WHAT LOVE LOOKS LIKE

WHAT LOVE LOOKS LIKE

What does it mean to love your neighbor? Maybe this will help.

We took lots of trips to West Point, Georgia, when I was a child. Like our current hometown, West Point was small, straddled a big river, and in those days the home of a large textile plant and many farming families. When Dad went to drill with the reserves, we went with Mom to West Point.

On arrival, we had two “must visit” places: Grandmother’s house, my Dad’s Mom, and Grandmama and Granny, my Mom’s mother and grandmother who lived together. All three women were staunch members of 1st Baptist Church, upright, faithful, hard-working women. Grandmother and Grandmama had also suffered much as a result of their marriages. All three loved their three rambunctious grandsons. But the way they loved us was, well, it’s easier to show than tell.

Grandmother always wanted to see us, but you could feel the tension in the grass when you stepped out of the car at her house. She was prickly, agitated, and persnickety. The candy in the crystal bowl on the coffee table was only for display, not for little boys! We ate only at mealtimes, no snacking from the fridge. And she always burned the biscuits. It was hard to please Grandmother and easy to elicit rebukes.

Form-fitting clear plastic with little bumps in it, like sitting on your soccer cleats turned upside down, covered the furniture in Grandmother’s living room. And you didn’t sit on the couch anyway, much less jump on those lovely, firm cushions! You perched on it oh so delicately. Any other approach brought swift scolding.

The whole experience was like that: uncertain, uncomfortable, tight like plastic cushion covers. I tried to stay out of Grandmother’s way and begged Mom to leave as soon as possible.

Grandmama’s house was completely different. Oh, there were rules, but not so many that a boy couldn’t enjoy himself a bit. And the rules were more about who you were than what you did. For instance, we knew we weren’t supposed to use the pea gravel from the driveway as slingshot ammo to shoot at cars from the safety of the shrubbery. Of course, that was wrong. But it wasn’t wrong because of the minimal damage it did to those massive 1950’s & 60’s Detroit machines. It was wrong because the late Nolan Stanley’s great-grandsons should never do something so disrespectful to their neighbors. But I digress.

The minute you stepped out of the car at Grandmama’s, you could feel the love. You walked up the steps, down the long screen porch to the ornate door with the bell in the middle. But we never turned the bell. Just turn the knob, walk right in and race for Granny’s kitchen and the biscuit tin.

Grandmama and Granny’s manner was always calm, dignified, peaceful, quiet, and affectionate.  They radiated welcome. They were glad to see us and sorry to see us go. And I never saw them flustered.

Their house was our house. We could wander through the secret closet and push our faces into the real mink stole that still had the heads with glass eyes. Climb the old magnolia out back, hide in the huge camellias out front, use pea gravel from the driveway in our slingshots (at authorized targets like each other), build forts under the tall beds. The kitchen was always open, and the biscuits never burned. If you’d never known it before, you knew what love was when you went to Grandmama’s house.

That’s what the two homes felt like to us. Grandmother told us she loved us. But we couldn’t feel it. All we felt were the restraints.

Grandmama and Granny welcomed us into their world and blessed us with actions, with demeanor, with the whole environment. We knew they loved us because we could feel it.

My friend Stephen Crotts of The Carolina Study Center said recently, “In the 1960s, students wanted to know the topic and the speaker before they would attend a talk or event. In the early 2000’s they wanted to know if the cool people would be there. Today, so many of them are victims of so many traumas that they just want to know if they will be treated kindly.”

Want to spread the gospel and change the world? Love your neighbor.  

WHEN SCIENCE CATCHES UP WITH SCRIPTURE: Self-Help Books on Mental & Emotional Health

WHEN SCIENCE CATCHES UP WITH SCRIPTURE: Self-Help Books on Mental & Emotional Health

I love it when science “catches up” to scripture. I especially love it when scientists discover help me and my friends live better, happier, healthier lives consistent with the gospel. My winter reading list and the speaker from a conference I recently attended reminded me of those things and, instead of waiting to write full book reviews on each one, I thought it would help you more to hear a few of their insights and provide links to their resources.

