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“Papa’s gone to work for Jesus now.”
When my five-year-old nephew said it, with such bright, shining belief in his eyes, something clicked in my mind. I’d been struggling for days to find the words, the relevance of what I wanted to say, and finally, it all made sense.
A few months ago, I asked my husband, Danny whether I should talk to my daddy about faith. My mother is a strong Catholic woman who instilled her beliefs in all three of her daughters. We were blessed to know Christ the Lord from a young age. Daddy didn’t go to church with us much, if at all. Lately, as I’d been exploring my deeper faith and the calling God had put on my heart to share that faith in blogs, I’d suddenly thought about talking to Daddy about the Lord.
Still, although I spoke to him often on the phone, I never once brought up the subject. Then on March 30th, my mom called to tell me Daddy was gone.
My world crumbled, and in the midst of the loss, I had the gut-wrenching fear that I’d failed. Had God called on me to speak to Daddy? Had I missed some mission He’d laid on my heart? All opportunity was gone, irrevocably lost.
My family isn’t a stranger to loss. This November will be twenty years since my little sister, just eighteen at the time, died from an aneurysm. I thought watching my parents go through that would be the hardest thing I could ever experience. But losing my daddy was different. I was stricken in a way I hadn’t known before. And I couldn’t help but worry about all of the things Daddy and I hadn’t said.
Over the years, I’ve given a few eulogies. My sister’s, both my grandmothers’. But now, I was terrified, certain I couldn’t give Daddy’s eulogy. I didn’t think I could hold it together. I didn’t feel worthy. But when our cousin who would be conducting the service asked us if anyone would speak, Mom said she thought I would. How could I say no? I swallowed up my trepidation and worked to convince myself that I could do this last thing for the man who meant so much to me.
What I didn’t know was that I would be doing it for me, too. I spent the two nights before the funeral working on what I would say, looking at pictures, listening to music, getting lost in memories. Crying until I was sure there were no more tears, then crying some more. And gradually, slowly, something began to be painted in my heart.
Then finally, the night before the funeral, my nephew popped out with those words: “Papa’s gone to work for Jesus now.” And I knew that I’d been waiting to hear it so that I could put all of my jumbled thoughts together.
This was what I said about my daddy at his funeral:
When we were going through photographs the last several days, my baby sister remarked that she was surprised there were so many of Daddy. In some ways, it seemed like he was just in the background. But on the table before us, we had picture after picture of smiles, of dancing, of laughter, of joking and fooling around. Of swagger and handsome blue eyes.
A lot of those pictures, some of our favorite ones, were of him in his work clothes, grease on his hands and on his face. Mom said that’s what she remembers about the first day she met him, dirty face, and all she could see were those pretty blue eyes.
And that big, bold smile.
Mom always said Daddy was the provider. The girls and I knew he worked hard when we were growing up, doing any and all jobs he needed to do to take care of us. It wasn’t easy, and it seemed like he always thought it wasn’t enough. I remember when he would take us to school he always worried that we would be embarrassed to be seen in his dirty old truck. The girls and I never saw it that way. He took care of us. We were proud of that.
And he did it with a smile.
When I went to a retreat in high school, we were given letters written by our family. I have all of those in a box at home, but there’s only one of them that I could almost recite verbatim. Daddy wrote about the big test he was due to take for a promotion at work and how he had to put off taking it when I was born. And later he passed that test, but he said he was never as proud of that as he was of having me. He loved all his girls, especially Mom. After all, he picked her up off the street, fed and clothed her, bought her her first pair of shoes and gave her three beautiful daughters… or at least that the way he told it.
With that sly smile on his face.
In Mawmaw’s diaries, she wrote about how excited she was when her Cecil was born after she thought her baby days were over. All his sisters were so thrilled to have a new little baby. But then Uncle Calvin came along after and he had to share the spotlight, and maybe that’s why he had to work a little harder for attention. Mom said Aunt Winnie and Uncle Frank talked about how he would stand on their kitchen table and dance and put on a show. Probably that’s when he first started developing the swagger.
And always with that smile.
Daddy used to tell about how when they were in high school, Aunt Emily and especially Aunt Carol would constantly check the oil in their cars because the baseball team would be practicing across the street from the house. He would roll his eyes about them. But I when reminded him that apparently showing off and shaking your backside ran in his family…
Then he would give me that smile.
