Hillbilly Marriage

Another way the hill people of my family differ from J.D. Vance’s in Hillbilly Elegy is in the area of marriage. J.D. grew up surrounded by instability and tumultuous home life both in his home and the home of his grandparent’s. The story of Granny Lawhorne’s married life painted a very different picture.

Grandmother Henson

My grandmother Henson lived with us for about 5 years before I was married. She loved to tease me about Ed who had started coming around to see me. We were so poor we didn’t have no mop so when it came time to scrub the floors, I’d put on my brother’s overalls and get down on my hands and knees to scrub the floor. Grandmother Henson would mumble and giggle around her corn cob pipe saying, “I hope he don’t ketch ya'” The more she would say it the more she would giggle. She tried to make me think Ed wouldn’t want to marry me if he saw me dressed like a man!

Granny at the schoolhouse with Ed and Lacy

When Ed and I decided to get married he was 19 and I was 15 years old. We went to the preacher’s house and who was there but two other boys who had always tried to go with me. One boy’s name was Lawrence Wilmer and the other was Lacy Coleman. Lacy said he was going to try to keep Ed from having me but I’d already decided I didn’t want to have nothing to do with him because he drank. Funny thing years later after Ed died of a massive stroke Lacy and I did marry–of course he had stopped
drinking by then! Mama would have never let me marry a Wilmer because she said they were all lazy!

Ed and I married on Independence Day 1928. We often celebrated our anniversary by splitting open a ripe watermelon that had been kept cold in the spring box at the home we shared.

For the first 7 months of my married life we lived with Mr. Paul Lawhorne–Ed’s father. Paul was a man who really cared about the way he looked to others. It took him a solid hour to get ready to go anywhere. Everyone was always waiting on Paul to get ready.

Granny in the 20’s

Ed had gotten a job at the silk mill in Buena Vista when we first got married. It was so unlike our people who cut wood, or farmed as a living but here was Ed going to the “city” for a public job. It seemed like some of our relatives were jealous thinking we had “gotten above our raisings.” Ed just always wanted his children to do well and worked hard to provide for them. His mother died of “Bright’s disease” — some kind of kidney problem when Ed was only 8 years old. Her name was Leanna Coleman and she was 49 years old when she passed. She said to Paul, “Now Paul, take the children to church and raise them like I did.” Paul did just that for the children.

I was the one that told Ed we needed to get a place of our own. I always felt that Mr. Lawhorne didn’t like us living with him and the house over the mountain was real crowded so we got a place on Factory Street in Buena Vista.

In June of 1929, Junior was born while we lived on Factory Street. Dr. Thurman looked at how big his hands were and said, “Oh my goodness, he’s going to be as big as Joe Winston!” Joe was the biggest, strongest black man in Buena Vista at the time. I was proudest of that boy as anything in my life. I remember feeling like I finally had something that belonged to me. I never had a doll or nothing like that as a girl so this little boy was something special!

Hillbilly Revel!

I recently completed J.D. Vance’s book Hillbilly Elegy.  As I read, I was struck by how sorrowful his story was and how different from my own family’s hillbilly story. I interviewed Granny Lawhorne, the young girl with the bow in this photo, in November 1995 when she was 83 years old.  As she recounted the difficult plight of being an Amherst County Virginia hillbilly; her tale was sprinkled with deep belly laughs and joy.  There was no elegy edge to her story at all.

Well, I’ll just tell you, my mama’s name was Emma Henson Burch and she married my daddy Frank Benjamin Burch on August 20, 1892.

Daddy was 20 years old and Mama was 15 at the time of their wedding. They were married at the Oronoco Church of the Brethren on Route 60 at the top of the mountain near Buena Vista, Virginia. They got married right after a revival meeting and then left the church in a horse and buggy and went 20 miles or so to Pleasant View where Emma’s sister Molly lived. That was the way honeymoons happened in them days. Mama went to housekeeping with a straw tick and a frying pan. She had to gather field straw to fill the tick for their bed and she cooked all their meals in that frying pan over the fireplace. One of her relatives had given her a few small potatoes so they would have something to cook.

That was all they started married life with. They didn’t have a stick of furniture but they managed to raise 10 children and Daddy never held a public job. You know I think people would die today if they had to live like we did then. The worse problem we had was how to get clothes. We grew and put up our own food but there was no money for clothes. Mama made shirts and underwear for my brothers and underwear and dresses for my sisters out of cloth the she saved from 25 pound flour sacks.

What I remember about my life as a child was working!  As soon as I was big enough to stand up on the stool at the sink, Mama put me to washing dishes. The older you got the more jobs she put you doing. We did have some good times though. We had get togethers called “Bean Shellins,” “Corn Shuckins,” and “Molasses Pulls.” At the corn shuckins, they would hide jars of moonshine in piles of unshucked corn. The men shucked corn like crazy trying to uncover those hidden jars! Moonshine was one of the ways that folks in the mountains could get their hands on money. The Colemans and the Noels and others all had family members who served prison time cuz they were caught by revenuers selling whiskey.

