And the Glory Shone Around Them

“…and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified,..”

Every Sunday one of the residents stands in front of the chapel and reads the scripture selected for this weeks worship gathering.

This may be the first time he’s read in a church setting. It may be the first time he has read from the bible. He might stumble over the words. He might be filled with fear even though he’s volunteered to do this.

With 100 men I don’t know many details of their life but I know he’s not living at the Salvation Army because life was good. It’s alcohol or drugs and these days in this part of the country odds are it’s opioids. I know there was something that took him out of life. If you heard some of their stories you’d probably give him a pass for choosing drugs or alcohol to numb the pain; to escape the nightmares that were real.

What I see when they stand in the front of our simple, small chapel isn’t what brought them here. I’ve come to see God’s glory surrounding them. God’s radiant love and mercy shining around someone who still isn’t sure if there is a God. 

It’s easier to recognize God’s glory in church. It’s easier to see it shining on the clean and well fed. But the truth is, God’s glory was shining on them holding that cardboard sign on the side of the road. His glory was wrapping them in a grace they hadn’t discovered. 

The familiar verse in Luke gives a beautiful image of God’s glory. The Voice says it this way:

“Suddenly a messenger of the Lord stood in front of them, and the darkness was replaced by a glorious light—the shining light of God’s glory. They were terrified!” Luke 2:9

God chose to shine his glory on a group of smelly men who spent most of their time living outdoors with their sheep. They were laborers. Unless they had an assistant they probably didn’t take time off to attend religious instruction. In other words, they weren’t church folks. Their ordinary life was interrupted by God’s radiant glory, their darkness replaced by His glory. This heavenly birth announcement was specifically given to them. By an ANGEL CHOIR! 

He stands in front of our chapel and reads. 

He plays his first piano solo in church one week. 

He kneels at the altar. 

He is sitting in our service unsure of who this Jesus is. 

He is angry with God. 

He stands to thank God for giving him breath. 

I have wrestled with God, turned my back on him, ignored his voice yet, it’s His glorious light that continues to break through the darkness in my life.

God’s grace surrounds us. Do you see it?
God’s glory always shines in the dark places. 

The Changing Family Table

Every year it seems Thanksgiving is getting closer to being squeezed out by all the fanfare of Black Friday. In between the adds for “Best Deals” are the grocery specials on sweet potatoes and turkeys.

Then there are voices proclaiming appreciation for Thanksgiving more than Christmas. They like the slower pace dictated by the day that seems to be focused on family.

Family has always been the focus of our Thanksgiving gathering. Some years have included friends who would have been home alone. We discover which customs we share and where we differ…usually as it relates to food. My mother-in-law always brought the northern foods to our more southern group that would never consider having a Thanksgiving meal without pecan pie.

Menu aside our real reason for gathering was each other. This year will be the first in our 41 year marriage where we won’t be with family on Thanksgiving day. In today’s mobile society that’s quite an achievement. It also speaks to the fact that we like each other.

I know my heart will be missing our coming together. It already does. I’m saddened that my cousin won’t be able to host this year because of damage to their home caused by Hurricane Michael. Five weeks later and only one supermarket chain has been able to reopen.

While we won’t be with kin we will be with our community that gives us every reason to be thankful. Some of our residents in our ARC will celebrate with their sponsors or friends. Very few will share the day with family. For all of them we will be that for them, as best we can while also wearing the hats of pastor, teacher, director. Seeing change in their lives gives us more than we can ever give to them.

One of our counselors focuses on gratitude in one of her groups. Many of us have learned the value of incorporating thoughts of gratitude daily. It’s an intentional practice. It’s especially important for those who find themselves living in a place that was their last hope.

We’ve used different ways to share our thanks over the years. Reading their words humbles me and draws me in a little more to their journey.

We’ve done this at our family Thanksgivings too. Our words of thanks are evidence of privilege: family, music, food, laughter. They are simple and general even though said with true gratitude.

It’s a mingling of both that brings hearts together in a real family table. One that extends beyond the literal table and chairs. We need the experience of each other to build a stronger community. But we need it most to come closer to God’s immense grace and mercy.

Come, thou Fount of every blessing,
tune my heart to sing thy grace;
streams of mercy, never ceasing,
call for songs of loudest praise.

They’re Too Young


He is young but they’re all young these days.

