Category Archives: By: Janet Mendenhall

Sing Along with Me

By: Janet Mendenhall

She wheeled herself up to her designated table in what for this hour would be a makeshift church sanctuary, though the occasional clatter of dishes and faint smells of Sunday lunch gave away its intended use.  I was looking for an unclaimed chair and greeting my fellow congregants as I wound my way through the labyrinth of wheelchairs and walkers.

I have been visiting and worshipping at the nursing center in my neighborhood for several years now, and have come to know many of the residents’ names and even some of their stories. I have my favorites:

• My 90-year-old friend who after several recent falls is madder than a hornet that she has been slowed down by a wheelchair.

• My 87-year-old former nursing school instructor who misses no opportunity to hug, reminding anyone who will listen of the study done by North Carolina nurses that claims a dose of 12 daily hugs is necessary for us to thrive.

• The former Colorado history professor and my current movie buddy who is somewhat limited by serious injuries suffered on Colorado black ice.

All of them encourage and inspire me on a regular basis.

However, I didn’t recognize the woman who stopped me and quietly said, “I am so glad you’re here today. I can’t see very well any longer, and even with my glasses, I can’t read the words in the hymnal, but when I hear your voice, I can remember the words and sing along.” I smiled. I am known for my strong alto voice in that service, but this was the first time I had thought about it serving this particular purpose. I introduced myself and settled into the chair nearest her. I don’t know how I had missed meeting her before, but I was thankful for today’s introduction.

After the service, I wheeled the former nursing instructor back to her room, sang my twice-weekly offering of “What A Friend We Have in Jesus,” her favorite hymn of which she apparently never tires, and headed out the door with easily the prescribed quota of hugs.

My new friend was parked just outside the door and struck up a conversation with me. She described her sadness at losing her mate, her failing health, her relocation to the nursing center. She told me how she had prayed that she would die, how she felt like 87 years was a good, long life and how tired she was. But she hadn’t died, she said.

And now she was feeling like she needed to make good use of the time she had left. It would not be in her nature, and would require mustering up her courage, but she was pondering running for the presidency of the residents’ organization at the nursing center. There were folks there without advocates, and she thought she could lend her voice to make things better for them. She envisioned herself rolling down the hallways, poking her head into each room and visiting with everyone to see what it was that could be done to make their home even better. Were people getting adequate care? Was everyone comfortable with the surroundings? Was everyone’s voice being heard? She was going to pray about it some more, but felt certain there was more for her to do than to just rest and long for her life’s end.

I thought about our conversation as I walked home. I am not 87 years old, but sometimes I feel tired; too tired to keep trying to make this world a better place. And often, I feel like giving up. But if my friend can overcome her fear and fatigue and run for president, I think I can press on as well.

There was a song in my heart as I turned the corner toward home, and I said aloud, “I am glad you were there today, my new friend. Sometimes my eyes don’t see things as clearly as they should, but when I hear your strong voice, I can remember the words and sing along.”

Two Heads are Better than One

By: Janet Mendenhall

They are my friends. And in a way, they are my neighbors. But they were also squatters. It is true that they had been squatting on the porch of a condemned house down the street from me. A few were actually living on that porch, while others just spent parts of the day there hanging out, sharing stories and a beer or two. Sometimes I would visit with these friends as they walked through the community garden where I was weeding. Or I would have a chat with them as I was walking by the porch. I have had breakfast with some of them at Breakfast on Beech Street, and we have lunched and worshipped together at City Light Ministries.

The group had been congregating at houses closer to the corner convenience store that specializes in 40-ounce bottles of beer and cheap cigarettes, before being forced down the street one house at a time. This house was recently selected, and its overgrown shrubs and bushes provided shade and camouflage for the illegal campsite on the porch. This house also had next-door neighbors who complained loudly enough to rouse the interest of a reporter at the local television station, who was loud enough to shake up the city’s code enforcers. Within days the shady camouflage was cut down and the ragged remnants of the squatters’ makeshift quarters tossed in a waste bin. The squatters were warned by the city’s code compliance officer not to return. And just like that, they were gone.

