How high’s the water?

This song is based on a true story, not the story of the Midlands area this week, but it could have easily been based on what we have experienced. It was unbelievable to watch as our grocery store and the restaurants we frequent were submerged under water.


Even more devastating were the stories we have been hearing over the past two days of the people we know who have lost everything including their businesses and livelihood, like our vet who has taken such good care of our pups.


And the people of the Victorian Lakes Mobile Home Community who our church has been working with for over year. We found out today that the homes they had to evacuate have been condemned and they will have to start all over, many without any kind of insurance at all.


What do you do when the waters are rising and more and more suffering is happening? What can you cling to when this hits right after news of a mass shooting in Oregon?

As a minister, I am supposed to have the answers to those questions. I am supposed to know how to guide people to a better and broader understanding of the divine during these types of events, but honestly I get baffled, too.

I ask and wonder and grieve the loss of life.

What I do know is that the messages of hope and the offers to help our community and our neighbors in need whisper of something greater than even 18 feet of water rising. It whispers of the divine breath of life connecting and creating new partnerships and new life and of God’s people joining in the re-creation process.

Amen. Let it be.

Stopping Hurt Before Bitterness

I was sitting in the pew of the Dover Chapel at Gardner-Webb. It was a session for our preaching class, but there was something different about today’s class. My preaching professor had invited a female preacher to share her story about her call to ministry. As I listened to her story, realizing it was my story with tears in my eyes, I was shocked that there was not even a hint of bitterness in her voice or her demeanor.

And there could have been based on her experience of being rejected and reprimanded, but there simply wasn’t.

Although I hadn’t even been in seminary for a semester, I could already feel the sting of the words of hurt that I’d heard find their way to the deepest parts of my heart. The parts that form and mold you. The parts that impact everything else.

The question was not whether those words would impact me to my very core. I knew those words would reside deep in me for a long time. As they tumbled to the deepest part of my heart, I knew there were a couple of different things that could happen to those words. They could fall like a coin into a pizza parlor game and ignite a new experience, a future I never imagined or they could remain those words of hurt and slowly mold into bitterness that would begin to eat me from the inside out.

The hurt as the words became part of who I am was unavoidable, but I didn’t have to let the words mold. I could let the words transform as well.

The more I work as a pastor, the more people I encounter who have let hurt and pain turn into bitterness. Bitterness that weights them down and clouds their vision. Bitterness over loss loved ones, loss jobs, loss relationships, loss hope.

Bitterness that cripples them from living and becoming who they want to become. Bitterness that stagnates them. Bitterness that holds them back from trying something new. Bitterness that drives them away from family and communities who would embrace them and walk with them through the hurt and pain.

Bitterness that leaves them alone.

The more times I see these people, the deeper my resolve becomes to not let hurt turn to bitterness. Because the world is broken and full of hurt and pain, but that’s not the end of the story. We can still join in creation and “Let them be” something new.

Barefoot and Pregnant in the Kitchen

I looked down at my belly and my bare feet and realized that at that moment I was indeed barefoot and pregnant and standing in the kitchen. I had to laugh at myself because this stereotype that has been used and overused is just impossibly easy to live into when you are eight months pregnant because I am always in the kitchen snacking.

But of course, that’s not the aspect of the saying that strong, independent women react to. It’s the implication that a woman’s role is to always be in the kitchen cooking and to reproduce. As I have pondered what it means to be a stepmother to two daughters, I have wondered whether it means that I teach that this expectation is wrong or if my role is to teach them to use their voice, so that they can make their own choice and to fight against those who try to take away their voice and choice.

I’d like to believe that when our daughters are grown, the economic situation in our country that forces women back to work only days after having children will have shifted, so that if they do choose to be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, that will be a viable option, but there seems to be little shift in the conversation about maternity leave or in postpartum care for new moms.

Having lived in Germany and enjoyed the use of a bike that a teacher who was on her yearlong maternity leave wasn’t using, I wonder if we aren’t on our way to burning out women, families, and our country in the way that we continually compete against each other. Already I am flooded with articles and pictures of how to lose the baby weight and our baby hasn’t even made his appearance. Although I consider myself a rational, thinking person, there is no doubt that the more articles I am exposed to, the more I wonder if it’s something I should really be worrying about.

As our conversations and debates continue to be more derisive and our interactions with each other competitive-based, we are slowly running ourselves into the ground as Americans. We are becoming the worst versions of ourselves.

There has to be a better way to live with each other.

