A Big Day for Narcie

Today is a big day with Narcie. This is her first MRI after the May 10 Brain Tumor surgery and we need you to help pray that everything is A-Okay. She’s a fighter, a wife, mother of two preschoolers, and campus minister and Director of the Wesley Foundation at the University of Florida. She is a wonderful daughter, big sister, and lover of Jesus!

Here’s what she posted last night about today’s events:

“I have my first MRI post-surgery tomorrow at 9 am. The doctor is going to read it at our appointment at 1 pm. I’m not expecting that the tumor will grow back overnight. Not by any means. And I’m sure the doctor’s visit will be anticlimactic – but only in a GREAT, AWESOME, GOD way.

This song “Hurricane” by Natalie Grant has really struck me lately.”

I would appreciate your prayers for her scans at 9 am this morning and the doctor’s appointment at 1pm today, October 14! Pray for Mike, Narcie, Enoch, and Evy and everyone who is working for Narcie’s healing. Thank you for your support. We couldn’t make it without you.

I was at one Charge Conference yesterday afternoon where folks were asking about Narcie and the pastor suggested that we all hold hands and pray. That meant a lot. It does every day. I know that we all face hurricanes. The hope we cling to is that God will find us in the hurricanes of life, and be with us! Whatever you’re facing this week, trust that! Have a listen to Natalie Grant’s “Hurricane:”

Just talked to Narcie and MRI is clear! There was some fluid and she has 4 more months of chemo. Next MRI in 3 months. Please pray that she handles the chemo and it does its job! God is good and we’re grateful to the Lord and y’all! Here is link to Narcie’s post appointment thoughts as she and family try to take it all in: http://narciejeter.wordpress.com/2013/10/14/survival-mode/

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“I’ll Be Praying For You!”

Right off, I want to say thanks for everyone’s prayers on our family’s behalf during this eventful summer. An update: Narcie has finished radiation and is daily improving. There’s months of chemo to go, but she’s been in ministry every day at Gator Wesley and across the United Methodist connection as a leader in Campus Ministry. She has been preaching and is overcoming the initial issues with her voice and fine motor skills. She continues in speech and occupational therapies. I am amazed at her progress and I know it is largely because of your prayers and support, and mostly Mike’s help along with Enoch and Evy, too! Narcie has been a witness for perseverance, faith, and the power of prayer! She needs more, for sure, but the Lord continues to sustain her and us! Thank you!

However, not to sound critical, but I’ve been thinking about the difference between real prayer and the ubiquitous phrase I’ve heard not only this summer, but for many years: “I’ll be praying for you.” I am sure that most people have really been praying, but this phrase sometimes comes across as a Southern way of saying, “Goodbye.” “I’ll be praying for you,” is it a greeting, prayer, or an unfulfilled intention? I don’t doubt your sincerity when I’ve heard you say it. This is about me because I need to do better and pray more! I love the old Cokesbury Hymnal song, “Sweet Hour of Prayer,” but I haven’t hit that benchmark in a long time unless you add up the cumulative minutes of my breath prayers throughout the day!

So how do I do better? I think one way is to personalize it. What I mean is that prayer is a relationship expressed in words, a give and take, with much more listening than me spouting off a list of what I or others need. Hey, if I would listen more I would probably hear the ways that God wants me to be the one to answer the prayer needs of others anyway! Comedienne Lily Tomlin once tongue-in-cheek questioned, “Why is it that when we talk to God we’re said to be praying, but when God talks to us we’re schizophrenic?” What’s really crazy is for us not to listen to God. It’s the difference between a soliloquy for an audience of one and a divine-human dialogue. Therefore, prayer is an art, practiced and spontaneous, speaking and listening to God, both/and, not one without the other. It is meant to be more than a conversation-ending pleasantry, “I’ll be praying for you.” It’s supposed to be a real conversation!

Someone said that prayer should be like having a date with God. Now we’ve all seen people out on dates or at least sitting across from each other at a table in a restaurant. Unfortunately we have also noticed the difference between certain couples’ conversations and others. Some talk with each other with ease while others hardly speak or don’t even look up from their plates. Someone might assume that it’s the difference between courting couples and long-married ones, but I don’t think that’s the whole story at all.

Keeping our relationships fresh is an ever necessary opportunity to grow more deeply in love. Praying to God is similar. In prayer we too often show the dispassionate nature of a stale relationship, barely looking up, just mumbling through some rote words as if they were good enough. If we talked to our spouses or dates the way we talk to God, I think a lot of us would be in big trouble. Listening attentively and speaking passionately about things together is what makes communication the number one ingredient in successful relationships.

