Shalene and Freddy

We came as visitors, in town for a pastors conference. We gathered at a true community center for Sunday morning church.

Her name was Shalene. Her hard ‘r’s’ and sweet tea accent made me think she’s native to this part of Georgia. She took the stage to lead the Praise and Worship part of the service. The name the church has given to songs played more on guitar than keys, where words are repeated and hands lifted.

I wondered if she was nervous. There were at least 50 uniformed visitors seated in front of her today, a good bit of us strangers I’d guess. But then we think the uniform makes us family and not strange, not in that sense of the word.

Her spirit of enthusiasm captured me as she led these two familiar songs wholeheartedly. I’m not sure how anyone could help but be compelled by her sincerity.





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There was the usual stuff that makes up our style of church meeting: hymn songs, scripture verses read, the collection plates passed through the aisles.

Not so typical in some denominations is the brass band. This smallish town had put together a nice little band, a few of the visitors sitting in to fill out the sound.

On ‘Happy Song’ a woman a couple of rows in front of us trilled the tambourine she was holding. I recognized the experienced way she held it, only letting the heel of her hand, that part of the lower thumb just above the wrist touch the hide of the instrument. She played it in the right spots and kept in still in the others. A pro knows when and when not.

A friend/co-worker/pastor/officer gave the sermon. He’d been here before. This was once his town to pastor and be the face of The Salvation Army. He’s a tall, southern speaking man himself with a voice as deep as a barrel and heart as big with a softened patina. ‘He done good’, they’d say.

The screen flashed the name “Freddy” someone was going to give the benediction. The man I’d only seen from behind as he waved the conductor’s baton leading the band, shuffled to the podium. He had to be in his 70’s I decided and his gait not one of ease.

“We love you Lord”, he started the prayer, “And we’re just so thankful you love us too.”

We don’t get to this part of the south much and maybe that’s how these folks are made up here. Their hearts are open and their words spilling such warmth and love all over us.

I was taken in by Shalene and Freddy. Blessed by these two everyday folks not part of a ministerial team but whose lives are about serving with a joy that is worn as new garments, all clean and begging one to ask, “Where you’d get that?”, because you wanted to wear it too.


his is also The Salvation Army. Serving in places like Augusta, Georgia where every day folks take up the task of following Jesus and leading the way to joy.

We’ve been revived

I reckon some would call it revival and in one definition of the word it would be.

Like a plant thirsting for water, when finally the watering spout tips into it’s soil, it’s leaves turn up as they are revived.

We starve ourselves, not from food as we seem a most glutenous group of humans we Americans. But we starve our souls from the very thing that lifts our eyes, our heart, our spirit. We try filling it with work, money, family, distractions and, yes, even church.

We know we are hungry for more but more of what?

There is a God shaped vacuüm in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus. – Blaise Pascal

This is what we thirst for. This the only one who can fill that vacuüm that has already sucked everything else dry and finding no revival, no life.

old-fashioned Salvation Army revival

old-fashioned Salvation Army revival

As a kid, revival meant spending a lot of nights at church. There would be spirited singing, hand clapping and, at times, tambourines shaking. The old people seemed to come alive and the kids….when your dad is the preacher you just learn the rhythms of meetings.

I can’t say as I especially liked revival meetings. But they seemed necessary to bring new folks in and shake up, or wake up, the regulars.

Oscar Roan  Oscar Roan



We haven’t used the word revival in years. But we bring a speaker in every year to bring new life to the men.

It’s not that they don’t hear God’s word every day.
It’s not that anyone outside of God’s own spirit can bring new life to anyone.
But there is something to be said for a different voice. A fresh word. That new flame.

Oscar comes to us every year. He travels the country speaking to other ARC’s, in prisons, youth camps, wherever the invitation is extended to share his gift of speaking, and he is gifted.

It seems just when we’re feeling satisfied and comfortable, this word comes to overturn our pride and call us to repent of our comfort and to bring a reawakening to our soul.

His words cut hard but are true. There’s no prosperity teaching from this man unless you consider the cost of God’s call to leave everything profitable. He reminds us this is the only profit we should want because it is all we need.

He speaks to the hearts of each one as he takes the story of Lot and his rebellion and makes it our story.