One caveat: I don’t agree with everything in these resources, nor do I wish to debate psychology v. scripture. So, as with all such things, use discernment, eat the meat and throw away the bones.

The Bible on Mental Health

The Bible is full of references to mental health and relationships. Here are just a few.

A heart at peace gives life to the body. (Prov. 14:30).

All the days of the oppressed are wretched, but the cheerful heart has a continual feast. (Prov 15:15).

A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. (Prov. 17:22).

And of course, Philippians 4:4-9 on joy, anxiety, reasonableness, and the peace of God comes to mind along with many others.

Key Insights

When themes are repeated across several platforms and by different authors, it increases confidence in their validity. Here are some key insights I’ve picked up over the last few weeks, none earth-shattering but all worth remembering.

1. The critical importance of relationships to our mental and physical health. We need each other. We need small groups.

“More and more recent research has shown that lack of bonding can affect one’s ability to recover from an entire range of physical illness, including cancer, heart attack, and stroke…the nature of a patient’s emotional ties drastically affects whether or not this patient will get heart disease.” Even our blood chemistry changes when we have bitter thoughts. “A person’s ability to love and connect with others lays the foundation for both psychological and physical health.”[1]   

2. The damage we can do to ourselves and others when we fail to manage our emotions well.

Ever wondered why the Apostle Paul warned us “not to let the sun go down on your anger?”[2] Paul Meier, MD, ThD, asserts that 95% of depression is anger turned inward. Emotional pain most likely to become a lingering physical ailment is suppressed emotional pain. When we need to take a time-out or make an appointment to discuss an inflammatory issue, temporary repression is ok. Permanent suppression is deadly.

“When we pretend that all is well when all is not well, when we tell ourselves and others that nothing bad has happened when something very bad has happened, when we act as if we have suffered no loss or pain when we have suffered great loss or pain, it is then that we are stuffing what we should express. When a person begins to pack powerful and devastating emotions into the closet of his soul, he is setting himself up for trouble.”[3]  

3. The importance of time, grace, and practice in the development of relational capacity.

In RARE Leadership: 4 Uncommon Habits for Increasing Trust, Joy, and Engagement in the People You Lead, Marcus Warner and Jim Wilder wrote: “The critical point between the brain functioning well or starting to fail is where it runs out of joy and begins to run on fear as its motivation.” When that happens, we become “reactive, rigid, with serious implications to living and leading effectively.”

We tell each other, “Choose Joy.” But that’s like saying to a newbie at the gym, “Lift this 300 pounds.” It doesn’t work, and it’s insulting. But we can say, “Let’s go to the gym together and start lifting weights.” In that way, we build physical capacity. We build joy capacity the same way, with practice, with friends, over time.

Recommended Resources

RARE Leadership: 4 Uncommon Habits for Increasing Trust, Joy, and Engagement in the People You Lead. Marcus Warner and Jim Wilder. Website: Deeper Walk International.

Changes That Heal: Four Practical Steps to a Happier, Healthier You. Dr. Henry Cloud. Website: Dr.Cloud.com.

DEADLY Emotions: Understand the Mind-Body-Spirit Connection That Can Heal or Destroy You. Don Colbert, M.D.

DON’T LET JERKS GET THE BEST OF YOU: Advice for Dealing With Difficult People. Paul Meier, M.D.Meier Clinics.


[1] Dr. Henry Cloud, Changes That Heal: Four Practical Steps to a Happier Healthier You. Pg 66. Zondervan, 2018.

[2] Ephesians 4:26.

[3] Don Colbert, MD, Deadly Emotions: Understand the Mind-Body Connection That Can Heal or Destroy You. Pg. 53. Thomas Nelson, 2003.

