Saturday, January 25, 2014

Saturday, January 18, 2014


                I stood over the couch and looked out the front window and then around the room.  There was a plastic shelf that had family pictures—some framed and some unframed--scattered on it.  I didn’t recognize all of the faces in the photos but I knew it was various members of their family.  Her parents; her kids; her grandkids.

                She had died on that very couch twelve days before.  Completely unexpectedly.  The last meal she ever cooked still sat on the stove—a baked chicken wrapped in tin foil,a macaroni and cheese casserole, and a pan of dirty rice.  Judging by the huge numbers of servings, she had expected her whole family home for dinner that night.  But instead, here I was, depositing the molding food into trash bags and cleaning out the dishes.  The happy family meal would never happen.
                The kitchen was not particularly clean—but in her defense, she hadn’t expected me to be there.  She hadn’t expected her life on earth to end so suddenly.  And certainly not that day.
                I fished a container of Chlorox wipes out of my trunk. I love Chlorox wipes.  I began to wipe down the cabinets—mostly just for something to do.  I was waiting for her family who was cleaning out the closets.  There didn’t seem to be much else I could do to help.
                It was a sober time.  The family worked quietly and I said little.  I didn’t really know what to say but my brain was busy just thinking.  The brevity of life is never more real than in a moment like that.  In an instant, your life can be over. 
                I remembered just a few days before relaying to a friend and laughing about a ridiculous funeral I saw on TV.  A man dressed in a white suit and a tinsel halo pretended to play the harp.  And when the song was over, he reached down and clicked off the CD player.
                Two people came in dancing to the wedding march and carrying the urns of ashes of the deceased.  They had put clothes on the urns—a veil on the wife’s and a small tuxedo on the husband’s.  And that was just the beginning.  Of course, the dancing urn carriers were also wearing tinsel halos.  I don’t know how anyone in the room kept a straight face.  Honestly.
                But now back to reality.  Nothing funny about this scene.   Nothing fake.  Nothing staged.  A box of instant oatmeal and another of Cheerios sat on the refrigerator.  Otherwise, there was nothing to look at but dirty cabinets and a trash bag full of this lady’s last cooking.
                My thoughts were serious, but not morbid.  It was a reminder that we are just passing through.  We’re pilgrims.  Not royalty here to build our kingdom.  Not pack rats here to fill our nests.  Not super heros here to build our legends. 
Just pilgrims. 
It was a reminder to me to travel light.  Redeem my time by investing it in things that are going to matter.   Give away what I can’t keep to gain what I can’t lose.  Love hard.  Follow hard.  Put my trust in the few things that are going to last forever.
And when my last day comes and when people look around at the pieces I leave behind I want them to be able to look around my empty kitchen and think “it’s okay.  She was just passing through.”

"So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom."  - Psalm 90:12

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Life Given

I’ll never forget what attorney Curtis Bostic said to me on our first meeting.  “Wait until you meet my wife.”  He said proudly.  “I smacked that one out of the park.”