In his 30’s, he’s on his second stay with us to deal with his addiction. He is bright, articulate, a husband, biblically literate, and an addict. Last month, living separated from his wife in our residential rehab program, he learned his wife was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer.
Too young.
We prayed for her healing, for her well being and comfort. We prayed for him as he tries to manage more than what is enough to break anyone.
His wife is hospitalized for treatment that consists of 5 days of radiation to be followed by chemo. He is living in a rehabilitation center. She’s lost her hair, he says, but the radiation killed one of the spots. ONE of the spots.
I see him working with some other guys unloading a truck. They finish and start playing a game of flipping one pencil into another to try to break it. It looks so ordinary except I know nothing is ordinary about this scene.
I ask for an update on his wife and he tells me like he would tell the forecast. He’s said it over and over giving updates and reports to friends, family, us. His words are calm and deliberate and after he’s told me of the radiation and chemo he looks me eye to eye and says “God is using this for good”.
I don’t know what to say so I pat his shoulder and smile. He is young to have such confident faith.
This man is too young to be in more than one rehab more than one time. He’s too young to face these trials. Too young to watch his wife suffer the ravages of cancer.
They are all too young to carry the heavy burdens of abandonment, criminal records, sexual abuse, addiction, mental health issues and more.
They are not too young to choose faith. To choose in a power greater than themselves to turn to with their fears and failures.
In all of his struggles Aiden* is choosing to believe. He’s believing in God’s perfect will over well-meaning quotes and hugs. He is choosing to see the positives in his wife. He is choosing God.

Two Tragedies


There are two tragedies with addicts. There is the tragic life of the addict. A person whose life has unraveled and become a stranger to all who knew them. They have changed in every way.

Physically they have aged. Meth and crack destroy their teeth. Opioids take them to skin and bones. Eyes become pinpricks and eventually flatten out to blankness. Flakka can leave long-lasting paranoia and mental confusion.
The once good looking brother, son, husband so well-groomed and well-mannered is hiding things, stealing from family, lying about jobs and money until everyone has cut them off. Until the crack house is the only place that welcomes them and even that will end when they can’t pay. One way or another. The lucky ones are put in jail which can lead to detox giving them a chance.
The second tragedy happens to those who love them. Addicts are the real walking dead.
“Who can listen to a story of loneliness and despair without taking the risk of experiencing similar pains in his own heart and even losing his precious peace of mind? 
In short: “Who can take away suffering without entering it?”  
– Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society
These are the people who enter our lives and wreck our emotions forcing us to draw boundary lines and make hard decisions. They are why we’ve attended too many funerals and memorials. Their names are on my tears and they leave bruises on my heart.
*Tom has left. Again. When he came back this time he was thinner than the last time. He’s not a big man, only a couple of inches taller than me. But his eyes were alive before. Now they are desperate. He grabs me in a hug nearly every time he sees me and there’s something about it that isn’t him. The counselors have expressed his ongoing paranoia and I learn his last run involved Flakka. He has prescriptions but he’s decided the amounts he should be taking which completely violates our policy. We know his level of care has gone beyond what we can handle. We wish we had the power to Baker-act him. It would put him directly in the system to have a mental evaluation. It could give him a chance. But we don’t have that power. Before we can meet with him about options he leaves. He’s become sure he’s being targeted, a manifestation of his paranoia.
So he left. Walked out. To nothing. And I’m so afraid he’s going to die. Out there. Alone.
You’d think after 14 years in this ministry we’d become numb. There are many times I’ve wished for it and times I’ve felt it. There is a layer we must wrap ourselves in every day to be able to look at the night log to see if anyone has left. I can only explain our ability to still care by saying God is with us. I don’t know why we haven’t been destroyed by this except that He is with us. And right now I want him to also be with *Tom.
Two tragedies multiplied by every man in our Center.
“Dare to love and to be a real friend. The love you give and receive is a reality that will lead you closer and closer to God as well as those whom God has given you to love.” 
– Henri Nouwen

Word Processor

Maybe I’m a slow learner. I never thought that. I did okay in school. We moved too much in my high school years to find out my real strengths but I’m no dummy.

When it comes to learning about me…..others seem better. Maybe I don’t pay enough attention to myself or my perception is entirely different. Or  some of both.

Brian and I would have these long phone conversations. I’d stretch the cord on our wall phone as I’d wipe down the kitchen counters while we talked. Our conversations centered around church and serving and Jesus and these talks with him helped me flesh out what I believed. It help me go beyond the childhood beliefs and put feet to the words.


