Tell Me a Love Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a lot to believe for all of us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is my love story.

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

The Mist


I don’t know what early mornings look like the other 11 months of the year in this part of North Carolina but many mornings in August the mist hangs low, almost touching the surface of the lake. There is a stillness even as the geese glide across the glassy water.

Any time of day is quieter here by this lake surrounded by the Smokey Mountains. It’s offering a peace your body forgets it needs until the stillness finds you.
Life is going on as usual. Bills will come in, issues will have to be dealt with at home, laundry needs to be done and meals prepared. But none of it seems burdensome cloaked in the mist and sound of nature.
We hear the crunch of gravel as cars rumble past our house just off the lake. They are few and slow. Bird song and voices carry from across the way penetrating the stillness.
Being surrounded by layer upon layer of nature helps me realize why people forsake the tidy neighborhoods of cookie cutter homes in cities and suburbs.
Five houses on the left daisies reach across the asphalt of the one way road giving access to our side of the oval shaped “neighborhood”. The red clapboard house next door has window boxes of flowers and some days we catch sight of a rabbit foraging on the ground between our houses.
Swans swim at one end of the lake while geese waddle at the other with random paddleboats and kayaks in between. It’s a 3 mile walk around this lake that’s lined with a multicolored rose garden. There’s no place you can go in this small town without a burst of color. It is the only sound that complements this quiet.
We share this space with family. The quiet will be short lived. Soon voices will be making decisions and dissections. We’ll decide which pies to order for our midweek gathering as we dissect the message at the morning’s meeting – part of our work that brings us here.
There are responsibilities that have traveled with us. We haven’t left all of life’s noise behind. The difference is the easy temperatures that invite us to sit on the porch and listen more closely to the call of the birds. We hear a distant saw and the buzz of crickets or cicadas. (This city girl doesn’t know the difference.) Being in these surroundings provide a layer of resistance to the demands that make me wonder can I do this at home?
Why does it seem easier to allow frustration to rule at home? We can’t change our physical surroundings. August in South Florida is stifling with humidity that makes porches empty. Our night skies are polluted with artificial light from below making the stars above invisible. There is a constant rumble of sound: a grinding truck, roaring motorcycle, bass beat throbbing from a car or neighbor’s radio playing across the backyard of our zero lot line homes. The noise in our heads is the hardest to quiet. I want to think if only. If only we lived here. If only this was our setting. If only this quiet, this mist that shrouds reality could follow me home.
The mist finally parts and we see clearly the houses on the other side of the lake.
When you can’t change things you accept what is. Acceptance and I aren’t on good terms. I fight it like a toddler fighting a nap. When faced with denial or acceptance I like to think I choose acceptance. All be it begrudgingly. Reality stares me down and wins.
Acceptance says be thankful for the time away and enjoy the change of scenery. It reminds us to have gratitude for little things: air conditioning at home, and, big things: meaningful work to do. Acceptance acknowledges God is in the mist just as he is in the cloudless blue skies; in the mountains and the oceans.
Acceptance is a soul-saving surrender to a loving God.

His story called Grace

She was laid up sick for days a few months ago. She hadn’t been that sick since her heart surgery a few years back. That was rough, she said. But she was thankful for her sweet husband who took care of her. Not like her first husband. That was a mistake, she said. “I went from the frying pan right into the fire on that one, trying to get away from my mama. But I have me the best husband. He can’t work, disabled. So he takes care of the house, does the cooking and takes care of me and I work.”

Her name tag says Mary. I stepped in her line because she seems to like her job and moves along at a decent pace. Mary, who is well into her retirement years showing up with her face and hair made up for her business attire, her red shirt and khaki pants. She slipped the last of my groceries in the bags and I took home food and Mary’s story.

lighthouse top framedI have a beacon. That’s what Henry tells me. A beacon that flashes calling out to random strangers “talk to me”. Often times it’s my fault. I smile and apparently that’s an invitation for people to stop in the middle of an aisle and tell me they get wrong numbers on their cell phone all the time because some company must have had that number before. I looked around to see who this woman was talking to only to find no one but me.

mom with boy in ocean

toddler beach boy

toddler wading

The young mom carried her toddler son and put their towels down on the sand near us. She slipped his water wings on and introduced him to the ocean. Kids always capture my attention and he was so fun to watch. They came back to their towels where she tried to get him to sit next to her but he was having none of it. He found a plastic lid that became his scoop for the sand which he poured on to his legs and on to the towel. We laughed a little too loud and she looked our way with a smile as he did it again. We carried on back and forth while her little one chattered away unclear words bringing smiles all around.