GOD’S GRACE FOR AN ABORTIVE FATHER

GOD’S GRACE FOR AN ABORTIVE FATHER

The details are vague now, four decades hence. I sat on a curb, or was it a granite ledge? Outside the downtown clinic. Either way, it was cold, barren, like my heart. The girl—yes, still a girl only 17—had disappeared into the nondescript building’s sterile glass door. She had found the place, or had I? I couldn’t remember. Either way, it hadn’t been there long, a new edition to the healthcare—cruelest euphemism—landscape. But I found the money. That I clearly recalled. I found the two hundred dollars it took to end the life in her womb. I thought I was solving a problem, keeping our secret. But the cold reality of what I’d done seeped into my soul like the clammy chill coming through the concrete and into my bones. I paid the doctor to kill our son.

How could I have done that? How could I not see? Evil veiled itself in those days. “It’s just a blob of cells,” they said. But I knew it was wrong. I could feel it.

Little did I know, in 1977, that we were only grains of sand in the mammoth cultural landslide that was the sexual revolution. Free love never was victimless. Roe V. Wade, that revolution’s most significant victory, remains the greatest bloodbath in history, 60 million aborted Americans, with the longest trail of traumatized survivors, 120 million moms and dads.

Time moved on, and so did I until about a decade later, when my first child was born. Something clicked, a window opened, and I began to see. Life is precious! I should have taken the blow, not the girl. Not the child. I should have taken the guilt and shame with her and provided for them both. That is what my father would have done. That is when I started attending the annual pro-life march downtown on January 22nd. It was the least I could do, the only thing I knew to do besides giving to crisis pregnancy centers and advocating for life in the pulpit and print.

It wasn’t enough. At least, it hasn’t been so far. The Pro-Choice propaganda political action machine continues promoting the Big Lie that it is all about reproductive rights and the mother’s health. It is celebrating victory again today when Planned Parenthood’s chief political proponents—the non-profit donated $45 million to the victorious party—will be sworn in as president and vice president of the United States.

Instead of judgment, God gave me a cleansed conscience, a beautiful wife, and three beautiful daughters. Then, in my forties, a young man walked into my life. Energetic, intelligent, eager to serve alongside and be mentored. It took a while because I was so busy with family and work, but it finally clicked. Another window opened. “The timing is about right,” I thought. “This could be my son.” A strange wave of grief and gratitude washed over me. “God, you are so good to me. I don’t deserve this privilege, but I accept it as a gift from your hand.” Many more surrogate “sons” have come and gone since. Slowly the wound has healed.

Perhaps you are one of those men. You gave up a child and her mother to an abortion. You walked away, but you never forgot. You know what you did, and it gnaws at your soul. I can confidently tell you God’s grace extends to you. Reach out to him. Tell him what you did. Ask him to forgive you, to set you free from guilt, and to rebuild your heart. I tell you confidently, and in the name of Jesus Christ, that is a prayer that he will answer.

WHAT IF THE RIOT IN DC REALLY IS US?

WHAT IF THE RIOT IN DC REALLY IS US?

I have been praying for, advocating, and preaching conservative ideas based on the biblical worldview for over forty years. The events of January 6, on Capitol Hill, hit me, as I’m sure they did many of you, like a body blow. As is often the case, I’ve found John Stonestreet’s and Shane Morris’s analysis of the events much more comprehensive than anything I could compose. A more thorough discussion is available on the Breakpoint This Week podcast that followed it: Are We, as a Nation, Capable of Governing Ourselves? I commend both to you. D.S.

WHAT IF WHAT WE SAW YESTERDAY AT THE CAPITAL IS US?

Breakpoint with John Stonestreet, January 7, 2021

In the introduction to his book The Content Trap, author Bharat Anand asks readers to consider what caused The Yellowstone Fires of 1988, which lasted for months and destroyed over 1.3 million acres of the world’s oldest, and one of our nation’s most treasured, national parks. The traditional story places the blame on a worker who dropped a single, still-lit cigarette. Anand disagrees.

The cigarette certainly triggered this fire, but a million cigarettes are dropped every single day. That year (likely even that day), other cigarettes and, for that matter, lightning strikes, fell in Yellowstone. Why did this one spark so much damage? Anand’s point has to do with the pre-existing conditions, which made something that is benign in most other circumstances, a trigger for incredible destruction.