Mawmaw told me about one time Uncle Gary, Daddy’s best friend, came running up to the house screaming, “Cecil killed himself!” And here came her little boy, limping back home covered in blood and calm as could be after falling out of a tree. Daddy always told Mom that he never left home, his Mom and Pop did. Daddy refused to go to with them when they moved, instead staying behind in their house. He was headstrong, and I think because of that, Mawmaw always seemed to know he could take care of himself. And he took care of her. And he took care of us. And he took care of all of his people. That’s what he did. He was the provider.
And he did it with that smile.
I talked to Daddy often the last several years. Since he was retired, he would call regularly, usually to tell me about how he’d harassed the people at Deepwater Horizon. I think retirement was hard for him; he never could find his bearings. But he enjoyed spending a lot of his time with Uncle Mud, teasing about driving Miss Daisy when he would take him to the family reunions. At the end of every call, he’d ask if I needed anything, pressing to be sure my husband was taking care of me because if he wasn’t… I’d laugh and tell him of course he was, then Daddy would say, “Sorry ‘bout that, baby. You know how your daddy is. You know I love you.”
And I could practically see that smile through the phone.
I don’t know if I thought he’d always be there. The practical side of me knew that he wouldn’t be, but somehow, my heart didn’t really ever consider he would be gone.
A new family moved into the house next door to Mom and Daddy about a year ago. A few days before the funeral, those little kids were playing with my nephew, and one of the little girls came to me. She was about five, and she was asking me about what happened to my daddy. I told her that he had gone to be with Jesus in heaven. She nodded her head, somber and said, “He was a nice man. He was nice to me, and he helped my momma.”
From the mouths of babes, right? But maybe they have a better understanding of these things than we do. The night before the funeral, my nephew was trying to sort things out in his mind and he told us that Papa was gone to work for Jesus now.
Scripture says “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” We understand this was signaling Christ’s own death and the promise of his resurrection. We are told we are to be as Christ, with the same promise of eternity if we follow him. Daddy wasn’t a religious man. His life was of a provider but looking back now it is easy to see the Christ in his heart. And that means we have the promise of seeing him again in that place Jesus has prepared for us all.
When I became a writer, Daddy took to occasionally calling me “John Boy.” It became a joke when I went home sometimes, that when we would go to bed he’d say “Good night, John Boy” just like in the series The Waltons. That was one of Daddy’s favorite shows. I’ve been thinking a lot about John, Sr. in the series, and how he never went to church with the family, despite his wife Olivia’s strong beliefs.
But in The Waltons, John, Sr.’s life spoke for itself. His goodness to his family and others, how hard he worked. All of that was a testament to the heart of the man. And in the end, I know that’s Daddy, too. And maybe Papa hasn’t just gone to work for Jesus now. I think maybe he’s been promoted, that he’s received the promotion Christ promises us all if we believe in Him.
When’s the last time you hugged the devil? It may be more recent than you think. The enemy becomes our friend when we least expect it. Despite all the pain we know he’ll cause, we start to get used to him. Start to find comfort in his presence, because once he’s been there a while, the idea of change is scary. Because the longer he’s been there, the more he’s separated us from Christ. And that’s when he becomes the one we come to rely on.
What is your devil? Is it drugs? Sex? Alcohol? Food? What in your life comes between you and God?
2017 was a tough year. My husband I got sued and eventually settled, but at a great price. It was a long and drawn out process that left me angry. Frankly, I was livid. Not just a momentary kind of anger, but a long-term seething and rabid sort of rage. I wanted someone to pay. I wanted to make them pay. None of those musings of vengeance required a shovel and a deep hole, but there were days I actually prayed for a way to take extreme measures against them. I wanted to hurt them.
And the more I let that anger fester in me, the more separate I could feel myself getting from God. My old sins, ones I’d long since asked for and received blessed assurance of forgiveness, haunted me. I felt unworthy of Christ’s love. And as I warred with that, I began to get anxious. I knew that before long, I’d be to that point where even the tiniest thing would send me close to a panic attack.
The truth is, this wasn’t a rock bottom moment for me. I’ve been more despondent and more separate from my God in my life. But I recognized the signs of what was happening. I was asking for hugs from the devil. And believe you me, he was right there, willing and waiting to take me in his arms and offer me all the things to make me turn my back on my savior.
