Miz Agnes and the Miracles

In the good southern way, children and youth alike called her Miz Agnes. In real life she was Mrs. Agnes Joyner, a fixture as a Sunday School teacher, an intimidator in a Bible study anyone else led (you best be prepared because Agnes was going to ask questions) and the keeper of the wearing hats to church tradition.

She also became the designed sitter in our church. When both parents were in the choir or divided between choir and preaching, Agnes was the person with whom parents could leave their children. They knew she’d welcome their wiggly presence with her in worship but had the gravitas to keep them from getting too wiggly. For a while she also came early to meet with children in the library and read to them. The children loved Miz Agnes.

As they also loved Miz Jane who taught generations of children in the preschool Sunday School class. Parents begged her not to retire before their children came through her class. When she died her body was carried from the church to the strains of Jesus Loves Me and a congregation filled with her now grown-up preschool children cried a bit for the deep hearted gift of having known her and the sadness of having to say goodbye to her. She told me once that in all of her years of working  with children she’d never met a bad child, only ones who needed a little more attention and care.

I thought about Agnes and Jane this week as I read an article about the impact of older adults in the lives of youth and young adults. A survey of college students found that the ones who had adults over fifty in their lives – regardless of the health of those adults – reported lower levels of illegal drug use.

It’s one of the best gifts we as the church have to offer and it’s a light we keep trying to hide under a bushel. Children used to have the benefit of lots of contact with grandparents, aunts and uncles. For many children these days such contact is infrequent.

But in a church, well it’s a different story. That’s the miracle of it. Here children can sit with Miz Agnes and be loved by Miz Jane. Here they can be friends with the volunteer helping with the youth. Here, unless we fall into the trap of segregating ourselves too rigidly by age, children and youth can find the extended family that we all desperately need. In a wonderful win-win, adults of any age can also find purpose and meaning in those connections.

Who has been Jane and Agnes for you? How might your church nurture those connections?

What do you do when you’re anxious?

What do you do when you’re anxious?

Two dogs shouting at each otherHave you noticed? Lots of people are feeling anxious these days.

Some people are feeling anxious because in not so many days we’ll have an inauguration that will lead us into uncharted waters. What will it mean for us as a country? For the world? What will it mean for me as an individual?

Some people are anxious because no matter who is president, the problems at home are still the problems at home. The car is still making that funny sound. Every time you start to get an emergency fund saved up an emergency comes along to wipe it out. You don’t quite know what’s happening in your relationship and the not knowing is as anxious as dealing with the problems. There’s still the matter of that test the doctor ordered. The lab is being awfully casual about getting your results back, not knowing that you can’t sleep until you know.

Some people are anxious because, well… it’s just what they do.

One of the keys to dealing with anxiety is to identify what’s under your control, which probably a lot less than what you think in your imagination. Once you identify that, focus on taking concrete actions where you do have control.

Sometimes those actions feel small and useless in the face of worldwide events. Sometimes they seem to be hopelessly inadequate baby steps in light of the mountains we have to climb in our lives.

But take enough small actions and they  add up.

This summer I went to a birthday party for a friend. Included in the guest list was a family whom she’d been helping. I watched the children playing soccer and saw their wide eyes as they surveyed what was probably the biggest birthday cake they’d ever seen.

And then I thought about other children, the hollow eyed children of Aleppo. You see, this family was a Syrian refugee family. They were here because of the work of a lot of people but also because my friend had decided to do the things she could do. She couldn’t broker peace in Syria but she could help one family find a new start and a new life. Or maybe find life itself, away from the bombs.

This month I’m offering a webinar on anxiety, “If I love Jesus why do I need Xanax?” We’ll look at what causes anxiety, how our brain feeds it, what faith has to do with it as well as talk about some tools for dealing with it. I’ll also share one of the roots of anxiety that I’ve discovered in over ten years of working as a therapist. It’s not one people talk about a lot, but it can make all the difference in how you handle anxiety.