I watched the news story as they interviewed my squatter neighbors, some of whom struggle with mental and physical disabilities, and I was both sad and frustrated.  I love my friends who gathered at the corner of my street. They are kind and compassionate and loyal and helpful to one another. But they were there illegally, and sometimes messy and noisy and not respectful of their neighbors. There was always tension for me as I visited my friends at the corner and saw the mess that was theirs. I remarked to the corner community once about cleaning up the area, which was met with cheers and jeers but mostly ignored. I never knew quite how to respond to the situation. Consequently I didn’t do much, except continue to listen and receive the prayers and blessings and hugs and laughter they would offer me as we met and to lament the tenuous conditions of their daily life and the hopelessness I felt regarding a solution.

The news story was of course posted online as well as shown on the evening news. It was the comments posted in response to the story that frustrated me. They weren’t surprising. They were in fact, expected. They came in the standard two sizes fit all:

  1. Throw them in jail, those lazy, no-good squatters, or
  2. Leave them alone; they are people too, just like you, and we are called to love and be kind to all people.

And then follows the yelling back and forth. We have become accustomed to polarized posts that defend one’s position so loudly that there seems no hope for any listening, and certainly no resolution. I know this.  Lately, I have read these comments on everything from Syria to suicide, Iraq to immigration, gun control to gay marriage. You have, too. Maybe you have made some.

Recent research has shown an actual, observable difference between the brains of those who typically support and vote for conservative ideals and their liberal counterparts. In that study published in 2011 in Current Biology, conservatives were found to have larger right amygdala, an area of the brain associated with fear, which some would argue may provide this group with a keener response to threats and signs of danger. Liberals were found to have a larger anterior cingulate cortex, which might be linked to an enhanced ability to handle change and uncertainty. A number of other research projects point to differences in the way the two groups respond to stimuli and the neural mechanisms that are triggered in certain situations. These seem to indicate a biological and psychological basis for the different ideologies of these two groups. The research is not conclusive, and it could be with regard to the structural differences that these changes occur over time as a result of a person’s thinking.

But it is interesting to consider the possibilities:

What if it isn’t about who has the right answer or the most compelling argument?  What if we are intentionally wired differently? What if two heads really are better than one – particularly if they are different? What if as God’s people with the help of his Spirit we can come together as one people? What if we can model seeing our differences as the completion of one another?

What if together we use our big amygdala AND our big anterior cingulate cortex to strive to build one kingdom, where rather than just argue about squatters and other such matters, we create space for both groups’ big ideas to work together toward a fuller life for all of us?

Comfort Food for Thought

By: Janet Mendenhall

We are creatures of comfort. Our bodies want to be comfortable: air conditioning, beds and pillows that note and remember our sleep habits, fabrics that wick moisture away, cars with seats that massage and conform to our bodies, shoes filled with gel.

I remember when it became popular for young folks to exclaim, “Awkward!” at, well, awkward moments in their lives. Perhaps naming it before someone else could name it for them  took some of the sting out of the discomfort of the moment. We do not like awkward encounters, moments, or conversations, and generally go out of our way to avoid even the slightest chance of them. We do not like being uncomfortable.

We can purchase our way into complete physical comfort. And, unfortunately, it is almost as easy to ensure our social comfort. We do this by avoiding people who make us uncomfortable: people with different backgrounds, values, ideas, beliefs, even skin. We have become good at separating ourselves from folks not like us. We can move to the other side of town, not go to “those” schools, not play at that park, not go to that church, not shop at that store, not go to their party.

We have convinced ourselves we deserve to be comfortable. Advertisers have added their persuasive pitches. We have shared our secrets to coziness, lulling one another into a comfortable stupor. Even the church has often validated our quests for individual comfort: homogenous Sunday School classes, traditional or contemporary services, and separate outreach ministries.

I don’t see Jesus seeking comfort. Instead I see: catnaps in capsizing boats, tables of tax collectors, parties with prostitutes, challenges from church leaders.

And a well-side chat with a Samaritan woman.

His encounter knocks me out of my carefully constructed comfort zone.

Jews and Samaritans were not on cordial terms to say the least. There was much animosity and disagreement in religious thought. Jews, as the apostle states, had no dealings with Samaritans. None. And she was a woman. Jewish men did not speak to women in public.