How Lot chose a life away from what he’d been taught and how God never abandoned him but gave him one and then two and a third chance and saved him when the whole city around him was destroyed for their wickedness. (Genesis 13-18)

His words are so plain when he doesn’t preach of an easy life but that “it’s going to rain” so expect it. And when it rains God is with us.

Oscars words are directed to the men but they are reaching every heart there and mine is pierced all over again knowing the bitterness that has been in my heart. Knowing the resentments I haven’t let go and knowing how this is like Lot choosing another way rather than God’s way.

There is not enough room in our chapel to contain the men who’ve come forward to pray and night after night this happens. The aisle fills up and they are clinging to the podium and to each other and we see the very spirit of God move in to restore life to our soul for we have been revived.

Five-Minute Friday {when}

When will you be home?

When can you call?

When will you grow up?

When will the pain stop?

When will my prayers be answered?

When do we need to leave?

When do you get the test results?

When are you going to change?

When am I going to change?

And Van Morrison sings the words, “when will I ever learn to trust in God?”

The numbers on the clock seem to creep at an agonizingly slow pace when we ask, when? 

“When we’ve been there 10,000 years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we first begun.”


That’s his favorite verse of the old hymn we sing every week at the close of our community worship.

It’s a progression like those good old hymns are. Theology set to music and words we sing as a sending out of these men who have asked, “when will I stop the cycle of addiction, of abuse?”

The first line reminds us of this amazing grace that make the blind see in that metaphorical way. Make us see, Lord, make us see your love for us.

We sing on and the pause comes, the pause before the last verse when he says, This is my favorite. I want to see you there, singing into eternity, singing praise to God.

When we see God, acknowledge his presence and claim that He Is God, when we love him and accept his love for us, when can be now.

Linking up with Kate Motaung and a host of word-hungry, flash mob loving bloggers writing furiously for 5 minutes on the word Kate provides. Stop by Kate’s and join the party.

And this is love

When did ten years become a lifetime?

It feels like a lifetime ago we were in a different ministry setting. It was traditional with its scheduled youth programs and women’s ministry and bible study and people saying the right things in the right places. Mostly. It was predictable and safe.

The paradigm shift came that lifetime ago. Nearly 11 years now, our approach has changed and this new environment has enlarged our understanding of grace. And love.


Jan awards night


“We have a scripture reader today?” he said from the platform this Sunday during our time of united worship. I got Will’s eye and motioned him to go up there. His face one of shock. Clearly he thought the words he read during our class on Wednesday were only for that time and not during our main meeting. Another lost in translation moment but he took to the stage, standing behind the pulpit, eyes squinting as he looked at the monitor with today’s scripture passage.

He read with boldness and clarity. He stumbled a bit over the word unswervingly, not a word in every day conversation or one that comes easily off the tongue.

Will didn’t rush the words, just like mama tried to train me. He spoke clearly, though heavily accented.

After the last verse he said ‘Amen’, raised his hands in victory while the men applauded, loudly, and one voice called out “in your face”. An affirmation not often heard in this setting but ones that were truer than perhaps the man saying it realized.

This message from God, one of having no other gods, only Him, is definitely in your face words.

scripture reading

And this is love. This way they applaud and call out and support and show encouragement, this way they do it all the time, not mindful of the setting. This is what teaches me, how they continue to show me all the boxes I’ve allowed and thought right.

There is love in the traditional. A quieter love that feels more personal.  One that isn’t shared openly, not at this time, in this way. This is the love I’ve shown.

There is love between friends and the fierce love of a parent and the always challenging, worth-it love of marriage. But this love….this extroverted, anytime, anywhere showing of support and encouragement, yeah, this kind I’ve not seen outside of the recovery community.

It makes me think of the childlike faith Jesus talked about. Children who color outside the lines and find beauty in the colors not the lines.

An increasing number of these men are new to church. They are safe here. The are accepted and it shows when they  celebrate the simplest things, like a brother stepping up when called on. A brother standing brave when fear is shaking the paper held in his hand. When nicknames are called out on sobriety awards night. When chest bumps are given and smiles are shared.

And this is love. It is always love.

