grace · rest · Spirituality

Rhythms of Grace

I spent a few days last week in the woods near Blairsville, Georgia, helping put up a fence. I was there with a group from my church on a mission trip. Sometimes mission trips are for others and sometimes they are for us. This one was for me.

Carrie and Nathan Dean live with their four children, ages twelve to two, in a three-room cabin in the North Georgia mountains. They are building a church/house where they will live and also use as a place to minister to those who may not feel comfortable in a traditional church setting. I wrote about the lessons I learned about being a follower when I helped to erect the building last summer. In the last year Carrie and Nathan have been working on the nine acres surrounding their home, with a vision to make it a place for folks to come and experience God in the beauty of His nature.  

 I started out this trip as an assistant — I held posts and handed tools to those doing the actual work. At first, I felt frustrated that I was not doing more. After all, I was there to work!

But slowly the calm and quiet of the setting began to infiltrate my being. I stood by the gently flowing creek waiting to hand metal clips to my friends Debby and Cheryl, who had become experts at attaching a wire fence to metal poles. I listened to the birds and a distant owl, and to the voices of our team as they called to each other. I breathed in the smells of pine trees, moss, and leaves composting on the ground.

Cheryl and I attaching fence posts.

I prayed in the quiet of the woods, lifting up several friends going through difficult times, for my family, for our team and for myself.  Like the fern fronds that were spread throughout the trees, my consciousness opened to receive peace and grace. I let go of the shoulds and should haves that run through my mind on a regular basis and felt my daily stresses fall away.

During my devotion time the next morning, I read the familiar passage in Matthew when Jesus is telling us to come to him when we are weary. This time I read it from the modern translation, The Message. The words jumped out at me:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

(Matt. 11:28-30)

Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. God’s rhythm and our rhythms are often not in sync. Jobs, our families, paying the bills, cutting the grass, cooking dinner, going to meetings— all these demands of life cause us to be on the go, even for those of us in the retired stage of life.

God’s rhythm is a slower pace.  When I match his pace, I walk with Jesus, instead of running ahead of him with my own agenda. I listen, instead of telling him what I think he needs to know or do. I share my fears and anger with him and let him take them over so that I don’t have to carry them by myself. Instead of being tired from working so hard, I come away from my time with him feeling refreshed— walking more freely and lightly.

Notice that Jesus is asking us to learn these unforced rhythms and how to rest from him. Did you ever think you needed to learn to rest? Many of us do and learning takes time.

We all need a break occasionally from our daily rhythms so that we can sync back up with God. I found that time in the woods last week. You may find it by getting away to listen to the ocean waves, taking a walk in the park, or sitting in a chair in your backyard. God is waiting on you.

For more information on Blue Mountain Church, visit their website.

#Holy Week · #Plagues · Spirituality

Three Plagues

I laughed out loud when I read my friend Christy Bass Adams’ post about chasing a mouse around her house one quiet evening. You can read it here at her blog, Learning As I Go.

We once had a similar experience chasing a baby squirrel around the house. It faced the same consequences as the mouse in Christy’s story, which involved being on the wrong end of a BB gun.

Last week we found evidence in our kitchen that some mice had been playing around in the drawers and nibbling on my dark chocolate in the pantry. Fortunately, we did not have to chase any around the house but caught three in traps Keith set out. Yuck!  I threw out and cleaned everywhere I thought they had been. Our kitchen is now booby trapped for any other creatures that dare come in.

A few months ago we had our annual infestation of lady bugs, which love our white frame house. I was sweeping up dustpans full every day, so we finally set off some bug bombs in the attic. That resulted in hordes of ugly black flies which fell drunkenly all over the floor and on every surface in the front of the house. More sweeping and vacuuming. Ugh.

Lady bugs, flies, and mice — what next? I am feeling like we are in the middle of a Biblical plague.

God sent the plagues to the Egyptians to try to convince Pharaoh to allow the Hebrew slaves to leave. Working through Moses and Aaron, God wanted to show Pharaoh how powerful He was.

