What’s good for you


It’s no surprise that I’m not a big show kind of person. Meetings that are overblown and overstuffed with things to make ‘us’ look good or look like we’re doing the most good and celebrating ourselves instead of our Creator.

While meetings can be overdone, I am over critical. Sitting in the crowd, trying to disappear and just get through.

We were going to a week of these big meetings. Thousands would be there from all over and I just wanted to go to England again and see it with family this time. The meetings would be an obligation.



Do you remember somewhere around Jr. High age when you didn’t want to go somewhere or be part of a school group but your parents kept pressing, assuring you it would be good for you?

Daddy always made me play in the school band. In those days I was often the only girl playing a brass instrument and I learned quickly how to ignore rude boys not use to a girl in their section. Especially a girl who wasn’t half bad.

I fussed, but turns out, it was good for me. I learned more about music, which in my opinion, is never bad. I also learned how to not let stupid remarks lower me to another’s level.

Funny thing about this big celebration in London, it was good for me too.




I forget that our coming together is more than celebrating our heritage, it is celebrating why we have this heritage.

We come together to blend our accents and languages in prayer and praise, to come away from the burdens of the everyday and soak up the affirmations that God has raised an Army of believers to serve the lost and last and least.

We come together to be reminded we are the lost, the last, the least, and God calls us through His power and Spirit to be grace and give hope.

We come to be reminded this mission is bigger than ourselves, bigger than our local units, it really is a world-wide Army for God.

We come from over 100 countries to this city where it all began. Where God called a Methodist minister to come away from the safe and practiced church and “Go for souls and go for the worst”.

He and his wife would fill their tent services and store fronts with men still stinking of alcohol, with the curious wondering what this odd lot was about.

“You’ve heard of The Salvation Army, what an odd lot of people they are.

They sing and they shout Hallelujah, as daily they march on to war.

They form in a ring on the corner, they kneel in the street e’er to pray,

While others tell out the sweet story, how happy they are night and day.”

from the song, I’m Glad I’m a Salvation Soldier

Catherine Booth said, “If we are to better the future we must disturb the present” and disturb it they did with their bands playing tunes heard in bars but the words replaced with words of salvation and God’s love.

They gathered on street corners and used military terminology and ranks to identify their ministers (officers) and members (soldiers).





150 years. 

William Booth was a visionary and if we are to be true to his vision, and God’s calling, change must come. But change doesn’t wipe out the past or our foundation.

So we celebrated our heritage and challenged ourselves to continue this war on sin. A war fought with love and mercy. Armed with truth and grace.

And it was so very good for me.

To view video clips of Boundless2015 International Congress, Boundless2015.

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.





duplicate (4295654935)

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.

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.

Advent Week 2: When Love Comes to Town

nativity when love comes to town

We talk about childbirth, the hours in labor, the pain that is soon forgotten for most. We share our stories of being 3 weeks overdue or a month early. Of how unprepared we were and the wonders an automatic baby swing can do to induce sleep.

We are filled with questions the books don’t seem to answer and can we trust the advice of an earlier generation?

What we do know, is that in the midst of sleep deprivation, smells you thought impossible from someone so little and cute, and the 5th time you’ve wiped spit up off your shirt in one day, in the midst of all this chaos and mess, love has come.

You are smitten beyond words. There aren’t enough synonyms to describe the deep feelings you have when you look at the, sleeping, face. The eyelashes that are as delicate as snowflakes. The skin softer than any silk you’ve run your hands across and those fingers….especially the crooked pinky fingers like your dad had. Those. The visible sign she’s mine. Ours. Love has come and won’t let go.



Neighbors have wrapped palm trees in lights. Inflatable Santa’s and Snowmen list in the wind. A few have nativity figures on their lawns. A display is advancing down our street. Signs of a season begging for signs of love.

It’s been a tough week in our country. Violence, protests, sadness and grief and questions of why. Love seems silent.

