Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Sock Exchange

Every Christmas the women of my church get together for lunch, followed by a sock and holiday treat exchange. This was only my second time, but I remembered it as a sweet time of fun and fellowship last year and was looking forward to it. In fact, I was so excited about it that I showed up a week early with my socks and plate of goodies. 

So a week later, when the real day arrived, I was ready with my wrapped-a-whole-week-early socks and a fresh batch of cookies. It was just as entertaining as I remembered, and I came home pleased with my tray of yummies and socks with which I emerged, victorious, from the battle.

See, it’s not so much a pleasant, easygoing gift exchange as it is a cunning game of chance and avarice. It’s Dirty Santa at its finest, with 40 women vying for Christmas socks that cost, at the most, $5. It’s great. And a more than a little revealing. Here are a few thoughts about this year’s Christmas sock exchange:

You can have Chick-fil-A on Sunday.
It just takes foresight and a working oven to reheat the nuggets and strips.

Women can be extremely competitive when it comes to socks. This may surprise you, but not me. I once stood in line for hours to buy my daughter clothes at a Buster Brown factory sale. It was only after I got inside that I realized I didn’t have the fortitude to fight other women for toddler outfits. I actually witnessed the manager stop the frenzy once because an elderly woman had been knocked down and other women were throwing armloads of clothing they didn’t want on the floor. True story.

Sweets cover a multitude of sins. Women who snatch socks right out of their sisters in Christ’s very hands are once again best friends when they circle the treat table and load up their platters with sweets. Grace truly is amazing.

People have different tastes when it comes to socks. I like fuzzy socks I can wear to bed. The pair I walked away with this time were even “infused with shea butter.” Not sure how that works, but they sure feel nice. Other women went for multiple packs of Christmas socks. And for still others, the perfect pair of socks didn’t have a Christmas theme at all, but could be worn long after the holidays. It all worked out because we’re all different, even though we’re created in God’s image. Maybe if we just tried a little harder to see and love each other the way God does, in spite of our socks, the world, not to mention our Christian community, would be a better place.

Jesus didn’t appeal to everyone, either. From the Sadducees and Pharisees to the zealots and occasionally his own followers, He wasn’t exactly the Messiah most people were looking for. But He was and is God incarnate, and if He doesn’t always fit our idea of a savior then maybe our vision is too small.

You can’t judge a pair of socks by its wrapping. Some socks come in bags stuffed with bright tissue paper, some in colorful packages tied with curly ribbon, and some tucked in holiday mugs or cookie tins, adding to the allure. But no matter how pretty or plain the package, there’s no way of knowing what kind of socks are hidden inside until you unwrap them.

Isn’t it the same way with people? How can we possibly know anyone’s heart until we take the time to unwrap the outer layers? Sometimes those wrappings are taped tightly and double knotted, but it’s always worth the effort to reveal the gift inside.

Jesus didn’t come to us in luxurious trappings, either. And yet He was the most extravagant gift ever given and received, priceless love straight to us from the heart of God.
“This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” – Luke 2:12 
Finally, don’t hold onto anything in this world too tightly, or you’ll surely lose it. Every time I got a pair of socks I had my eyes on (okay…I was coveting), along would come another woman determined to possess MY SOCKS. In truth, it was comical because they were just socks. On the other hand, Jesus said,
“… whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” – Matthew 16:25
Jesus came into the world and gave His life so we might be able to unclench our fists and hand Him our lives. In return, He promises life eternal with Him and life abundant here on Earth. It really is the best gift exchange of all.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Lost & Found

"All who wander are not lost." - Tolkien

I can’t remember ever being lost, geographically speaking.  It’s not that I have a great sense of direction, because trust me, I don’t.  If you ask me to point the way...well, pretty much anywhere...your chances of arriving at your destination will be iffy, at best.  

And I know I’ve been in the wrong place at the wrong time on many occasions, not to mention the wrong place at the right time  But genuinely, “Don’t know where I am or how I got here” lost?  Not ringing a bell.