Yet, throughout the months of the ten plagues, God protected the Hebrews from the worst of them. They did not have to endure the swarms of flies or the deaths of their livestock. He warned them before the plague of hail so that they could bring in their animals and make sure they were not out in the fields. And when darkness settled over all of Egypt, the Hebrews had light in their homes.

Most famously, God told the Hebrews to kill a lamb and put its blood on their doorframes on the night of the Plague of the Firstborn, when the Angel of Death would come to take all the firstborn sons and animals. When Pharaoh’s own son died, his heart was finally moved and he conceded to allow the Hebrew slaves, their families, and their livestock to leave.

From that time forward, the Jewish people have celebrated Passover, commemorating the Death Angel passing over the homes of the Hebrews and sparing their sons, and the release of the people to freedom.

Jesus and his disciples were having their Passover meal when he broke the news to them that it would be their last one together. As we celebrate Holy Week at our churches, many of us will be having Communion to remember this important event in our story as Christians.

I love the symbolism found in the Passover meal and the Last Supper. Just as the Hebrews were set free from their slavery, we have been set free from sin. When Jesus took the bread and cup of wine and shared it with these men and women who had spent almost every day with him for the last three years, he explained that he now represented the lamb that was sacrificed for Passover. Just as the blood of the lamb protected the Hebrews from death, we are saved by the blood he shed.

As I take the cup and unleavened bread this year, I am reminded that God will not let the plagues overcome me. When those days come that bring circumstances more serious than flies and mice, I have the confidence that I do not have to go through it alone.

Gardening · Psalm 92 · Spirituality

Staying bendable

How bendable are you?

I’ve been thinking about this question as I walk around my yard on these balmy Spring days. The world is greening up, the sun is warm, and the days are getting longer. My flowers and plants are pushing their heads up out of their winter sleep to bask in the sunshine.

Each day is a treasure hunt as I poke around the flower beds and look for sprouts coming up from under the ground. I survey the saplings that I planted this time last year, twisting their little limbs in my fingers. If the branch bends, I rejoice that the tree is still alive. If it is hard and breaks off, I know that, sadly, it did not make it through the winter.

If being bendable is a sign of life for my plants, what does it mean in my life?  Am I growing and thriving, or getting stiff and rigid?

How bendable am I?

One of my baby trees budding out!

I have certainly learned that my body quickly becomes unbendable if I’m not making an effort to keep it moving. If I spend too much time sitting on the couch, I soon get ‘stove up.’ I’ve taken up swimming a few times a week at the local pool and love how it makes me feel. Walking, working in the yard, and stretching are all important for my ‘senior’ years.

My mind needs to stay bendable and growing too. Each evening for the past few weeks, I have put my brain to figuring out Wordle and Quordle. I look forward to the challenge each day. I feel so smart when I figure them out without giving in to hints!

Perhaps most importantly though, my spiritual muscles need to stay pliable. If you have grown up in the church like me, it is easy to get into a boring rut when it comes to our Christian lives. We can feel like we have heard it all before. Before I know it, I have become rigid and unbending in my attitudes and have stopped growing. Familiar passages just wash over me, not touching any part of my daily life.

These verses from Psalm 92 spoke to me this week as I thought about the need to stay bendable in my spiritual life:

“The righteous will spring up like a palm tree.
    They will grow strong like a cedar of Lebanon.
13 Those who have been replanted in the Lord’s house
    will spring up in the courtyards of our God.
14 They will bear fruit even when old and gray;
    they will remain lush and fresh 15 in order to proclaim:
      “The Lord is righteous. He’s my rock.
        There’s nothing unrighteous in him.” (Psalm 92:12-14, CEB)

I want to be strong like that cedar of Lebanon replanted in the Lord’s house. I want to keep bearing fruit now that I am old and gray so that I can proclaim what God has done for me. I don’t want to get stiff and stagnant in my relationship to God.