And so Jesus greets this Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob. Awkward. Perhaps. But we can learn three helpful hints from Jesus for finding comfort in an uncomfortable encounter

Potential discomfort one: He is tired and thirsty and has nothing with which to draw water and so he asks the woman for a drink.

Hint one: When encountering folks who are different from you, perhaps marginalized and maybe even skeptical of you, acknowledge your own weakness and appeal to their strengths. Jesus was thirsty and needed her help.

Potential discomfort two: After Jesus reveals what can only be supernatural knowledge of this woman’s past and current life, she supposes Jesus to be a prophet and poses a theological question regarding the distinction between the worship of the Samaritans and the Jews. Jesus acknowledges the difference, but quickly moves toward language that is inclusive and inviting and focuses on a new reality regarding a unified worship.

Hint two: It is fine and even helpful to acknowledge differences, but it is better to move quickly to areas of common ground and the hope of a spirit of unity.

Potential discomfort three: The woman believed when Jesus revealed his identity as the anticipated Messiah and hurried to tell the folks in her town. They came to Jesus and asked him to stay with them. He stayed for two days and shared his heart with them. Many heard and believed in him.

Hint three: Don’t hit and run. Stay and arrange more conversations. Get to know them. Build a relationship. Share your heartfelt words of truth.

Are you a creature of comfort? Before you plump up your pillows and plop on your Posturepedic, take a water break and have an uncomfortable conversation or two. It might be the most refreshing thing you do.



We Are Not All Peas in a Pod

By: Janet Mendenhall

I am perplexed by my peas. Purple hull peas are my one selfish endeavor in the Valley View Community Garden. I plant most vegetables in the community garden because I know the neighbors will use them, they are hardy enough for the West Texas heat and are easily identified when ready to harvest. I plant purple hull peas because in my opinion, they are the crowning crop of the garden.

The peas were planted 12 inches apart, coinciding with the drip holes on the drip tape that irrigates each row. I planted them at the same time and to the best of my ability at the same depth in the soil. They are all equally exposed to daily sunlight. And so I have been perplexed watching them grow. As I walked through the garden today, a few of the pea plants still look like the bean sprouts in the Dixie cup you planted in first-grade science class. And the largest plant is in full bloom and sporting a pod or two. The other plants fall somewhere in between on the pea-plant-growth spectrum. I am expecting a good crop of peas. I am hopeful for more blooms and eventually more fruit to appear. I am encouraged by the plant whose fruit has already begun to ripen, and resisting the urge to be worried about its immature neighbors. But I do wonder.

I wonder how we think about those around us, as we look up and down our rows. If we see ourselves as fruitful folks stuck amidst Dixie cup seedlings; are we boastful or judgmental?  Are we quick to question, “If I am producing fruit now, shouldn’t you be as well? What is wrong with you? Too lazy to grow? Too stubborn to do your part? We had the same start, after all. We have had the same chances to grow and to thrive, the same access to resources.”

Or so it appears.

I don’t know what is different about my pea plants. But there is something. They appear to have had similar opportunities for growth, yet they are not growing similarly. There could be things that I do not know about these plants and things I cannot see that are affecting their growth.  Maybe there was less nourishment in the specific place in which some found themselves planted. Perhaps something was discarded in their spot that was unhealthy and not supportive of a strong start. Someone might have walked across the soil after planting and that bit of trampling applied enough pressure to make breaking through the surface to the sunlight more difficult. I do not know what has slowed the growth of some, but I do know they are growing. And I am hopeful that with access to nourishing resources, in good time, they will produce fruit.

As I look around, I am reminded of my peas. I see sprouts and blooms and even some pea pods. And I remember that even when it seems each of our places of growth is equally full of opportunities and obstacles, all probably aren’t.  And with cheerful expectation, I nurture and cultivate good fruit in my spot and up and down my row. I can’t wait to share in the bounty of the harvest.

Take Your Gloves Off

By: Janet Mendenhall

My hands are not pretty. They are rough and marked with ant bites in varying stages. My nails are a mess: broken, dirty, with torn cuticles. I have been in my garden a good bit over the last month, preparing the soil, planting, and weeding and weeding some more. My daughter is ashamed of my hands and joins a host of others in puzzling over why I don’t wear gloves. I don’t like gloves. They make me claustrophobic. I have tried wearing them, but within minutes, they are thrown off. My hands get hot, feel suffocated and I feel like I am not really there. My hands want to be there, to be involved, to be “hands on,” if you will. And gloves just don’t allow that.