Yesterday, as protestors stormed the Capitol, Illinois Representative Kinzinger, a Republican, said, “We (Americans) are not what we are seeing today…” Others remarked how shocking it was to see the sort of political unrest common to other countries, here in America. And, of course, it was shocking.

But we’d better be clear on why. It’s not because somehow Americans, even those who love freedom and wish to protect the remarkable gift that is our nation, are somehow exempt from the Fall. It’s not because America has some sort of Divine pass to last forever. It’s not because the rules that govern nations and civilizations, which have been proven over and over again throughout history, somehow do not apply to us.

In what now seems like an ominous prediction, my friend Trevin Wax tweeted out a quote from Chuck Colson Wednesday morning: “People who cannot restrain their own baser instincts, who cannot treat one another with civility, are not capable of self-government … without virtue, a society can be ruled only by fear, a truth that tyrants understand all too well.”

Colson was right. Another way of saying what he did is, “Character is destiny.” It’s tempting to apply this undeniable truism rather selectively, but it is as true for individuals on “our side” as it is for those on “their side.” It is true for presidents and for peasants. It’s as true about a President “not as bad as she would have been,” who delivers strong policy wins for our side as it is about anyone else. It is true for the narcissist and for the abortionist, for the one who rejects religious faith and the one who uses it for his own ends.

But, and this is the much more important point that many miss, character is destiny for a people as well as for a person. Yesterday, when President-elect Biden said that the actions of the mob did not reflect America, I wish he were correct. But he wasn’t. We are not a moral nation. We are lawless. We are not a nation that cultivates the kinds of families able to produce good citizens. Our institutions cannot be trusted to tell us the truth or advance the good. Our leaders think and live as if wrong means are justified by preferred ends. Our churches tickle ears and indulge narcissism. Our schools build frameworks of thinking that are not only wrong, but foster confusion and division.

Yesterday’s riot was not the first in our nation’s recent history, nor will it be the last. There are certainly immediate causes for what we witnessed, including the words of a President who appeared to care more about the attention the riots gave him than the rule of law that they violated. Still, there are ultimate causes, ones that predate his administration and that have created what is clearly a spark-ready environment.

Yesterday’s events cannot be understood, much less addressed outside this larger context. And the moment we excuse ourselves from being part of the problem, we have lost our saltiness.

Often throughout history, moments like this have been embraced by the Church as an opportunity by God’s people. When a people reach this level of vulnerability, either as individuals, as families, or as nations, it is clear that they are out of ideas. There is no sustainable way forward when the ideological divide reaches this level, not only about how best to reach commonly held aims but when there is no consensus on the aims themselves.

To be clear, civilizations usually die with a whimper, not a bang. America will go on, but we aren’t ok. Even more, the resources once found in various places within our culture to build new things or fix what’s broken are largely depleted. The only way out of the long decline of decadence, punctuated as it is by noisy, scary moments like yesterday, is either, as Ross Douthat wrote, revolution or religious revival. The story of Yellowstone Park is that now, decades letter, it has been largely revived and reborn. Let’s pray that’s also the story of the Church, and even our country.

READY-MADE PRAYERS Spiritual Meat for Hungry Souls

READY-MADE PRAYERS Spiritual Meat for Hungry Souls

Some days my mind is scattered as a caffeinated squirrel, and my heart is as flat as a pancake. Ready-made prayers are helpful then.

Growing up Baptist had some definite advantages for my spiritual life. The clarity and importance of personal repentance and faith in Christ alone for salvation remain paramount. Add to that the emphasis on singing in worship and participation in choirs. The songs I sang then still bubble to the surface today. And eventually, personal Bible study, the conversation with God one develops when digging deep in the word, became important. The fried chicken (aka gospel bird) wasn’t bad either.

But among the things that my spiritual development lacked was a robust prayer life. We Baptists were great at potlucks. But if prayer is like chicken, we were getting the skinny bird every time. “Lord, we just want to praise you for this. And Lord, we just want to ask you for that, and Lord, we ask you to bless so and so.” That kind of praying will leave you spiritually hungry after a while.