For that moment, our stories intersected. Just like they do with the men in our Center. Our stories crossing and merging until we realize we’re part of a bigger story and it’s God’s story. A story about people. Messed up, empty, disobedient, unfaithful, lost and weary. He invites us to his story called Grace.

Mary name tag

It’s my regular Target and maybe Mary will share more of her story with me one day. I just have to get in her line.

When one thing leads to another

I read the words in a blog on A Deeper Story. An achingly, beautiful post written by a man crying out to God in anger and confusion and pain. I typed the words into Google and began looking at my choices and landed on one that took me on another course. I can’t decide if Google is a blessing or curse or cause of ADD but I seldom remember where I started when I finally land on a site that, at times, changes my initial course.

sunset logo


FL sky logo

evening sky logo

dusk colors logo

“tohu va-vohu” – the formless, dark, uncontrollable, deep. That’s how Nate Pyle used it in his post as he referenced the creation story in Genesis 1. That seems to be where those Hebrew words are found.

All of this lead me to chaos. The chaos that was without form. The chaos that God hovered over. The chaos that God made into form. The chaos the He mastered. The chaos that was me.

I still don’t know how these words are pronounced. But I love the reminder that whatever chaos may be swirling around us, whatever chaos I feel I’m in or have become, God’s grace can make into form and beauty, order and purpose.

The Waiting Game

Sometimes I watch the clock. The tick-tocking of it can move slow when you’re waiting in a doctor’s office or for test results or a phone call. Time moves at the same rate but it can feel plodding or speeding fast depending on what’s at the other end of waiting.

Today, we are waiting for the phone not to ring. Guaranteed if I hear my husbands cell phone ring this morning my breath will catch just a bit until I know who’s on the other end of the call. This is the day that Salvation Army Officers in this part of the country will receive a phone call if they’re being transferred. If we’re not moving, no phone call. Hundreds of us are waiting. Around every time this year, we play this waiting game.

We have dear friends who are caught in a much different waiting. Waiting and watching for signs as their 47-year-old daughter battles cancer with which she was only diagnosed two months ago. This is the worst kind of waiting, the one with an outcome unknown.

Then there are the families of the men in our program who are waiting. Waiting for their sons to clean up, for their husbands to come home sober, waiting for some good to come in life. They are well-practiced at this waiting. Waiting to see if their teenage son will outgrow the experimentation and then waiting for him to stop lying and stop stealing and waiting for him to get better friends and the waiting gets longer each time.



We wait on answers to our prayers wondering if the waiting itself is an answer and wanting to do anything other than wait.

Christians throughout the world have been waiting for Christ’s return for two thousand years. He continues to prove his time isn’t our time and so we wait. Again.


Maybe it was during this waiting that I’m not good at, the waiting that makes me want to give God a hand and push him over so I can get things done and end this waiting, maybe it was during one of these bouts that I thought about his waiting. His waiting on me. On me to sit still, to let go, to listen, to love, to give, to forgive, to trust, to live today everyday. He’s waiting and He never tires.

I have heard his voice, read his words, lived his call but still I hesitate to give all, to give in, to Him. There is a piece, a tiny one I think, but that bit that makes him wait. And like the good Father he is, he not only waits, but he waits patiently. On me. On all of us. This is grace. Grace that says, “I love you no matter how long it takes for you to know that I. love. you.”

The Lord is not slow in doing what he promised—the way some people understand slowness. But God is being patient with you. He does not want anyone to be lost, but he wants all people to change their hearts and lives. 2 Peter 3:9 NCV

An old-fashioned invitation

We’re sort of old-fashioned that way. The way we close our Sunday worship time with an invitation to pray. Not the sit-in-your-seat-heads-bowed-eyes-closed kind of prayer. Well, that, yes, but also the kind of prayer that brings some people to the front of the chapel to kneel before God and their peers. That kind of old-fashioned invitation that isn’t always common these days. It’s not easy to make that walk. The one that has you making your way across the legs of the others on your row to walk down the aisle and lower your body in that position of humility that is nothing but strong.



praying 6663


We came up this way, my husband and I. I remember daddy leading that final song on Sunday morning, so often it was ‘Just As I Am’ or “Have Thine Own Way”. The annual youth weekends with several hundred teenagers always had that Sunday morning altar call. We knew it was going to last for-ever and tried to volunteer someone to go forward to get this thing started because no one was leaving this room until someone went to that altar!