When I garden, I expect to get dirty. I actually want to get dirty. The rich soil now teeming with tiny earthworms feels good to my hands. I feel connected to the earth, this source of life and growth. I can now tell just where to grab each type of weed to uproot the whole plant, and easily separate them from the clinging dirt. I can sense the difference in the soil, where the ants have been happily setting up housekeeping and avoid surprising both of us with a painful encounter.

Of course, there is a price to pay for this close communion with my garden. I don’t always anticipate the ants’ appearances. Years and years of buried glass is being unearthed with each season’s tilling and sometimes is discovered just below the surface by my sensitive fingertips. Some of the weeds proudly display their prickly stems, but others are more subtle and discovered only upon close contact.  My hands are tired and sore, but they are stronger and a strange mixture of calloused and more sensitive.

My job as a community coordinator in a north Abilene neighborhood allows me to live in the neighborhood I am partnering with in the process of community renewal and revitalization. I am thankful for one of the core principles we have adopted from community developers like John Perkins, founder of the Christian Community Development Association: relocation. Moving into the neighborhood and nurturing and being nurtured, giving and receiving gifts, and sharing in the promises and challenges of the neighborhood, as a fellow neighbor and friend.

It just makes more sense to me; to really be there, to be involved and be “hands on.” I am connected to this place and the people in this place. I am more aware of the subtleties of my neighborhood, of the abundance of gifts that might be overlooked without close and continuous connection. I am available daily to listen to the sounds of the neighborhood: the stories and dreams and ideas of the people who know the neighborhood best – the folks living there.

Sometimes my hands get dirty. Sometimes sharp edges surface, and there are moments that surprisingly sting. But I just don’t like wearing gloves.

Churches of 2 to 2000

By: Janet Mendenhall

The church and I go way back. On the day I was born, my mother was sitting in Bible class when her water broke.  She was a very young preacher’s wife; they were in their first church at the time.  A fellow class member drove my mother home where she called the doctor and waited until my father finished teaching his class and preaching his sermon. Then they headed to the hospital and I was born that evening.

My father preached in six congregations over the next 12 years in varying sizes and locations. He then preached off and on in nearby small towns throughout the rest of my time at home.  I cleaned church buildings, sniffed the mimeograph fluid as I folded church bulletins, played church, rode Joy Buses, attended week-long gospel meetings, and visited hospitals and nursing homes. I know about church. I know the good, the bad and the ugly.

The church is the collection of the hearts of people committed to joining God in his mission of reconciling the world. And there are a myriad of expressions of the church: the traditional institutional church, less traditional institutional churches meeting in a variety of less formal settings, house churches, and other emerging communities of faith lacking any institutional tie. In each of these, both within the institutional setting and without, are good-hearted people seeking to usher in the Lord’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Compassionate, loving hearts looking for the best ways to be kingdom bringers. I have been blessed to be closely affiliated with folks choosing to express their faith in a variety of ways, from churches of 2 to 2,000, who have challenged me to open my heart and mind. I am hopeful for each of these groups to join hands and hearts to challenge and encourage one another as one body.  We have much to offer one another.

I have heard much talk lately about the bad and the ugly of the institutional church, without much accompanying talk about the good. And there is much good. Ignoring that good is wrong and paints an incomplete picture of the kingdom. I want to share some typical good stories with you.

This week I will preach for a community of faith that meets weekly as part of the outreach of a big downtown church. This group also comes together for a tasty and filling lunch three times a week. They are a supportive and cohesive group of God’s people, helping each other walk in a difficult world.

A small Baptist church in my neighborhood has purchased an abandoned school building nearby. While the members wait to discern the ways it can be utilized fully, they host activities and events there, warmly welcoming the neighbors to join them. They are especially gifted at welcoming neighborhood children and youths.

I know of a small congregation outside of town that has been gathering as a community of believers for many years.  They are proud of their church and its building. Having a place to come together to meet and worship and commune and share life with one another is important to them. It is ordinary life, but it is sacred as they do it together:  worship services, Bible studies, potlucks, baptisms, weddings and funerals.