The prayers of the Bible are much meatier, as are the prayers of many other denominations. For example, the Anglican Book of Common Prayer (1928 edition) has some wonderfully deep and theologically robust prayers. But as a young believer, I thought written prayers were for people who lacked a real heart relationship with God. They can be abused. Reciting a written prayer will not save an unrepentant sinner or deepen a spiritual life through the mere repetition of elegant prose. But that doesn’t make them useless.

That became clear when I learned that scripture contains many formal prayers and praises. Everyone is familiar with the Psalms and The Lord’s Prayer. But it happens in other places in the New Testament as well. 1 Peter 1:3-5 is a good example. With the help of his friend Silas, Peter begins with an expression of praise that is almost identical to the wording of 2 Corinthians 1:3 and Ephesians 1:3. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.[1] Push on down through verse 13 of Ephesians 1, and you find the same themes Peter stressed: Election or choseness, redemption through Christ’s blood, our spiritual inheritance, and hope in Christ’s return.

From that foundation, Peter builds out his prayer and links it to his readers’ specific situation. So he isn’t just repeating empty words. He is taking a form of praise widely used in the Church and building it into his prayer and exhortation to his readers.

As I got older, I realized that C.S. Lewis’s experience on this topic, provided in an essay whose title I borrowed, reflected mine. Some days my mind is scattered as a caffeinated squirrel, and my heart is as flat as a pancake. Trying to pray spontaneously on days like that was “counting on a greater mental and spiritual strength than I really have,” he said. I was making “what Pascal calls Error of Stoicism; thinking we can do always what we can do sometimes.”[2] The latest news headline or political crisis will always loom larger if we let it and have us praying about only those things instead of the strategic mission of the Church. And, left to the vagaries of our weary minds and momentary emotions, we can easily drift into some pretty shallow spiritual puddles. Praying the ready-made prayers of scripture and the great traditions can help us stay on the right path.


[1] The New International Version. (2011). (Eph 1:3). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] Ready-made Prayers. C.S. Lewis, The Joyful Christian: 127 Readings

GENESIS 2021 Building Our Future on Stable Ground

GENESIS 2021 Building Our Future on Stable Ground

Fans of the first Star Trek movies remember that in The Wrath of Khan, the villain tried to destroy the Starship Enterprise by detonating an experimental terraforming device called Genesis. We learned in The Search for Spock, that the planet that emerged from that explosion was beautiful but unstable, doomed to devour itself in earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. David Marcus, a key scientist on the project, revealed the reason. He had used a restricted substance, “proto-mater,” to speed up the process. What should have been a utopia was doomed from the start by the hubris of its creator.

By 1984 standards, the special effects were excellent. But that is not what made me think of Star Trek movies at one o’clock this morning.

2020 has been an epic disaster. People will make movies about it. Heroes and villains will emerge. Everyone hopes 2021 will be better than 2020. But the biblical worldview warns us that we dare not anchor our hopes here. It tells us that God made us good, but in our hubris, we inserted an element to make life better. We rebelled and corrupted all our capacities in the process. We took earth with us when we fell, and because of the fall, we can count on two things.

First, the earth itself, in the form of earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, and yes, pandemics, will oppose us. “Cursed is the ground,” God said to our first parents and earth’s first stewards. “Thorns and thistles, it will produce for you till you return to the dust from which you were formed.”  

Second, our best Utopia-building efforts will be fatally flawed because we are fatally flawed. Like Dr. Marcus in Star Trek, we cannot resist the temptation to hurry-up success. In our hubris, we add ingredients to life guaranteed to produce catastrophic, if unintended, consequences.

We need a savior, someone who can break the curse and reverse the consequences of the fall; someone who can cancel our corruption and restore true goodness to men and women. And the good news is, we just celebrated his arrival at Christmas.

The babe of Bethlehem became the man on the mountain who began his ministry by saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” His recipe for success, called The Sermon on the Mount[1], has no shortcuts, no place for hubris, only humility, faith, and love. He ended that sermon with this practical application.