Now, there have been many times when I’ve marched to the beat of a different drummer and ended up in trouble as a result… Take the time I took my three-year-old sister, Ellen, for a walk around downtown Bethesda, Maryland. My Mom, Dad, Ellen, and I, plus my Granna and Granddaddy, were visiting my Uncle Flinn and Aunt Courtney, who lived in Bethesda at the time. And I guess I got bored, because I decided it would be a fine idea to take Ellen on an adventure.  (Poor Ellen is 7 years younger than I, and when we were growing up that usually made her an easy target accomplice, willing or not.)

But this particularly day my intentions really were honorable when I said, “Granddaddy, I’m taking Ellen for a walk, ok?” He gave me his sweet smile and his blessing (or so I thought) and said, “Ok.”

So off we went. I can’t tell you how many city blocks we covered, but I guess we were gone a long time in “grown-up minutes” because when we got back to the house, everyone was very excited—yes, that’s the word—EXCITED to see us.

It turned out Granddaddy forgot I told him what we were up to or, more likely, just plain didn’t hear me.  Either way, I was in big trouble. See how happy everyone (ok, just Ellen) looks in this picture, taken after our homecoming?  Recognize the look on my face, front right?? But my point is that I was never lost. I knew exactly what I was doing (if not where we were going), I had an alibi (albeit one with poor hearing), and I held her hand the whole way (which should have counted for something). 

Then there are other, less dramatic trips, when I start out knowing where I’m going and stay the course the whole way, only to arrive without a clue as to how I got there.  Ever get in your car to go to work (before that second cup of coffee) and when you get there you only have a vague recollection of driving the last couple of miles? Or worse, you can’t remember whether the light was really green at the last intersection? (Disclaimer: If you’re my friend Trooper Claude, I’m not sayin’ this has ever happened to me…ever hear of “literary license?”) Anyway, it’s not a good thing, being lost in thought while you’re driving. But it’s not the same as being lost.

Now I have a GPS and the chances of my getting lost are even less. If I even think about wandering off course, I get the “RECALCULATING” message, obviously recorded with a big sigh and a disgusted eye roll.  In fact, with the exception of the time I was in downtown Pittsburg, driving in circles around super tall buildings, my GPS hasn’t let me down.  And the best part? I don’t have to fold it like a map!

Did I mention I love my GPS? It’s true, but as much as I love my Garmin, I love my internal GPS – God Positioning System, a.k.a. the Holy Spirit – even more because it’s never let me down. Oh, I may have turned down the volume on occasion, or let my battery run down, but those are user errors. If I’ll stay tuned into His voice and focus, listening to the exclusion of all of the distractions around me, I’ll always be heading in the right direction.

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, "This is the way; walk in it." (Isaiah 30:21 NIV)

And on top of that, I have my map – His word…

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. (Psalm 119:105)

…and my personal navigator – Jesus Christ.

 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. (Luke 19:10)
The truth is, I HAVE been lost, spiritually speaking….but I’m not anymore, and for that I’m eternally grateful.

Note:  This post is in memory of my Dad, my Granddaddy Settle, and my Uncle Flinn...I miss them all so very much.

Saturday, May 28, 2011


No one I know would argue when I say it’s been one stormy spring. In fact, it seems we’ve had more than our fair share of severe thunderstorms, complete with damaging hail and devastating tornadoes not typically seen in this part of the country. You could say we're weather weary.

The weather's made us a little jumpy, too.  We head home from work, school, and ball fields with one eye on the sky, watching for lightening and unusual cloud formations, ready to pull over and dive into a ditch if necessary.  Most of us now know where the safest places in our homes are in the event of a tornado and, if you live in the country like I do, you’ve laid up supplies of water and batteries.

In Brumley Gap, I’ve lost electricity for 12+ hours on at least three occasions in the last month alone. And when your water comes from a well, no power means no water, either. Of course, life without lights, showers, DirecTV, and, heaven forbid, high-speed internet is really just an inconvenience. Yet, if I’m being honest here, it makes me cranky. Embarrassing, but true. 