I also love these verses from Psalm 1:

“Blessed people are like a tree replanted by streams of water,
which bears fruit at just the right time
and whose leaves don’t fade.
Whatever they do succeeds.” (Psalm 1: 3)

According to these passages, the secret to staying fruit-bearing is to stay in the Lord’s courtyard and be fed by the streams of water. For me, that means studying, praying, and keeping myself open to new ideas.

Through my Audible subscription I have access to the Great Courses lectures. Right now I’m listening to The Making of the New Testament Canon and enjoying a review of classes I took years ago in seminary. Looking at a familiar Bible story from a scholarly viewpoint, learning about the time in which the Bible was written, exploring the worldview of the Jewish people in Jesus’ life — all of these keep my spiritual life fresh. I don’t have to agree with everything I read, but those “aha” moments when I get a new insight are life-giving.

What are you doing to stay alive and bendable? I would love to hear your comments!

Here are a few books that I have read recently that have given me a different perspective and challenged my beliefs:

  • The Rock, the Road, and the Rabbi: My Journey into the Heart of Scriptural Faith and the Land Where It All Began, by Kathy Lee Gifford and Rabbi Jason Sobel
  • Irresistible: Reclaiming the New That Jesus Unleashed for the World, by Andy Stanley
  • Live in Grace, Walk in Love, by Bob Goff
  • Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, by Richard Rohr

death of a family member · Spirituality

Tribute to Mary Frances

 I received a text late one night a few weeks ago from my cousin Scott: “Call me if you are up.” I knew what had happened. My aunt Mary Frances, Scott’s mother, and my father’s last living sibling, had died, her heart stopping suddenly while she was getting ready for bed.

I was caught off guard by the news. Even though she was 96, she was such a fixture of my life that it seemed she would always be there.  I had just talked to her a few days before and she was her usual feisty self. She laughed at my story about our ladybug invasion that had turned into a fly invasion when we set off a bug bomb in the attic. Her comment was, “I never really minded ladybugs, I thought they were cute.”  She complained a little about the measures that her senior apartment building had put in place for Covid, but said, as always, “I know they are trying to keep us safe, so it’s not so bad.” After all, she had told me in earlier conversations, she had lived through the Depression and other hard times. Covid was just one more thing to endure.

“When are you coming to visit?” was her perennial question.

“I’ve had a lot going on, but I’m planning to come up in March,” I replied.

“I can’t wait to see you,” she would always say. “Love you.”

Now I wish I had made the time to visit in January.

In October, her granddaughter Shannon got married about an hour and a half from Mary Frances’ home at Arbor Acres in Winston-Salem. She fretted over how she could make the trip and I told her I would come take her. I picked her up and she talked the whole way, so excited to be on an adventure and to see all her family.

She had the time of her life, sitting regally in the beautiful blue evening gown that her daughter-in-law Debra had found for her. Her three sons and four grandchildren treated her like a queen, and she greeted all the guests with enthusiasm. She talked about it for weeks.

Shannon wrote a beautiful tribute to her grandmother and with her permission, I share it here:

“If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a memory is worth millions. And over the many memories I have of my grandmother, there’s one word that stands out to me: warmth.

Everything about her was warm. Her big smile, the Southern twang in her voice, her hugs hello and goodbye. Even that musty old-house smell burned into my memories of visits to Pfafftown, and the taste of her slightly overcooked green beans, feel warm to me now.

She radiated that warmth wherever she went, even (and especially) at Arbor Acres. She seemed to know everyone, staff and residents alike, by name – their full name, in fact. I used to think it was odd, the way she’d introduce people with first and last names. I thought it was just old lady gossip, the way she kept tabs on everyone, too. But I’ve come to realize that for her, it wasn’t enough to know someone on just a first-name basis, because she saw a light in everyone. And like a moth drawn to that light, she wanted to know everything that makes each person special.