Open Arms, Closed Doors

In my first year of teaching, I experienced something that changed the way I view God, the church, and society. I was teaching second grade  in a high poverty school. Our school was 88% free and reduced lunch, the second highest rate of food insecurity in the district.

At Christmas, my home church had always done a Christmas outreach in which two youth group members adopted and shopped for a child in need. As Christmas time neared, two of the students in my classroom began to talk about the event and tell their classmates that they were going to the big church to eat and see Santa.

I stopped what I was doing because it dawned on me that my students were the outreach program. The reason it hit me so hard was because there were a lot more kids in my classroom who needed help.  I also knew that after the Christmas party, there was going to be no follow up or continuing relationship between the church and these kids who I saw everyday.

I knew because I had been on the other end. I had been one of the youth who adopted a child at Christmas and picked him or her up and took them to Christmas party thinking that I was doing what God had called us to do as followers.

But I have to say now years later looking back on this, I don’t think we were. I think we were making ourselves feel better about the amount of time and money we spent on ourselves. I don’t think welcoming these kids into our lives and into our church for one day every year was what Jesus was asking his disciples to do either. 

As we approach the season of Advent, it would be easy to plan outreach programs that would allow us to tout that we our arms are opened to the community and to our community’s needs, but let’s think more critically and hold ourselves more accountable as churches and as Christ-followers. If we are opening our arms to our community only at Advent and the rest of the time our doors are closed to these same people, then what is the point?

If our community encounters locked doors and security guards as their first impression of church, then there is a good possibility that they will never encounter Christ in what we call the house of God.

Is church about us, our safety and our comfort or is church about God and God’s work among God’s people?

On Getting the Last Word

I was in Target, which is not an uncommon place for me to find myself as we await Baby H’s arrival. As I was standing in line, there was a frenzy of activity in the returns and customer service section. As I waited, I was trying to determine what was going on. There was a white, middle-aged woman who was searching for something, maybe something that had been put on hold, and she was insisting that she be allowed behind the counter to just look for it herself. The manager and the checkout clerk were both very attentive as they tried to help her and understand what she was trying to find, but it seemed as though the item or one of the items wasn’t there.

Finally, the woman gave up and very abruptly said to the young, black checkout clerk, “Fine, just let me get that and could you hurry please I’m in a rush and this has taken forever.”

The checkout clerk responded, “Of course,” and proceeded to check her out.

As she was handing the bag to the customer, the customer had to have a parting word, “This is the worst customer service I’ve ever received.”

I’ll be honest, if the interaction had ended there, I would have understood the woman because dealing with large companies is often frustrating and hearing that there is nothing that a checkout clerk or a manager can do to help your situation is infuriating. Isn’t this why so many of us avoid those customer service phone calls that we all have to make to straighten out a wrong bill or an insurance issue?

But she didn’t stop there.

Her parting words to the checkout clerk (who by the way hadn’t enjoyed the interaction she had just been having anymore than the customer had) were calling her a name, which I didn’t hear, but to which the checkout clerk responded, “As are you.” I couldn’t help but wonder why that interaction had to get to the point of demeaning and name-calling. Sure, it was a frustrating experience, but it was for both parties involved, not just the customer.

This past week’s lectionary passage was on taming the tongue and the power of the tongue to start a fire. Although I’d rather not admit it I’ve been on both sides of similar interactions. I’ve been the one to receive a tongue-lashing from a simple miscommunication or misunderstanding. I’ve also been the one (more often than I’d like to admit) that has to get that last word in and who turns interactions into personal attacks.

We see this everywhere, especially as we are the midst of presidential debate season. We have lost the ability to discuss and debate without demeaning and degrading people. I think this is what the author of James was trying to encourage us to do. This doesn’t mean that we are to be quiet or silently brood over the state of the world, but rather that we are to model what it means to have control over our tongues, so that our tongues and our words are used to provoke change and to challenge the status quo. You might find me naive, but I think as rational, human beings we can do this without stooping to demeaning and degrading other human beings who carry God’s breath of life.

Or at least we could try. And in so doing, we are accepting the invitation of Creator God to participate in creation and making this world “good” again.

“And they have two mommies, right?”

We were in the car talking about our plans for the weekend. We were talking about who we were going to see, something we do often since our girls have double the amount of people in their lives to keep track of. In talking about one place we were going, our 7-year-old asked me about a family, “And they have two mommies, right?”

I paused for a second, not because the girls don’t know people at our church and who are our friends who have same-sex parents, but because this family didn’t. It took me a minute before I put it together, “No. The last time we saw them they had their mommy with them and a babysitter.”

She didn’t reply and wasn’t phased by the conversation at all.

