The Friendliest Place on Earth

There couldn’t be a more perfect way to spend a Friday evening.

Panoramic view of Waynesville in western North Carolina

Panoramic view of Waynesville in western North Carolina

A week ago tonight, Mike and I plopped our chairs on the lawn of the Haywood County Courthouse in Waynesville, North Carolina. We were staying in a log cabin in Maggie Valley (yes, seriously) that a faith-filled couple makes available at low cost for those in ministry. “Vic’s Creekside” was a green refuge for our last few days of summer vacation.

We chowed down on bacon and eggs from the deck perched 3,500 feet above sea level, inhaling clean mountain air with every bite.

Vic's Creekside Cabin

Vic’s Creekside Cabin

We rested. Read stacks of books. Rested some more.

We fell asleep at night to the melody of a tiny waterfall just upstream and the harmony of the creek tumbling down the mountainside.

The solitude was medicinal. When you drink in quiet, the healing flows right down to your sandaled feet.

But we are also social creatures, so a couple days last week we ventured into nearby Waynesville, a town of about 10,000 souls known as the Gateway to the Smokies.

Gateway to Waynesville

Friendly souls.

Real friendly.

In fact, I might just speculate that the folks of Waynesville are the friendliest people on the planet.

CeCe, Michelle and Allen at the Chamber of Commerce gave us their time and their cards. The jovial redhead who waited on us at the City Bakery provided sightseeing advice along with pastry.

When we tried the door of H.A.R.T., the community theatre twice voted finest in the entire US of A, a young woman looked up from plucking produce from a garden across the meadow and called out, “We’re closed! But hey, you wanna see inside?”

Haywood Arts Regional Theatre

Haywood Arts Regional Theatre

Christy turned out to be the assistant manager, and on our impromptu tour we were fascinated to hear about HART’s plans to open a bistro in their new facility opening this fall.

The sales associate at Steeplechase English Toffee offered delectable samples. (Tropical toffee, anyone?)

Teresa Pennington, award-winning Artist of the Blue Ridge, personally showed us around her gorgeous gallery.

Pennington

When the stunning stained glass windows of historic First Baptist of Waynesville drew us inside, a vivacious blonde named Jeanie showed us around and chatted as if she’d known us forever.

And here’s the thing: these are busy people. Why should they care so much about welcoming strangers?

But they did. Somehow a communal spirit of hospitality is as pervasive in Waynesville, NC, as the blue smoke on the nearby mountain range.

So when folks mentioned the Friday evening summer tradition of mountain dancing in the streets, we were there smack on time and right up front.

Metal bleachers bracketed Main Street and a bluegrass band set up shop right in front of the Mountaineer Express newspaper. Bags of cornmeal were poured onto the pavement, and when the fiddling began the young and the elderly were the first ones to start moving their feet to the ancient rhythms.

Amateurs? Experts? Both and then some.

“That banjo player up there has won a couple of Grammies,” commented Billy Joe, the young husband seated next to us on the lawn. “And the caller? That’s Joe Sam, a state representative!”

Then Billy was up, pulling his wife Amy to her feet, and as they joined the dancing they called back, “C’mon, y’all, join us now!”

Waynesville Dancing in Street

A bit wistful but mindful of a healing knee, Mike and I stayed where we were.

But we clapped. And we laughed. And we bid our new friends goodbye when we collected our chairs to head back to our cabin.

“Here’s my mobile number,” insisted Billy as we left. “You ever need anything, you call us, you hear?”

What makes one place pull you in and another push you out?

Beats me, but hear me now: I want to be like the people of Waynesville.

Holding out a hand, offering help to a stranger, inviting others to join in the dance.

And maybe if we each work on that a bit, y’all, our communities can become the friendliest place on earth too. It has nothing to do with the topography of the place, but everything to do with the geography of the heart.

“Come back and see us!”

Thank you kindly; I think we will.

Tree in Great Smokies

Great Smoky National Park, July 25, 2015 (M. Rowe photo)

Wisteria Hysteria, or How a Yankee Gardener Met Her Match

Labor ≠ Results.

Not in my line of work anyway. When you work in the Public Relations field seeking earned promotional opportunities for your clients, you can spend entire days reaching out to media only to get little to no response.