Click on the link to register. You’ll have three different chances to attend, and the webinar will be both live and free all three times.

https://my.demio.com/ref/4C6tOUT8I2EeSuAU

In the meantime, what helps you when you’re anxious?

 

 

Thanksgiving in the rear view mirror

Thanksgiving in the rear view mirror

The leftover turkey is transformed to hash stage and the last of the dessert is gone. But before we leave Thanksgiving completely, I share with you a Thanksgiving sermon… about not leaving Thanksgiving completely.

The Responsibility of Gratitude
Deuteronomy 15:7-15
I Corinthians 11:17-34

Have you ever been a part of the start of something new?
A new company.
A new organization.
A new club.
Even a new division.

If you have, you know that there a thousand decisions to be made.
Earlier in my ministry
I served on the boards of several groups
that were just getting started
or were still very young.

Oh my, there are so many decisions to be made.
Bylaws.
Officers.
Voting procedures.
And let’s not forget…..
budgets.

Like building a house
you have to figure out everything from scratch.

Why are we doing it this way and not that?
Do we need to improve upon the old models
or create something new?

Moses was the leader of a group
in such a situation.

With the immediate danger of Egypt and the Pharaoh behind them,
they had to figure out how they were going to live
as free people.

That’s a lot of what the book of Deuteronomy is about,
about how a rag tag bunch of escaped slaves become a people.

Part of these bylaws was a provision for the sabbath year..
Every seven years the land was to lie fallow, a sabbath for the earth.
Debts were to be cancelled. Slaves were to be set free.

Now we could spend our time in this text
thinking about best practices for our earth
or the conversation between economics and theology.
Instead I want to keep moving forward
to the last verses of this text.
The reason why they were to do these things.
“For you were once slaves in Egypt.”

You free your slaves and treat them
with justice and kindness
because you were once on the other side.
You knew what it was like
to have harsh taskmasters
demanding more bricks
with less straw.
You knew what it was like to cry out to God,
to cry from your bones
for something, anything.
For freedom.

We were once slaves
and with a strong hand and mighty arm
God brought us out from Egypt.

This is why you do what you do.
Not because it’s a good idea for interpersonal relations.
Not because it will make you a swell person.
But because you’ve been there.

You know that ring of authenticity, don’t you –
That realness that comes
when someone’s been there.

When I did my clinical pastoral education residency,
they told a story to us
about another student in another time.

It was back in the days when
they still delivered babies at Baptist hospital.

This chaplain was called to check in on a woman who’d had a particularly difficult delivery,
hours upon hours
of agonizing labor.
The chaplain came in the room,
introduced himself,
sat down by the bed,
took the patient’s hand
and in his most gentle, pastoral voice said,
“Mrs. Smith, I know just how you feel.”

This being a chapel of worship
I will not repeat verbatim
what she said,
but it was to the effect that he really didn’t know
and would never know.

“You do this for your slaves,” the book of Deuteronomy says,
“because you were once slaves in Egypt.”

Granted,
this is not the most popular text
for a Thanksgiving service.
In fact,
I may be the first preacher in the history of Thanksgiving
to use it as such.

But as I thought about this sermon I kept coming back to that phrase…
“for you were once slaves in Egypt.”

We like our Thanksgiving celebrations
a bit contained.
Many of us will celebrate tomorrow.
Some will go for the reduced scheduling conflict
of getting together this weekend.
But come Monday
we’ll have the sense of having Thanksgiving
behind us.

On the other hand,
the biblical witness is clear
that Thanksgiving isn’t a day we celebrate
but a determining factor in how we live.

We were once slaves,
and the Lord brought us out with a strong and mighty arm,
and because of that,
we live differently.

We cannot offer one hand in thanksgiving to God
and close the other hand to God’s other children.