David Crigger 

But before you say I’ve lost all perspective, I know that my inconvenience is someone else’s nightmare. I watch the news and it’s been horrific. According to NOAA News, “April 2011 set a new record for the month with 875 tornadoes that killed 361 people,” some of them close to home in Southwest Virginia and East Tennessee. On Sunday, May 22, 2011, an EF-5 tornado hit the city of Joplin, Missouri, leaving an estimated 132 people dead and 750 others injured, with 156 unaccounted for in Joplin. And on May 24, 2011, deadly tornadoes claimed 18 additional lives in Oklahoma, Kansas, and Arkansas.

These are unimaginable statistics that I can hardly comprehend.  And that’s not all. Tsunamis…earthquakes…mudslides…wildfires…not to mention acts of terrorism…all can easily overwhelm me with reports of suffering, death, and devastation.  The news can be mind-numbing, and I sometimes worry that it will numb my very heart and soul, as well.

And then there are the disasters that don’t make the news…lives imploding in drug and alcohol addiction, child abuse, cancer diagnoses, divorce, and financial ruin, just to name a few. These are the everyday disasters that drop like bombs all around us and threaten to shatter our worlds and shake the very foundations of our faith.  

So how do I process all of this bad news, much less respond, as a Christian?
Well, I’ve been praying lately that God would break my heart for what breaks His. It’s not that I’m inviting heartache; I just don’t want to be numb. It feels like a good first step.

I've also been trying to come to terms with the fact that He looks upon the heart:

“The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” ~ 1 Samuel 16:7 (NIV)

I know this scripture, taken from the story of Samuel trying to figure which of Jesse’s sons God had in mind to be Saul’s successor as the next king of Israel, is more about physical appearances. But haven’t our “things” become a reflection of who we are, at least in this world?

So if all of the “stuff” that makes up my life was destroyed, what then? Could my heart stand alone? If everything in this world is stripped away, leaving only my heart, isn't my relationship with Jesus all that really matters in the end?

Ultimately, as heartsick as this world and its disasters may leave me, I want to focus on people’s hearts, and who they belong to.  And to do that I have to be heartbroken. It's the only way my heart can truly reflect the love of Jesus to people who are hurting for His mercy and grace.

Friday, July 30, 2010

As He Leads Me

It’s a rare thing for me to take a day off for no reason at all, and even more remarkable for Larry and I to have the same day off. But however unusual, it happened that way two Mondays ago and we set out for the mountains of North Carolina.

Our first stop was lunch at one of my favorite places – Café Portofino in Boone. How can you go wrong when the theme is garlic? I have a history of good memories at Café Portofino, and suggest you make some there, should you find yourself in Boone, NC. I’ve shared some great meals with friends, and recently with family celebrating Ben’s graduation from ASU. But this particular day it was just the two of us, and we lingered a long time over our bianca bread, pizza, and lemon blueberry cake.

When we couldn’t stretch lunch out any longer, we took off for Grandfather Mountain, where I hadn’t been since my children were small. It was a beautiful afternoon, with glorious, far-reaching views. I’d forgotten how breezy and cool it is on top of the mountain, and how fluid the mile high swinging bridge feels under your feet, much like being on a boat.

Still, the bridge didn’t frighten me. There were rails along the sides and I watched the crowd crossing without plunging to a tragic demise for several minutes before we started across. But when we got to the other side and I realized the plan included hiking up the rock face to the top, hesitancy crept in, along with all sorts of excuses to stay put. I have a bad knee, and my balance was never all that great, even with two good knees. And to be honest, I’m not as flexible as I used to be. But I’m also not as fearful as I’ve been in the past, either. So I took off my flip-flops (causing Larry some concern) and made like a not-so-nimble mountain goat, my hand in his, one step at a time.     

I quickly discovered that my best bet was to keep my eyes on Larry's back and on the rock just beyond my bare feet, rather than taking in the panoramic views all around me as I climbed. Sometimes I would have to step down to get a good foothold before I could move any farther up, and at least once I had to take a step back and re-evaluate my path. But for the most part, I just trusted my faithful guide to lead me on.