And I realized that the world she is living in, the world both our girls are living in, and the world our soon-to-arrive son will be raised in is very different than the world I knew growing up. It wasn’t that same-sex relationships didn’t exist and that those couples didn’t have families, it’s just that I didn’t know any. It wasn’t until college that I realized that there were people who were openly gay or lesbian and not until much later that I realized the spectrum of sexuality isn’t binary.

I couldn’t help but smile at our 7-year-old’s sense of understanding and openness. She has it figured out much earlier than I did. She understands that every family looks different and that as much as some of us would like to believe it, there is industry-standard when it comes to parents or families or relationships. We are all learning to live with each other.

It’s a good thing that she and her sister and her baby brother will be the ones to guide and lead us. Now, if only those of us who grew up in a world that doesn’t exist anymore, can step aside and let her generation teach us, we might actually have a chance to make the world a better place.

It’s Not Women Pastors’ Fault

In a recent interview, Paige Patterson said:

Patterson said by 1979, the year the conservative resurgence was launched, “the bridle was off the horse, and Southern Baptist Convention was destined to look like the United Methodist Church with female pastors everywhere.”

“Quite a number of churches who disaffiliated from the denomination have now installed women as pastors,” he said. “Meanwhile, I know of no church that is presently actively involved in the Southern Baptist Convention that boasts a female pastor.”

It’s interesting that his observation about female pastors comes in the midst of a discussion about the 750 missionaries that are being brought back to the US because of budget cuts. This does not include the number of people who have resigned, like Wade Burleson, for the gag order issued.

I’m sorry, Mr. Patterson, but women pastors aren’t to blame for the current dilemmas the Southern Baptist Convention is facing. When your doctrine includes silencing women, blacks, divorcees, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender, there’s an inherent flaw in your doctrine and theology. You are silencing and oppression God’s very own creation in order to protect and preserve the power of a few who look like you.

I know you are proud to claim that there “isn’t a church presently active in the Southern Baptist Convention that boasts a female pastor,” but you must also admit that many of your churches have pastors who are adulterers, sexual predictors, embezzlers, and racists. Are you sure not having a female pastor would be worse than these who you claim are ordained by God, speak on behalf of God, and are doing God’s work? By working so hard to maintain power and control, you are enabling these leaders to continue to oppress and abuse God’s people. Are you sure that’s what the gospel teachers?

I know it’s not. It’s why I left the Southern Baptist Convention. It’s why I joined those destined to restore the historical baptist heritage that allows for every member to have a voice in the life and work of the church. My church exists of people who swore off God and swore off church because of the way you are allowing your pastors and ministers to use the institution of church and the word of God for political gain and the oppression of people.

If you’re ever in Lexington, SC, we would love for you to come visit our church and experience the way a welcome and affirming body of believers can transform their community by following God rather than denominational mandates.

On Cooler Breezes and a Bigger Belly


As I let the dogs out this morning, my bare feet encountered cold kitchen tiles. I knew even before I opened the door that the weather outside was going to smell different and fell different. It was going to feel like fall. I smiled as I opened the door and was met with the cool breeze of a fall morning. My soul breathed a sigh of relief that the hot, sticky Columbia summer was coming to an end.

Then, I remembered that with the change of this season, it meant the change from being a family of four to being a family of five in just 8 short weeks. This weekend, we celebrated Baby H with our Emmanuel family as well as friends in Columbia. What a fun time for our worlds to collide as we anticipate Baby H’s arrival and yet another reminder that life as we have known it is changing.

Fall has always been a time of transition for me. As a teacher, it meant a new challenge in a new grade level (I never taught the same grade two years in a row) or a new country. When I started seminary, it meant the change from teacher to student with a full load of classes that would ask me to challenge what I had always known and who I always believed I was. At the end of seminary, it meant the change from pulpit supply preacher to pastor and from girlfriend to wife and stepmom. Fall has always been a time of new beginnings for me.

It’s getting harder and harder to ignore my growing belly and to ignore the fact life is going to change. I am going to change. As I organize onesies and diapers of varying sizes, it’s easy for me to pretend that after walking this road with siblings and friends, I have a good idea how life will change and then, I wake up from a dream in panic because in my dream I have forgotten to feed the baby and realize there’s no way to know for certain what lies ahead.

Although I am tempted to panic over all the unknowns, I breathe the cool breeze and remember every change in the previous falls has brought me here to this place. This place of partnering with the man of my dreams. This place of being who I was created to be. This place of laughing and crying and loving two beautiful girls. This place of walking with two huge pups who can’t help but be excited about the new smells of fall.