I’m not talking here just of a Thanksgiving food drive,
as important a they are.
In my own church last Sunday
we filled the altar with bags of groceries that will help
sustain the needy in our community.

No, I’m talking about what we do
the next week and the next and the next.
How we treat those who are despised and rejected.
How we take the time to see
those who are invisible.
How we seek kind hearts
in an age where the prevailing wind is a mean wind.

You see, we were once slaves in Egypt.

Now perhaps you have had a golden life.
You’ve never despised yet felt beholden to an addiction
or felt lost in your grief
or wondered how you were going
to pay the power bill this month
or waited out an endless dark night of the soul.

Still,you join in the song…
We were once slaves in Egypt.

For there is not a one of us present
and not a one of us on the planet
who has done enough
and done it well enough
to earn the boundless love of God.
It’s why we call it grace.

Because we were slaves…
because we were flawed,
stumbling,
soaring,
struggling,
seeking,
sinning,
sometimes compassionate
and sometimes clueless
children of God,
and God reached out
and welcomed us home,
that is why we are thankful.

And that is why we must be different.

Paul said as much to the church in Corinth.

In some traditions the Lord’s Supper
is known as the eucharist,
after eucharisto – he gave thanks.

He took the bread, and after giving thanks…

Some people in Corinth
were treating the Supper
like an all you can eat buffet
and they were coming hungry.

They filled their plates
and their bellies.

As a result,
there was none left for those who came later.

By the time some folks got there
others were full
and some of them were drunk.
And there wasn’t always enough
for all of God’s children to share.

It should not be so in the body of Christ,
Paul said.

This isn’t a place
to get as much as you can get for yourself,
forgetting your brothers and sisters.

“Do you show contempt for the church of God
and humiliate those who have nothing?” (11:22)

Having given thanks, he took the bread and broke it.
Having given thanks,
we share the bread with all of God’s children –
the bread of sustenance for our stomachs,
the bread of hope for our spirits,
the bread of kindness for our neighbors,
the bread of welcome for those
whom we’d rather not call neighbor,
the cup of grace for the broken places in all of us,
the cup of gratitude for all we have been given
and all the roads we have traveled through,
the cup of comfort for grieving hearts
the cup of the waters of mercy and justice
that still long to flow
like a never ending stream..

Tomorrow night
after the leftovers have been divvied up
and the dishes have been washed
and sleepy children put to bed,
thanks giving will not be done.

For you were once slaves in Egypt.
For you, his body was broken.
We were all once slaves in Egypt.
For all of us his body was broken.
Thanks be to God.
With our very lives we declare,
Thanks be to God.

 

copyright Peggy Haymes
November 23, 2016

Houston, we have a problem

In the movie Apollo 13, after Tom Hanks has uttered those famous words the guys at Mission Control finally identify the source of the problem. They abort the moon landing and reroute the capsule to get them home. The problem is that they have to make sure they have enough breathable air and part of the spacecraft that kept the air breathable was damaged.

The director of the mission gathers some of NASA’s best and brightest in a room and dumps a box full of assorted stuff on the table. “This is all they’ve got to work with,” he says, “find a way.” They are going to have to duct tape a spacecraft back home.

Houston, we have a problem.

Shootings no longer make news unless the body count is high enough or the target population is new enough. Schoolchildren are gunned down and nothing happens. Moviegoers are gunned down and nothing changes. Kindergartners are murdered by the classroom weeks before Christmas and for the rest of the country life goes on as usual. And now patrons at a club are killed by the dozens. And for the rest of us, life goes on.

Life goes on of course, after the grief and outrage and vigils and prayers and declarations that something must be done.

But it never is.

Meanwhile, toddlers have become one of the most lethal groups in the country. Over and over again they find a gun in a parents’ bedroom or at a friend’s house and someone winds up dead. That child or adult is dead, and that toddler will have to live forever with that knowing.

Something must be done.

But it never is.

Houston, we have a problem.