The woman that was my grandmother, Mary Frances Austell Smith, may be gone, but her legacy will not be forgotten. I know she lives on in all of us, as she touched our hearts, and our lights. We must remember her warmth, and nurture that light, the way she would have wanted us to.” Shannon Smith Wilson

If you still have those senior parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles, pick up the phone and give them a call. Send a note. Make time to visit. Because one day when you least expect it, they will be gone.

inner child · Spirituality

Guest blog on The Welcome Table!

I am so excited to be featured as a guest blogger on The Welcome Table!

May be an image of 1 person, child, tree, outdoors and text that says 'Embrace your inner child! WT THE WELCOME TABLE'

I love this site, which was started by the Bunce sisters, a group of four young women who have the goal of fostering the type of conversations they experienced around the table growing up. If you sign up for their weekly blog, you will receive an email that is perfect for family devotions, reading on your own, or sharing with your children. Questions for young and old are included.

From their website:

We, at The Welcome Table, believe that real conversations and community happen in the spaces where the belovedness and the voices of all are welcomed and valued. For us, this is rooted in the example of Jesus who often used food and table to bring people from all walks of life into community together. Our objective is to help facilitate meaningful conversations that lead us to re-examine our own beliefs through a deeper understanding of the experiences and stories of those around us. This can only happen when people like you bring yourself, your voice, and your heart to the table.

May be an image of person, child and text that says 'WI Embracing our inner child opens us to seeing the world in new and wonderful ways. -Millicent Flake'

Click here for The Welcome Table edition of Embracing Your Inner Child.

As always, thank you for reading and following Under the Magnolia Tree!

If you would like to receive an email each time I post, you can sign up here.

#trust · shelter dogs · Spirituality


Do you have trouble with trust?

I have been thinking about trust since Keith and I babysat our new granddog Maisy over the holidays. Maisy is a sweet lab mix puppy who lived the first six months of her life in a dog shelter. Even though she was well-treated at the shelter, she had limited experience with much outside the walls of the building.

Maisy hit the jackpot when she was adopted by Adam and Jess a few months ago, and they have been extremely patient with her as she has adjusted to her forever family. Watching her come out of her shell has been fun. She has discovered grass, bushes, and sticks, and learned the comforts of sleeping on the couch and snuggling with her new people. She loves to go for walks, runs in circles around the trees in their backyard (which they call doing zoomies) and likes to visit the chickens at the community garden in Decatur.

I enjoyed introducing her to life in the country during her time with us. She was very curious about the big dogs we call cows and loved playing in the leaves and eating pinecones. She took naps on the couch next to Keith.

Maisy playing on the pinestraw bales.

But Maisy still struggled with trusting us completely. One of her phobias is going through doors.

Each night during her stay, we went through a ritual to get her into the bedroom where she and I were sleeping. I cajoled her in my sweetest voice and enticed her with treats, but she refused to come in.  

She stood outside the door and looked in, and I could see the hesitancy on her face. She wanted to walk through the door, but something scared her. When I tried to take her by the collar, she ran from me. I finally had to corner her and gently put her leash around her neck. Then she dutifully followed me into the bedroom and happily jumped on the bed and went to sleep.

Even at her own house, she is still hesitant about going through the back door to the yard, a place she loves. Something about doors trips a bad memory for her.

I don’t know what Maisy experienced in her young life that has caused this fear, but I can relate. I’ve had my own issues with trust, especially when it comes to God.

For most of my life, trusting God seemed simple. I grew up in the church and was taught that if I loved Jesus and was a good girl, I would have a happy life. Then when I was seventeen, my sister Anne died of cancer and my world fell apart. For years I floundered, not sure what was real anymore. How could I trust a God that would let this happen?

Maybe you have been in the same place. Maybe God has let you down in a very tragic and hurtful way. Finding out that bad things do happen to good people is a hard lesson, but one that we all face at some point in our lives.

The years that I wandered away from God were full of emptiness and confusion. I came to a crossroad in my early twenties when I realized I had to either make the decision to trust that God was with me and wanted what was best for me or accept that it was all bunk. I made the decision to keep searching after God.