And when I met her, I knew instantly that he was right. 
She was beautiful.  Not in a fake “Hollywood wanna-be” sort of way, but in a classy, contented sort of way.  She radiated a joy that was mature and gentle.
Two weeks later, I packed my suitcase and moved to Charleston.  My job started Tuesday and when I left the office Friday, the weekend stretched out in front of me and it hit me that I was in a new city.  All alone.
That was B.C. (before cell phone) for that matter, there was no internet or TV in the little home I shared with Miss Sandra—who worked all the hours I didn’t.
I don’t know why I checked the answering machine when I got home—no one I knew had the number, much less a reason to call.  When I did, however, I heard Jenny’s cheery voice inviting me to dinner.  She also encouraged me to bring “a pair of pajamas and a toothbrush” and spend the night. 
I hesitated.  This was my boss’ family.  As to spending the night—I didn’t really know the Bostics and I was a little old for slumber parties.  But after piddling around the empty house for a few minutes, I found myself pulling the pajamas and toothbrush out of my suitcase.
I’ve often wondered since then if Jenny would have still invited me if she had known that I would stay the next five years. 
But Jenny was gracious and hospitable.  She went out of her way to make me feel welcome in the family’s double wide which was neat, clean, and tastefully decorated.
The more I got to know Jenny, the more amazed I became.  She was intelligent, educated, and gifted—an excellent musician, fantastic cook, organized home-school mom, amazing housekeeper, and devoted wife.  She jogged faithfully and ate healthfully; yet didn’t criticize those who didn’t.  She worked hard; yet didn’t make others feel bad about taking time off or having fun.  In fact, despite her many strengths, she didn’t come across arrogant at all.  She always treated other people like she had all of the time in the world. Though she didn’t.
I remember one time shortly after that the she took me to downtown Summerville just for the fun of it.  She bought me a milkshake at the drug store even though (for health reasons) she could not have one herself and showed me some of her favorite stops and shops. 
Jenny was probably up until the wee hours of the next morning making up the lost time on a Saturday—folding clothes and doing all the things that keep a household functioning.  But the pressure of those chores had not kept her from taking time with me.  It is humbling to think about even to this day.
Perhaps that is what I find so incredible about this dear friend.  Some people give from their surplus—not Jenny.  Some people give until it hurts—not Jenny.  Few people give until they have nothing left to give.  Even fewer still give beyond nothing left—but that is Jenny.  You’ll never know when you exhausted her limits because she won’t show it; she will just keep giving.            
After getting to know her some, I thought I wanted to be just like Jenny—always joyful, always patient, always selfless.  But I wasn’t.  Not even close.  It frustrated me, but the more I tried the more hopeless it seemed. 
Gradually it sunk in to me that the spiritual maturity is not inherited or won, it cannot be had for the asking.  It is earned.  Even a tree planted by streams of water will grow undetected—slowly, painfully, quietly.  Jenny had persevered through some storms in life—choosing joy over depression, forgiveness over bitterness, meekness over her own way.
Over the last nine years that I have known Jenny, my respect for her has continually grown.    We have been on many trips together and at first it surprised me that she would bring along a book about being a godly parent, an excellent wife, or a better Christian.  She could have written all of those books and then some.  But that wasn’t her mentality—she was still growing and learning. 
In fact, she hasn’t written any books that I know of; doesn’t have a full speaking schedule, a TV show, or even a blog.  From what I’ve seen, much of Jenny’s time during this season of life is filled with the thankless tasks of loading the dish washer, teaching reading, solving math problems, grocery shopping, scrubbing bath tubs, and driving kids to karate. 
When I thought about her life, I was reminded of Mary and the costly perfume that she spilled on Jesus’ feet.  Many criticized the offering as resources wasted—a year’s worth of labor gone in a few short seconds benefitting no one but Jesus.
But Jesus saw the act of selfless worship as a great gift—so much so, that the God of the universe took the space to write it down in His short book so that her life and action would be read and remembered for years to come.  Her perfume was not wasted; it was given. 
Likewise, a life given in simple, selfless ways is not wasted.  It is invested.
Jenny’s daily routine is not wasted to the five kids who call her mom or the husband who calls her “sweetheart.”  And it is not wasted to the hundreds—perhaps thousands of people whom she has taken time for, listened to, and encouraged. 
I know many who would say that they are a better wife, a better mom, or a better Christian for having known Jenny Bostic and I would count myself in that number.  Her gentle, quiet spirit convicts and motivates me on an ongoing basis.
And I can’t wait to see the incredible things that are to come for a life so freely given and so gently sustained as Jenny Bostic’s.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Trouble with White

It doesn’t feel so much like Christmas when it is 80 degrees outside.   So although I love living in South Carolina, I am always glad to head north for a few days over Christmas.  Being in New Hampshire for Christmas does not guarantee a white Christmas, but it does greatly increase my chances.

I remember my first winter in New Hampshire after growing up in Southern had been a brown and ugly December with only one very brief snow.  But on Christmas morning, we woke up to a beautiful, new world.  Our home looked like a perfect post card.  I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

In fact, when I lived in New England, I loved nothing more than to get up any morning and see the world covered with a white blanket.  It was so fresh, so clean, so perfect.  It meant an extra hour in my morning routine digging my car out, but I still loved fresh snow.

Those to whom snow is more than a screen saver know, however, that the perfect white blanket soon gives way to a mess.  Almost as soon as the snow hits the earth, a dirty salt mixture gets sprayed on the roads then scooped up into brown piles on the side of the road.  The salt and dirt mixture finds its way on to cars, into cars, on to people, and into buildings.  It’s a mess. 