I needed to find a way to let go. I needed to find a way to forgive. And that wasn’t going to be easy. The reminder of what had happened was right outside my front door every time I left the house. It was in the community emails that we received. It was in the good-meaning friends who were eager to tell us all about the latest dirt. I was surrounded, and it didn’t take much to stir the pot inside me.
But God knows what we need even before we do. He provided the manna, and even though it took me a while, thankfully I was willing to receive it. I can thank any number of people for being the ones he put in my path as I struggled. My darling friend Tawdra Kandle who shared her own struggles and her example of reliance on Christ. Scott and Leah Silverii for their wonderful Marriage Matters mission. My pastor’s sermons that always seemed to be speaking just to me. And my husband’s steadfast love as we took turns picking each other up when it all got too much for us. All of those were pieces of the puzzle.
But what really helped me put things all together was the book I just finished writing. My character is an alcoholic. The pain and tragedy in her life were caused by the bottle. And the bottle was her friend. The one thing she knew she could count on in life.
I really didn’t know much about alcoholism or the twelve steps before I started writing this recent book. I’d had some experience in the legal business with clients who had recovered, but nothing much beyond that. So I grabbed The 75th Anniversary Edition Alcoholics Anonymous on Audible and started listening on my way to and from work.
As the narrator described the alcoholic, I could relate. It seems to me there’s a reason addiction is so rampant in our society together. It’s a human frailty that any of us can fall into. Our “drugs” are different. The levels of impact on our lives aren’t all as destructive as those fighting addiction, but most of us, from time to time, have struggled with something that seemed to take over our lives. Something that came close to breaking us.
And the principles of recovery described in the twelve steps can be universal, too. The first step is to admit we’re powerless and that our lives are unmanageable. It’s when we get to steps two and three that things start to get hard. Step Two: Come to believe that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity. And Three: Make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God.
How does that work? I didn’t know how to turn things over to Him. Sure, I’d read it. Understood it. Said it to myself. But I wasn’t practicing it. I told my friend Tawdra that I was an Indian giver when it came to offering up my worries to God. I would ask Him to help me, ask Him to take the burden from me, then almost immediately I would snatch them back from Him to stress and worry all over again.
But I was determined to make progress this time. One of the central tenants of AA is helping others. At meetings, other alcoholics give their testimony and connect with someone struggling. And then later, as recovery continues, that person will in turn reach out to others. It’s the community that is so vital. When I heard that in the AA book I was reading, it clicked in my mind.
All the signs in front of me were encouraging me, giving me the direction I needed. God was putting everything I needed right there. When my grandmother died last year, my heart led me to write about my faith, and Tawdra suggested we start a blog for writers. I’ve been immeasurably moved by the opportunity to work with her and the other authors in our group.
About that time, I also started following and was invited to write for Scott and Leah Silverii’s Marriage Matters/ Faithful blog. It was during that time when I read about Scott’s struggles with forgiveness. It seemed his issues were parallel to mine, and so I decided to take some of his suggestions to heart. I actively and verbally asked God to help me forgive. I announced to myself that I would forgive, and I started writing those lines in a journal daily.
And then the new year began, and something miraculous happened. Peace. Complete and utter peace. I didn’t feel angry. I didn’t feel nervous. All of the rancor and anxiety had melted away.
I’d finally surrendered. I finally gave it all over to God.
All along, I’d wondered how forgiveness could happen for me. Because our particular situation isn’t over yet. There’s still another lawsuit ongoing, and I just couldn’t understand how, without resolution, I could let go. Because I still truly feel justice must be done.
But the point is, I don’t have to understand it. God knows. God knows the situation. He knows me. He knows how this will all end, and He knew it even before it began. He’s got this.
Christ knows every piece of me, and He saw just how and when I would ask for and receive His healing. In all the times I’ve been in the darkness, in all the times I was offering hugs to the devil, He was still there, waiting. And all I had to do was call on Him with faith. All I ever have to do is surrender to Him, and He pulls me out of the clutches of the enemy.
God works miracles every day. And yes, even this, even my surrender and reception of peace is a miracle.
Are you struggling today with something? Are you in the middle of one great big embrace with the devil? He is there with you. And He’s offering a light in the darkness. It might be a friend. A blog. A prayer. A kind word. Somewhere, He’s sending you the sign right this very second.
If you need prayers, please know that we at A Pen and A Prayer will offer those for you.
In nearly all of my posts here on P&P, I’ve referenced the ministry in which my husband and I are involved. Today, I want to talk about exactly what it is.