It’s just how it is.

So I’ve gotta give some grace to other living things on God’s green earth that toil away and have nothing to show for it.

Like the wisteria vine in our side yard, of which I have long had Great Expectations.

I have harbored Wisteria Fantasies as long as I can remember. I want to live in a big-porched home with wisteria dripping outside like purple rain, filling the humid air with the scent of summer.  Maybe it’s the southerner wannabe in me. Could be I’ve read Gone With the Wind too many times.

Porch wisteria

But there it is. Unbridled lust.

For the royal color. The sugar-sweet fragrance. The sheer extravagance of those gorgeous amethyst petals free-falling from the arbor.

So my man planted me a wisteria vine soon after we moved to the Midwest. Didn’t look like much at first.

“Takes time to settle in,” an Amish farmer advised us. “Let it sleep. Next year creep. Then the leap.”

That was over a dozen years ago.

The vine? It’s grown so hefty and dense the arbor is staggering under the weight of its emerald abundance.

But the lush lavender globes I do so long to admire, glass of sweet tea in hand?

I swanee, that ol’ vine keeps on flaunting its infertility right in my petulant face.

And then

My Gardener-Man and Husband, him being one and the same, took a turn around the yard when we returned from a road trip last month. Rounded the corner and looked up at that mysterious wisteria. Gave a shout out.

“Maggie girl, come look at what we’ve got here!”

Huge blooms of a hue so passionately purple to make royalty jealous.

But it was not wisteria.

Seems a clematis vine had taken a predatory interest in that arbor. Had been slyly gathering strength deep within, sheltered by the older vine. Green camouflaging green.

And then when we were away, the jackmanni bloomed big and brilliant, splashing purple clear up to the sky.

And I stood there, hips supporting hands, shaking my head at the marvel of it all.

Purple glory is what I wanted, and purple glory is what I got.

So what if it’s not exactly what we planted?

Sometimes labor ≠ results. Sometimes you don’t get what you worked for. Sometimes the Master Gardener’s got something up your vine that’s way better than you ever imagined.

And that’s mighty fine.

Mighty fine indeed.

Wisteria 1

Letting Go

It never gets easier.

Losing a member of your family never does.

The bond has nothing to do with biology.

Or blood.

Or adoption.

Family members don’t have to be branches on the same tree. They don’t need to share a last name or legal status or even long acquaintance.

But we are family because we serve together, worship together, bolster each other up in the bad times.

And rejoice together in the good.

So when a family member is called Home, we’re happy for them. That prime piece of paradise they’ve been eyeing longingly for years? It just became their inheritance.

That tent they lived in? Exchanged for a mansion instead.

But those of us left waving, longing, bereft?

Selfish, you bet, but we’d still rather have them here.

Last night Mike and I knelt by the side of a beloved member of our church family. We didn’t  meet Evelyn until she had passed 80, but for 13 years we watched this godly, gracious woman lead a class, teach the Scriptures and come alongside countless women. When my mom moved to town following the death of my dad, she and Evelyn became neighbors. Then dear friends.

How we all loved her.

When we arrived, the hospice staff stepped aside to give us space. She’s not conscious, we were told. The end is very near.

She wouldn’t know we were there.

But a God-loving woman knows the voice of her pastor like a sheep knows her shepherd.

The instant Mike began to pray over her, Evelyn’s eyes flew open.

While we sang of God’s faithfulness, she stared into the distance, searching for something far beyond the hospice room.

When my voice quavered and broke, her lids fluttered closed. But her warm grip on my hand tightened.

Prayers ascended, spiraling upward. Tears in his own eyes, Mike bent and kissed her forehead.

The call came first thing this morning.

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of one of his saints.

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Evelyn

Evelyn M. Chaddock April 23, 1921 – June 23, 2015

When You Really Need to Know “God’s Got It”

Bridge in Northside Park at twilight - 8.6.2013

Bridge in Northside Park at twilight -storm coming

Two months have passed since my beloved’s first surgery, elective.

Second, emergent.

Third, pneumonia that scared me to tears in the woman I love best in all the world as she enters her tenth decade.