Snow covered branches eventually give up their burdens and just hang there—barren and ugly.  If it doesn’t melt, the snow has to be raked off of roofs to keep them from caving.   

Life after snow is such a bummer.

That’s the trouble with white.  It doesn’t stay white.  Take my little white dog for example.  I’ll wash her, brush her, put perfume on her, and she will be the cutest little thing you ever saw in your life.  For about 10 minutes. 

Then she will go play in the dirt.  She loves to play in the dirt.  And the whiter she is, the more likely she is to go dig a hole into the muddy darkness.  For no reason.

It exasperates me sometimes, but it also reminds me of myself—washed whiter than snow, cleaned, forgiven—and prone to sin.  Desperately, hopelessly prone to sin. 

No sooner will I get white and clean then I will mar the beauty of purity—like I never even cared.  I will sin on accident.  I will sin on purpose.  I will go dig a hole. For no reason.  I’m a mess.

The trouble with white is that it doesn’t stay white.  And every stain shows.  If I brush up against my blueberry smoothie wearing a black sweater, no one will know.  But if I wear white, I most assuredly will brush up against it, and the rest of the day, the world will know I had a blueberry smoothie for breakfast.  That is the trouble with white.

And that is what Christmas is all about.  This world was a cursed and broken place.  God in His grace sent His son to die for us so that He could forgive our sin and make us whiter than snow.  Then that same grace causes filthy sinners like me to repent and be washed clean.

We can’t stay clean.  But for all repentant sinners, God forgives again.  And like a new winter morning, he will make us clean again.  Make us perfect again.  Give us a new beginning again.

God grace is an amazing thing and He has demonstrated it so beautifully in creation.  But even creation cannot do justice to the amazing grace of God toward sinners—He promises to make us even whiter than snow.

I believe every Christmas should be a white Christmas.  It should be a time when we come before the throne of grace and let go of the sin that has scarred our relationships and marred our lives.  It should be a time to be washed clean; to begin again; to be perfect. 

The miracle of Christmas is the miracle of grace.  Grace that takes selfish, sinful hearts and turns them whiter than snow.


Saturday, December 21, 2013


As a kid, I loved to read.  It was like breathing for me.  I don't even really remember learning how.

My siblings and I consumed our local library and the one in the bigger neighboring town.  We read everything from from Hardy Boys to the whole wall of biographies.

But...over my five looooooong years of law school, my love of reading was beat out of me.  Absolutely executed in the cruelest of ways.  Reading became associated with school, school with migraines, and migraines with misery.  So, a good book, to me, had the curb appeal of the neighborhood landfill.  It was like taking a sledge hammer in either hand and crashing them into my temples.  Almost exactly.

After law school, I really didn't get an opportunity to return to a love of reading.  I went from reading law books all night long to reading law materials all day long.  Other than the Bible and a few Bible studies, reading outside of work hours for me was...well, I guess there's no such thing as "outside of work hours."

But gradually, I'm developing a real taste for reading again and there are some excellent books out there.  Maybe it started with encouragement from friends and Crazy Love...or before that with So Long, Insecurity!  In fact, I've become like an alcoholic when I go to the Christian bookstore.  I have to sit on my wallet to make sure that I leave some of the books at the store.

It's not the "fluff stuff;" I can only think of one fiction book I've read in the past five years (I guess if I want to just waste time, I skip the book and just watch the movie).  I read C.J. Mahaney's Cross Centered Life; Jerry Bridges Respectible Sins; Francis Chan's Forgotten God... and those just whetted my appetite.

A few have been a little less than I was hoping for, but I've thought very highly of Lou Priolo's Pleasing People which helped me maintain a much healthier perspective on my relationships with others.  And I highly recommend Slave, John MacArthur's most recent work (although I haven't quite finished it).

A friend of mine gave me a copy of Radical by David Platt.  I would describe it, but instead I'll just tell really should read it. 

Abide in Christ by Andrew Murray I read several times over.  Murray has an unbelievable gift with words and incredible depth to his relationship with the Savior.

My favorite this summer was Evidence Not Seen, the incredible biography of Darlene Diebler Rose, a missionary wife during World War II.  The account of her story while imprisoned in a Japanese labor camp not only kept me oblivious to the crying child in the airplane seat next to me, but taught me so much about the faithfulness of God.

