What’s really new?

Was it just yesterday we celebrated new life? No, more than new life, we celebrated death defeated. We celebrated the Son of God, whose body was beaten and crucified, whose dead body was carried to a tomb but death couldn’t keep him. We celebrated that: a resurrection!

taken by Tampa

Yesterday we gathered in our churches or outside services to celebrate this long-held belief that Jesus is the Son of God and that, yes, He Lives Today. As the old hymn says, “He lives within my heart”.

And today? Today we carry on. With our jobs, our classes, our routine. I’m asking myself, what’s really new? How does this belief in a man who defies death, who came to turn the worlds ways upside down, how does that change me? What was dead in me that is now alive in Him?

Easter service

Easter service

I looked across the group gathered outside in a park across the street from our A. R. C. Our group of men had joined together with members from the church down the street to celebrate Easter. I don’t know the stories from the church folks but I know for our men, they came looking for new life. They came to our doors needing to find a new way to live, to love, to hope. They came from the throes of addiction but aren’t we all in need of new ways to live, love and hope? We celebrate this new life Jesus gives but is that all we do? Celebrate it with Easter lilies and going to church? I’m preaching to myself, always to myself.

There is more to do than celebrate an empty cross. There are people to love and smiles to share and orphans and widows and giving that cup of cold water and caring for the lost and the smelly and the ones we don’t like. There is work to do if we are to defeat the chains of death. There is a new way to live. The way Jesus showed us. This is how we celebrate and this is how we live.

But I will call on God

She didn’t say the words to me. The words that made his heart pound wildly in his chest. The words that sucked his very breath right out and silenced his words, his balance gone. And he sat there thinking, wondering if they even read the same bible. This woman who stood before the congregation many Sundays, smiling sweet and saying kind words of welcome and repeating words from this book that he now thinks she reads in a different language, not his, not the language of love, of grace.

Listen to my prayer, O God.
Do not ignore my cry for help! My heart pounds in my chest.
The terror of death assaults me.
5 Fear and trembling overwhelm me,
and I can’t stop shaking.
6 Oh, that I had wings like a dove;
then I would fly away and rest!
7 I would fly far away
to the quiet of the wilderness. Interlude
8 How quickly I would escape—
far from this wild storm of hatred. (Psalm 55)



warehouse chapel



The words were shot like those bullets they say tear the flesh and go clean through. Words can do that. My words can do that. I wondered if I’d been there would my words have fired back?

It is not an enemy who taunts me—
I could bear that.
It is not my foes who so arrogantly insult me—
I could have hidden from them.
13 Instead, it is you—my equal,

Maybe saddest is she doesn’t know the pain she caused. Ignorance is like that. She told him she didn’t want his fellow addicts and alcoholics involved in her church that has become his church. She didn’t want their bad influence around the children. There were other things said, things worse that I will not give to print. And there he sat, taking each shot a direct hit to his heart. The heart that just pounded louder.

I listen to him and become incensed, incredulous this would or could happen. Today. From our own family, God’s family, we are his, right? All of us created by God. Not all follow Him but that’s the point, right?

ARC men




In concert with Phil Laeger

He and I talk about Jesus and the people he chose to be with, to go into their house for dinner. The questionable and unclean. That Man of Peace inciting the religious leaders of His day but we are not trying to incite so we shake our heads in sadness.

I think that could have been me at one time. Eyes quickly darting away from those men. I didn’t know I could love them but I’ve always known I should.

But I will call on God,
    and the Lord will rescue me.
17 Morning, noon, and night
    I cry out in my distress,
    and the Lord hears my voice.
18 He ransoms me and keeps me safe
    from the battle waged against me,
    though many still oppose me.
19 God, who has ruled forever,
    will hear me and humble them. Interlude
For my enemies refuse to change their ways;
    they do not fear God.

20 As for my companion, he betrayed his friends;
    he broke his promises.
21 His words are as smooth as butter,
    but in his heart is war.
His words are as soothing as lotion,
    but underneath are daggers!

22 Give your burdens to the Lord,
    and he will take care of you.
    He will not permit the godly to slip and fall. (Psalm 55 NLT)

Happy Thanksgiving

When we have filled ourselves with football and food, family and friends, when the last dish is washed and put away and the fridge is filled with leftovers, when all is quiet again, can we find room for one more prayer of thanks? For the crazy family and the ones who couldn’t be with us and the way it just didn’t turn out as we had planned and empty house that come too quickly. Thanks for the empty chairs around the table of loved ones feasting eternal thanks today and they legacy they’ve left us to carry. Thanks for the season of anticipation and wanting and praying what we want most will be the Christ child.

Give thanks friends. Thanks not because of how we feel and what we have but because of who God is and He is Good.