I wish I could say that after I made that decision everything in my life was rosy, but that would be a lie. I’ve continued to have ups and downs and times when I have railed at God at anger. But I’ve never again said God, I’m done with you!

I still have not come up with a good answer as to why God allows suffering. But I’ve learned two things about trust:  it is a decision, and it takes time.

Over the years I’ve found that I am more content and peaceful if I’m trusting God to guide me and comfort me during times of sadness and uncertainty. It’s as simple and as complicated as that.

Trust is like taking a step into the darkness and believing that we will not fall into a chasm— “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1). But like Maisy walking through the bedroom door, we are not sure if trusting God is safe.

What if we trust and God lets us down again?  

This is where the second lesson I learned comes in — trust takes time. Every day I see God working in big and little ways in my life. The more I submit all my ways to him, the more he directs my path. I can’t explain how it works, but I know that it does.

Richard Rohr, in his book Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life sums it up this way:

“It is not that suffering or failure might happen, or that it will only happen to you if you are bad (which is what religious people often think), or that it will happen to the unfortunate, or to a few in other places, or that you can somehow by cleverness or righteousness avoid it. No, it will happen, and to you! Losing, failing, falling, sin, and the suffering that comes from those experiences—all of this is a necessary and even good part of the human journey.”

            Where are you in your trust journey? I pray that, like Maisy, you are learning that good things can be trusted, no matter what may have come before.

Christmas · inner child · Spirituality

How is your inner child?

I settled myself on on my mat as the yoga class began at our local arts center. Laura, the cute young instructor, began leading us in some easy stretches and encouraged us to center our spirits. “If you are having trouble getting your mind to quiet down,” she said, “put your inner child over to the side and give her something to do.”

This idea immediately grabbed my imagination. I frequently struggle to get my ‘monkey brain’ to focus. Thoughts tend to randomly pop into my head, often causing me to get mixed up mid-sentence. It doesn’t take much to distract me — just ask my family.

So as I stretched my tight muscles on that cold morning, I could feel my six-year-old self pulling at me for attention. She was wearing a wrinkled shirt with a Peter Pan collar, a short skirt and knee socks that were falling down around her ankles. She was bouncing up and down and definitely needed something to occupy her.

I gave her a coloring book and a new box of Crayola crayons and sent her over to the side of the room. She scrunched down on the floor and was soon happily coloring away. I let out a sigh, knowing she was being taken care of, and turned my mind back to the yoga class.

Do you ever need to put your inner child over to the side in order to concentrate? Author and speaker Bob Goff said on a recent podcast that when he needs to sit down to write, he pulls up the movie Shrek on his computer and minimizes it to the corner of his screen. Then his inner child watches the movie, and he can focus on his manuscript.

For the same reason, I usually pull up music while I’m writing. Lately, my inner child has been listening to Christmas music while I’m at the keyboard. Sometimes she will interrupt me when one of our favorites comes on, but I can usually pacify her with a few minutes of attention and get back to work.

But I don’t want to always push her to the side. I love the familiar story in Mark 10 of Jesus telling the disciples to let the children come to him. In the verses right before this story, some Pharisees had come to try to trick Jesus up by asking his opinion on divorce and adultery. Don’t you know he got tired of people constantly trying to catch him contradicting the very Scriptures he came to fulfill?

I imagine Jesus, tired and frustrated, finally sitting down, when the children come barreling in to jump in his lap. His mood instantly lightens. The ever-vigilant disciples try to run the children off, but Jesus shows a rare temper and tells them to let the children come to him. Then we are told that he “hugged the children and blessed them.” (Mark 10:16)

Does your inner child need a hug occasionally? I know mine does. Sometimes she gets overly tired, and her emotions get touchy. She feels scared, sad, and mad. I’m learning that there are times when I need to take a break and love on her a little.