It was the same way at summer camp and Men’s camp and Women’s weekend: come, come forward and pray. 

In the traditional church setting weeks could go by with no one coming forward or the one little old person who knelt every week. But it’s different in this community of men fighting addictions of all kind. There is no hesitation when the word is given to come forward and pray for others, for yourself, bring your troubles and joys to God, here. At this mercy-seat.




And they do. One after the other. I figure some are doing it thinking it might score some kind of points with “the Major”. It’s more show than heart but that’s not my concern. God will sort that out.

It was one of those weeks and Michael said it after the service when he turned to me and said, “There was power in here today”. Yes, there was. I felt it when the one I didn’t know stood to give testimony of God using another man to keep him from temptation. I felt the power in his weak voice as he struggled to tell of his fight for sobriety and I felt the power when so many men came forward to pray there was no room at the altar but they came anyway. That one came, on the platform to kneel, off to the side where a rail was covering some instruments. Another came with no place left to lean, and simply knelt in the middle of the floor. That position that could look weak to some, the body lowered to the floor, screams strength to me. God’s strength enabling them to bow without shame, and call on God.

Our prayers are heard from any position. Eyes open or closed. Head bowed or raised. Standing or sitting. Whispered or yelled or sung or silent. I’ve heard a man who would get overcome with laughter at times during prayer and John, John signs his spoken prayers.

Yes, there’s power when there’s prayer. All the time. All the time.

“But wait! There’s more!”

Times like this my heart is so big and full with gratitude and joy and my face is beaming brighter than the Florida sun. It’s just been one of those evenings. The kind that can’t be scripted but should always be cherished and it is and I believe there will be more of these days. I believe it because I believe in a God who is changing lives every day.

The monthly awards are always a special time. You can gauge the attitude of the house at these meetings, the way the men cheer each other and the nicknames you discover. Tonight may be a little more dear as our speaker has been solid since the day he walked in over 3 years ago. I wasn’t sure about him at first. He has those droopy eyes like stoners have and I didn’t think he was serious. I questioned the house manager who assured me he was a great guy and yes, yes, he is. When Eric first came through our doors he looked my husband straight in the eyes with his droopy ones and said, “I’m here for the long haul” and three years later Eric is a valued employee.


handing out birthday bags at our monthly awards

handing out birthday bags at our monthly awards

April awards

April awards

Eric has long moved out but comes to work in the warehouse everyday, working with the newest men, the men who aren’t sure why they’re with us or if they’re going to stay. The men still weak from their crack or heroin diet, the ones whose hands aren’t steady because they haven’t had a drink to steady them. Eric and Jeff (another exemplary employee with 12 years sobriety) work with these men and show these men what integrity and character is.

So he stood behind the microphone with his strong voice and focused eyes staring into our hearts and telling how his worst day ended in a prayer. A prayer in a crack house telling God, ‘if this is all there is for me take my life now’. So God did. He took that life, the old life that wanted crack and pills and shots and whatever he could get, God took that life and gave Eric a new one. Somehow, Eric got to our doors and when he walked through, he said he decided to abuse everything the program had to offer him the way he abused the drugs. So he used the counseling and 12 steps and used the Bible and prayer and he used it all. And God kept giving him more.

Yes, it was a day that was ending like that. A celebration that continues every day Eric lives to tell it. And like the crazy loud man on the commercial says, “But wait, there’s more”

We come home to see our daughter and granddaughter on FaceTime and when I sing out to the 6-year-old, “Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens” she beams big and sings back “bright copper kettles with warm woolen mittens”. She has just watched both old and new versions of The Sound of Music and has ranked, in order, her favorite songs and our music worlds can join together and it is joyous.

family christmas  family christmas

And once again, I hear the voice, “But wait!, there’s more!”