“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”[2]

The vaccines may work. Life might return to something like normal. But because of the fall, we can count on two things: something else will come along to destabilize the world, and in our hubris, it might be us!   Build your house on the rock. Put your hope in Christ in 2021. He is the only savior.


[1] See the Gospel of Matthew, chapters 5-7.

[2] The New International Version. (2011). (Mt 7:24–27). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

THE WAY GOD DOES HOPE

THE WAY GOD DOES HOPE

God delivers hope in the strangest ways. When we want hope, we look for it in large promises made by powerful people. But when God provides hope, it looks like a tiny mustard seed covered in dirt. Like a pinch of leaven in a batch of dough, kneaded to a rubbery lump and left to rise in the dark, God’s hope comes to unlikely people in unknown places. And with it comes a crisis.

That’s the story of Jesus’ birth, well told in New Line Cinema’s 2006, The Nativity Story. The gritty reality of a family from impoverished Nazareth, staggering under cruel Roman oppression, comes through like no other movie on the birth of Christ in recent memory. Nothing is romanticized. Cecil B. DeMille would not recognize the sets or the clothing. The cast learned how to use the era’s tools, build houses, crush grapes and olives, milk goats, and make goat cheese.

Everything feels authentic, including Ciarán Hinds’ (Star Wars, Game of Thrones) menacing, paranoid, ruthless Herod. He reminds us that evil is everpresent when God is at work. Nazareth’s Jews’ stifling legalism is also palpable as Mary returns, obviously pregnant, from her visit with Elizabeth. The three wise men provide comic relief and a cosmic perspective on the birth of the King of Kings. But Oscar Isaac’s smitten, conflicted, and finally, courageous Joseph is the hero of the story. His portrayal of Jesus’ adopted father is a beautiful example of the positive power of a good man who puts others before himself.

Sadly, the weakest performance in the film is Keisha Castle-Hughes’ Mary. It may have been the script, but her portrayal, while authentic in biblical detail, seemed flat. Still, her and Joseph’s steadiness in the crisis of faith created by God’s entrance into their lives is worth the Amazon rental price. It reminds us that that is how God works hope into our lives. Not in big promises made by influential people but through small acts of faith by regular people facing the crises of obedience.

The smallest of seeds an inch deep in the dirt. A pinch of leaven in the dough in the dark. The greatest of kings born in the most humble of places. That is how God does hope. Watch The Nativity Story and find your hope this Christmas.  

STRESSED-OUT CHRISTMAS REMEDY

STRESSED-OUT CHRISTMAS REMEDY

The first Christmas wasn’t all angels singing, shepherds kneeling, and Magi giving gifts. It was also Joseph doubting, Mary wondering, Rachel weeping, and the family fleeing into Egypt. They were stressed out by Christmas too.

Depending on whom you ask, Christmas is either the best or worst time of the year. For some, “it’s those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings when friends come to call!” For others, it is time to sing the blues.  

True, the oft-quoted myth that suicides peak during Christmas is just that, a myth.[1] The rates go down.

On the other hand, WebMD reports that “Holiday blues are a pretty common problem despite the fact that as a society, we see the holidays as a joyous time,” says Rakesh Jain, MD, director of psychiatric drug research at the R/D Clinical Research Center in Lake Jackson, Texas.[2]

In other words, we’re less likely to do ourselves in but more likely to think about it. Especially at the end of 2020!

Those of us who have lost family members in the past few years, or been through the trauma of divorce, are most prone to the Christmas blues. Reminders of loved ones gone come in as many colors as gift wrap, and the complications of conflicts with step-families and feuding parents are well-documented sources of holiday unhappiness. Add to that this year’s pandemic pandemonium, the restrictions on travel, amplified expectations for joy, the stress of preparations, shopping, lack of exercise, and extra eating, and it’s no wonder some of us get grumpy and sad.

So if Blue Christmas is your holiday hymn, here are a few ideas to help you change your tune.