Likewise with God and us! We make time for everything else, don’t we? I know some people who spend more time sending and answering their email than praying. I heard of one mother who said, “I had been teaching my 3-year old daughter, Caitlin, the Lord’s Prayer. For several evenings at bedtime, she would repeat after me the lines from the prayer. Finally, she decided to go solo. I listened with pride as she carefully enunciated each word, right up to the end of the prayer: ‘Lead us not into temptation,’ she prayed, ‘but deliver us from email. Amen.’” Yes, God deliver us from email or evil – anything that might get in the way of our time in prayer.

We should resemble the monks from California that Barbara Brown-Taylor, famous preacher and writer, described in an article in “Christian Century.” She said, “Four times a day, a bell rang in the courtyard. As soon as it did, the brothers stopped to pray. The rest of us were welcome to join them, but it was not required. If we did not show up, then they would pray for us, as they prayed for everyone else in the world – for those who were present along with those who were absent, for those who were inclined toward God along with those who were not, for those who were in great need of prayer along with those who were not aware they needed anything at all. Prayer was their job, and they took it seriously. They prayed like men who were shoveling coal into the basement furnace of some great edifice. They did not seem to care whether anyone upstairs knew who they were or what they were doing. Their job was to keep the fire going so that people stayed warm, and they poured all their energy into doing just that.”

Let’s stoke the fire and pray! What do you say?

Mother’s Day Memories

I married my mother! Whoa! Before you start thinking Oedipus, let me explain. Cindy is the only person that I know that is a mirror image of my mother. There’s plenty of evidence that men and women alike seek a spouse that resembles the parent of the opposite sex. So, I’m not weird. I’m just giving my mother an extra compliment by marrying someone like her.

Cindy is such a super mom. She has tirelessly given of herself to all four of her children: Narcie, Josh, Caleb, and me (ha!). She certainly loves our children-in-law, Mike and Karen, too. Now she’s head over heels in love with our three grandchildren: Enoch, Evy, and Kaela. She’s endearingly, “MiMi,” to them. And this Mother’s day has extra meaning since it is our youngest son, Caleb’s, birthday.

Cindy’s life has been focused on family. My mother had the same perspective. My mother was full of unconditional love. She was so tenderhearted. Mother taught me about helping the poor and showing grace to the weak. She was a real lady with appropriate modesty and humility. She had an eye for beauty and fine things. She could decorate a hat when hats were in, and always had a new Christmas theme for the stairway banister. She loved history and made sure that I went to art classes even when I resisted. She also had a green thumb that could grow anything!

She was fun, too. She went camping with the guys and took us to Augusta for a variety of treats. Mother was the most knowledgeable person in town about the perfect route for Halloween candy. She knew just which houses to visit. The car was always full of greedy little gremlins. Every year I had a waiting list of people who wanted to go with us. She humored our every request, even when it wasn’t on her schedule. As a matter of fact, I think we were her schedule.

Mother did have a bit of a temper although she never spanked me. She was too loving for one to deliberately disobey. One time I did get sassy and got a smack. I was standing on the top of the swing set in the yard. As soon as I landed on the ground beside the sliding board, she was cradling me and apologizing. Believe me, once was enough. I didn’t get sassy again.

She had an opinion and words were sometimes pointed for those who had violated the parameters of southern gentility. My father was the usual recipient of those remarks. Cindy and I sometimes act out these vignettes in their honor, calling each other “Ralph” and “Sadie” tongue in cheek. Mother was spiritual and spicy, a lady and a tom-boy, and a lover of arts and crafts while being just as handy with a hoe, lawnmower, or rototiller. We loved her, and love her still.

She fought illness with such grace and without complaint. She endured pain and despair with quiet hope. Mother kept loving even when her idyllic world began to show its age. She never lost her enormous sense of humor. I can relish her insatiable laugh in my mind’s ear right now. She lived a motto that we could all bear to emulate: “Ever she sought the best, ever she found it.” She may have died on January 3 of 1993, but, in Christ, she lives ever more in my heart today. To her in heaven and Cindy on earth plus Narcie, Karen and all mothers, I say: “Happy Mother’s Day!”