God of all or not at all

It can get so routine. Life. To the office, meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays, allergy shots on Thursday mornings, grocery shopping Thursday evening or Friday morning, breakfast at Panera Bread Saturday and church Sunday where someone will read scripture, pray, most of us will join singing in the songs, some will not. A message will be shared, another song, another prayer and we leave. Routine.

It is too easy for me to fall into this malaise expecting someone or something, other than me, to wake me up. To stir the emotions often associated with the new, the fresh, the exciting. It’s as if I’m entitled to that and only need to wait for others to do that for me.

I lay in bed, awake too early for a weekend but my mind was stirring, thinking about Sunday’s program and what had been planned. This wasn’t routine. We planned a celebration of sorts and invited the Alumni, those who’ve completed our six-month recovery program and are living that good life of freedom. I was going over what I’d planned when I realized they were just that: my plans.

When did it become mine? The service that, yes, is my responsibility to plan, but when did it stop being offered to Him? To the One we pray will speak through our feeble attempts, will use the old hymns few know to hit a chord inside our hearts.

Alumni group

Alumni group


On this day, as so often is the case, God works in spite of me. He is bigger than my plans and I will always be grateful for that.

We filled our chapel, had to bring in extra chairs, and more than 20 men stood in front to encourage others in their journey of recovery. Two of the men shared some of their story and I’m sure next time we just need to let Carlos preach because that’s what his words do. He has a smile that shows his gratitude and he tells us “God is the God of all or not at all”.

Alumni Sunday


Alumni Sunday

It is God who is praised and his spirit filling us as we sing:

Bless the Lord, O my soul
O my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
O my soul
I worship Your holy name

Truth is expressed with urgency in this song:

And if Our God is for us, then who could ever stop us
And if our God is with us, then what can stand against?

We are thankful people. We are blessed and we are a mess and we are loved with an everlasting love by a faithful God.

Yes, God is in charge of this gathering. It may have been my thoughts about the songs to include and where to insert the scripture but it is God’s spirit, living, breathing, in us, all of us, that brings these times to life.


Practicing gratitude

image from Pinterest

image from Pinterest

Please and thank you come as easily smiling for me. They were taught and modeled in front of me and no one ever gets mad at you for saying thank you.

“It seems that gratitude without practice may be a little like faith without works—it’s not alive.” The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown

She says practice. Gratitude is not an attitude but a practice. And I need practice.

home decor

I closed myself up yesterday, pulling the gray from outside around me like a scratchy blanket. My heart dipping in sorrow thinking about mama’s advancing dementia, thinking about my loss, my sisters burden. There wasn’t much thanks being said, no gratitude practiced. I allowed it.

I flipped through family pictures of last year’s Thanksgiving. Smiling at our granddaughters laughter as a puppy licked her right in the mouth but again, sorrow pricked seeing my mother-in-law who will be absent our table this year. She’s gone to a grander celebration and left us to miss her.

The men are offering their thanks on our bulletin board.

The men are offering their thanks on our bulletin board.



I plan Sunday chapel service. I always do whether we’re here or out-of-town. It’s a control thing. Last week when my heart was singing a happier song I planned our time spent in community worship to focus on giving thanks. Our songs would be praises, we would give prayers and speak words of praise and thanks and gratefulness. And we did. They did. And five days ago God knew I needed this more than anyone in that chapel.

When they were invited to give their prayers of thanks their voices were eager to share. I strained to hear them, speaking at that quieter prayer voice I guess, and I missed to many. We sang and they were invited to share their thanks. Again, eager but I could hear them as they stood and I smiled and fought back tears because they were my sermon of love.

This tall one stood, giving thanks, still surprised he is accepted and loved. And the one they call Papa Bear, he stood and said he came for hope but got so much more. Another and another and they kept standing thanking God for “one more minute”, for life, for another chance. They practiced gratitude and it made their faith alive.

Please and thank you are nice but not enough. Not enough to produce gratitude. That takes practice.


Our Communion

It was while we were singing How Great Is Our God. It was hearing the men’s voices and looking at the two men playing guitar and it was then that God, again, impressed his greatness on my heart. He does that, God filling my heart with a joy that shows in tears forming in my eyes.



warehouse chapel







I was thinking about the different ways people worship and the elements that are in some denominations but absent in ours. We don’t share communion or baptize or speak in tongues. We don’t sprinkle or dunk or share grape juice or pray aloud all at once. We’re a quiet bunch in that way.

We clap our hands on songs and when there’s a technical glitch we say it’s a “hallelujah breakdown” and keep going.

We say ‘Amen’ out loud when we agree but these men sitting with us in chapel on Sundays don’t know this. They are required to attend this weekly service, required to wear a tie and listen to words that are new to many. They are Episcopal, Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, Jewish, Mormon, Agnostic, Muslim and the youngest ones don’t know what any of those labels mean. And I think this is the best community to find the greatness of God.