What is The Community Chaplain?
TCC is a non-denominational, inclusive ministry that reaches out to those in need of pastoral care or help and guidance in times of life transition. Our goal is to build and support community wherever we serve.
We work with people on life transitions, which can include moving into assisted living, working out at-home elder care and moving from rehabilitation back home, as well as a multitude of other related needs.
We visit specific people on a weekly basis for the purpose of fellowship, Bible study and simple home repair. This is part of the over-arching ministry of presence.
We make hospital visits for those who need support during times of family or personal illness.
We perform weddings, funerals, baptisms, home blessings and ministry of the sick.
We make twice a week visits to a local nursing home that has no other chaplaincy support, visiting the patients and praying with them as requested.
We lead a service at a local nursing home 2-3 Sundays a month, with the support of several of our ministry partners.
We minister via telephone, offering encouragement and information to those in need or crisis.
We have developed a community garden to offer more opportunity for fellowship and community! There are plots available for those who want to cultivate their own vegetables or flowers, and there are multiple opportunities to join in the larger plot by weeding and helping with planning and planting.
There is no ordinary day in this ministry. We might spend a few hours having coffee with an elderly lady who has asked us to do some home repairs, and then stop at another couple’s home to put together a new kitchen table, and then meet someone else at Panera to offer a listening ear, and then spend a few hours on the telephone working out a delicate assisted-living transition before we devote some time to preparing the next lesson or service.
None of these tasks are paid. All are freely offered. All are freely and joyfully given.
We are doing everything we can to be faithful to the calling God has placed in our lives.
Nothing happens in a vacuum, and God moves us in His ways and time, so this ministry has been a long time in the making.
In 2008, God led Clint to attend seminary after twenty-plus years in the military and in private sector business. During that time, Clint began to minister to the homeless and those in need through the Loaves and Fishes program. Following his graduation in 2011, he took a position with a hospice provider as a chaplain.
In 2014, Clint moved from hospice chaplaincy to parish ministry when he took an assistant priest position at the Anglican church we’d attended for four years. He was able to further hone his pastoral care gifts there.
By the end of 2015, we knew God was doing something. The situation at the church was causing our family more pain than positivity, and in light of that, to seek God’s will for our next move, we spent the last week of Advent in prayer and fasting.
God apparently took us seriously when we committed to following His plan. On Epiphany, January 6th, Clint’s position in the church was eliminated because of budget constraints. We both felt strongly that God was leading not to a new parish position or another hospice chaplaincy but to serve Him in a new way.
Since then, we have been working solely as God leads, day by day. It is not an easy process. God does not send a daily schedule of activities, a blueprint for the future or notice of how the bills will be paid. But He is faithful nonetheless.
He has impressed upon us time and again that our mission is to reach His people one by one. Numbers are not the goal. And again and again, He tells us: “Behold, I am doing a new thing.”
We’ve been blessed to minister to those who are not comfortable seeking help from a church, to those who are part of a church that cannot accommodate their needs, or to those who have no religious affiliation or desire for one. We do not proselytize or evangelize, trusting that God opens eyes as He wills.
So without a salary, how are we living? That’s a great question!
God does provide, and over the course of this year, my book income has risen slowly, which helps. We’ve also been blessed by gifts as people are moved to be part of the ministry in that way.
But as you can imagine, we rely heavily on donations. That’s why this Giving Tuesday is so important to us. We’re working hard to raise enough funds to continue the ministry through 2018, to help continue to grow the Garden and to help those in need.
How can YOU help?
–Donate through our YouCaring page. This is the organization we use to facilitate donations for The Community Chaplain, and they are offering an incentive: if you donate any time between on Tuesday, 11/28 and use the hashtag #YouCaringGives2017 in your donation comments, we’ll be in the running to receive some of their award monies, too.
–Donate through our dedicated PayPal button: paypal.me/TheCommunityChaplain
And prayer support and encouragement is always appreciated!
I’m true believer in the idea that in God’s economy, there is no such thing as coincidence. Things happen for a reason, and timing is never accidental. Consequently, I look at a few recent occurrences and understand that God is working on me in one particular area.