I also remember it being a good time to go to church. We walked 5 miles each way to get to Oronoco even when I was a young child. If they were holding nighttime revival meetings we would hear the 11 o’clock whistle blow down in Buena Vista and still have about three quarters of a mile left to walk.

As I read J.D. Vance’s book it occurred to me that while his Mamaw saw church as “breeding grounds for perverts and money changers,” Granny found solace for her soul and strength to follow the upside down values of Jesus’ kingdom at church. Her 93 year life was characterized by hard work, deep love for others, exuberant joy and resting in the grace of God.

 

Waiting Room Blues

innmon-1_000 Sitting in a waiting room on the 6th floor of MCV’s Ambulatory Care building, anticipating the moment when a too busy neurosurgeon would have time to see us, I had ample time to think and wonder what the future held for my 79 year old mother.

For two years she has been losing the use of her legs and no doctor, no matter how confident in appearance, has yet been able to unlock the mystery behind her condition. Nor has one ventured to describe what she can expect in the remaining years of her life.

Oddly, as I sat thinking how much I would like to know her future I was flipping through magazines that dated back to the year 2000.  Yes, the wait was so long that I began reading about Brittany and KFed who had just returned from their honeymoon!  They were aglow–enjoying all that we think will assure a bright future –thin bodies, overt sexuality, expensive cars, designer clothes, and of course, well defined abs.

I moved on and was reading an interview with Kirstie Alley who was weary of being the “Fat Actress” and was determined that the time was right to lose the weight. Her reasons were that it would jump start her career and give her a better chance of finding someone with whom to sleep.  I was pretty sure that she meant that euphemistically.

I was reading about the “true” love between Brad and Angelina.  This article was written right after he abandoned one wife to take up another and before he began preaching to us about how we should be more caring people.

What a weird sensation to sit there and know “the rest of the story” in these people’s lives.  How ironic– I knew their futures but really wanted to know Mom’s.  I also knew that while I was not focusing on gaining a bright future in the way that Brittany, Kirstie and Brad were, that we all had the same longing for things to turn out right.

IMG_1397[1] (Small) Still waiting on the doctor, looking out at the skyline of Richmond from the sixth floor, rescuing thoughts flooded my thinking. First, I recalled Hebrews 4:13,

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight.  Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”

Mom belongs to a God who sees what we cannot, she belongs to a God who has promised that

if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” 2 Corinthians 5:1

Mom belongs to a God who so captured my heart that when the doctor pronounced that she had a systemic problem rather than a surgical one, I was not disappointed.

In my mind I heard, Lissa, I came and defeated the greatest systemic problem your mother has.  This one will last for a few months or a few years, the victory I won will last forever. I can see your mother’s future and I promise it is very bright!”

Those words did not come from outdated magazine stories that with the vantage point of time mock the main characters’ bright hopes. 

Those words came to me from a precious book of revelation that is thousands of years old and never mocks the main characters.  It is a book that promises an unfading bright future as a gift from a loving, eternal, unchanging God.

Mom passed away March 11, 2014 and entered the eternal house of God.

How to help those who are grieving

It was eSept. 11arly morning 9.11.2015 when I posted this graphic on Facebook. It was a simple way to say that I had not forgotten the day that ushered our country into a period of intense and stunned mourning. Never would I have imagined that by 3:00 pm that afternoon this graphic would also become a reminder of the day when I was ushered into the deepest mourning. On 9.11.2015 my youngest brother committed suicide.

In the days that followed, the pain deepened as my family  realized that there were sketchy details surrounding the last night of my brother’s life and that this could have been a homicide rather than a suicide. It took two months to get the Medical Examiner’s report and to learn that it was indeed a suicide.

Since that day, I have had time to reflect on the process of grief. I have lost both parents and a brother in the last 3 years and so grief is not alien to me but somehow this time I felt like I was in the ring with George Foreman before he started making grills.

It is clear to me that our culture is not at all comfortable with people in emotional pain. It was weird to feel like I needed to apologize for being sad. In several social interactions when I felt like I was drowning just trying to keep it together I would have to reach out and ease the awkwardness of well wishers who could not find right words (there are none) or right things to do to make things right (what could make this right?).

None of us wants to be someone who would crush a bruised reed so here are thoughts I have had about helpful and not helpful things to do when faced with grieving souls.

Helpful:

  • Say “I am so sorry for your loss” and nothing more.
  • Hold eye contact a few extra seconds rather than averting eyes.
  • Give a lingering hug if you are comfortable doing this.
  • Sit with the person and allow them to talk about their loved one.
  • Find tender words and send them in a card.
  • Don’t rush or expect the person to “get over it.”  Loss leaves a person changed forever.
  • Understand the person’s need to withdraw for quiet and stillness.