Our communion comes not with a cup of juice and wafer but around the table with coffee and donuts after service or in the dining room when we all gather for a monthly celebration.

Our baptism comes with an awakening to God’s spirit moving in one who cares not about a denomination label but wants to become a Man of God.

We speak in tongues when our language is changed from words that damn to words that praise a Savior.

We are being renewed by the transforming of our minds and hearts and being fashioned as believers wanting more of Him. More of this God who is greater than traditions and whose call is to love Him and love others. Their handshake, their voices raised in song, a communion of souls speaking in a new tongue words of praise.



I am a Jesus feminist because……….

In my ‘almost teenager’ years the 60’s were raging with flag burning and bra burning. Women demanding rights and the word feminist was a word, just the like the women it represented, to reckon with. And all of these things were barely a blip in our family. Nothing to talk about here. Not in a family where women always and a voice and a voice heard.

The word feminist rubbed me wrong from the beginning as it came off in an abrasive way to me and while I’ve never thought myself the girly-girl, I wasn’t drawn to their fight.

My mother as a Salvation Army officer, ordained by God.

My mother as a Salvation Army officer, called and ordained byGod.

my grandmother (left) as a lay member of the Salvation Army

my grandmother (left) as a lay member of the Salvation Army

My mother-in-law, Salvation Army officer, ordained and called by God

My mother-in-law, Salvation Army officer, ordained and called by God

Many ordained ministers in this family photo including my aunt, sister-in-law and me.

Many ordained ministers in this family photo including my aunt, sister-in-law and me.


I’m not sure how I found Sarah Bessey. Probably in that jumpy, skippy way we find blogs but when I read her words I knew I would be back. And I have been. Somedays I linger over her words, writing snippets down in my journal or tweeting a phrase and there are few times  I skim through more quickly.

Then there was the time she was asking questions of her readers and I answered and she answered back. I stared at the email, really surprised, that this WRITER with FOLLOWERS was answering me herself. And then I remembered it was Sarah and she’s just a mom like me, only younger. A lot. Like I could be HER mom! {sigh}

Sarah was finding her way as a woman in the body of Christ and she was looking for other voices. Others who’ve been in different stops on this road and I knew I would share. Share about my un-feminist feminist tradition and the freedom I claim as a woman in this great body of Christ.

And that’s what this feminist Jesus is about – all of us, together, serving, loving, preaching, teaching, because Jesus calls all of us. I am a Jesus feminist because he calls my name too.


SA pins

The red epaulets represent ordained minister

The red epaulets represent ordained minister

The Salvation Army has given women a tradition of serving God with equal platform as the men. Always, they have ordained women and always we have not only preached the word of God but we have been leaders of others in this organization. There has never been a question of a ‘woman’s place’ in the kingdom of God as the Word doesn’t say gifts are gender specific. The sacred text doesn’t say to men he gave the gift of teaching and to women he gave the gift of hospitality. It simply says to some he gave ….. and I am the some. You are the some. We are all part of that group of believers to whom He gives his gifts and He gives them graciously and liberally.

I am a Jesus feminist because He calls my name, Debby, too.


This is part of a synchroblog link up with Sarah Bessey’s blog. To see other posts click here.

Nine years {and counting}

It has been nine years since we began in this ministry of recovery. Nine years since my office was inside a building that housed men whose lives had become so unmanageable that living at The Salvation Army was their best option.

We were transferred from our more traditional roles of pastors/directors of a local congregation to this. Uprooted from our Florida where our roots had grown deep to a new state and new ministry. I was stunned and lost. But God knew, as he always does, and he led me one day at a time.

I’m not longer surprised to hear a man thank God for being 6 feet above instead of 6 feet under. It’s not unusual when one says he was “tore up from the floor up”. It is almost daily we hear someone thank God for his very breath and hearing those words never get old.

Awards night  sobriety awards




Mike O and me

They have changed my life and, I pray, will continue to change me because they have this depth of understanding grace that I want. They know mercy and they know surrender.

Henry is away and I had to stand in his place Sunday morning and it is not a comfortable place for me. Let me stand on the floor, let me move about casually but, please, I’d rather not stand behind that podium that seems to mark a sacred place. It is not my space so I gave it to God.

We are focusing on gratitude and I’d invited the men to share and frame their words around thanks. The first one stood and it wasn’t thanks he gave, at first, but he bared his soul and I don’t know how they do that. He talked about how badly he wanted a drink and how he was standing at the bus stop looking across the street at the convenience store and you know his mouth was watering with the thought. But he didn’t. He saw another guy and he stopped. But he was hurting when he stood in that chapel and everyone was quiet as he stood and laid bare his need and my face smiled as my heart bowed thanking God for his care. For this strength I don’t understand but I don’t have to, to praise God for his miracles.