When we got to the top, the two of us sat on a flat rock for the longest time, just taking in the view and enjoying God’s creation in HD. I never cease to be amazed by His imagination! When we finally started back down to the bridge, we worked our way back along the rocky course slowly, him leading the way and me following close behind, molding my feet to the rocks. 

It was on the way down that it occurred to me: This is the way I should be living my life every single day, eyes on Jesus as he leads me safely along the paths of my life. 

“We have an idea that God is leading us to a particular end, a desired goal; He is not. The question of getting to a particular end is a mere incident. What we call the process, God calls the end….God's training is for now, not presently. His purpose is for this minute, not for something in the future. We have nothing to do with the afterwards of obedience; we get wrong when we think of the afterwards. What men call training and preparation, God calls the end. God's end is to enable me to see that He can walk on the chaos of my life just now. If we have a further end in view, we do not pay sufficient attention to the immediate present: if we realize that obedience is the end, then each moment as it comes is precious.”

I can’t look off into the future too far or I’ll surely misstep and likely fall. I may have to step down some days in order to eventually climb higher – my life course isn’t designed to be level, as much as I’d like it to be. And sometimes I may even have to step backward because I've let go and wandered off the path. Or I might be called to reach back and help a friend or family member over a tough spot. But I believe if I’ll just keep my hand in His and continue putting one foot in front of the other, He will be faithful to lead me over the rocks and level ground alike. 

“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” ~ John 8:12

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Breaking Bread

One day in the not so distant future I’m going to figure out just how many breakfasts we’ve delivered through our church’s New Hope Outreach Center. I can’t even recall what year we began, thanks to the efforts of Missy Sarver and a handful of faithful volunteers, but it’s been an adventure in ministry every step of the way.

We started out with the idea of serving people who, in theory, would come to Pleasant View UMC weekly for a hot meal and other services we might provide. But God quickly turned that idea upside down and showed us that we were to go out into our mission field, meeting people where they were, and feeding them not only breakfast every Saturday morning, but also fellowship, encouragement, and the gospel of Jesus Christ.

To my knowledge, we’ve only had to abandon our efforts two Saturday in many years, and both of those were due to winter weather. We’ve shared Christmas greetings from the children in our church, cards from our kitchen team, and countless smiles and hugs from our dedicated delivery teams.

I’ve written about this ministry here before, but I was on the schedule to cook this morning and for some reason I felt compelled to document it from the kitchen. Maybe someone reading needs to know what we’re all about, so here it is, with apologies for the poor quality of my cell phone photos…

This is Ellen. She always beats me to the church on Saturday morning and she's a sweetheart. She's smiling...really.

Typically she mans the oven and I take care of laying out the boxes and pantry food (i.e., fruit, oatmeal packets, etc.) Today's menu: Sausage, eggs, biscuit, fruit, oatmeal. We put together 30 meals at a time.

First we box 'em, then we bag 'em...we've gotten pretty good at it over the years. It's too early for me to be doing math, but here are 81 meals, ready to go.

Now we wait for the delivery volunteers to show up. There are six routes in Abingdon and Washington County. At 8:40 Ellen and started getting a little nervous (it's not good if our drivers doesn't show up), but they all came and here are some of their smiling faces. (My apologies to the others...I forgot to save three of the photos on my phone.)

Karen and her sweet mama, Betty were bound for White's Mill and Senior Drive.

David was heading toward Bradley St. and Washington Court!

And Robbie and Marty were delivering meals to A and B Streets and the big apartment complex! (Doesn't Marty look excited?)

"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'" ~ Matthew 25:40

Good Question

Good Question

Even as I’m typing this, our church's youth praise band is taking the stage at Resurrection – an annual youth conference in Gatlinburg, Tennessee which, according to the website mission statement, “brings youth groups together for awesome fellowship and authentic worship, where the Gospel is proclaimed, and youth have a spiritual renewal and a closer walk with Christ.”

More than 12,000 people were at Resurrection last year...pretty heady stuff for a band of kids who typically play in our church basement on Sunday nights for a crowd of maybe 30 contemporaries. But this is more than just a performance; this is worship, and the opportunity to reach other teens – a lot of other teens – with the good news about Jesus.