Looking both ways

There is one last celebration we’ll have with the men before the year ends. It’s one they are required to attend. It’s the one day out of the year no passes will be given. We gather them close to us, under our protective roof as if we can physically keep them from harm.

New Year’s Eve will be celebrated with music, prayer, games, food, laughter. We’ll light candles as symbols of His light in our lives.

It will be celebrated in sober fashion and this will be new for some.


We will look back at 2014 and peek at opportunities ahead.

This is a one day at a time program, a one day at a time life, so we will only look ahead at what can be when each day is lived taking the next right step knowing each day is a gift, not a guarantee.

The Salvation Army calls these New Year’s Eve meetings Watchnight. Watching one year fade into the next, mindful of the hope and promise a new year can bring.


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We had a time of sharing Sunday. A time to give thanks for the start of new traditions, new lives, new hope.

“This was my first sober Christmas in 15 years. I have love for others because God loves me.”

“From an ex-crack head to a bank account all through God leading me in recovery.”

“I’m trying to walk a new walk but I still have old ways. I had the best birthday and Christmas….I have nothing but I’m happy.”

“Addiction is the only battle we surrender to and come out winners.”

“This is the best Christmas I’ve had since I was a kid.”


Their words humble me. They fill me with gratitude for a Savior who loves us, every one of us. A Savior who never gives up on us. A Savior who restores us, redeems us.

This is a hard time. We all know that. The holidays bring challenges for many of us. Grief is mingled with joy and when the gifts and decorations are packed away, when the family heads home, we are left in the silence. Silence that can envelope us like a thick fog weighing heavy clean through to our soul. The night that is silent but not holy.

Need God

We gather these men who know how to party and try to show them a new way. The new way that is needed in our lives too. One that doesn’t lead to destruction but leads to true celebration.

Will you remember our community as you celebrate this year? Remember these men in your thoughts and prayers, asking God to still their souls when they want to run. Pray for their families that there will be peace. Pray for their desires to be fellowship with God and not self-medicating. Pray we will be equipped to face the days that come with wisdom and grace.

This is the work of God and his Holy Spirit. While we are looking both ways, God is only looking at one: at what’s ahead in Him.

His gentle spirit

All this glory…here

I knew the words they were going to read. My breath caught, wondering if it would be too much. The weight of the words penned for this first week of Advent.

Every year holds a challenge to communicate a truth we find simple: God sent His son, born of a virgin, to be Savior of mankind. When you grow up hearing the story told and retold it’s as familiar as Jingle-bells. To us.





So much is intertwined with this season and much of it centers around a place, a literal and figurative place. Where they are. Where they aren’t. I fight my own struggles with this but these men in our charge, for them it’s more than I can fully understand.

“In the middle of the mess, there is majesty”

It was a song, again, that stirred that place in me, the place that says listen closer. Listen again. I hit repeat, and again and the words sunk deeper in my heart and this is what we would share about the gift given by God. The gift of His Son.

“To the middle of our plight came the King of Kings”

Christmas decorations

Christmas is about expectations. So that was our reading this first week.

They were expecting a King not a baby.

I was expecting a mom and dad, not a father I never knew.

They were expecting a Kingdom, not a stable.

I expected a home not a jail cell.

They were expecting peace, not animal noises and itchy hay.

I expected a loving marriage, not one torn apart by addiction.

They expected majesty, not a mess.

I expected to be a better man, not a drunk.

In the middle of darkness came His majesty.

In the middle of my darkness came His grace.

Yes, my breath caught when they stood to read those words. Is it too harsh? Too real? Too true?

“While we were waiting on Your love to come along, light broke in, coming like a Son…..All this glory…Jesus, God with us. Jesus Christ has come and I’m undone.”


*Words in italics from All This Glory by David Crowder on his album Neon Steeples

Measuring Thanks

When it comes to measuring, I tend to size up the wrong things. Why measure things that wither like the wildflowers along the road? Their beauty is bold in the noonday sun but soon they are gone, their duty done.

I wanted to measure thanks. To write out that for which we are grateful on little cards tucked inside the Sunday bulletins and heap them into the offering plates. A literal thank offering. We will not measure our words, not his against mine or measure our blessings but we will stack our thanks one on top of the other, all 100 of us telling and singing and writing THANKS BE TO GOD……..