Perhaps my favorite expression are the members of local churches who faithfully show up on Sunday mornings and in the middle of the week at area nursing homes to worship and fellowship with the saints who are as best I can tell among the nearest to the margins.  I join them as often as I can.

I have a favorite church-planter friend, whom I often refer to as my hero. He is supported in part by a large church in town. He and his wife recently relocated to a mobile home park on the edge of town and are building community within the park and planting a church in its midst. And they are doing good things and having too much fun and loving their neighbors.

A dear friend of mine pastors a mid-size church that has decided to be intentional about being good neighbors to the community around them. They have worked alongside neighbors to build a beautiful community garden and are actively involved in the life of a nearby elementary school.

A tiny church in my neighborhood is offering a free soup lunch to the neighbors two Saturdays a month. They have taken in a young boy living across the street who wandered over one day and found himself in acolyte training from a sweet elderly gentleman who knew it was important to make this young man feel a part of things.

Church looks different than it did that Sunday over fifty years ago when I was born. New expressions of church are everywhere. I think that is a good thing. Many of those committed to the institutional church are seeking ways to better connect with people.  Many of those disillusioned with the institutional church are seeking ways to better connect with people.   More people better connected to one another and their Creator. I KNOW that is a good thing.


By: Janet Mendenhall

I am not by nature a good listener. I mean well. I start out with good intentions. As you begin speaking, my brain is pleading with me: “Wait… wait… wait. Don’t talk yet. Listen!” And I do… for a minute or two.

It is not that I don’t want to hear what you say; I am genuinely interested in you. Sometimes I am just easily distracted. But more often, it is that I quickly know just what you are going to say, and I either need to prepare to rebuke you (in love, of course) or expound on your thoughts before I agree with you. Either way, I am likely trying to impress you with the depths of my thoughts, and in so doing likely miss the depth of yours.

My listening problem was more evident than ever this past week as I sat on a panel of jurors for a criminal case in a local district court. There was initially much listening to be done. In fact, there was nothing but listening for the first day and a half. And there were few opportunities for distractions: no snacks or phones or doodle pads, not even much room for fidgeting. And during all that time no one was interested in my opinion. (Though there were several times I would have loved to have offered it!) Even when things were unclear or the attorney made a mistake or was confused or confusing, I had no choice but to listen. It was not easy. It was exhausting. But I was intent on listening because I cared and because I had much to learn.  And someone’s future was dependent on my close attention to the voices of the witnesses. I knew in this case, the importance of listening.

Stephen R. Covey has been quoted as saying, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”  I did not need a best-selling author to share this insight with me. I am one of Covey’s “most people” and apparently I spend most of my time mostly talking to “most people”.

I do know some good listeners and I admire them. They listen to understand. They listen because they care. They are not quick to judge or advise or fix. They are empathetic and encouraging. I seek them out as often as I can.

I even know a few extraordinary listeners. They listen to understand. They listen because they care.  They also listen to learn. They seek out and listen to voices they know will challenge their values and beliefs, rather than agree and substantiate their self-proclaimed wisdom. They listen because they are seeking the best thoughts and answers.  They listen because they are humble enough to know that they can learn from those with whom they disagree. I am most impressed by these listeners. Theirs are the voices from whom I am eager to hear. But there are too few of them.

Most of us people are so afraid of being wrong about politics or religion or child rearing or whatever it is, that rather than explore — with curiosity and respect — the other possibilities, we surround ourselves only with agreeable, like-minded voices. This is increasingly easier to do as blogs and news reports and commentaries present one-sided views with alarming steadfastness – from both ends of the spectrum. Then in the strength that those voices give us, we raise our own voices in loud and insulting shouts at the folks with whom we disagree. And we learn nothing from one another.

We need each other. And we need to hear each other. We have much to learn from one another. People’s futures depend on careful listening to the voices of all the witnesses.