Usually, I would encourage you to change your environment. Humans are creatures of habit and highly sensitive to our environments. When we do the same things, the same ways, in the same places year after year, it can be challenging to associate Christmas with joy, especially if the people who were part of that joy are no longer present. We might not want to travel this year, but we can do different things to celebrate. I’m planning to build a fire-pit outside. We’re going to hang some outdoor lights and maybe drive through the South Boston Speedway light show one weekend. The point is, make some changes.

Change your traditions. Change the routine. Drop some old habits and build some new ones. Never baked Christmas cookies? Try it. Tired of baking? Stow your cookie sheets and try cakes or pies.

Change your attitude about grief. Grief is like the tide; it comes in and goes out on a schedule unpredictable for us. We don’t think it’s appropriate for the holidays, so we try to restrain it. But that’s the worst thing we can do. Like an ocean wave, grief has an energy, and that energy will find an outlet, even if we try to suppress it. Anger, bitterness, resentment, and depression can be the results. Better to adopt a new paradigm for dealing with grief, to ride the wave rather than stand against it. When we learn to do that, grief can help us heal and experience new kinds of joy. “Blessed are those who mourn,” Jesus said, “for they will be comforted.” We can’t be comforted if we refuse to mourn.

Finally, change your theology. Remember that the first Christmas wasn’t all angels singing, shepherds kneeling, and Magi giving gifts. It was also Joseph doubting, Mary wondering, Rachel weeping, and the family fleeing into Egypt. They were stressed out by Christmas too.

And while you remember that, remember this: The food, the gifts, family, and friends are only the celebrants and elements of the celebration. The real joy is in the Christ child who came to “save his people from their sins,” and in the knowledge that God on high has declared “peace on earth to men on whom his favor rests.”    


[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/hide-and-seek/201212/is-suicide-more-common-christmas-time

[2] http://www.webmd.com/depression/features/emotional-survival-guide-for-holidays

HELPING LELAND’S GRANDMA

The house was small and dark inside, unkempt outside, slumped behind an overgrown hedge like a sleepy hitchhiker by a busy road. I delivered Christmas gifts to Leland (pseudonym), the 5th-grade boy I mentored, and his younger siblings. But his widowed grandma drew my attention. The elderly lady was cold, wrapped in a shawl, huddling near a little oil-fired heater, and wheezing badly.

I hate being cold. My heart went out to her.

It was an all too typical situation. The boy’s father was in prison, his sister and baby brother were children of two other men, his mother a classic example of chronic self-indulgence and irresponsibility. And everyone crowded into grandma’s little clapboard house, living off of food stamps and her meager social security.

The boy was my primary concern, my mentee from the Mentor Role Model program. We met consistently through about the first year of high school when he drifted away. I did everything I could to try and give him a leg up on a better kind of life. I guess the jury is still out on that. But his cold, sick grandma always comes to mind when I pass the now empty house. And the question always comes back: how could I have helped her without further enabling her debauched daughter?

The answer is, I could not.

You may have heard of toxic charity. Toxic charity does for others what they can and should do for themselves. It attempts to meet chronic needs with crisis-response methods and ends up incentivizing behaviors that created the condition in the first place. It also perpetuates the status quo between the rich and the resourceless. It makes the giver feel good while perpetuating dependency and fosters dishonesty to boot. It robs God’s image-bearers of the dignity that comes from the work God created us to do. That’s a bad situation. But recognizing it won’t keep grandma warm.

Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you.” I think what he meant was that, given our sin-nature, we will always have irresponsible people freeloading on their elderly parents. (I did confront the daughter, but that’s another story).

He also said, “You can do good to them anytime you want.” I think that means we cannot always solve the social pathologies that come from our systemic sin-nature, but we can, just for a little while, keep one or two widows warm and trust God to hold their sinning children to account.  

WELCOMING SINGLES HOME The Importance of Intentionality

WELCOMING SINGLES HOME The Importance of Intentionality

Note: I’m happy to welcome my daughter, Mikeala Skelton, as guest blogger today. Her thoughts on being single in the church give us food for thought as the holidays approach. D.S.