We have to make a place for this in our lives. Sometimes it happens in the spontaneous way you say “God bless you” when the person behind you sneezes but most often, most often we don’t slow down long enough to consider those things in life to spell out T H A N K Y O U. Not just thank you to the air but thank you to God. To recognize He is the giver of life and breath and sun and rain and He is the shelter for our weary souls.

Here’s a glimpse inside our gathering when spoken and written thanks were share:

“My mom use to cry tears for her son but now she cries tears of joy for me.”P.

“Some of you know I use to bail, wanting the job back, the girl back, the dog back. Now I have God back and will graduate.” T.

Thanks notes 2

“Even when God says no, I know he’s able.” A.

“The worst day in here is better than the best day out there.” D.

Thanks notes


Let’s measure our thanks. Gathering the words and stacking them into heaps so tall it will take a lifetime to read them all because a lifetime of giving thanks is the best way to measure up a life well lived in Christ.

Take 2 minutes to view some video excerpts of our Offerings of Thanks

Thanks and Giving

The wind is whipping right through the palms in front of our window. That one frond is going to drop with much more of this wind. It’s going to drop, weary from holding on, just like me some days.

It’s an odd mix of adrenaline and exhaustion. Weeks like this when we’re preparing for a special Sunday and a 9 hour road trip north to spend Thanksgiving with family coming right back into the start of Advent….yeah, weeks like this can make me think my laptop is missing when it was forgotten at home. Whew!

I thrive on these times. I’m more aware of those around me, the wonderful support staff we have and the laughs we share working together to make those in our care feel welcome, feel like they belong.




These are the loud and quiet times. Moments of loud laughter when Eve shares a story from her 6-year old or the kind of laughter we try to squelch when words are whispered to another in a meeting. Usually me doing the whispering causing the unlucky person sitting next to me to laugh a little too loud and then we all laugh.

The wind still whips and it’s blowing over those palm branches like this headache has been blowing through me the past two days. The pain tends to mimic the wind, raging one minute and a brief respite the next. Like the wind, the pain will subside. It always does. And we go on, go on to the thanks giving that we find in the sounds of not one, but a chorus of laughter.

This is a good time and bad time in our little place in the world. This old building built for the purpose of giving second and third and countless chances to men who’ve gotten off course. They come through our doors head held low, eyes and hearts empty. Some wearing shame and others hiding behind a bravado that isn’t becoming or fooling anyone.

For some, this day will be full of thanks. We’ve tried to focus on that, to look for reasons to be thankful rather than resentful. We’ve talked about Job and how in all of his suffering he never cursed God, never said “I’m through”.

We’ve talked about the Apostle Paul and his thorn in the flesh, his handicap the Message calls it. We talked about how he prayed again and again for God to take it away but God’s answer was no. And some thanked God for the label of alcoholic because that brought them to God. A grateful alcoholic who knows more of the Apostle Paul’s struggle than me.


thanks and giving

Sunday we will write our thanks on little cards and we will pile them up in the offering plates because this is the currency we offer God – hearts of gratitude because we are

Grateful alcoholics
Grateful addicts
Grateful perfectionists and workaholics.
We are grateful failures who stumble and find our way back up because grace bends down and lifts us up.

We will fill this building with the smell of turkey and dressing and pumpkin pie. We will deck the halls and decorate our doors. We will celebrate the lost who are found and we will raise our chorus of laughter to the God who gives us breath and life and mercy as we say Thank You to the Creator and Giver of new life.

Thankful from head to toe

Psalm 103-1

We don’t have the live band we did in Memphis. We don’t have any musicians during our midweek Celebrate Recovery meeting nor do we have a group of men familiar with songs more often heard in church. My experience has taught me men aren’t the ones to sing out the most save a few who are swept up in the emotions of the music.

Dorothy blesses us on Sundays volunteering to play the piano, the hymns are her comfort keys. On occasion, with plenty of notice and practice we’re blessed with two or three men putting together live praise for us to join and join they do. This is what they really like but we’re limited.