The message tone sounds on Facebook and I check it to read a note from Nick, celebrating 3 years the end of May. Nick who called me every Sunday night for a year after his grandma passed because he used to call her. Nick, who came through our program twice and relapsed but got up again and again and is finding the blessings of sobriety too. He was writing to tell us about a possible new job, an advancement and to say he misses us and will visit soon. Again, my heart swells up and my face beams a smile in an empty room.

In three hours time all of this. Blessing after blessing and God’s extravagance is poured out on me, an undeserving child who is prone to whining and sarcasm. But God says, ‘Wait, there’s more!’ There’s always more because this is how God loves his people.


Such Extravagance

Church. The building, not the people. Church in a rented space in a strip mall; in a very old two-story house with peeling linoleum floors and creaking stairs. Once our church had been a funeral home, a place to remember the dead and now, it was a place to raise the dead in spirit.


Holy Land Tour  Greek Orthodox church


Holy Land Tour



Our church buildings have seldom looked like a church. No steeples or tall spires. Some had folding chairs rather than pews. The look almost always, sparse. Modest. A pulpit, a table called the “holiness” table and always, always, always, the mercy-seat. The altar. The place to humble yourself before God in prayer.

We were walking through the Vatican in Rome several years ago. Our tour group moving too fast for me to take in all the beauty. The ornate detailing and art wasn’t just in the Vatican but, it seemed, in every cathedral in Rome. Gold, marble floors and marble sculptures and stained glass that streamed light in a way it seemed heaven was shining  right down. It was a lot. Too much, I thought. I would have sided with Judas when he chastised Mary for using expensive perfume to pour on the feet of Jesus. Such extravagance, wasted, when it could have been used to feed the poor.

Holy Land Tour

Henry's iPhone pics

Israel tour


Last month we were in Israel and again, the churches were magnificent. The chandeliers dripped from the ceilings in the Greek Orthodox churches as gold painted frames hung heavy with paintings centuries old. I’ve been in museums with less. This wasn’t modern culture but the ancient traditions carried on. In days long ago when people lived spartan lives this was their church. I didn’t get it. It seemed to gloat in the face of their lack.

This was their museum, she said. Their education. This was their solace, their sanctuary from the day-to-day. Our tour guide was smart, this one. As she instructed us in the less obvious.


DSC_0077 (1)

Holy Land Tour

We had seen the dryness of the surrounding desert. We had glimpsed the nomadic life of the Bedouins and remember at one time, in that time, there was little beauty and much toil. I could see the dirt floors and imagine the smells of sweat that couldn’t be washed off with a daily shower. How the dust must harden like a scab and the escape the beauty of this house of God would offer. To know this beauty was lavished on you by a loving God. Yes, that is comfort from a hard life. That is worship.

I was critical of beauty being displayed in church. I was ignorant of the importance of that beauty. Of what it communicates about God, about his loving nature, his pleasure and joy to share such artistry. I failed to get how His story is told in the stained glass images. The Gospel message in pictures because few could read the words from the text.

Times are different. We are different. Not better, not worse, just different. The stories of our faith are told through multi-media. Projected on a screen, played from the stage by the worship band. Coming together still provides the solace from the week. Not the dusty grime of old but a calm for the harried pace of working parents just trying to get from Sunday to Sunday where they can exhale for a couple of hours.

The beauty once found in the buildings must now be carried in us. His beauty, in us. His radiance in kindness shown. His colors shown in our laughter and tears. We use to sing this old chorus that tells the true story:

“Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me

All His wonderful passion and purity

Oh, Thou Spirit divine, all my nature refine

Till the beauty of Jesus be seen in me”

When the Woman in the Mirror Isn’t You

mirror image

mirror image

It was the thing I dreaded most the years we spent in our traditional church pastorate: women’s ministry. By gender, I was the default leader of all such ministries under the heading of “women”. Ugh!

I also headed up the youth programs and planned Sunday services and special events. I worked with volunteers and got dirty in a warehouse screening gifts for kids at Christmas. There were plenty of things I was more drawn to to keep me busy.



Give me a weekend trip with a van load of middle school kids any day but please, not another trip to the Strawberry Festival or local buffet with a group of women! I didn’t have one more service idea in my head. How many tray favors can you make for a nursing home? I don’t even think they use them. They’re just nice and accept our pitiful need to do something, anything.

