Tell Me a Love Story

We sat on either side of our granddaughter, her rapt attention focused on the screen in the theater. We were watching the newest Cinderella and she was captured by the story she knows so well. 

Our children liked The Princess Bride. It held a different kind of charm but its characters were endearing. There was a bit more in questioning in this tale and more humor but they are among our family’s favorite love stories.

A friend of mine has one of those love stories. She was a history teacher in Georgia, USA leading her class on a tour in France. She took a fall and needed a doctor. She and the doctor communicated after she returned to the states and within a couple of years she moved to France and married him.

Hers is the most romantic story of people I know. It’s got the “made for movie” ingredients.

Sadly, after two children and twenty years of marriage it unraveled until it came completely apart.

I know other love stories of a different kind. They are stories of a Savior who loves us when we can’t even love ourselves.

We work and move among men living in a residential rehabilitation program.  It’s a free program run by an organization that would cause many to think it’s a homeless shelter. There are no private rooms and six showers to be shared by 100 men. There are rules. They live with curfews and restrictions, a dress code and requirements to see a counselor, attend meetings and participate in work therapy. 

It doesn’t sound much like love but it is a place where love is offered and sometimes love is found.

We know this because we see the change. We see it when they start to love themselves, when they recognize grace and when they accept that God loves them no matter what.

It’s a lot to believe for all of us.

This is the real love story. Not a sappy, happy all the time imitation of love but real love that hurts and resists but never gives up.

We are learning together, these men who share little in common with me but inside we are so much the same.

We’ve been hurt by what we thought was love. We’ve discovered love has more fakes than Rolex and we’ve been duped.  Duped by parents and boyfriends and spouses and friends.

We’ve bought the movie version and every shade of gray offered and found them empty and ourselves searching for more.

Eventually, we find the only love that matters is the kind described in 1 Corinthians 13  “Love puts up with anything and everything that comes along; it trusts, hopes, and endures no matter what.”

If genuine love can be found in a facility for addicts, alcoholics and those who’ve lost their way in life, if this love that’s born from compassion can be shown in simple acts of kindness and hospitality then maybe we can know love. Maybe we can understand it’s not about feelings but actions. That honest love wants nothing in return only to be accepted and shared.

This is my love story.

“My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can’t know him if you don’t love. This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.”1 John 4:7-10 Message

Hope of All Hope

“Even when there was no reason for hope, Abraham kept hoping—believing that he would become the father of many nations…” Romans 4:18a NLT

Our Advent celebration begins with hope. Hope is that thing that doesn’t make sense. It’s the thing that keeps us alive when all else seems lost. Hope keeps us searching. We breathe it in slowly, praying even these small breaths will sustain us one more day.

When God’s people haven’t seen a hint of light or hope of day, God will do something new.
Preface to Isaiah 9 in The Voice

God’s story, as recorded in the Bible through lives of men and women, is a story of hope. The stories of Abraham and Esther take twists and turns but are examples of unfailing hope. When people feared the worst the prophet Isaiah assured them a Savior would come. 

Hope of all hopes, dream of our dreams, a child is born, sweet-breathed; a son is given to us: a living gift. And even now, with tiny features and dewy hair, He is great.  The power of leadership, and the weight of authority, will rest on His shoulders. His name? His name we’ll know in many ways—He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Dear Father everlasting, ever-present never-failing, Master of Wholeness, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6 the Voice

When that Hope came in form of a baby many didn’t believe. They’re still searching. We are searching. We’re desperate for hope so we place it in money, status, family, politics. We grab at things we can hold.

When we hope in the tangible and temporal we discover more emptiness.I can’t explain this hope I have. For me hope looks like getting up when part of me wants to bury myself deeper under the covers of a comfortable bed. I might only make it to the couch but it’s a declaration that I haven’t given up.

Even with tears filling my eyes and fear stirring within there is a glimmer that relief will come. Somewhere, when things seem to be at their worst, I have hope. 

There was no hoping that mama’s dementia would improve or be cured. As dementia took more and more of her I was reminded that while we lost the essence of our mother, we held to the hope that pointed to her restoration in eternity. 

When I stare at an uncertain future and feel lacking in every area it is the One who is my Hope that assures me of his unending care. Hope isn’t answers. I don’t have them. Hope is the expectation that God will fulfill his promise of unfailing love.