Keeping Christmas

Narcie, Enoch & Evy at 2011 Christmas Eve Worship

“Happy Holidays!” or “Merry Christmas!” both seem out of place at the beginning of a new year. The controversy over politically correct greetings isn’t over yet because Christmas isn’t over. As Christians our spirits should be more in tune with the sacred than the secular anyway. The Church’s Christmas season doesn’t end until 12 days after December 25, on January 6, Epiphany Day.

Because Christmas doesn’t officially end until Friday week I think we should hang onto it all the more tightly. A wonderful way to do it not only until then, but also as a way to keep Christmas year-round is through an adapted version of St. Paul’s famous passage about love. So here it is, I Corinthians 13, the Christmas version:

“If I decorate my house perfectly with plaid bows, strands of twinkling lights and shiny balls, but do not show love to my family, I’m just another decorator.

If I slave away in the kitchen, baking dozens of Christmas cookies, preparing gourmet meals and arranging a beautifully adorned table at mealtime, but do not show love to my family, I’m just another cook.

If I work at the soup kitchen, carol in the nursing home and give all that I have to charity, but do not show love to my family, it profits me nothing.

If I trim the spruce with shimmering angels and crocheted snowflakes, attend a myriad of holiday parties and sing in the choir’s cantata, but do not focus on Christ, I have missed the point.

Love stops the cooking to hug a child.

Love sets aside the decorating to kiss a spouse.

Love is kind, though harried and tired.

Love does not envy another’s home that has coordinated Christmas china and table linens.

Love doesn’t yell at the kids to get out of the way, but is thankful they are there in the way.

Love doesn’t give only to those who are able to give in return, but rejoices in giving to those who can’t.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. Video games will break, pearl necklaces will be lost, golf clubs will rust. But, giving the gift of love will always endure.”

Merry Christmas and follow these words and your New Year will be great!

The End of the Story

These are tough times to be sure. The Great Recession continues to haunt us and we need help. I can find solace in thinking about the laughs and giggles of my three grandchildren: Enoch, Evy, and Kaela. When I’m inundated with bad news all I have to do is picture them and a smile creeps up on me. Tomorrow I’ll get to see Enoch and Evy and spend some time with them at the State Fair. I’ll have some comfort food, too! Maybe it will be a corn dog or two, or something fried that I’ve never had before. On Sunday I get to participate in Kaela’s baptism and that will be great! Unfortunately, even as I anticipate spending time with them all, I know there’s got to be a stronger anchor in the gales of life.

From my own life experience and those of countless people around me, before me, and those who will follow in the future, the answer to lasting peace and joy is found in Jesus and His Word. The Bible is a source of strength that weathers every storm. Certainly, John 3:16 is a well known Bible verse, but there is no more famous passage of Scripture than the 23rd Psalm. Atheists in foxholes during battle have been known to seek comfort from the words, “The Lord is my shepherd.” Haven’t we all? It is one of the most comforting passages in the Bible. It gives us hope, security, and faith.

Its words suggest that God knows our every need and will see us through the deepest valleys of darkness. Immediately after World War II the allied armies gathered up many hungry homeless orphans and placed them in camps. They were well taken care of, but that didn’t keep the children from having trouble sleeping at night. They were restless and afraid. One of the Army psychologists had an idea. After the children were put to bed at night, they were given a piece of bread to hold. If they wanted more to eat, it was provided. This piece of bread was simply for holding. The result was amazing. The children slept. After all the torment of hunger and loss of family, that piece of bread gave them the assurance that they would have something for the next day. The piece of bread took away their fear of tomorrow.

God the Good Shepherd provides for us when we’re war-torn and weary. Jesus is the Bread of Life born appropriately in Bethlehem which in Hebrew means “house of bread.” Until we know the goodness and care of the Shepherd who is the Bread of Life we will continue to be afraid. Garrison Keillor, in his radio program “Prairie Home Companion,” tells the story about a teenage boy who drove down to St. Paul and waited in line all night to purchase tickets to a rock concert. The rock band was the boy’s favorite, so he camped outside of the ticket office in the middle of a snowstorm just to make sure that he would get tickets.

His mother didn’t approve of the band. She didn’t like their music or their reputation. She had read all sorts of horror stories about rock concerts and the things that go on and the kinds of people that attend. When her son got home from getting the tickets the next morning, he put them on the kitchen table and went to bed. The mother looked at those tickets. What should she do? Hide them? Tear them up? What would a loving mother do? Should she leave them on the table or tear them up? What was in her son’s best interest? There she stood, looking at those tickets, wondering, debating what she should do. And then after a long pause, Keillor said, “Well, that’s the news from Lake Wobegon this week, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.” The story was over. Those who heard it were left dangling, wondering and unknowing.