But here I sat, in the midst of 30 or so women who were 30 or so years older than me, around tables in the back of our chapel. Most of these women had other churches and that was okay with me. They came together to get out and be with other women. The very thing I didn’t understand. I wasn’t too good at the “just being”.

I did my thing. I smiled. I learned their names and laughed when they laughed. I patted shoulders and hugged the huggers. I even drove the van to the Strawberry Festival on a very cold Central Florida morning. (Okay, maybe I made our youth director drive so I’d have someone to hang with.) But I never felt like I fit.

Agnes sat me down one day. Actually, she was already sitting down but she wanted to tell me something important and I needed to sit to listen to her. So I did. She told me her husband had been a pastor and she didn’t fit the role of their churches previous pastor wives. She didn’t play piano. She didn’t teach Sunday School class and she had to tell them she couldn’t, wouldn’t be like those before her. She looked at me and said, you have to be you.

I nearly cried. This woman from a different generation, different church, different customs and expectations knew what it was like when the woman in the mirror wasn’t you. She understood her abilities and she understood mine. She saw my awkwardness like the clawing at a sweater that just doesn’t fit right. You tug and pull and shift it this way or that but it’s never right because it doesn’t fit.

Because of our church structure and requirements I couldn’t relinquish this role. The women in our denomination aren’t Pastors Wives but Pastor’s themselves. But Agnes released me from my self-imposed constraints. She gave me freedom to realize I had been looking into the wrong mirror. I’d been peering into one made by man and its reflection is always poor.

I still had to oversee the Women’s Ministries but I could do that in peace knowing it would never be the right fit and that was okay. Sometimes the things we’re called to do can feel that way, awkward and uncomfortable. Those are the times God tells us it’s okay. Grab the right mirror. There’s only one that will reflect you, the one made in His image, the one like no other.

Linking up with SheLoves Magazine for this months theme: mirror. Click here to read other SheLoves posts.

Laughing again

“There are two of me
And two of you”

So starts the song by Jackson Browne that describes so many relationships in life. Two of me, the daughter-child and the adult-child and two of him, the father who was only still when laying on the living room floor, pillow under his chest, watching television at night. Daddy to me no matter what age but when his age caught up he was the second him, the one who couldn’t conquer his health problems and went from joy to lament.


4 of us in Tulsa


I have to count backwards to remember how many years he’s been gone. I only know because he passed the April before our daughter graduated high school. I guess it’s terrible not to remember the exact day and year your daddy died. I do. Sort of. I remember it was during spring break and we were doing a day camp with the kids from church who needed something to do. I remember getting the call from a friend who thought I knew. I remember his voice when it became clear to him that his condolences were actually my first hearing of daddy’s passing. I remember that exactly. How I was at my desk in that pitiful old building we called a church. I was facing the window and I remember his voice. I don’t remember what I said. Just Ron saying, “I’m so sorry.” And the kids. A dozen or so of these precious kids that Henry kept in the other room while I called mama to tell her. They’d been divorced years but she cried.

I remember the day went on and I went to where the children were and each one hugged and kissed me and maybe I didn’t show them how to grieve when we continued on with our outing for the day. But grief doesn’t come then. Grief is a sneaky bastard. Sometimes cruel in his attacks.



So yeah, it’s been a long time and I guess I can blame reading about others loss and today, April 2nd, being the day the second of him left this world that’s brought this on.

And the song goes on….

“There were two of me
And two of you
Searching for a passageway
Hidden from our view
And together we went crashing through
Every bond and vow and faith we knew”

There was always something hidden, or at least not clear to me. The fiercely protective daddy of his little girl and the sad, confessing dad to his grown daughter. Things I’m not sure a parent should tell their child no matter how old but I think I already knew.

In his absence I’ve lingered on the bitter taste of loss a bit too much. Loss and how hard his life was the last few years. Three days a week on dialysis, position taken from him through retirement and a realization he wasn’t in control. The passageway he went crashing through was frustration and sadness and it broke my heart. Bonds and vows had been broken. Faith? I think we kept that.

Some days I miss daddy. I miss telling him the funny stories because laughing with him was the best. But I don’t miss his sadness and his grieving over a life of activity lost. I don’t miss hearing his strained voice when he called after dialysis. I don’t miss his complaining about what he couldn’t do and couldn’t eat and couldn’t be because I couldn’t help him. God intervened and took him home where, I’m sure, he’s laughing once again.