What we’re doing – or not doing – isn’t working. In my business, we call that the everyday definition of insanity. Doing the same thing and hoping for a different result.

It’s time to do something different.

We have a lot of smart people in this country. I know we do. We have a lot of people who care deeply. I know we do. Can someone not gather in the best of them into a room and say, We have to fix this…

We need to get them in a room: People who know about guns (but not lobbyists.) Police officers who have to deal with such shootings. Experts on the constitution and our legal system, who know what can and cannot be done. Sociologists who understand culture and society. Lawmakers who are not in office and do not plan to run for office who nonetheless know how our legal system works at its best. Can we not round them up and say, “This is what we have to work with – this messy, freedom-loving, deeply divided, deeply hurting country. You have to find a way to bring us home safely.”

Perhaps – and I know I’m just dreaming here – we could study what other countries have done who have successfully reduced the amount of mass shootings. I know –we’re different. We have a different culture and history. But maybe, just maybe we could learn something from someone else in the world.

We need to clear away what we think we know. What we think we know only leads us to more rivers of blood. We need the courage to admit that it isn’t working and the resolve to do something different. Whenever a shooting happens we first cry out that something must be done but the answering echo is always all of the reasons why that something won’t work.

Can we not embrace the problem without assuming that we already know the answer and that answer being defeated before it’s begun?

Houston, we have a problem. And giving the same speech only louder isn’t going to fix it.

I’m tired of vigils.

I’m tired of prayers for survivors.

I’m tired of mass shootings having to be qualified as today’s mass shooting because you see, we have so many.

Houston, we have a problem.

 

 

What a toddler taught me

What a toddler taught me

She was camped out on one side of the waiting room, an obvious grandmother charged with wrangling kids while other family members were having an appointment.

A boy sat in the chair on the other side of the table, all arms and legs thrown over the chair, lost in the world of a game on the grandmother’s phone. She was grateful that he was breaking through the levels that had long frustrated her.

She herself  sat surrounded by the sure signs of toddlerdom – an open bag with toys that weren’t working their magic today. The little girl was fine with a set of keys until she started trying to eat them, at which point the grandmother demanded them back. The little girl roamed her half of the waiting room, seeking and destroying.

The grandmother appealed to the boy. “You have a choice. You can let her use the phone or listen to her scream.” The older brother was unmoved and kept playing. I aspect eh’d learned long ago how to tune out the screams.

The grandmother appealed to the toddler, “Have some more biscuit.” The little girl obediently toddled over, even though her cheeks were bulging with uneaten biscuit.

I caught the girl’s eye and years of babysitting, children’s ministry and aunt-dom kicked in. I started playing peep-eye with the magazine I was reading. She stopped, giving me the side eye. I raised the magazine to cover my face and lowered it again. She stared, considering whether to join in this game until the grandmother offered biscuit again.

Let me be clear. I don’t stand in judgment over this overwhelmed grandmother. Sometimes we do what we can do and with small children, survival is always a noble goal.

But the encounter also made me sad. The only avenues of connection for this grandmother were food and electronics. Peep-eye. Itsy bits spider. So many ways to capture the attention of a toddler.

It made me think of the ways in which we interact with each other as adults. I’m not advocating for games of Itsy Bitsy Spider, although if you’ll start I’ll join in. I’m thinking about all the times that we miss the  simple ways of connecting with each other.  We distract each other with shiny objects when what we really want is just to be present with each other.

Some days I think it’s the most powerful thing that I offer in my therapy office: a space in which one human being is present with another human being.

This week today I dare you to connect with one other person. It doesn’t have to take more than a minute. Forgo the shiny objects. Set the electronics aside. If you and they are the hugging sort, give them a hug and allow yourself to feel how it feels to connect. Look them in the eyes and ask how they’re doing… and make a space for them to answer.

Sometimes we just want the simple things.