He was a new man in the Center. It was less than a week since he’d checked in to our Adult Rehabilitation Center, his first Sunday in our chapel service. Everyone had left after the service and JJ came back to introduce himself to me. He put out his hand and as I took hold of his there was nothing but flesh. No grip, just fingers held out but nothing given in return. He wanted to know if I’d take his picture so he could send it to his family. Said they’d never seen him dressed up like this.

I pulled my iPhone out and positioned him against the wall so as not to get shadows. I was going for a just below the shoulders shot so they could see his face but he motioned me back. More….more….he wanted the full view for them. From head to shiny dress shoes.

Version 2



This is why I write. Men who’ve never been taught how to give a good handshake, who’ve never been “dressed like this”. Men whose lives have brought them to through our doors, their “last chance”. Men who are so different are teaching me how more alike we are.  It’s these men and this ministry that has stirred something inside of me and brought me to pecking out the words while I search for more understanding.

I envision it as a lump of clay on the potter’s wheel. My thoughts are plunked down in a big lump. Wet, pliable but not weak or thin. There has to be strength to withstand the shaping.

Each word is taken by the potters hands and smoothed. There are times when one design is expected but, surprise!, another emerges under his skilled hands. A more suitable vessel, more fitting for service.

That is my hope, my prayer. That this word processor is not just for me but that others can connect and find their clay shaped to a form fit for service.


Riverside Pottery, Dillsboro

It’s an old hymn and I think the only reason it stays with me is its use of the imagery of pottery.

Have Thine own way, Lord, have Thine own way

Thou are the potter I am the clay

Mold me and make me, after Thy will

While I am waiting, yielded and still.

These words I offer to be molded into truths by the Truth.

Participating in a book discussion, link-up over at Kate Motaung‘s place working our way through the book, On Being a Writer.
















At the end of the day

Is this summer really busier than most or were slower summers just seen through hazy-want-it-to-be-so memories?

Summers when our kids were young seemed to stretch on with long days in the pool and road trip vacations out west. Then they started going to sleep-away-camps and working all summer at camp and summers got hotter and hurried to fit it all in.

Children add the pauses in life. Appreciated only with some perspective.

the granddaughter

the granddaughter’s recent visit

It has been a hurried July. Issues at work that can’t be resolved with simple decisions have stretched on, tethering us closer to home. The times we’ve enjoyed away haven’t been allowed to linger as we quickly put the photos aside to take up the next thing on the list.

The collision happened this week as it has before. The expected when working with people and disappointment more tragic when working with those getting their footing in recovery.

We throw some people right into the fire it seems. You get some traction in this recovery thing. You’re making all the right moves: sponsor, meetings, giving back, yep, you’re a stand-up guy. You’re hired.

It has to happen sometime this going back into the world, beyond our seemingly safe walls with counselors down the hall from you and recovery language spoken all around. Even here the addiction demon rages and pulls some down again.

80's night



It was that kind of week. We’d been gone two days and back in time to put the finishing touches on our big 80’s night. Smack in the middle of summer where we knew we needed to laugh off the steam of the day. Back to a turmoil we didn’t know was brewing. Back to relapse that had us scrambling for replacements and action and grace.

I was home most of the day, with the granddaughter at the pool. Oblivious to anything amiss until the phone call not intended to inform me of the chaos others had been swept in. A simple question about the audio for the night and the simple statement, it’s been a busy day. “Good busy or bad busy?“, I asked. The new employee on the other end hesitated before he said bad busy followed by, “I don’t want to be the first to tell you.”

“Better get use to it“, I said and so it went from there.

The granddaughter still in the pool wanting me to come back in, safe from our grown-up world of disease and heartbreak.

Even the counselors get into the spirit of the night

Even the counselors get into the spirit of the night







God knew. He knew when this would happen and that it would happen on the day we set aside to have a party. He knew at the end of confusion, uncertainty and frustration we would need to laugh. And we did.

A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance. Ecclesiastes 3:4

There are seldom more events that make us realize life goes on than relapse. One falls but 98 others must be held up, encouraged, shown a new way, a new life.

So we had our 80’s night with more of the younger ones embracing the costumes of a time before they were born. We laughed and cheered and booed when the judges didn’t score Pat high enough in karaoke. We danced with the counselors and wore silly things not in character for us. And in the process, some wounds were soothed.