Keillor opened his program the next week talking about all the letters he had received the past few days. People wrote: “You didn’t finish the story. What did the mother decide to do?” Keillor Left it hanging. He said, “I don’t know how it is with most of you out there, but there are a lot of unfinished stories in me.”

With all of the uncertainties of the present economic crisis, family issues and an uncertain future with its multitude of unfinished stories, it is good to know that Jesus the Good Shepherd goes with us and takes care of us. With Christ we know the story’s victorious ending. Hebrews 13 says it well: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Wherever we are, God is with us. That is our faith and foundation. We will continue to say, “The Lord is my Shepherd…” and count on Him.

Memories of God

A week ago today 15 of the Columbia District clergy went to the top of Mt. Mitchell for 3 days of retreat. It couldn’t have come at a better time. Things are so busy right now. I have consultations every hour on the hour for the next 3 weeks. I have charge conferences to preside over every night. This past Friday night I had to work in a SPRC meeting dealing with church conflict. Yesterday was 3 charge conferences plus two sermons, one filling in for a preacher who had a heart cath on Friday. I’m whipped but here I am back at it. Such is the life of a United Methodist District Superintendent, but, thank God for Sabbath rest when it comes.

Thank God for memories, too. Sometimes I fall asleep thinking/praying about God’s grace and providence. I remember my parents, other family members, special events like great times with Cindy or Narcie, Josh, and Caleb. I think about their weddings, graduations, the joy of hearing them preach and grow, become parents to Enoch, Evy, And Kaelea. I think about being in a tent for two weeks for two years in a row with Caleb and can feel the gentle breeze while sleeping ever so soundly. I just wrote a note for a friend who is about to go on the Walk to Emmaus Spiritual Life Weekend reminding him of how often I have seen God in his life. I’ll never forget how he came and sat up all night with me in the hospital as my Dad was dying. Last night as I preached revival I was blessed to see many friends from a former church that I served. Good and poignant memories flooded my mind.

I am rereading Roberta Bondi’s Memories of God. It is a sublime reminder of God’s presence in the nodal points of our lives, the hinge-moments that shape our theology and understanding of God. The narrative of God intersects with our narrative and Jesus’ incarnation is made personally real. In twenty-minutes I have my first consultation of today and they go straight through until late this afternoon when I head to a charge conference. It is good to start the day with memories of God. They are fresh every day and get me through it. I took the above photos last Monday and they will serve me well as good memories of God’s unfailing presence! Soak up the memories so that they will last. Dwell on them so that they inspire you. Have a great week.

Seasons of Love

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This is a waiting time and anybody who knows me, knows that’s not easy for me. We had an interesting day yesterday with Narcie and Mike while Mike’s Mom took care of Enoch and Evy Grace. There were 2 MRI’s, four doctors, two nurses, one of whom Narcie said was reminiscent of Dr. Gregory House of “House” fame. They didn’t tell us anything and the old adage, “No news is good news” isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. This waiting place, a la Dr. Suess’ “Oh, the Places You will Go,” is a rough place, but we’ll all sit there time and time again. It’s what we do with the waiting that makes the difference I guess.

I’ve been pondering God’s word about waiting and being still. Psalm 46:10, 11 rings true: “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” Stillness and not panic; trusting in God -the God who in Jesus enfleshed Himself into our existence, the good and the bad – this is what is keeping me sane right now.

Psalm 46 caused me to remember II Chronicles 20 where Jehoshaphat, king of Judah (Which means “praise,” by the way) was surrounded by invading armies. He called for a fast and prayed (vs. 12b) “… We have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.” Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel and he said, (vss. 15b, 17) “… This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. FOR THE BATTLE IS NOT YOURS, BUT GOD’S; You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; STAND FIRM AND SEE THE DELIVERANCE AND SEE THE DELIVERANCE THE LORD WILL GIVE YOU…” Then the neatest and most illogical thing was decided. Instead of putting his best troops at the front of his army, Jeshoshaphat put the choir up front (vs. 21b) “to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying: ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever.'”