Strengthening the Fiber of our Relationships

By: Janet Mendenhall

It is still dark as I sneak out of the house and head to a local gym. Middle age has made it harder to stay physically fit, so this has become a daily activity. I am disciplined and consistent, but I am also in a rut. The young girl at the desk tactfully points out that I might want to try a free trial of a new class they were offering as an alternative to my usual “routine”. I decline, because… well, I am stuck in a rut. I am comfortable with the equipment I am using — meaning I know how to use it and am only mildly concerned about making a wrong move or otherwise looking ridiculous. Ruts even in exercise are not useful for growth.

A friend invited me to tag along as her guest at her gym one recent Saturday morning since it opened earlier than mine.  We did the quick, 30-minute interval workout she usually does. It wasn’t overly strenuous, but it was different. And when I woke up, some muscles were sore. I realized I hadn’t been waking sore most days, so I was likely not experiencing muscle growth.  You see, muscle growth occurs when there is trauma. During strenuous exercise, there is actual damage to the muscle fibers. In response to that damage, cells outside the muscle fibers rally to repair and increase the density of the existing muscle, making it stronger. Thus the exercise enthusiasts’ mantra: “No pain; no gain.”

I recently offended a dear friend of mine. It wasn’t intentional. In fact, I was surprised when she called to confront me.  She was honest and straightforward, yet somehow still kind. I was devastated. I had been inconsiderate and not trustworthy, characteristics I would typically pride myself on. My prideful heart immediately began defending itself, but stopped short. I listened, and with a broken heart, apologized, asked what I could do to make things right and thanked her for her honesty. I was certain things could not be restored. Things would never be the same. Her hurt would be too much, my shame too great. As I hung up the phone and unsteadily continued the meal I was cooking, I began thinking: This was uncomfortable to me because it is so rare in my life. Not rare for me to offend folks, I am sure, but this straightforward, honest response caught me off guard. It is neither routine for me nor comfortable. And it hurt. There was trauma. There was actual damage to the fibers of our relationship.

My friend has called again. We have laughed and shared from our hearts. We have confided in one another. Our relationship was not destroyed; as it healed it was in fact made stronger.

I haven’t altered my exercise regimen yet. I understand the principle of muscle growth, but I am still plodding through my same routine without the unwanted but essential soreness. My body could be stronger, but I am settling for muscle maintenance, instead of muscle growth. Maybe I will commit to a new routine in the coming New Year.

As sad as that is, it would be sadder to not alter my routine interactions in my relationships, and just maintain them when they could grow stronger. And if we as the body of Christ could practice this exercise principle more routinely, just imagine the gain.

Forty years to Forgiveness

By: Janet Mendenhall

This story of forgiveness begins late on a blustery January night in a West Texas town 40 years ago. Maria remembers the details of that night, including the way the ice felt landing on her face as the Jaws of Life freed her. And the intense pain in her back. And the slurred voice of her boyfriend, begging her to tell the policemen she had been driving. He was on probation and terrified of prison.  Certain that she was dying, the lie seemed reasonable. Had she known she would live, she might not have been so gracious. After all, it had been her boyfriend who dragged her out of bed — to go prove right then that she had not gone to the movies with Daniel while he was gone. On icy roads. Under the influence.  And now here he was without a scratch and looking to further save his hide.

As she regained consciousness in the hospital, Maria could make out his form in a chair across the room. He would be there later as she slipped into a two-week coma, and as she waked to hear the news that she would never walk again, and yanked out IVs and yelled and screamed and begged to die. And he would even relocate to Galveston for the next six-month phase of surgeries.  But he was 17 and in his own words, young and stupid, and there were visits to other girls amidst his hospital visits. It likely didn’t matter. Maria was very angry and bitter and hated him. She didn’t want to even look at him.

She also didn’t want to be stationed in his parents’ home in a back brace flat on her back in a hospital bed while he brought home his new girlfriend.  Nor hear the giggling voices of his younger sisters hurrying in to report to Maria that he was kissing this new girl. But Maria’s mother was dying of leukemia and his mother was her second mother, and the only available caregiver. She certainly didn’t want to pick up the paper in the hospital after returning there for serious bedsores and a morphine addiction, to read that he had married the new girl. That hospital stay would be 16 months long and punctuated by visits from him. Occasionally he would be sober, but always he would declare his love for Maria. Maria would tell him to go away. To go home to his wife. She was still angry.