At the end of the day, the fallen are cared for, taken to shelter and told they are loved.

At the end of the day grace. 

Five-Minute Friday {free}

Linking up with the gracious Kate Motaung, host of the weekly free-writing prompt known as Five-Minute Friday. Stop by and join this group of lovelies.

I’m a suspicious sort, tossing the junk mail with banners reading: CLAIM YOUR FREE PRIZE. Scan the fine print and you’ll discover the cost of free.

It pushes my buttons when someone, often a customer in one of our Family Stores complaining about a price with the rationale of, “you get this stuff free”.

store 1

bible conference

bible conference

I have to practice calm when explaining, no, it’s not free to us. It costs us the price of trucks, employee salaries, gasoline…utilities in this very building your standing in…….(serenity now!)

Yeah, I have to take a deep breath over that one.

I like free, but rarely are things without cost.


Oscar Roan

FtL prayer

Our 6-month rehabilitation program is free to the men. They receive counseling, food, clothes, purposeful duties, but it cost them something. It cost willingness to follow the rules, to get up at a certain time, to attend group meetings, to participate in their recovery. It costs them change.

For some that cost is too high.

Change carries a high price. No money is required to change but it’s a price many of us aren’t ready to pay.

Grace. Free. No cost. At all.

Paid for by Jesus. His life for us.

Grace because He loves.





“In a futile attempt to erase our past, we deprive the community of our healing gift. If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others.” ― Brennan Manning, Abba’s Child

God has this crazy way of bringing the most unusual things together, all pointing to Him and His grace. He uses people from different walks of life and different places in the world and none know the other but they are shining His light in my life.

For several years I’ve been watching men battling addiction, watching the painful journey of shining a light on their pasts. For some, the pasts was the deepest darkness ever known and addiction seemed the only escape. For others, the wreckage of their past was self-made. I’ve stood before them and assured them of God’s grace, of His love that is the only true light. I’ve talked about pasts they’d rather forget but needed to face and I’ve done this without facing my own.

Mine isn’t marred by drugs or the mis-use of pain medications. My past doesn’t look too different from most Americans: parents divorced, poor decisions in my teen-age years, times where I walked away from God’s best for me. They seem trivial in the face of what some of the men have been through. And that’s added to minimizing my wounds, my fears, my shame.

A friend came along side to walk with me through this. To gently prod and ask some questions I thought there were no answers to. Questions about feelings and what I had numbed were named. It made me feel weak and what’s a good Christian girl doing feeling weak? It made me feel raw and vulnerable and ashamed of not being able to “get over it”.

from the side


“You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world.
(Matthew 5:14, The Message)”

I intruded on their weekly meeting. Again. But there they sit, in plain view as I walk past the dining room and I’m drawn to these two men. Externally, they are as different as can be. Short and tall, fair and dark. Add this blonde female to the mix and, yeah, we are those God-colors the bible talks about.

Mike and Dodd. I don’t know if Dodd is his first or last name which doesn’t matter because all I need to know is the light he shines brightly when he comes to share the message of recovery.

Mike, I know. He’s been in and out and in and out of our program and every time he’s been in he’s I’ve been drawn to his easy nature and we’ve hoped for his best seeing that something inside of him that we know is capable of more. And this time….yes, this time, Mike has taken fully hold of this light and has become, himself, a light bringing out the God-colors in our world.

I looked at the two of them yesterday and said, “I like hanging out with you two.” In our dining room on Wednesdays when they meet for their sponsor/sponsee time that I inevitably crash.

Thank you God, our loving parent who is the light inside us, a spark to share and set another light aflame. Thank you for letting us see and be part of the God-colors in our world. Help us see beyond the frame to how the colors spill out and over and can never be contained in what man has made. Let us light up the night so the darkness will be exposed and your way be made clear. 

The only way I can relate

Five years ago I was 10 pounds lighter.

Ten years ago I ran 3 miles a day, 5 days a week and clocked under 8 min. a mile on an average day.

Four years ago I walked regularly and ran some.

Chucks blue

When my second child was 6 months old, two friends and I joined Weight Watchers. It was the first time in my life I’d had excess weight when I wasn’t pregnant. I was 23 and at least 20 of the 40 pounds I’d gained during pregnancy weren’t coming off.

All three of us reached our goal weights. We followed the eating recommendations by Weight Watchers that included measuring our food. Portion control. We attended weekly meetings where the instructor encouraged us and helped people who had reached a plateau or struggling to meet their goal.