James D edit

chapel edit

Eriq singing edit

Midweek we depend on the recorded music, the video’s made for congregations like ours. They have their favorites and there’s always a slight challenge for me trying to find new while keeping the comfortable.

There are some songs that pull at me so much that I nearly force the men to mumble their way through praying they will feel what I feel. 

Alumni Sunday


I should admit here that there’s a bit of control and orchestration going on. It’s as if I’m trying to conduct God when I plan how it will go: prayer requests, song, prayer. Yes, just like that because the song is a prayer itself and will move us to know we are loved by God and we need to know that. So, ready, God? On cue, 1, 2, 3…….and it doesn’t go that way. Again. Because what I feel isn’t always felt by others. My rhythm isn’t the only one in the room. But God…..

Oh, how he loves us, oh

I sit in the back running the media, thinking I’m directing everyone including the Holy Spirit. I only hear them sing quiet because I’m behind but…

Oh, how he loves us so

I see one man nod at the words on the screen and a smile and when the music goes quiet I hear their voices singing low,

Yeah, he loves us, oh how he loves us, oh….

I am thankful for their voices, quiet and low, still and silent, trembling and strong, laughing and bold. I am thankful for the voices of men who have come through our doors unsure and sometimes scared. I am thankful for them from head to toe and I will bless the Lord because, yeah, He loves us so.

Danny {helmet boy}

He was about 12 when our lives intersected. We were the newly appointed church leaders, the new folks in his town. He was the boy always next to his mom. He was the boy who didn’t speak, only making sounds. He was the boy with roving eyes and hands moving in that jerky fashion. He was the helmet boy. Not the hard shell helmet worn in the sports world but the soft-sided kind with a strap under his chin. The kind to protect his head from potential injury from the multiple seizures he had at any given time.

His mama said something went wrong when he was born. She said she tried to sue but they returned the blame to her. This simple woman who was gentle with her boy and wanted anything else for him than to be helmet boy.

Most Sundays she sat on the back row in our cavernous chapel. She sat in the back because there was space behind the back row where Danny could get up and move around. He was no different from any 12-year old boy in church in that respect. The others had to stay seated, enduring strict looks from the adults, that “don’t even think about it” stare. But Danny would walk around, barely heard, most days.

Most days turned into a few eventful days. The day our worship table had been beautifully set for harvest with apples carved to hold candles and raffia spread around this focal point of beauty, reflecting Christ’s bounty.


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It must have been the flickering candles. Something that got Danny’s attention. That moved him from the very back of this sanctuary during prayer. During the time when heads were bowed and eyes closed but….but I opened my eyes. Maybe I felt him walk by because I didn’t hear his movements. I looked up as Henry looked down to see Danny reach out his hand with a tissue held above the candle flame. At that moment, I think Henry elevated from the platform over the altar to take hold of Danny’s hand. Firmly, but calmly. No anger. No punishment. Safety. Protect him, this boy with the helmet protecting his already damaged brain. This boy loved by his mama, loved by the church, loved by God.

There was another time that, in retrospect, is hysterical. To me. It happened at the end of service with no one seeing it but 4 of us. Me, leading the last song, smiling at the standing congregation, a bigger day than usual as we celebrated women’s ministries and had visitors with us. But I saw the commotion on the back row. I saw Danny move across the aisle and quickly snatch the woman’s wig right off her head. All the while everyone continued to sing the last song oblivious to the commotion behind them. That woman, a visitor for her first and last time, her hand moved just as fast to grab his wrist and secure her wig. Amen, let’s get out of here.

But it was this time that speaks most to God’s care for his people. To his compassion and his understanding that goes far beyond mine.

Another Sunday set aside to focus on Advent. That time of year we prepare for the coming of the Christ child. Again, we had guests and Willis was playing his guitar and singing a song I don’t remember. Every song sung in this church bounced on its brick walls absent of acoustics. But Willis knew how to accommodate and as the song slowed at the end he sang the refrain, “all the time”. From the back, as if in response, the first words I heard Danny say were a haunting chant, “all the time, all the time, all the time.”

It chills me still. That soft resonance as his words affirmed God’s love, God’s care, God’s provision and mercy and grace.


(image of church used by permission)