house to the master bedroom. Walking in opened the floodgates of my heart. (Even now, remembering, I am crying.) I could almost smell Mamaw’s Estee Lauder Youth Dew perfume as I turned to go into the bathroom. It was the same and yet, so different because they weren’t there. This home was now there for someone else to make memories.

As I’m writing this, I realize that so much of my nostalgia and memories are special to me more because of WHO was in the house and not the house itself. Still, there’s just something about this house. It’s not grand or even that impressive but it’s so special to me. It’s home.

Choose Love

I wish there was a window on social media that would pop up before you submit a passive aggressive status update or hateful comment that would read, “Are you sure you want to do this? Would you say this if the person was sitting right in front of you?”

Unfortunately, my requests for such have been largely ignored by Mr. Zuckerberg.

With so much of our lives being lived online, there is this tendency to forget that what you are saying on social media can hurt, demean and cut right to the bone of a real live person. I’d venture to say that if the person at which you are aiming your keyboard arrows was sitting in front of you, you would keep that comment to yourself.


Because you would see hurt in their eyes before you even finished your sentence. You would realize the ramifications of your words immediately and perhaps it would sting your heart just as much as it did theirs when you realized the pain you’d inflicted.

Our Keyboard Courage almost never equals our Real Life Courage.

My heart breaks to see people making sweeping generalizations about a group of people with whom they disagree (insert any particular group here: gay, straight, Christian, Muslim, Cat People) all under the guise of “I’m entitled to my opinion.”

While it is true that everyone is entitled to their opinion, what happens when your opinion is delivered in such a way that you cause the immense pain to someone else? Is it worth it?

Do you remember a time when you changed someone’s mind on a matter through your pithy Facebook comments? No? Then, why? Why hurt people, cut them down and drag them through the mud when you know nothing good can come of it?

Often, I think our tendency to to make trite statements against another online is because we are desperate to feel important. We chase after those little thumbs-ups to let us know we aren’t alone in our beliefs as if somehow, that makes us right.

We spew our opinions in the most hateful way and the only change that comes is in the form of a calloused heart that we wear like a badge of honor and another bruise on the heart of the wounded.

We see so much attention given to cyber bullying in regards to the younger generation, and rightfully so, but from where I sit, adults are equally guilty. We just know how to dress it up to look like it’s less bullying and more our inalienable right.

There has to be a better way.

What if we considered another’s heart more important than sharing our opinion?

What if we our greatest desire was not to be right, to be heard or to be popular but rather to be loving, kind and giving to others?

What would the world look like if our rants were replaced with encouragement?

I don’t have all the answers to my own questions. I’m ok with that. I don’t need to know everything.

I do know that choosing to love is never wrong.

When faced with a decision to write something laced with venom or to use your words to encourage a friend…choose love.

Post a passive aggressive rant hidden behind a clever rhetoric or remind yourself that even the most astute words can cause harm…choose love.

Garner adulation from others who are prone to leaving a trail of bloody, broken hearts in the wake of their words or…choose love.

Above all, choose love. It is the best way. It’s the only way.