This isn’t wishful thinking. This is God’s promise. His Son. Our Wonderful Counselor, MightyGod, Master of Wholeness and Prince of Peace.

This is the Hope of all Hopes. 

Pinterest Isn’t Always Right

Pinterest has taken the place of magazines. It’s Better Homes & Gardens, Bon Apetit, In Style and Reader’s Digest all in one. I’ve saved recipes, fashion ideas and quotes. There are how-to’s from building a backyard cupola to a science project. It’s an encyclopedia offering information you didn’t know you needed.

I like good quotes and have collected quite a few but I ran across this one that made me wince.
“This will all make perfect sense someday.” I liked the style of it. The background was a bold yellow and the words looked like they were handwritten on white paper and pasted in the middle of the yellow. There was a lot of white space which we know draws our interest.
I wondered how many people saved that being comforted by the words.
Wouldn’t it be nice if someday it would make perfect sense?
Mental illness
I can’t make sense of any of it but I believe there is hope. And hope is more than a verse in beautiful calligraphy on Instagram.
Hope is crying with the co-worker just diagnosed with cancer and hope is my friend who volunteers at a pregnancy crisis center. It’s teaching our children and grandchildren about respect and showing it to one another. Hope is smiling and holding the door open and making room for the person who doesn’t look like you.
I haven’t been able to make sense out of hope. But I believe it’s where we find God.

Goals? Me?

around the lake in North Carolina

I don’t know what I expected but I didn’t expect this.

It was our five-year review. At least I guess it’s a five-year thing. They’ve happened somewhat randomly throughout our 20+ years as Salvation Army pastors.

This review skipped the basics, the stuff that tells you how you’re doing or the perception of how you’re doing and went straight to the goals. As in, ‘what are three goals you have?’

I sat silent.

He didn’t want to hear what I was thinking. That Hudson is just shy of 4 years from retirement and my goal is to get through and get out. How’s that for goals?

Finally, a few things were scratched out…I mentioned a certification one of our counselors has encouraged me to get and we talked about that and a possibility of schooling for an advanced certification in addictions counseling.

It all sounded good and met the needs of the review. Whew, that was close!

Then I got an email inquiring about checking on my credits and what would be needed to finish a degree and reality set in and I realized this goal thing was serious.

And one standard review woke me up from my comfortable coasting. It woke me to the reality of what’s next? What is that thing that will always be there when I’m not required to do this or that?

Those thoughts swirled through my mind for days as I needed to peel off layers of expectations, perceptions and obligations. I need to find the basics that make me want to learn and share.

Then I wrote this email:

“As I have thought about our conversation, talked to Henry (who seems to know me better than I know myself) and let these things settle in my heart, I think my real desire, is indeed, communicating; communicating a story of grace and hope and the beauty of God.”

And then I shared it with three friends because to say it makes it real and, hopefully, makes me accountable. But to say it here? I’m taking a deep breath now.

My heart isn’t with the certification for addictions counseling even though I could make money doing that in retirement. My real desire is to tell stories; through words (written and spoken) and or pictures, (photo’s or art).

I’m not sure how it will look right now but I’m looking around to find out. It’s not an obvious thing or easily quantified in our standardized goals but I feel settled about it. In the way that I’m not questioning it or wishy-washy. I don’t have a goal to write a book or be a commercial success but to hone the talents I’ve been given to continue to learn and grow and share God’s story of grace. 

There is a lot of unknown. But this unknown has me excited for the possibilities God has ahead.

The first person I shared this with has this on her Facebook status today. Maybe it’s not just for me but for you too.

no fear
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10


Five-Minute Friday {alone}

The short refrain from The Lone Bellow rings loudly in my ears

“….you’re not alone, you’re not alone”

and I wonder if she knows that 3000 miles away she’s not alone.


a rare time the three of us are together Aug 2015

                                                         a rare time the three of us are together Aug 2015

Today is another birthday celebration for mama, another she won’t recognize and another my sister may feel alone in carrying the family weight of simply being there.

It’s something we’ve slowly come to accept simply because we have no choice. She is there, Washington state, our brother is in Dallas and we are in the tip of Florida, eyes on that “cone of uncertainty” watching another storm with a name.

Even with her three kids and supportive husband, with dozens of extended family nearby, how many times has she felt alone sitting with mama, answering questions of her care givers and showing up when others can’t?