Finally, while on my trip in Japan, I found a copy of Lives Given, Not Taken, the challenging story of every day Christians who gave all.  Perhaps it especially resonated with me since most of the people were not "career missionaries" or pastors.  They were grocery store managers, youth leaders, college graduates, and doctors.

I guess what I want to say is this, if you aren't reading, you are truly missing out.  I've found that the right kind of books can feed and strengthen my faith.  And with the advent of Amazon and so many other book sellers, you can get a book for a penny and have it shipped to your door for a few bucks. 

Even in this media driven society, there is still power in the written word.  If you find yourself feeling weak, burned out, or discouraged with your walk, you just might want to consider the old fashioned remedy of a great book.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Big Blue Nation

When I stopped to count it up, I realized that even though I've never "lived" there, I've spent somewhere just shy of a year of my life in Kentucky. Mostly eastern Kentucky--which truly deserves its own acknowledgment and perhaps it's own star in the flag.

It's coal country, natural gas country, and four wheelin' country; but the thing that seems to bring them all together is the way they love UK basketball.

In case you are not familiar--the Rupp arena seats 22,000 people and it will be sold out every home game. In fact, you probably can't get a ticket if you weren't born with one.

I'm not saying they are cultish about basketball. I'm saying they are what comes after cultish.  It's not like they have flat screen TVs playing the games at their wedding receptions--it's that you don't get married on game days. Not if you want your groom to show up.

Santa wears blue in Kentucky, and if you're in Lexington on game days, you won't see much besides blue.  I've never seen blue grass in Kentucky; I think it the country got its name from all the UK Fans looking at the world through blue sunglasses.  

Due to the generosity of some of our clients (prompted by an untimely scheduled funeral), we were blessed with tickets to a recent UK game. Tickets, we were informed, some of the locals would about shoot us over. 

The Rupp arena is strategically connected to both a mall and a hotel. So when the 22,000 fans descend on Lexington, the food court will be full of bright blue shirts. And if you are an out-of-towner trying to sneak in without getting shot, you can buy a blue shirt, sweatshirt, jacket, hat, pants, muffs, pajamas, or Hello Kitty doll.

This particular game was at 9:00 pm on a Tuesday.  It was cold and snowy and generally a terrible time to be out. And as we were entering the arena, people were outside in the cold wearing signs that said, "I need to buy tickets!"

It was tempting, but I put my game face on and we marched inside.  In our section, all the seats were held by season ticket holders. They know who they are sitting next to. In fact, they probably know about everything there is to know about them.

Consequently, the people next to us immediately recognized us at outsiders, but they were kind enough to let us pretend for the night.

I was a little surprised by the demographic of the crowd at first. There were a lot of middle age people and even more older folks.  I guess that makes sense--They probably have a little more time and a little more money on their hands. 

They kicked off the game with live music, fireworks, and a lot of enthusiasm from the crowd.  I did see a few empty seats in the nose bleed section, but not many for 9:00 pm on a school night.  Kentucky easily got the ball from the start--thanks to the seven foot center who made the other team's 6 foot 9 players look like they needed to do some growing up. 

Most of the fans--at least the older ladies--think of the team as their sons.  And no one was allowed to say anything negative about their boys but them.  If the other team so much as breathed on one of "their boys," they would threaten them with slow and painful death.  But if one of the boys missed a shot or a pass, they weren't above letting the boys know what they thought of them and why.

The opposing team--Boise State--was undefeated so UK fans took special delight in watching them spend the night chasing the UK score. 

It was impossible not to catch some of the enthusiasm.  Maybe the blue from my shirt was bleeding into my veins.  I shouted "white" and "blue" and "go cats" with the rest of them.  We truly did have good seats--about 10 rows up behind the clear backboard-- close enough to see just how young those kids were, but hopefully far enough that the players couldn't hear the lady behind us yelling, "What's the matter, 'Pointless'?"  Put the ball where it belongs!"

 Nothing makes for a bad day in Kentucky like a mark in the L column.  I can only imagine the pressure those kids were under.  The quality of life of hundreds of thousands of fans lies on their ability to get the ball through the net. 