When we met our goals, we stopped attending the meetings. The guidelines were simple enough to continue on our own. I stayed within comfortable weight limits for the next 14 years or so.

Then I stopped doing what I’d been doing. Oh, I had reasons. Good reasons. We were moving. Again. In the span of one year my best friend died, my father died, I turned 40 and our oldest graduated high school. Surely, that’s enough to plunge anyone into carb loading and sugar highs.

It was a gradual slide into relapse. The age-old home remedy of self-medicating with food.

Pulling out that favorite pair of jeans offers a moment of clarity. Determination sets in. Until guests come and they want to go to that ice cream place you took them to last year. The one that only has double sized everything.

Tomorrow comes and you spend it wishing things were as they were and wishing that wishes were all you needed to do to get things back under control. And then your mind starts having this crazy argument about control.

Big deal, right? It’s only weight and it’s only 10 pounds and most people don’t think you need to lose even one pound so what’s the big deal?

It’s not of course. Not a big deal. I won’t lose my job, my husband and children won’t leave or disown me. My friends still trust me.



It’s a very simplistic view of the more serious state addicts and alcoholics find themselves in. Only their labels are ALL CAPS, bold type.

I’ve never met an addict of any kind (drugs, food, work, etc.) who didn’t want to change. Who didn’t want the wishing to make it go away. Who didn’t want to pray it away or find the magic cure at the baptismal or walking through our doors. But it takes more.

They carry the label and the scars of a bad record preventing job opportunities, of a poor work history, of being a loser and not trustworthy. Things far greater than being overweight.

Addiction is a disease. A compulsion stronger than one can control on their own. It leaves wreckage that some will never be able to see beyond. For us, it’s an opening for grace and where there is grace there is hope.


Some people think work takes God out of it. Last I checked, God likes work. He likes people who work, blesses them and promises to share the load, even carry the bulk of it. Believe me, loving people who aren’t like you takes work too. Living a life Christ calls us to takes work. Every day.

It’s a spiritual awakening that brings the willingness to change. Willingness is where God meets us.

“Discipline, not desire, determines our destination.” Andy Stanley


One day.

At a time.


GOD, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as the pathway to peace. Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it. Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will, that I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.


Reinhold Neibuhr-1926



When good things collide

This week started with tears. The kind of tears that come with hurt and a lack of understanding and the kind that stream down your face on your 30 minute drive to work.

You know, that kind of crying.

The tears have subsided, though without out notice my voice will still crack but we hold together and through anger we hold to God despite our lack of understanding his place in this.

Still, good things come because life is made of the good and the bad and it’s the hard things that bring out the joy in the simple good.

From a tear-stained face in the morning to belly laughs in the evening my soul was revived sitting in our chapel full of residents, staff and a few employees who chose to stay and be part of this ridiculous thing called a “play”. And it was just what we all needed.

One of our counselors had planned a Murder Mystery and rehearsed a few short weeks with men in one of her groups.

Props and costumes were collected from donations and J was telling people to call him Mary because he needed to get into character. Yeah, it was going to be that kind of night.

They stumbled over their lines and ad-libbed to the point it went over time and Act II will have to be continued.

Murder Mystery Night


Murder Mystery Night

On these nights, it’s easy to forget that most of these men are fighting a daily battle with addiction. That some were sleeping on the street a month ago and others are still trying to regain their family’s trust.


We celebrated with staff a good review of our program, a solid program our Center offers to men who have lost their way.

Today are celebrating the men, just because. Because Jesus is the Savior of 2nd chances and 5th and 100’s because he just keeps loving us. All of us.


We are celebrating with over 50 of our men at an annual weekend retreat joining  5 other Salvation Army ARC’s in Florida for a weekend of man stuff. Lots of playing disguised as sports and lots of eating to keep them fueled for the playing.

And there will be promise given to them straight from God’s sacred word and lives will be changed and promises made to live not for ourselves anymore but for God.

As if this isn’t enough, we join from a distance our first niece to graduate college and be a part of the celebration for our son-in-law’s completion of his PhD in physical therapy.


this niece is graduating college!


There is still an ache of pain in our hearts. But God has reminded us to weep with those who weep and dance with the dancers. The tears and laughs just happen to collide this time. I think he must have planed it that way.

In these times, I hope they find relief from the daily fight. I pray we all find moments of joy smack in the middle of our moments of pain.