Others stood and gave thanks for being here, in this place so many think of as a homeless shelter but is so much more. Still another stood, I saw his chin make the slightest quiver and the faintest of crack to his voice before he caught it. He’d felt defeated this week not getting the job, rejected by his daughter and former boss. Three strikes and he felt out but God. But God was called on and God answered and we all praised Him and gave thanks for this life.

This is thanksgiving. When it’s life or death and life is the choice made. This is praise. This is grace.



Counting together {week 2}

I’ve fallen behind. Again. I have credible excuses this time. A week that was not our own but why, why in this time of loss and disruption and emotions did I not count the gifts even more? I’ve been counting daily with my Facebook friends (you can join me there) but when our attentions turned toward family and my mother-in-law’s promotion to glory (isn’t that the best expression to describe death?) it got away from me. I should have pulled more to it, to thanking God. We did. We thanked God for her life and her legacy and we thanked as others joined in so that will have to be my unscripted thanks for the days I fell behind the list I’ve been following. Why don’t we catch up, shall we?


Rather than the three a day let’s focus on one for each day since we’re catching up. At least, I’m catching up. If you want a printable October Counting 1000 Gifts calendar click here for Ann Voskamp’s blog.

It’s easy to recall a gift prayed for and we prayed for safe travel for all the people traveling to the memorial service and graveside. It was a long trek for us and some of the family and friends. All were safe and we thank God for his mercy. And it’s not so hard to recall a gift praised for as so many praises were offered for life of our dear mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and friend. If you’d known her you would know it was all true and she had a such an impact on others and all praise is to God because she praised him first.

Day 10 says 3 hard eucharisteo, or to give thanks. Now I must think and probably confess because who wants to give thanks for the hard things? Who wants to admit that I’d rather not be thankful for some of those things at all and it is begrudgingly I would say thanks?  How can I give thanks for a mother who no longer knows me and for the distance we live from each other? How do I count it a gift she has dementia and even a flight there is 6 hours without layovers?

And gifts of change? You want me to thank you for change, Lord? Change not initiated by me?



This phrase is repeated throughout the Psalms:

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.

No exceptions given. No caveats that say “give thanks to the Lord, except when things aren’t going your way.

The woman we said our earthly farewell to lived this in front of us. Through her trials, and there were many, she thanked God. She praised God, for He is Good and His love endures forever.

Thank you, God, for providing our mother with care from skilled and caring people. Thank you for how this awful disease has brought my sister and I closer.

Thank you for the changes in our adult children. It is hard to see things that feel like they are pulling away but thank you for their desire to follow you.

And for the smallest gift of drier air, the South Florida version of fall. It is a small thing for some but I thank you.

Share with me your thanks of this week or this day?


5-Minute Friday: ordinary

OK, are you ready? Please give us your best five minutes on the word:::



– See more at: http://lisajobaker.com/#sthash.y6Ru5nbl.dpuf

Some days, all I want is ordinary. An ordinary life with an ordinary church and ordinary dress and ordinary words. The kind of life I imagine is easier and requires less explanation. A life where we only move when we decide and, as I think about it, seems to become more about us than anything else. Isn’t that ordinary? Typical? The American way?

Life hasn’t been ordinary for me. From the first time I told my school friends my church was the Salvation Army and they asked if I went to church in a thrift store and did I get my clothes there too? When moving again because my parents were pastors in that extra-ordinary church, the school secretary told my mother (as she was enrolling me) that NO, it was NOT a church and my mother had to assure her it WAS, no that didn’t seem ordinary. Forget explaining my mother was an ordained minister!

SA captain


In concert with Phil LaegerSA pins

I liked my church. I just wanted it to be like the others. I wanted ordinary. I didn’t want to be seen in the uniforms we wore on Sundays or the military titles and terms we use. Please, God, just let us be a church!

Ordinary doesn’t seem to follow me. These last few weeks have been anything but with too much travel and representing our rehabilitation program to those “ordinary” church leaders and saying our earthly farewell to the most EXTRA-ordinary woman in our lives. My body knows it, feels it as I struggle to sleep past 4AM and spend days on the road.

Today I’m pretending ordinary. I’m going to the dentist, grocery shopping and doing laundry. The uniform will hang in the closet until Sunday and the ordinary will be my respite, my refuge today. Just the external ordinary. Internally, my heart burns with this calling from God to the extra ordinary life we live. I still wrestle with God about it, too often. He calls us to his extra-ordinary where we show His grace and mercy and we tell of His love. He is anything but ordinary and I hope never to forget that.

Liking up with Lisa-Jo Baker for FMF. Click here for directions to join.