Sometimes life is that way and while we’ve shared the tears we also share the smiles and understand when our laughter may not be understood by all. We know that standing alone does not mean we are alone and we ask God for that comfort that he gives, sometimes, in surprising ways….the smile of a knowing person, the email from someone who has walked this journey, the echoes of a song.


“By yourself you’re unprotected.
With a friend you can face the worst.
Can you round up a third?
A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped.” Ecclesiastes 4:12 the Message

Details, details

I took the full view of her in, barely seeing the wedding dress as her radiant smile stole the show.

Yes, it was lovely, white, some kind of satiny material, but it was my niece I was seeing, not the details.

That’s me. For an artist, I miss a lot of the fine points. Instead, I take in the nuance of the moment, the atmosphere of the room.

Paul Kathryn_batchWatermark

blurred flowers

Kathryn bouquet soft Edit_batchWatermark

candid bridesmaids framed cropped

Don’t ask me the color of someone’s eyes, even a good friend, because unless they’re brilliant blue or magical brown I won’t have any idea. But ask me if they have a smile that makes you feel like you’re the only person in the room or if they find laughter as easily as some see a speck of lint on a sweater and I’ll know that.

When I hold the camera to my eye, that’s what I’m hoping to find, to capture, are those details.

The niece sad, somewhat casually in that expected tone, “aunt Debby, you always have your camera so you’ll be taking pictures too.” She had a photographer for her wedding, a family friend who wouldn’t feel the least bit threatened or put upon with me off to the side snapping away. And I wouldn’t feel pressure being the primary photographer which gave me greater access.

I stood at the side and didn’t have to give directions. As family, I walked in the room where the bride and her attendants were getting ready with barely a notice of my presence. That’s the best.

Hannah photobomb sq framed

parents of the bride

parents of the bride

funny expression

Madisons Kathryn_batchWatermark

reception kiss

Daniel dancing

This is what I would photograph always: smiles and laughter, expressions of newlyweds and little boys invited to dance with the grownups.

There is One who knows the details. How could he not, he created our very being. Like I know our daughters crooked pinky fingers and our sons toes are long like mine, God know the external and internal of our lives. The miracle is, He loves us anyway.

“Not one sparrow (What do they cost? Two for a penny?) can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. 30 And the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t worry! You are more valuable to him than many sparrows.” Matthew 10:29-31 Living Bible


Linking up in a discussion group ‘On Being a Writer’ over at Kate Motaung’s place. Stop by.

A change of view

The words have been slow lately. It must be a time to absorb and refill what has been depleted. Our annual week in the North Carolina mountains was one of taking in the beauty of creation in its many forms including people. Lots of people. It has left me short of words and hoping, as Rod Steward sang, that  every picture tells the story.

“What a wildly wonderful world, God! You made it all, with Wisdom at your side, made earth overflow with your wonderful creations.” Psalm 104:24 the Message

These seem to grow everywhere, even in parking lots of diners.





house garden


stone steps


“O God, listen to me! Hear my prayer! 2 For wherever I am, though far away at the ends of the earth, I will cry to you for help. When my heart is faint and overwhelmed, lead me to the mighty, towering Rock of safety. 3 For you are my refuge, a high tower where my enemies can never reach me. 4 I shall live forever in your tabernacle; oh, to be safe beneath the shelter of your wings! 5 For you have heard my vows, O God, to praise[a] you every day, and you have given me the blessings you reserve for those who reverence your name.” Psalm 61:1-5 Living Bible


A Time to Marry {for my niece}

wedding rehearsal

wedding rehearsal

Teacher: For everything that happens in life—there is a season, a right time for everything under heaven:

2 A time to be born, a time to die;
a time to plant, a time to collect the harvest;
3 A time to kill, a time to heal;
a time to tear down, a time to build up;
4 A time to cry, a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, a time to dance;
5 A time to scatter stones, a time to pile them up;
a time for a warm embrace, a time for keeping your distance;
6 A time to search, a time to give up as lost;
a time to keep, a time to throw out;
7 A time to tear apart, a time to bind together;
a time to be quiet, a time to speak up;
8 A time to love, a time to hate;
a time to go to war, a time to make peace. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 the Voice

And so it is, this is the day our second-born niece and her fiancé have chosen to marry. Family has come from nearly all corners of this country to witness and love, to pray and dance and mostly to fill the space with joy we have for the one we know and the one we will now call family.