And maybe a year in Kentucky is long enough that I'm starting to take a little bit of ownership.  Who knows, maybe it was my yelling "go cats" that helped them score those last few points...or my seal motions that caused the other team to miss theirs.  Either way, I was one of the happy faces coming out of Rupp arena at 11:30 at night. And Wednesday dawned a beautiful day in Kentucky.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Joy Bells

As a teenager, my dad took us to a small church across town on Sunday evenings.  When I say small, that is what I mean.  There would be about a dozen people, and seven were my family.  The rest were over the age of seventy. 
They were sweet people and they loved to have us join their Sunday evening routine.  We would open our hymn books and the pastor would take favorites.  My sister would accompany on the piano as we picked the same handful of songs.  Despite the age of the group, it was not unusual for us to sing “Arky, Arky” and strain our voices to reach the high notes of “Wonderful Grace of Jesus.”
After we were sung out, Pastor Dana would preach to us and then the “whole church” would go to Denny’s. 
I remember all the members of that small congregation.  Best of all, I remember the pastor’s wife, Louise Dana.
I first met Mrs. Dana when I was in kindergarten and I had liked her then.
She always dressed smartly.  Her two inch pumps would match her dress and her chunky earrings would match her necklace.  She was pleasantly plump—she didn’t bother with any diet that came between her and a banana split.   And she had an amazing laugh.  She laughed loud and she laughed often.  Wherever she was would be a party.
When we started attending some ten years later, Mrs. Dana had not changed a bit and probably neither had the evening routine. Mrs. Dana knew the staff at Denny’s by name and they knew her.  We would talk and laugh and she would eat a banana split. 
Then came the news that Mrs. Dana had Lou Gehrig’s disease.  I didn’t quite believe it--she was so full of life and I just couldn’t imagine her anything but her boisterous self.  But she seemed to handle the news well.  She would be there every Sunday evening happy. 
The effects of the disease came on gradually.  Her speech became a little slurred and she became less mobile.  We never talked about it at church.  Everyone knew; we just didn’t know what to say.  Things stayed at their “normal” routine, “Wonderful Grace of Jesus” and all.
Her speech continued to get more slurred although she tried hard to communicate.  When we couldn’t understand, we’d nod and smile.  The evening outing to Denny’s just wasn’t the same though when the boisterous storytelling was replaced by a few laborious phrases.  Her mind was still sharp, but everything she wanted to say and every laugh she wanted to laugh was trapped inside and it couldn’t get out.
Then one week we got a new hymn request— “Joy Bells.”  And she requested it every week after that.  It started, “You may have the joy bells ringing in your heart and the peace that from you never will depart…” 
Mrs. Dana couldn’t sing, but she started bringing a bell to church on Sunday nights and she would ring it every time we said “joy bells” and at the end of every line of the chorus.  It was her way of letting us know that even though she could no longer laugh, she still had joy in her heart.
One bell was not enough.  She brought two…then three…then four…and each week she would ring her bell to make her request and make us ring the bells as we sang.  Honestly, it wasn’t very musical.  But from Mrs. Dana it was joyful.
Time continued to waste away and so did Mrs. Dana.  She had her husband bring Krispy Kreme donuts to church because it was all she could eat and she wanted to share them.  Even on a Krispy Kreme diet, she was now less than 90 pounds.  She would sit silently in the pew and when we said hello to her, she would do her best to give a slight nod.  But when we sang her song, she would ring her bell.  That was all she had left. 
When I rang my joy bell, it was neither musical nor joyful.  I would be too choked up to sing.  I felt strongly for this dear woman whose body could no longer communicate in the ways she loved best.
Or maybe it did.  I doubt any of us who knew Mrs. Dana will ever forget the joy that was her strength in the most difficult of circumstances.  She expressed it in a means and with a fervency that none of us will ever forget. 
That was probably 16 years ago, and I haven’t sung “Joy bells” since her funeral.  But I’ve thought of it many times—always with the collection of souvenir handbells ringing in the background.  And I know that in heaven, Mrs. Dana is talking and laughing again.  And on earth, her memory is reminding us that despite our circumstances, we’ve been instructed to “rejoice always.”  Even when you cannot talk and cannot laugh—no excuses.  Find yourself a bell and let the world know that you are joyful—even when it is through tears.