More sadness would ensue during that stay as her mother at last succumbed to leukemia, and a month later a younger brother was killed accidentally. Maria was depressed. Perhaps even more upon her release as she went to her father’s home to recover and simultaneously raise eight younger siblings ranging in age from 12 to 2 from her new wheelchair.  A friend named Tony grew to love Maria, and though he realized Maria did not love him, he offered to have her move in with him and bring her siblings to raise them together. Though she would never marry Tony, they would raise her brothers and sisters and bring three more little ones into their world. They were together nine years, before alcoholism consumed her well-intentioned partner.

Maria remembers the depression slowly fading as she mastered the wheelchair and became more independent. But remembers more markedly the sadness subsiding at the birth of her children and as she watched them grow. Being mother to the three of them brought joy and healing. Her road was still not easy. There would be infections and sores and injuries to her feet resulting in amputations and later a bout with brain cancer. But she would face these with a new spirit, and less anger and self-pity.

About 10 years ago, Maria became more tolerant of her encounters with that old boyfriend. After he separated from his wife, he began making regular visits to Maria. He walks the 12 blocks down the street to her house on a daily basis. He rivals the postal service with his commitment.  In Maria’s words, “There is nothing he wouldn’t do for me.”  She is certain of his love. He tells everyone she is his lady, to which Maria gives him a swat and says, “I am not your lady.” She is not in love. But she smiles; she cares deeply for him.

I ask if she has forgiven him.

“ I am still working on it. I think I have, but some days, my mind starts remembering things. And he makes me mad. Like when he tells me he is tired of pushing my chair and I tell him, ‘You put me in this chair. Just keep pushing!’ ”

And Maria smiles that beautiful smile.

“Yeah, I forgive him. He makes me laugh. We have a lot of good times together. And at least I am not depressed anymore.”

Sometimes the sun slips down on your wrath.  And sometimes it is many, many suns.  But don’t let it be all of your suns.

I am not all out of love for the ’80s, but…


It is a hard day’s drive to New Orleans from Abilene. I was happy for the comfort of the Town and Country van our boss rented for the staff’s trip to the annual conference of the Christian Community Development Association. I am an anxious flyer, so the long drive was less daunting than security checkpoints and flight delays and airport layovers and bumpy takeoffs and landings and breathing that recycled stale air and fighting over shared arm rests and that constant nagging fear of crashing.

I drive a beat-up Corolla with manual windows and locks – I have to teach kids how to lock the doors and roll down windows when they ride with me – and a cassette tape player. This van was a slight upgrade from my usual means of transportation.  I was particularly cheered to see it was equipped with satellite radio, as nothing passes traveling time like an endless variety of music. Instead I got 12 hours of ’80s music.

Don’t get me wrong, I can still sing along with most top hits of the ’80s, take a stroll up and down memory lane to the beat of Hall and Oates or Air Supply or even Culture Club, but I began to wonder about our fascination with the music of the past. A peek at my playlist on Spotify would reveal diversity, but mostly songs from my past. Songs that remind me of my youth as I sang and listened to folk or country music with my father.  Recordings of hymns from early days as a preacher’s kid whose life was consumed by church attendance. Tracks from those early teen years when I discovered music of my own. Tunes that remind me of my college days. Music from a move to Nashville and a rediscovery of country music enhanced by the flavor of new country.

But sprinkled amidst those tunes would be some songs from Pink, and Fun! that my younger children have hooked me on, and some new bluegrass and folk music from up-and-coming songwriters and musicians my older sons have shared, for which I am most thankful. I’ve heard amazing new voices and freshly inspired words my heart could not ponder otherwise. Someone needs to hear and love and celebrate the sounds of the present decade and the next and the next.

We worship some at the CCDA conference. It is vibrant and exciting and sometimes overwhelming to me, an uncertain worship introvert. It is a rare thing for me to know these songs. Sometimes the words are in Spanish. Or Chinese. Or African.  I long to sing along. I want a familiar hymn. Or even the best devo (lowercase D) hits of the ’80s.  But then I think of the voice of the girl leading worship.  “I wrote this song one day when,” she begins, and she tells her story. This amazing new voice sings freshly inspired truth over me. And I want it on my Spotify list, alongside my old favorites. One day it will be a well-worn word in the midst of more fresh inspiration.

And I will sing along.