Other times, she needs to come out and play, especially at this time of year. She oohs and ahs over the pretty colored lights on the Christmas tree, binges on coconut pie and laughs at all the one-liners from Christmas Vacation (many which are not appropriate for a six-year-old however). I find my deep-down joy coming from her.

As we come up to the last frantic days before Christmas, I hope that you take some time with your inner child to sing ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ at the top of your lungs, shake the packages under the tree, and play with your nativity set.  And if she gets cranky, I hope you will wrap your arms around her, make some hot chocolate, and settle down to watch It’s a Wonderful Life.

Christmas · Spirituality

Check out my devotional in Refresh Magazine!

I’m published in Refresh Magazine!

I have a devotional in the December edition of Refresh Magazine, an online Christian publication from Lighthouse Christian Publishing. There are 19 articles – one for each day of December before Christmas Day!

I’m on page 43!

Here is some info on how to pull it up:

Viewing & Downloading the Magazine

Be sure to choose whether you want to view your free issue of Refresh as a magazine (seeing a left and right page at the same time) or as single pages. Click (or tap) the link below for the version you prefer.

If you choose magazine style, you can use the Adobe PDF reader on your computer to make the pages flip from the inside out (select “full screen” mode when prompted). For other PDF viewers, scroll through the issue to read articles, or simply click on the article titles on the Contents pages to view an article.

Please be sure to let the magazine load for a minute before you scroll down; it’s a large file with many photographs.

Click the links below to view the magazine:

: If you would like to view the magazine on your computer in “spreads” (a left and right page, as in a magazine), click here.

One Page at a Time: If you would like to view the issue one page at a time, which is better for phones or tablets, click here

If you would like to subscribe to the magazine, which comes out quarterly, you can do so here: 

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#wideopenspaces · Spirituality

New Skin

A crumpled snakeskin was lying on top of a hole by the driveway recently.  I imagined the snake curled up underground, giving a sigh of relief to have slipped out of the too-tight binding — sort of how I feel when I come home and take off my “going out” clothes and pull on my sweats and t-shirt.

I found myself feeling jealous of that snake. Wouldn’t it be nice if we humans could slide out of our skin and start fresh every few months?

Just like that snake with the too-tight skin, I have had times when my life felt confined, seasons when I wanted to break out of a job, relationship or responsibility. Those times have been marked by boredom, lack of fulfillment, low self-esteem. and ultimately depression. 

When my sister and I were little, my mother had two of our drawings made into plates. Mine is of a snaggletooth woman, but Anne drew a giant in a small box, pushing against the enclosure. Something about that picture has always pulled at my heartstrings, maybe because I have felt trapped like that giant, with the walls closing in around me.

Like my skin was too tight. 

The Giant in a Small Box

I did a little research and found out that when the snake has outgrown her skin, she rubs her head against a rock or tree in order to break a tiny slit in it. Then she starts slowly sliding out, leaving her old tired skin behind. This can take days or weeks.

Just like my snake friend, when something in my life has become uncomfortable, it may mean that I’m growing. I sometimes need something hard to prod me to the process of breaking free to the next stage in my development. This ‘in between’ time feels awkward and unproductive.

Another reason snakes shed their skin is because parasites can burrow under it and cause disease if the dead part doesn’t get stripped away. Anger and resentment burrow under my skin in the same way, and often come out in ways that are hurtful to me and those close to me.

When my skin feels too tight, I need to pray for discernment about the reason for my discomfort. God may lead me to let go of something in my life and move onto the next thing. He may have a wonderful opportunity on the horizon.

Or He may tell me stay in my situation and change my attitude.

I usually want to blame others when I feel stuck, but I’ve realized that it’s up to me to get unstuck. I need to bring my guilt, jealousy and discouragement to the Lord and pray for forgiveness and healing. Then the bonds that are holding me in begin to loosen.

God does not want to see me enclosed in a prison of self-deprecation. He wants to see me enjoying life in freedom and joy.

 I love this verse from the Psalms:

In tight circumstances, I cried out to the Lord.