Not too long ago, I received a message from someone who has known me for a long time. She was a friend of my parents, and she is someone who has shown support and encouragement since my parents died. So what she said in this message shook me. She wrote that she was aware of our current financial situation, that my husband has been without a salary for nearly a year and that she’d read mentions of our struggles. However, she said, we didn’t act poor. This woman pointed out what she felt were inconsistencies in my ‘story’ and insinuated that we were ‘crying poor’, while in fact we’re actually doing fine.
At first, I was hurt and more than a little angry. “Good heavens,” I thought. “What do I have to do to prove that we’re just barely hanging on? This is insane!”
And then I remembered something. Back at the beginning of this year, when our grand adventure began, one of the things that God impressed upon me was that we were not to feel impoverished or lacking, no matter what the circumstances were. He wanted us to embrace abundance, understanding that He is the God of unmatched generosity.
Scripture is full of assurances of the extravagant abundance of our God.
John 10:10: I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
2 Corinthians 9:8 And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
Words that Last
In part 2 of this mini-series of posts, I mentioned that it’s not always easy to rely on God’s provision. I’m pretty sure this resonated with many people. And it continues to be a lesson I’m learning, too. Again and again . . .
Like the Psalmist, who among us hasn’t gotten to the point in our relationship with God, when over troubles related to health, family, job or money, we’ve thrown up our hands and cried aloud, “What do you want from me, God?”
Actually, although that’s likely a sentence wrung from extreme emotions, it’s the perfect place to start, or even the perfect hand-hold to find on the arduous climb up the steep mountain of faith.
What does God want from us? In Micah 6:8, we read an answer: “And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Great answer, Micah, and it looks terrific on a plaque we hang in our family rooms, but what exactly does that mean?
Jesus gives us a little more insight in Mark 12:30-32: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
It’s still not a step-by-step manual, is it? And to be honest, I could write a book on this topic (thousands have done just that; go to the Christian Living section of any faith-based bookstore). But let’s start here. to love someone, anyone, the first step is to get to know that person. God desires to be known by us. This is basically the theme of the Bible. He yearns for us to be so close to Him, to find intimacy with Him, to seek it with our whole beings. Only then can we even begin the process of loving Him.
What you will find is that part of the nature of God and how he expresses His love is His desire to provide for us. He is drawing us closer by asking that we rely on Him, and as we grow in Him, He will ask us to depend on Him more and more. It means relying on God rather than humans, banks, institutions, jobs, pay checks, book sales, IRAs, 401(k)s, insurance . . . none of those are evil, in and of themselves, but when we put our faith in them above God, they take on an unhealthy role in our lives and in our faith.
This is not something we learn once and live out forever. It’s a daily activity, sometimes hourly, even. For me, personally, I have to be reminded frequently.
The other day, my daughter brought me the money for her phone bill. She’s living at home and works, but I know she doesn’t make a lot. I asked if she was sure she wanted to pay that bill just now; I could carry her a bit, if it would make things easier on her.
“No, I need to do this,” she replied. “I have the money right now, and while I want to just hold onto it, I feel like God is asking me to let it go and trust Him.”
I was convicted by her words, because I’d needed to hear just that. I was reminded of something I’d read years ago: if we are holding onto something tightly, it is impossible for us to receive what God wants to give us. Try it. Make a fist, and try to catch something–anything. It’s virtually impossible.
This means that God wants us to be givers so that we can be receivers. Giving out of lack is a recurring theme in scripture, which means it’s something Jesus is asking us to do. If He asks something from us, it’s for our good. He doesn’t ask us to do things out of petty caprice. Each and every command is for our protection or growth.
I’d challenge you, then, if you are feeling a lacking or anxious about anything regarding what you have, act against conventional wisdom. Give. Give so that God may provide for you. Give so that He may bless you even more than you have given away; God will never be out-given.
I think of the widow, giving her last coin in the temple. I remember a story Catherine Marshall shared about a woman who owned a motel that she had dedicated to the purposes of God. She found herself with unbooked rooms for a long time, and her coffers were emptying fast. While praying, she felt moved to send the last of her funds to a ministry in New York.
Any financial advisor would call this madness. But God’s wisdom is often unappreciated by the world. In faithfulness and trust and obedience, this motel owner sent off the check.
That very night, every room in the motel was full, and so it remained for weeks, giving her more than enough to pay her bills. God will never be outdone by our generosity!
I’m embracing this lesson today. I urge you to try it. Give out of what you have. Open your hands and see how God will fill them. Trust, have faith and obey. Let Him bless you, even as you bless others.