It is no easy thing bringing families together. It is no easy thing reaching across the unknown and saying, “Welcome”. We do it for her and we do it for my brother, his first daughter to wed. The first to leave home and chart this new way that won’t always look like the path we’ve walked.





We celebrate for my sister-in-law, for all the mother-of-the-bride has borne literally and figuratively. I marvel at her strength and resolve as this child who, though second born, was in charge from the earliest of days, chooses a mate and chooses life and gives the name she’s worn to another.

These are hard days for parents and they are days filled with hope and push us in our faith as prayers grow stronger.

They have been and will be surrounded by a love that always looks to Hope. This is the Love that will support them and has supported us.


Father and daughter

Father and daughter

In Searching for Sunday, Rachel Held Evans shares a chapter with thoughts on marriage. Several passages I’ve highlighted as she looks beyond the current debate on marriage we’ve seen played out in recent days.

My sweet, stubborn, niece, most that any of us can tell you about marriage is it has to be lived to know. But here are some words from RHE that, after 37 years of life with this guy also known as your favorite uncle, I know to be true.

“Marriage isn’t about sticking to a script; it’s about making a life together. It’s not a choreographed cha-cha, it’s an intimate slow dance. It isn’t a formula, it’s a mystery.”

The best one to mark your way is God. That will always be. Enter this mystery, slow dancing your way to His rhythm knowing you are loved. Always.

Where Kindness Leads

Moving as much as we have, much was lost. Or tossed, or given away. Most of it just stuff but time reminds me of the photo’s  dad had that didn’t end up with me or my brother. I’m surprised there are a  few cherished things that found their way to our home.

Durham bible

mamas songbook songbook note

The books and bibles are well-worn and today I finally glued the spine back to one of the family bibles and a songbook given to mama. Kind words were written inside from the giver and I was quickly reminded of the kindnesses that have spread across generations.

Notes written in books, a delicate handkerchief from a pastor’s wife when I was a teenager, funny pictures with friends who could bring out silliness in me. I wondered if I’ve been as kind in return.

me and Suzi

I thought I had the correct change when I walked in to get a soda. But I’d mistaken a penny for a dime, plunked the money and drink on the counter and said, “I’m short a dime and going to the car to get it.” Walking back in, a young man walking out said “I gave her the dime”. Kindness from a stranger.

I am moved by kindness. The simple gesture of a coworker offering to walk me to my car when night has come, someone holding the door open, these ordinary everyday acts, I don’t want to miss the grace of giving and accepting.

My mind goes to the gentle rhythm of a melody from long ago….

It’s your kindness that leads us to repentance, O Lord

Knowing that you love us no matter what we do

Makes us want to love you too.    – Your Kindness Leslie Phillips

“His kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.” Romans 2:4b TLB

The rest of the verse is hard. It talks about our stubbornness and our refusal to turn from our sin, from our own desires rather than His. The verses talk about his judgement that will come. But, God wants to move us with his kindness, His benevolent patience.

God, help me to be moved by your kindness, swayed to put your ways above mine. With each kindness shown me by a stranger may I see your face, your hands, your grace. Forgive my stubbornness. May my heart be turned to you.

Five-Minute Friday {hope}

We’re back from our trip to London. Back physically, mostly, but mentally….working on it 😉 Kate Motaung‘s Five-Minute Party link-up is a good way to get back in the groove of sharing from Grace-land. Today’s prompt is hope.


Out of the hundreds of men coming through our doors at our Adult Rehabilitation Center, I’d guess only a small percent coming looking for hope.

They come looking for rest, for a safe place, for a chance to clean up and get some regular meals in their body. They come for the ‘3 hots and cot’ so they can recharge to go back out ‘there’.

They don’t come looking for hope. Not most.

Hopes have been shattered when the marriage fell apart or the job fell through.

Hopes placed in others devastated because others will fail too.

pain hope

“I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him.” Romans 15:13a

If we can stop long enough, be still and quiet enough we will know that hope comes in rest. Hope comes in clarity to see the grace God gives not because of us but in spite of us.

Hope comes when we accept we can never be more than because we are always less than Him and that is why He wants to be our hope.

He is our completion.

He is our Savior.

He is our mercy and grace.

He is our hope. The hope of glory. Living in us.

“To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles [the nations] the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Colossians 1:27 NIV