    The Lord answered me with wide-open spaces.

 (Psalm 118:5, CEB)

What tight circumstance do you need to bring before the Lord today? My prayer is that we will all breathe a sigh of relief when we reach the wide-open space that is filled with His love and acceptance. 

racism · Spirituality

Confessions of a Southern White Woman

I have struggled with this blog post all week. Talking about race is hard, especially in the South and especially for those my age and older. I consider myself open-minded, Christian, loving, and educated, yet I find that over and over and over I must dig deep to root out the prejudices that are deeply ingrained in me .

I grew up with a framed picture of Robert E. Lee on the wall of our den. My father considered him the epitome of a Southern Gentleman and the general was one of his heroes. We had a Black maid who came at least once a week to clean our house, more often when I was little. I wonder now what she thought of that picture.

My parents were not racist, and I saw them make the conscious decision to change their views throughout their lives. They taught me to be respectful of everyone. Considering their childhoods in the Jim Crow South, they came a long way. In 1963, my father was part of a committee to help peacefully integrate Wilson, North Carolina, and it was an eye-opening experience for him. My mother commented before she died that she and Queenie, the last maid who worked for them for thirty years, sat down together for a sandwich and a glass of tea at lunch. She would not have imagined doing such a thing in earlier years.

Growing up in the sixties and seventies, I was taught that the Civil War was not fought for slavery, but for states’ rights, for freedom to do what each state wanted (which included slavery). The Yankees were the evil soldiers who destroyed the peaceful South out of meanness and because they could.

Gone With the Wind was one of my favorite movies until just a few years ago, when I began to recognize the lies inherent in it —that perhaps all slaves were not so devoted to their masters as Mammy and Prissy. It’s interesting that there was more scandal around Rhett Butler telling Scarlett at the end of the book/movie “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” than Scarlett slapping young Prissy across the face for  telling a lie about knowing about birthing babies.

I wanted to find a true picture of the history of this land that I love. I started reading works by Black authors and true diaries and accounts of what it was really like to be owned by another person. I learned that an enslaved person’s life was not one of happy spirituals sung under the shade tree, but an existence of fear, misery, and helplessness. Even under the best circumstances, a slave did not have the ability to decide where she would live, what would become of her children or what job she would do. There was little incentive to work hard other than hopes for some small reward. The South of Gone With the Wind was harsh and violent.

Last fall I visited my cousin Scott and his wife Debra at their home outside Washington, DC. While there I went to the new African American Museum of History and Culture and to Mount Vernon, among other stops. Both were eye-opening, but Mount Vernon stuck with me the most.

As a child, I loved learning about Colonial history and had visited George and Martha Washington’s estate with my family. In the last fifty years it has been expanded to include the adjacent farms and to tell the stories of the hundreds of slaves that worked the crops, fields, and stables. They kept the house going and food on the table for the family and their many guests.

In Mount Vernon’s gift shop, I picked up Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar. The small book recounted the true story of Ona Judge, who despite having what many might consider a ‘plumb’ slave job —who wouldn’t want to work for the President and live in a beautiful home? — made the decision to slip away to the North while living in the first Presidential Mansion in Philadelphia.

Martha and George were shocked and angry. They assumed that someone, probably a free Black man living in Philadelphia, had hoodwinked her, possibly gotten her pregnant, and lured her away from their loving home. But the reality was that Ona had heard rumors that she was going to be ‘given’ to Martha’s newly married niece and knew that this young woman was a hard mistress. Leaving behind her family and all she had ever known, she took advantage of being north of the Mason-Dixon Line and ran.

Something about Ona’s story struck a nerve in me. I’ve always defended our Founding Fathers for their slave holding, and Washington did free the slaves he owned after his death (the ones owned by Martha had to wait a while longer). But reading about this real woman and her determination to live life under her own terms, no matter how difficult, gave me the barest taste of what she may have felt.