At times, the silence is closer. Grief and loss, unanswered questions that strike deep in our lives. Cancer, addiction, divorce, Alzheimer’s, death, financial devastation, job loss. Our hurts scream louder than love. We want a Jesus, a Savior who will save. “Save us from our hurt and pain and disappointment!”, we cry.

We want that magical love that grips our hearts like the way our baby took hold and never let go. The love that could kiss away the tears and scrapes and make it all better. That’s what we want from this babe, this Christ child on that silent and holy night.

“Jesus didn’t come to fix it all. He came to be with us in it all.”Jamie Wright

Love is here. Quiet, in hushed tones, begging our cries to soften so we can hear love’s presence. Immanuel. God with us. 


We will celebrate this with our men today. Another candle will be lit and words read. John will make his offering as he rat-a-tat-tats  on Little Drummer Boy.

This is our worship, our ushering in Love not just in the decorations but in our lives. Right into the chaos and pain we will pause to still ourselves and welcome Love, Immanuel, God with us.


When ministry isn’t inside church walls

To my friends laboring in churches that feel stagnant and wonder if they’re touching souls.

You know what the good news is? The good news is that the ministry that seems to take place the most isn’t inside the church anyway. I’m going to guess some folks don’t even know they’re ministering but God knows. That’s really what we’re about. The Salvation Army. Not Sunday morning church. That’s a club too often. But in our Adult Rehabilitation Centers and shelters and after school care and day camps and the things least likely, that’s where God’s love is being shown. I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s even shown in fall festivals put on by a bunch of alcoholics and addicts, some dressing up as women any chance they get, but doing this because they want to do it for someone else. They want to see the kids laugh and squeal and try to get all the candy they can get.

Then there are Sundays like this one where a guy who is bringing the morning message starts by giving a list of what he was doing three years ago. Of stealing from his family, having black outs and shooting up at his job. He talks about the tracks on his arm that are now tracks on his heart because he let Jesus walk there and He’s left his mark.

Terrance stands in the aisle holding suitcases with labels stuck to them that say “gossip”, “lust”, “stealing”, “laziness”, and so on. He stands there as the music begins to play and he takes his baggage to the altar and he dances to Take Me to the King because Jesus dances in his heart.

Alumni Sunday

Alumni Sunday

Alumni Sunday

Alumni Sunday

Do you need to hear more? More of how ministry really looks?

It looks like Carlos standing behind the pulpit and telling us “Good doesn’t lead to God, God leads us to good.” He talks about change and discipline determining direction and that it’s not how fast you go but how strong you grow and he’s still working on it.

Jeff always gets me. He’s the one with the almost silly smile on his face, the smile that won’t go away because he remembers living under that bridge 4 years ago. FOUR YEARS AGO! He talks about how God “attracted” him to this old building and through the counselors who don’t go to our church but believe in a mighty God, how they showed him a new way to live but not before we filled his belly and gave him clean clothes. That opened his ears to listen to this new way to live and he is grateful. First to God because he’s not under the bridge anymore but under God’s grace that covers him and gives him that smile.

And you know Eric can sing. I’ve told you about his voice but today, oh, today it was something else the way he sang those words that speak of the scary, but strong, faith. That song that surrenders all to Jesus. And John learned to play it on ukulele because they both met Phil a year ago and there was something about the meeting that God used to touch all of our hearts.

Carlos M

Carlos M

Jeff M

Jeff M

former program graduates join us for worship

former program graduates join us for worship

John T

John T

I didn’t even mention John, the one who’s deaf but read the scripture this morning with his voice and hands because God speaks to us in many ways and he speaks to me through John who never lets his deafness be an excuse for not hearing the call to a sober life.

Ministry seldom looks organized. You know, in that scheduled sort of way. Sunday is when we celebrate the ministry that has happened all week. It will happen again this week and who knows how or where God’s spirit will move and be seen. Maybe He’ll move through us (if we allow him to move in us) or maybe our part is unseen and on our knees. But it’s happening. Don’t ever forget that.