 

Trump, Clinton and Those People

Just when it becomes hard to imagine our political climate becoming more divided, along comes a presidential campaign season that seems intent mostly on fracturing our divided nation even more.

(Incidentally, right now I’m reading Joseph Ellis’ fine book The Quartet. After the Revolution the fractured collection of states threatened to go the way of divided Europe instead of becoming a united country. Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, John Jay and James Madison stepped forward to push for a new Constitution and to create a true nation. A thought provoking book.)

change livesWhen I sat down here to drink some coffee and do some writing  I couldn’t help but overhear the people at the next table. They were of the sort who saw anti-Christian conspiracy around every corner. They agreed that our society went down the tubes when they stopped paddling kids in school.

I dug my headphones out of my computer bag even as I felt my blood pressure rising. I was thankful for the music of Hamilton downing out their conversation.

And then a pesky truth nudged me, like my dog pushing her nose between me and my book. I was ready to write them off as those people. You know those people. The people on the other side of the spectrum. The people we caricature and make fun of, whether we are conservative or liberal or somewhere in-between.

The pesky truth kept nosing its way in. These people are my brothers and sister. God loves them just as much as God loves me.

Dang.

One of the interesting things about my work as a counselor is being able to listen to the lives of such different people. The grocery store clerk. The executive. The single mom. The grandfather. The deeply conservative. The flaming liberal. The straight. The gay. The confused. Black. White. Mixed. The woman who never had a struggle until recently when things went off the rails. The guy who has scrapped and scrambled every day of his life. Like a bloodied prize fighter he stands wobbly kneed in the ring but stands nonetheless.

I don’t have to listen long before those people become just people. People who hurt and fear and hope.

It’s a tough line to walk, embracing the humility of grace that recognizes our common kin while still holding to whatever prophetic voice the times demand. But the promise I try (sometimes unsuccessfully) to keep is never to ridicule people who are those people to me. I know if we could talk long enough they’d become just people with their own fears and hurts and hopes.

As responsible citizens, we have a duty to call candidates into question, whether it’s for the presidency or the local school board. We may challenge and debate and even argue with fellow citizens. If we are very brave, we may listen to someone with whom we disagree.

(As a time management tool I am trying to avoid comments sections for online articles and stories posted on Facebook. But more than once I’ve found myself writing, “It doesn’t work like that. None of this works like that.”)

The times call for wisdom, and wisdom resists the seduction of too easy generalizations and too neat categories. Wisdom ain’t easy, but may we be brave enough to ask for a measure of it.


 

I debated giving up anger for Lent, but the realized that it was too important.

As Christians, what are we to do with anger? Is really one of the deadly sins? Does our spirituality need it, and does anger need our spirituality?

Join me on Friday as we talk about these things in my free webinar:

Can I Be Angry? Anger, Faith and a Real Life

A replay will be available, but only for those who register for the webinar. Find out more.

If you only had faith…

It’s enough to break my heart.

worried womanMy client sits across from me and admits that they’re sure that God hates them or is angry with them or is ready to give up on them. Because they’re anxious. Because they’re depressed.

And well, if they were just a better Christian they wouldn’t feel this way.

Which, of course, is poppycock. Usually (but not always) I say it in nicer ways. It’s just not true. God doesn’t base grace on how chipper we are, which is one of the reasons that it’s called grace. As Frederick Buechner once said, we don’t have to do a blessed thing and that’s the blessedness of it.

Still, if you’re a Christian and you battle anxiety, it’s hard not to feel a little guilty for it After all, there’s that whole “the Bible says ‘Fear not’ 365 times so you have one for each day” picture on Pinterest. You know you shouldn’t feel anxious.

But you do.

We don’t help our anxiety by beating ourselves up for being anxious. If anything, that fuels the fire. We do help ourselves when we can take a step back to understand it, to pay attention to what’s going on in our spirits and in our brain. Once we understand it, we can use tools for changing it.