I am listening now and doing my best to hear the pain that still lives in so many men and women today. The terrible sin of slavery grew from greed and fear and a sense that one group of people is better than another. Its effects are with us today, a hundred and fifty years after it was supposedly abolished.

I’m not where I should be yet, but I hope I’m on the road. As with other weaknesses in my life, I have to pray each day for God to open my heart and help me to continue to grow in grace.

And I am sure that God who began the good work within you will keep right on helping you grow in his grace until his task within you is finally finished on that day when Jesus Christ returns. (Phil. 1:6, TLB)

#shelterathome · #shelteringinplace · Spirituality · World Health Organization · World War II

Social distance shaming

I’m in the angry stage.

I’ve gone through different feelings these past weeks, much like the stages of grief. I’m over the initial denial and panic phase. I’ve had times of sadness and depression but also peaceful times of acceptance enjoying the solitude. Like going through a time of trauma, the stages circle around and repeat themselves.

But now I’m getting mad and my anger is directed at the people I see going about life as usual. I don’t want to mention specifics here because I’m afraid someone I care about will read it and be offended. But you know who I’m talking about – those who are getting together with their extended families, having cook-outs and seeing friends while the rest of us are trying to follow the rules and stay home.

I may not be physically pointing a finger, but I’m pointing it in my mind. Why do they think they are more special than the rest of us who are not seeing those we love? Don’t they get it?

I’m reminded of a story my father told about being in France immediately after World War II. He was wounded as an infantryman pushing into Germany with Patton’s army and was convalescing in a French hospital. One day he was taking a walk and saw a group holding a woman down and shaving her head. She was accused of being friendly with the German soldiers who had occupied France for four long years. Having a shaved head was a mark that she had been a traitor and had given in to whatever comforts the Germans offered instead of suffering the deprivations like her neighbors. The anger of the mob was palpable.

Woman having head shaved, from Rare Historical Photos

While our situation is not as dire as what the French experienced, there are some parallels. We are fighting an enemy that is sneaky and illusive. Many people are risking their lives every day to fight this enemy, just as the Allied soldiers and the brave men and women in the Underground fought the Nazi’s. Most of us are quietly going about our days just trying to make it through, giving up freedoms we had taken for granted. Meanwhile others are either intentionally or unintentionally helping the enemy to stay strong through their actions.

Hopefully we will not come to a place of publicly shaming for those who have broken the rules of staying at home, but emotions are running high. Our Georgia governor’s call to open up some businesses has elicited strong responses both for and against. One person posted that if her family wanted to go out to a restaurant it was their right. Others feel that we will be putting our neighbors at risk if we start back to normalcy too soon.

I don’t like this judgmental side of myself. I don’t know the circumstances of those who are together. Maybe that grandmother is helping look after her granddaughter. Maybe those ten family members in the FaceBook picture at Easter are all holed up together in one house. Maybe that crowd I saw smoking cigarettes outside of Dollar General all live together in one big group home.

Jesus tells us not to judge or condemn but to forgive (Luke 6:37). The anger I feel at those I am judging for breaking the social distancing rules is no different than any other judgement I might make for someone’s behavior. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s not up to me to say how others live. As long as they are not breathing on me, I have no right to judge. By some people’s standards, I may be just as guilty by meeting friends to walk.

Perhaps the woman who had her head shaved that day did what she needed to do to keep her children alive. She had her reasons.

Each of us has to live with our own conscience. I wonder how many of the French people wished they had acted differently during the time of occupation. Some may have wished they had done more to fight the Germans while others certainly carried guilt for their actions.

In the same way, those that are potentially spreading the virus have to live with their decisions.

I am learning that I can’t control the actions of others. I can make the decision to stay home myself, wear a mask when I go to the store and wash my hands. I can pray for others, but they are free to make their own choices.

I like this image from the World Health Organization and need to take it to heart. This is not a time to be angry at others, but to realize we are all coping the best we can.

So today I will try to be kind. I want my conscience to be clear about how I treated others when this crisis is over.