Send the Fire {Pentecost}

The answers were as I expected: “speaking in tongues”, “flopping on the floor”, “snakes”, “long hair and long dresses”. I’d asked the question, ‘what do you think of when you hear the word Pentecost?‘ Their answers didn’t surprise me. I’d expected much the same were I asking a group of regular churchgoers’ rather than men with a variety of biblical/church knowledge and experience.

No one answered the Holy Spirit.

My answers would have been similar. I went to Jr. High with a girl who had waist length hair, always wore dresses, to her knee dresses and this was 1970 when the rest of us had them a few inches shorter. She told me it was her church belief. She belonged to a Pentecostal church. That and seeing an older woman get all shaky when she went forward to pray one Sunday and my dad went up to calm her. We didn’t do that. We clapped to songs and people said ‘Amen’ right out loud and on a very rare occasion someone might say ‘hallelujah’ but we didn’t do that shaky stuff. We didn’t holler and shout or dance around. We didn’t even pray out loud all at once. We might sing rousing songs, play brass instruments and beat a bass drum. We might even stand on street corners in our less-than-subtle uniforms playing these instruments and preaching the word but, heavens, we’d prefer our Holy Ghost to come in a more contained manner.

base drum

1930's Open Air service

1930’s Open Air service

We don’t do Pentecost.

For years we didn’t observe Advent or make mention of Lent and now many of our congregations incorporate at least a mention of these in the church year. Our founder wrote a moving song about this third person in the Trinity, this spirit who I often ignore out of deference to my need to have order (reads as control). But we are a holiness church. (I’m not even good at practicing that!)

In concert with Phil Laeger

Worship at the Port-au-Prince Salvation Army church

Worship at the Port-au-Prince Salvation Army church

Alumni Sunday

We all seem wired to be drawn to styles of worship. I get that. But this Spirit that is part of God the Father and God the Son is not a style of worship. He is that very part of God himself that Jesus said he would leave with us.

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. 17 He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth.” John 14:16

In the early church, that first day of Pentecost, that was the day that this Spirit was seen and heard and caused a ruckus and maybe it’s that day that centuries later has us, at times, manufacturing these acts. Maybe we’ve forgotten this spirit is as likely to talk to us in that whisper as he is in the rushing wind. Maybe I’ve forgotten to listen for his voice, his urging.

Thou Christ of burning, cleansing flame,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
Thy blood-bought gift today we claim,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
Look down and see this waiting host,
Give us the promised Holy Ghost;
We want another Pentecost,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!

To make our weak hearts strong and brave,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
To live a dying world to save,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
Oh, see us on Thy altar lay
Our lives, our all, this very day;
To crown the off’ring now we pray,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!

– William Booth, 1894

Maybe we need a ritual or two

You forget how new our country is until you walk in another.

You forget that Christianity is a new religion and others came before it still taking root in this land called holy.

We visited many churches in Israel, walking through in a daily stream of tourist, some kneeling, many lighting candles, most of us just trying to take it all in.

These aren’t like the churches I’ve known. The brass lanterns strung throughout in no particular fashion looking more like a closeout sale of Pier I and surely those kind of thoughts are why we Americans aren’t liked so much.

Church of the Nativity Bethlehem

Church of the Nativity Bethlehem

Holy Land Tour  claims of being on the site of the birth of Christ



The stained glass, the frescos and mosaics are beautiful but I don’t get the robes and the crown and swinging another brass thing holding incense and honestly, I don’t get the rituals at all.

The candles are lovely and I saw a mom showing her young son how to put the candle in the sand, to stand it up and push it deep so it would stand. It’s one more ritual I don’t understand.



Holy Land Tour


Holy Land Tour



Holy Land Tour  claims of being on the site of the birth of Christ


boy lighting candles

For years I was uncomfortable with the thought of the mysteries of God. I was certain we were to know him and there was to be no mystery. Everything clear. Understood. But now, older and maybe wiser, or at least knowing how can I understand a God who loves me beyond reason? The mysteries of God, yes, I embrace and am thankful for that which I receive but do not understand.