Just writing about what they’re experiencing right now brings back a sweet memory of when my son Ben was in high school and playing with the youth band at that time. They also were privileged to play at Resurrection one January weekend and even got to meet Chris Tomlin backstage. I hope it’s a good memory for Ben, as well. In fact, both of my children experienced Resurrection several times, and it’s my prayer that those weekends were a big part of their faith journeys. Again, from the Resurrection website: “Resurrection lasts more than just 48 hours – it’s something that accompanies youth on their walk with Christ all year long.”

But back to this weekend, or actually, several months ago… Our youth band was sharing in a Friday night worship service at a nearby church when, as they were being called to the stage, the worship leader asked, “What is your band called, anyway?” They looked at each other, perplexed because they hadn’t come up with collective name, and Katie replied, “Good question!” So Good Question they became. And the more I’ve though about it, the more I’ve come to believe, as comedic writer Dave Barry says, “That’s a great name for a band!” Follow me…

If you’re in a band that’s all about the music, then any catchy name will do. But if you’re about lifting up the name of Jesus through your music, then you have to ask the question: Who do you say He is? It’s the only way to make a difference and it’s the only question that really counts in the end.

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets."

"But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." ~ Matthew 16:13-16

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. ~ Colossians 1:15 (NIV)

Thursday, January 7, 2010


Southwest Virginia hasn’t seen a winter this cold and snowy for many years. We’ve been having the kind of weather that wreaks havoc with my heating bills and, not to get political, kills the whole global warming argument for me.

Weather like this demands that I change the way I think about everyday living. For instance, if it snows during the night will I be able to get to work in the morning? Will I lose electricity, and if so, how will I stay warm? What will I eat and drink in the interim? Once I have all of the questions answered in my head (Hannah’s jeep until she goes back to Radford…the woodstove and a beautiful load of dry cherry from Larry…canned food and bottled water, or wine if I’ve planned really well), I can rest a little easier. But in spite of the fact that we rarely think about food and shelter most days, it gets down to basics really quickly when the weather gets bad.

Virginians also have short memories, and forget how to drive in snow. The first really bad storm of the season came exactly a week before Christmas and it took me seven hours to make the 25 minute trip from work to home. At one point I’d been stuck on the bridge over the north fork of the Holston River for hours and I was down to less than a quarter of a tank of gas. I had one bar on my cell phone, my windshield wipers had quit working, and I knew the electricity was already off at my house. I was less than 2 miles from home, but it may as well have been 2,000. Eventually I took a leap of faith and made it to our friends’ house, where Hannah was, by taking the river road. I was there for almost 24 hours and can’t remember when I’ve been so thankful for a fire and friendship. You could say it changed my perspective.

On New Year’s Day I had another perspective altering experience, this time the result of a conversation I had with my friend Steve. Regular readers will remember Steve, who bikes around the country witnessing to Jesus’ love and faithfulness to everyone he meets. I’m always a little ashamed of my self-centeredness and the ease with which I take the gifts in my life for granted when I talk with Steve. But it’s never because he makes me feel that way. In fact, he’s always truly glad to hear from me or see me, and, because he loves to talk, he usually fills our conversation with praises to God for blessings I would surely miss…a new bike and cart in which to carry all of his earthly belongings…an extended stay in a shelter in Dalton, Georgia….a network of friends who keep track of him and his travels, and who keep him in their hearts and prayers.

I’m thankful to be in that network, because I have a connection with Steve now and always want to know how he’s doing. But selfishly, I’m also thankful for the perspective knowing him gives me. I have much but am often ungrateful, while he has little, and is always grateful.

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. – Colossians 2:6-7 (NIV)

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ… – Colossians 4:2-3 (NIV)

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our "God is a consuming fire. – Hebrews 12:28-29

Father God, please continue to bless Steve richly, giving him food and shelter in the cold weather, strengthening his faith, opening the door for him to share your message...and Lord, please shake up my perspective anytime you see fit.