Love Idol author Jennifer Dukes Lee, who cradles truth in her writing as watchfully as a mama bird on her nest,  says it best:

      “I’ve just got to know it, way under my ribs. I’ve got to know that He’s enough.”

I have written a dozen posts in my head and they’ll come pouring out in time. Good things, good times. Road trips and family celebrations and worship with church kin who have my heart.

But for today? Now? This minute?

My friend Jennifer has said yes to letting me share her words with you. Because maybe today, now, this minute, you need them too. This post first appeared on www.JenniferDukesLee.com. You can find it all right here.

Here are her words that have gone ’round the world in recent weeks.

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“I’ve got to believe it when I look at these lists, and this calendar, and that conflict, and these unknowns breathing hot down my neck. I’ve got to believe it on those days when I’m prone to drag my worry around.

I’ve got to believe He’s enough when I’m hanging on too tight, hanging on for dear life. I’ve got to know that it’s okay to just. let. go … and know for sure that He’ll catch me.

I’ve got to know that the God who holds all time in His hands? That He will hold even me.

Friend, God really does have this.

“God’s Got It.” That’s what my favorite farmer says here, almost daily, on this farm. It’s been his mantra for as long as he’s worked those fields. His philosophy for farming has become a theology for living. God is God, and God is good, and God has actually “got it.” 

This is not just a cute catch-phrase, but an actual way to habitually remember that there is a King in Heaven who holds all things together — even when life stings.

When worry. When cancer. When inadequacy. When pain. When drought. When storm.

That’s when He’s got it. Always.

We repeat it to ourselves, on the bad crop years, and when the diagnoses come, and when we’ve gathered in hospice rooms, and over hospital beds, and in ugly days of wild uncertainty. It’s true: What we say to ourselves, and to one another, can determine whether we will live imprisoned or free. Because dark days will come. In this world we will have trouble, but what did Jesus say? “Take heart, for I have overcome the world.”

So we tell it to each other, over and over again: God’s got it.

It’s why we return to the table of grace with the cup and the loaf. “Do this in remembrance of me,” are the words etched into the altar. We return and remember and receive and repent and repeat. God’s Got It. He has actually and miraculously overcome the world.

We believe this—

that Jesus was born of the Holy Spirit, that He came to Earth, and that He died on a cross, … and that when Satan was laughing and the disciples were running scared, God actually and miraculously still had it.

– that Jesus was wrapped in a cloth and buried in a tomb, and a stone was rolled into place. And when His followers grieved and saw nothing but darkness, God still had it.

– that on the third day, in opposition to the laws of nature, Jesus rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven. Because — please hear me here — God most assuredly had it.

– And we believe that our King is seated at the right hand of the Father, because it’s true: Our God has still completely and mercifully “got it.”

Even in the middle of our worst days.

We may watch a bad situation turn into an impossible situation. Some of it will defy logic. From time to time, God will let us in on the reasons why. And other times? He won’t.

But He is still our Lord, because He already sent a Savior.  

It’s as true today as it was 2,000 years ago in Calvary: Our God who had it then, has got it now, and forevermore shall have it.

{ And even I don’t get it, God has still got it. }

– JENNIFER DUKES LEE,  by permission

Argentina cross

Lessons from Libby

If you could change one thing today about your life, what would it be?

PorchApril

Mike and I have been beyond blessed the past few months to have our daughter Amber and our only granddaughter, Libby, staying with us. We are all eager for Ben’s return from deployment in the Middle East late next month, but oh how we will miss the girls!

We’ve fallen into a welcome routine these bright spring mornings. Parents of young children are chronically sleep-deprived, so Libby’s Baba (that would be Mike) and Mormor (yours truly) have delighted in taking the early morning shift as Libby’s companions.

Mike typically gets to her crib first and brings her in to see me. While he does physical therapy on his knee (still sporting a railroad-track of stitches after two major surgeries the past six weeks), Libby and I take an early-morning walk around the lagoon at Northside Park.

Libby quacks at the ducks. She waves to passing dogs, blowing kisses to their owners. Watching her, I breathe my prayer to the One who is Caretaker of all, “How blessed we are. How can we thank You enough?!”