I gave one of the men a small carved fish with the words Jesus on it. I pushed it in his hand, the first day he was back from a relapse. I said, “do you see what it says?” He took his glasses off of his shirt, a ragged T-shirt all he had now. I told him, “It says Jesus. Keep that in your hand. Hold on to it and when things get rough, feel that in your hand and know it says Jesus.”

Maybe we need a ritual or two. If an action, a motion, can turn my thoughts to my Savior, isn’t that good? Isn’t that what he wants? To think on him when things are good, when they are bad, when we are lost and when we know we are found?

He has this way, this God who can be found everywhere. He has this way to get my attention and turn it around on me. To take something that seems silly and empty and make me realize if the heart is right there is purpose in the action.

Old or New?

His sister calls him Boy. Still. Now in their 30’s she calls out Boy and the Boy has to have sound playing. Something, always, in the background. In the car he quickly commandeered the radio, asking, “mom, what are the good stations?” I tell him there aren’t any, I listen to my iPod. After one night in town he tells me there are good stations, just not my kind.

His words stuck as we have similar taste in music and have always found common ground there. Songs he was singing along to, band names, not familiar. I wanted to defend myself. Tell him I listen to more than old rock and start mentally compiling a list of newish bands I like. I come up with The Lone Bellow quickly and he doesn’t know them and we sit with that gap.



I watch my aunt, 81 or 82 now, and I’ve never seen her fret over age. She has always accepted who she is. Embraced the mantle of age.  That is a certain kind of grace, one I’m not wearing well.

aunt juanita

Jacob aunt Juanita

The old is new again and we’re buying pillows made of feed sacks and record players and the label vintage sells many things. Next to our iPads are stacks of records and the hand-powered chopper from the antique mall has replaced our food processor. The old looks good next to the new and their worlds seem to be merging more and more.

Last Sunday we sang old hymns. Our little threesome who have taught themselves to play guitar got a break while our volunteer pianist, herself in her 80’s, plunked out ‘To God Be the Glory‘ and ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus‘. It’s not as lively when we sing the old songs because few of these men know them. Church music of any kind is new to many of them but the old hymns, they are fading more. A friend once wrote we learn our theology from the old hymns and there is truth to that.

Most Sundays, the old and new are side by side in worship service. ‘Mighty to Save‘ next to ‘Power in the Blood’ because we honor the offering of music not paying allegiance to a style, thankful we don’t have to choose between old and new, one over the other.



birthday party weekend

birthday party weekend



I try a little too hard to cling to the youth that has faded. The external youth, when I need to be concerned with keeping the heart fresh. Embracing the truths that are eternal and ageless.

The tune of God

I come to the garden alone….”

In Memphis, the men sang this song full-out. They moved with the waltz tempo and gave heart to the lyrics. I’ve never been able to hear it since leaving that place without hearing Preston’s voice echo in my memory. His falsetto on the chorus and just his love to sing these old church songs.

Music is different here. There’s no Beale Street with musicians on every corner, decent ones too. The men in the ARC here aren’t so familiar with church songs in general and today, when we tried that old standard, “I Come to the Garden”, I shut my mouth and listened. I heard men singing, out of tempo and picking notes not part of the melody or harmony. From my seat in the back, it was a mess. I kept my mouth shut to listen more to this wreck of a congregation choir. And I smiled.

Alumni Sunday

I smiled at their attempt. At their offering, meager as it was, it was offered with heart and sincerity. No doubt it was received in heaven with love and I believe, I really believe that when our voices reach God’s ears He hears it always in perfect tune, the rhythm moving just right. He receives our offerings, the ones given in truth and willingness and sincerity, He takes them as gifts laid on an altar of service and love.

I’m no singer. Not me. The rhythm I’ll have down, every sway and hesitation I’ll feel it, know it. But the tune gets lost in my head without something to guide me. I’m the worst kind of musician who knows just enough to know good from mediocre and worse. Most of the time I sing along in worship but not this day. My silent voice allowed God’s joy to be heard in the barely mediocre singing from a group of men who may miss the notes of the songs, but know the tune of God.