This place of the beautiful now that if I’m not careful I’ll miss if I don’t stop and savor.

On Carrying Each Other’s Burdens

I’ve never been in combat nor have I ever trained to be in combat, but I know good people who have given body and mind to training and serving. They have told me that when one of your fellow soldiers goes down, you lean down, pick them up, throw them over your shoulder, and get them to safety and help if at all possible.

This is not a situation we are well-trained for in civilian life. In fact, more often than not, we walk by those in the most dire need holding our appointments or our assumptions that the person in need got himself or herself into the position in the first place as more important than serving another member of the human race.

I didn’t anticipate that being called pastor would change the way people saw me, but every day I have people who contact me asking for help. They ask for prayer. They ask for financial help. They ask for perspective. They ask for insight. They ask for hope that there is another human being who can see them.

And almost as often, I meet with friends who are ministers who are carrying not one fallen soldier, but five or ten or twenty-five. You can see it in their eyes and in their shoulders and in their walk that has slowed down from the weight of carrying another’s burdens. It’s something we, as ministers, train for in seminary, but the pure weight of the number of people who are in need and the time and energy to truly care for a person has increased as humanity has become more divisive and more concerned with selfies than with relating and interacting with those who breath the same air.

If asked, I am not sure anyone, a person of faith or a not, would volunteer to carry another person’s burdens, but if we don’t start carrying one another and leave it to those who are paid to care, then we soon won’t have enough ministers to care for all the need.

Slow down. Take the time to see the people around you and it won’t take long before you see the great need that surrounds you.

The Revolving Door of Ministry

It’s been a year since I graduated seminary and as the class who I was in classes with starts their final year of seminary, I wonder what they are walking into. What will the world of ministry look like in a year, especially for those who are looking to find positions in parish ministry?

I didn’t realize that “seminary student” was a special classification and that once you graduated and accepted a call to ministry, there would be a subtle, yet real change to how other ministers interacted with you. Although this makes sense, it is still surprising to me to be considered colleagues with those who have been in ministry for years. Yet, I have been welcomed into conversations, brainstorming opportunities, and even conversation in our state about what it means to be a pastor in 2015.

In the midst of these conversations, I have talked a lot about the nature of bi-vocational ministry and its sustainability as the future of the church. There are a couple of reasons this conversation is becoming more a part of mainstream conversations (even across theological dividing lines) about church work: church budgets are suffering and oftentimes personnel costs are the biggest expense and there aren’t as many full-time ministry positions available for the vast number of seminary students who are graduating and searching for positions.

The crux of the problem comes to those who are willing to try bi-vocational ministry when the new minister’s student debt or expenses exceeds the amount he or receives for the two jobs. Logically, it seems that this would work because by putting two jobs together that equal the starting salary of a minster, then the student should be able to make ends meet. The reality is that if you are working two part-time jobs, then the cost of health insurance, retirement contributions, and other benefits are covered by the new minister, making it nearly impossible to make any dent in student loans and other debts incurred while in seminary.

This is not a phenomena that is happening just in churches. In fact, as we live in post-2008 recession world, this mentality of paying less for highly-qualified people is called the interim strategy. Companies (and yes churches operate a lot like companies) have convinced themselves that “just for a little while” they will pay ministers less or combine two positions that were recently held by two people into one, so that the budget can catch up.

This interim strategy applies in reverse as well. Recent seminary graduates often decide to take jobs that are for less money, have less benefits, and more responsibilities as the end of their grace period on their loans looms overhead. They convince themselves that they are going to work in positions that they are overly qualified for or positions that don’t pay the average salary of minister “just for a little while” until they get the hang of ministry only to find out that they can’t make ends meet.

New, young ministers then get the reputation of not staying around in ministry positions for very long and leaving after one to two years perhaps from that “just for awhile” ministry position, but, in many cases, from ministry all together. This may not seem like such a big issue, especially because there is always a new crop of seminary students who will be looking for those “just for awhile” positions, allowing congregations to continue operating with an interim strategy, but the revolving door of ministry this kind of thinking creates is detrimental not only to the sustainability of congregations, but also to the gospel we try to preach and live by in those congregations. If we are suppose to welcome in those who are in need when they are hungry and need something to eat or when they don’t have clothes, give them something to wear, then are we truly living the gospel?

Maybe right now in the current economic context and in the midst of 7+ years of operating with an interim strategy, it’s our ministers who are struggling to buy groceries and clothes and pay for their houses and find themselves in need while also trying to serve others.