Living with and loving Libby comes with lessons, too. She’s learning about the world every day.

Libby reaching

We’re learning at the same time.

Over Libby’s oatmeal this morning, I said to Mike, “How are we different now than when she and Amber arrived in February? We’re helping to teach her life skills, but what has she taught us?”

We laughed about how we admire the ease that a toddler has in simply saying “No,” a skill the two of us have yet to master.

We commented on how exceptional Libby makes us feel when she hurls 25 pounds of diapered energy at our knees and looks up through a tangle of blonde curls to exclaim, “Yuv you!”

But do you know what a toddler models best?

The value of play.

Life for me is primarily work. Not simply my 40 -hour-per-week daytime job, but the 24/7 work of pastoral ministry. Caring for people, meeting needs, connecting them with others who can help.

Work matters. But watching Libby, I’ve learned that so does play.

Flinging ourselves down on June’s carpet, we point out the denizens of the trees, exclaiming in wonder.

Libby in grassBlowing bubbles in the backyard, we spin in circles until we collapse, giddy with joy. Swinging at the playground, we feel the wind in our face and something holy rises up, unbidden.

We remember that it actually can be fun to be God’s children.

In Leonard Sweet’s The Well-Played Life, the author reminds us that pleasing God does not have to be such hard work, and that playing is not just for children.Well-Played Life

“In every age of our lives,” writes Sweet, “we need to tap from deep within the sense of God’s gift of play – the consciousness that in every part of life, everywhere we look, in everything we do, we can experience God’s pleasure.”

Living with and loving Libby has taught me that.

Who will I play with when she is gone?

Taking Back Your Peace of Mind

prayerpower-640x469Bent over my work computer yesterday afternoon, I glanced up occasionally through the eight-foot plate glass window in my office to study the enormous black storm clouds boiling up from the southwest. I’d like to get home before that hits, I thought.

Only it didn’t.

Umbrella in hand, I gathered my things just past 5 pm only to note with astonishment the brilliant light now pouring through my office window. That storm I wanted to beat home?

Never arrived.

Sometimes the things we fear never do.

A hand-wringer by nature, I have spent a lifetime trying to distinguish Worry from its sibling Concern. They share a family resemblance, after all. Both are kin to Care. Each has its ancestry in the state of Apprehension.

So how do you separate these two conjoined twins?

When I reentered the corporate workforce full-time at age 53, I recall sitting at my desk that first morning staring at my computer, wondering whether I would ever learn enough to truly be useful. Worrying about failure? Futile. But caring enough to work hard to reward the confidence of those who hired me? Totally appropriate.

So I printed out a simple sign in big block letters to remind myself that every day I learned something new would be a good day at work.

Over eight years later, I’ve never had a bad one.

Has there been plenty to worry about in other corners of life? You betcha.

A “routine” knee surgery for my husband last month that produced unexpected complications. A second hospitalization and invasive procedure to deal with infection only five weeks later.

A young friend recently diagnosed with Stage 4 lymphoma who has been given only a 50% survival rate.

A troubled marriage or two in our extended family.

I care deeply about these situations. I am profoundly concerned. So how do I disentangle these legitimate emotions from their bastard brother, Worry?

You’ve read this far because Worry has waggled his fingers in your face too. He’s the playground bully who pokes and prods and steals your peace of mind as if he could spend it for lunch.

So if you’re as sick of being bullied as I am, here are a few strategies to kick Worry to the curb.

  • Talk it out.  

Verbally processing concerns can help. Seeking information, digesting it and talking it through with trusted advisors goes a long way towards alleviating anxiety. Talk to medical personnel, your pastor or a counselor. Take notes, seek second opinions. Take your dark thoughts on long walks to expose them to the light. Talk to God.

  • Resist the rut. 

Someone once defined persistent worry as carving a rut into which all other thoughts drain. Once you have processed your concerns and taken them to those who are in a position to help, switch lanes. What you fear most might well run off into the ditch before it ever reaches you.

  • Pay attention to the positive.  

It’s there, you know. That half-full glass. The beloved who is recovering. That friend with Stage Four cancer who has an amazing 50% survival rate. The marriages that might improve or dissolve, but in either case will not leave the suffering spouse in limbo.