A couple of weeks ago, I was having a rough Friday. I was worrying about my granny, who was experiencing health problems three hours away in my home state of Virginia. Earlier that morning, I had called my dad to see how things were going. He informed me that he was taking her up to a hospital in Lynchburg where they could run additional tests. They were checking for pulmonary embolisms.

The rest of the day was tense with the stress that I might be getting some bad news soon. The tests took all day and Dad had very little news to report. By the end of the workday, I realized that I was about to go home to an empty house. Suddenly, anxiety overwhelmed me, and I was sharply aware that, just like every other human being on this planet, I didn’t want to be alone.

This is the reality that many singles face. Some cope with it in healthy ways, some don’t, and many of us fall somewhere in the middle. We all need community, but sometimes, it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack. That afternoon, I employed a trick my oldest sister taught me: create a list, then reach out to every person from the top to the very bottom of that list until you get a response. It might not be exactly what you are looking for, but it’s a start. 

That isn’t easy for me to do. It feels like a cry for help and I cannot bear for people to see me as helpless, but what I needed that day overpowered my pride, so I went to work sending texts. Not surprisingly, no one was available. It was a Friday, after all. My mentor and her family were busy packing for the weekend’s youth retreat, my good friend and her husband were about to enjoy their first dinner date together in weeks, and my other friend was already at the movies.

Many assume the answer to a single’s struggle with loneliness is easy: a relationship. Get yourself a boyfriend or a girlfriend and all your problems and feelings of loneliness will go away, but that’s not the answer. Even happily married people experience loneliness and if we keep placing romantic relationships on the pedestal of perfection, we will continue to be unfulfilled. The assumption that we must act on our sexuality to be happy is wrong, and the Church has joined the rest of the world in saying that our identity is in our relationship statuses. How? By its lack of intentionality and dismissal of singles as well-rounded individuals.

My goal as I reached out to friends that evening was not to wind up in a sexual relationship. It could have been. I could have just as easily hopped on Tinder than reached out to my married friends. I know how easy it is to replace loneliness with sex, but I also know that real relationships take time and I wanted something real- to be part of a family, to be safe, to be loved. Romantic relationships are great, but they’re not a requirement for any of these things.

As we approach the holiday season, I encourage families of the Church to do more for the singles in their lives. It might seem intimidating, but as theologian Phylicia Masonheimer said, “You don’t have to be in the same relationship stage in order to learn from each other and to unite around a table.” 

A few years ago, I stood alone in a pew listening to the organist play the recessional at the end of a beautiful Easter Sunday service. My family was five hours away and deep loneliness pierced my heart as I watched the other families around me leave for Easter Sunday brunch. Suddenly, I felt a tap on my shoulder. Behind me stood an elderly gentleman and his wife. He was holding a folded twenty-dollar bill and had a shy smile on his face.

“You might not remember me,” he said, “but the Lord is telling me to treat you to lunch today.” 

I gratefully accepted with tears in my eyes. He had no idea what a blessing that twenty dollars was to me, but as I thanked him and tucked the gift in my pocket, I remember waiting for him to say that he and his wife would love for me to join them for brunch. That invitation never came. I don’t blame them for not offering, but I would have willingly paid well-over twenty dollars out of my own pocket just for them to invite me to a meal.

Couples and families of the Church must be willing to be intentional with singles. We’re not all the same. Some of us are divorced, some of us are widowed, and some of us choose singleness. We don’t need to be coddled. We don’t need special dinners or retreats. But think about this: we do everything ourselves. We take care of ourselves. Sometimes, it’s nice to be invited, to have someone be intentional with us, to be welcomed as part of a family. (And not just on Sundays.) The Church must begin intentionally welcoming singles as whole individuals, or we will go looking elsewhere for community. I will go looking elsewhere for community.

*Phylicia Masonheimer recently released an episode of her Verity podcast on singleness. If you’re looking to understand singleness and how the Church and Christians can help singles, I highly recommend it. It will help you better love the singles in your life.

Mikeala Skelton is the Digital Media Producer for Lenoir-Rhyne University.