Then it says (vs. 21) “As they BEGAN to sing and praise…” the Lord defeated the enemies. So today in the waiting place I am going to praise the Lord, stand firm, and wait with hope, keeping my eyes on Jesus. Every bit of life is an opportunity to find that quiet place deep within ourselves where we exalt the Lord, not our fears. Life is fleeting and made up of minutes that are minute chances to love, not hate, to make peace and not hold grudges, to hear God’s voice above the cacophony of crows out to get us. Two of the songs that keep playing in my head are “Seasons of Love” from Rent and Five for Fighting’s “100 Years.” I’m praying for Narcie to have more and more seasons of love to add to the ones she’s already lived so well, a 100 years to proclaim Jesus’ love. With Jesus, eternity lasts even longer than that. It is a timeless truth especially in the midst of life’s frailties: Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever.

I hope this inspires you as it does me to listen, listen and love, love, every minute.


This video/song underscores my desire that we appreciate every moment and never miss what we give away. In the words of Jim Elliott, great missionary who gave his life to take the Gospel to the Auca Indians: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

Life’s Legacy Here and Now

>I have been contemplating what’s important in life since Sunday when I commemorated my Dad’s funeral from 9 years ago. I went to Edgefield UMC and attended his Sunday School Class, and then worshipped with his church family. Later in the day I got to celebrate his contribtuions to the history of Edgefield Pottery. Anyway, it all got me to thinking: What or Who do I love? I love Jesus, my wife Cindy of 34 years, my children Narcie, Josh, and Caleb, children-in-law Mike and Karen, mother-in-law Dixie, my wife’s extended family and mine, plus a number of close friends and colleagues in ministry. I really love my two grandchildren, Enoch and Evy! I also love proclaiming the Gospel. I love teaching about God and our beloved United Methodist Church. I like thinking critically about practical divinity and how we can “do” church more effectively and efficiently. I love the outdoors, Mt. Mitchell, and cruising the Blue Ridge Parkway. I wish South Carolina had a special Parkway license plate like NC does.

I love being a District Superintendent which probably sounds wierd to most. I love being with clergy and local churches on a individual and broad basis. When I was a pastor in my own appointment in a local church I didn’t appreciate our connectionalism as near as much as I do now. Now I see it in action practically every day. We are a connected-to-each-other church. I love the things, the ministries, etc. that I have seen us accomplish because we’re not Lone Ranger Christians. Our theme is “Together We Can do More!” As a Superintendent I see this more than I ever have before in these 3-plus decades of ministry.
There’s so much on my “love list” that it will take more installments to cover pottery-making, and homemade ice cream, but, bottom-line, I love relationships that are real, genuine, and reflect Christ. That kind of relationship makes life worth living because it makes me willing to lay myself down for somebody else. That is a rare gift and I thank all those who have graced me with that level of relationship. Here’s to all us on this journey called life as we discern who and what do we love. May your list light you up as much as Enoch and Evy do me!

Personal Adventures and Family Promises

I’m at Candler School of Theology at Emory and it’s going well – a new group of eager students for the two classes that I’m teaching: “Theology in the Wesleyan Spirit” and “United Methodist Discipline and Polity.” The days have been interesting, getting up early for an 8 am class that goes straight through for two hours, a worship break, then 11:30am-2 pm for the last class. I miss lunch, but I have more time than ever for the afternoon and don’t have to fight the snail pace of North Decatur Rd. to get back to the apartment they have me in at Emory’s Clairmont campus.

I’ve had high hopes of working out in the fitness center, but haven’t made it yet. Maybe tonight, but I have a couple of novels that are calling. I shaved my beard today. It was only a week old, hah! I went to Mt. Mitchell for a week and tent-camped, hiked, graded papers, and got ready for class, no shower and no shaving. I came straight here. This weekend is Laity Convocation at Lake Junaluska so I’ll travel up Saturday morning and meet with the Cabinet then travel to Columbia to spend the night, then go to a Pottery Exhibit Opening in my hometown of Edgefield on Sunday before coming back to Atlanta to teach the final week here at Emory. I can’t wait to see the new groundhog kiln they’re dedicating in Edgefield. They’ve asked me to do the prayer because of my family’s connection to the Edgefield Pottery revival.
Cindy just let me know that old friends have given us their beach place to use in a couple of weeks so that’s wonderful. As much as I like the mountains, there’s no place like the beach to be around Enoch and Evy. Ah…Grandchildren building sandcastles and memories. I can’t wait! Well, that’s enough about my itenrary. I hope you’re all having a great summer. God is good!