I have an awful habit of inquiring anxiously, “Is everything alright?” when one of my kids calls unexpectedly. They know me well enough to laugh and say, “Yeah Mom, everything’s fine.”

But you know what? The next time a call comes, I’m gonna say, “Hey, what’s new and good today?”

The storm may never arrive.

But even if it does, you can still kick Worry to the curb. Let him go bully someone else. Or better yet, come alongside them and link your arm through theirs. Then link both arms through God’s.

Worry loses his power when you face the bully together.

IMG_3707

Guest Post: Smushed in the Middle of the Sandwich Generation?

Have you ever felt stretched between competing needs in your family? Smushed like the filling spread too thin between two slices of bread?

Dr. Pam SanderlinToday I’ve invited a friend who’s living in that precarious place right now to sit with me to think it through. Dr. Pam Sanderlin is a career missionary, educator, editor and gifted artist (who happens to speak fluent Turkish.)  Post reprinted with permission from http://betweencontinents.blogspot.com/.

Welcome, Pam!

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I’m in the middle of trying to working out my theology on the problem of pain and difficulties.

Mind you, this is not an intellectual activity: I’m trying to work this out because life is so complicated and, at times, difficult, being part of the “traditional sandwich generation.” Think about it: What is it like, being the peanut-butter-and-jelly smushed between two pieces of bread? You’re stuck to the bread no matter what, holding it all together. You’re in it for the long haul. Will you be consumed? (We could do a lot with this metaphor.)

Wood carving by Ruth Geneslaw

Wood carving by Ruth Geneslaw

For a long time I consoled myself with the unbiblical belief that God would never give us more than we can handle. I even believed, for a time, that being a Christian meant I should be immune from difficulties.

But both of those perspectives are wrong. Life has proven them to be incorrect perspectives.

How do we come up with these sorts of ideas when even the news headlines show the opposite? Think of Christians in Syria, Iraq, and Nigeria who have endured torture, rape, slavery, and death precisely because they are Christians. Closer to home, think of people from amongst our friends or family who are overwhelmed and crushed by circumstances.

So, here is my current thinking: Problems and difficulties are a given in this life. At times, it will be more than we can take, but it’s okay, because we are not alone. Good thing, because we can’t do this alone! I don’t know about you, but I need my husband, my sister, my extended family, my counselor, and my church and small group.

More than these support networks, we desperately need God in the midst of hard things. Admitting our weakness and inability — and our need for Him — allows us to let go of the controls and let God work. And He does. He is working even when we don’t see it. Even when we don’t think He cares about us and our circumstances.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Paul writes in Romans 8:35-37. “Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?…In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.“(bold, mine)

Here’s the rub: I don’t feel like a conqueror; I feel like a loser most days.

Why is that? Certainly, things are hard, but it goes beyond that. Our adversary Satan purposely puts discouraging, defeating, joy-stealing thoughts and feelings in our way to shake our faith and well-being. We can respond to these thoughts–and even the circumstances we’re in–in a variety of ways: anger, frustration, defeat, feelings of worthlessness and self-loathing, or we can run to God, refusing to believe the lie that “He has abandoned us.”

We can throw ourselves on God, knowing that no one can separate us from His love. Fact (not fickle feelings). We can ask for His perspective, His thoughts, His guidance, His help, His power to persevere. He is the conqueror for us. He is our vanguard and our protection.

As it says in Psalm 91:1-7:

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.”

But, but….buthow do we know that God’s love and presence are with us despite our feelings, the circumstances, our fallen state? He’s promised His presence in Psalm 91.

And Paul answers this earlier in the Romans 8 passage:

(1) Our sins cannot keep us from God’s presence because of Jesus’ sacrifice for us.

(2) We are promised eternal life with God in Heaven.

(3) Satan can’t block us from receiving God’s love.

(4) God is with us through the difficult situations.

It’s very hard, but we are not alone. Even we “sandwiches” are conquerors because God is with us.

Not our effort, but His.

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“Sandwich Generation” wood carving by Ruth Geneslaw: http://www.ruthgeneslaw.com/gallery/pages/sandwichGeneration_jpg.htm

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