Not Helpful: (Please read “Never do these things!”)

  • Interviewing the person with intrusive and insensitive questions. (nosiness is never helpful…ever…why do  you need to know if the death was expected!?!)
  • Offering platitudes or quoting Bible verses. (trust me they are more infuriating than inspiring)
  • Telling the person all the stories of people that you know who committed suicide …(sigh)
  • Refusing to acknowledge the reality of grief. (this adds insult to injury)
  • Offering advice of how to “get over it.” (even on a good day people do not like advice!)

I recently read an article in which the author said, “our culture treats grief like a problem to be solved or an illness to be healed.”  I am so grateful for those who do not see me as a project to be completed or a problem to be fixed. I am grateful for those friends who saw that I was a bruised reed and did not crush me.

Post-Election Perspective

It has been clear in the aftermath of this presidential election that we Christians need help to think biblically about current events. Our inclination to publish fear driven status updates and mean spirited rehashing of tired political catch phrases suggests we believe political leaders are our real Savior. Let’s remember what we know to be true and stand by faith rather than fear. Let’s honor our God and resist the temptation to dishonor man.  This blog post by Scott Sauls is the deep thinking help we need.

Survivor and the American Church Pt. 3

A good enemy exploits the weaknesses of his prey.  The weaknesses that Mike Breen has identified in the American church are: CELEBRITY, CONSUMERISM and COMPETITION.  One sure way to be voted off the island on Survivor—to lose your place on the team—is to turn on someone with whom you have an alliance. Consider how the enemy of competition has made the church turn on our own teammates—and in the process miss the REAL enemy.

COMPETITION

You will never find a more hyper-competitive culture than you do in the United States. As a foreigner living in this land, I can attest to that with the utmost respect. Americans love to win, they love the struggle of the journey and love holding up the gold medal of victory. Now don’t hear me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with being competitive, it’s just how competition has become warped and twisted within our culture. And it’s that, at least in the church, we are competitive about the wrong things.

Much of the American church finds itself competing with the church down the road. “Are we bigger than them? Do we have more influence than them? Do we have the best/biggest youth group in town? Do people like to get married in our church building?

Do people like our church better than theirs?”

The fact of the matter is that there is a battle, we do have an enemy and we should be competitive…but against our enemy! What we haven’t seen is how crafty he is. This seems to be the alliance he has struck with the American church: “I’ll let a good chunk of your churches grow…just not at the expense of my territory.“

And so what happens?

96% of church growth is due to transfer growth and not churches striking into the heart of our enemy’s territory.

We’ll consider it a win because we have the new service or program that is growing…but that growth is mainly from people coming from other churches. That’s not a win! That’s a staggering loss.

Furthermore, for many pastors, we don’t think we’ve won until we’ve won AND someone else has lost. Seriously?! For sure, we have an enemy and we should be competitive, but we should be competing against our enemy, knowing that the final battle has already been won, and not competing against our own team members.

So gifted and skilled is our enemy, so conniving is he, that he has convinced us that beating the people on our own team is victory while he stands back and laughs, rarely having to ever engage in conflict, protecting his territory. He is beating us with a slight of hand, with a clever distraction, turning us against ourselves.

Question: In what ways are you competing (both in actuality or simply in your mind) against people who are on your own team?

In all honesty, it isn’t that the American church will ever truly die or survivor one world logocease to exist. It will always be there. But it is entirely possible that if these three critical issues aren’t addressed and dealt with, it will be a hallow shell that is spiritually listless.

If we think through Celebrity, Consumerism and Competition, the anti-body against all of these is sacrifice.

Learning to lay down what builds us up and giving to others instead. “Learning to serve, rather than to be served.” Looking for anonymity rather than celebrity. To build a culture of producers rather than a consumers. To live in a vibrant, sacrificial community fighting a real enemy rather than competing against the same community God has given us to fight WITH rather than AGAINST. It’s about sacrificing what we want for the glory of God and the advancement of his Kingdom, regardless of our advancement or desires.

Clearly this is what Paul was getting after in Philippians 2:6-11 when describing the attitude of Jesus as taking on the attitude of a servant, willing to sacrifice all acclaim and equality with God. It was a willingness to set aside and sacrifice celebrity, consumerism and competition at the altar of the incarnation.

Fifty years ago, as these three subtle threads were being woven into the American church, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., serving as a prophetic voice, said this:

If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.

We are now into the second decade of the 21st century and we find ourselves still, for the most part, refusing to sacrifice what we want for what God is asking of us and his Church. Will we have the courage to sacrifice as Christ sacrificed? Will we do the things that cost us so that his Kingdom may advance?

Mike Breen, “Obituary for the American Church,” Verge Network

Survivor and the American Church Pt. 2

The enemy of the church identified in yesterday’s post was CELEBRITY.  The second enemy in Mike Breen’s list of three is CONSUMERISM. Consider how this attitude has infiltrated and weakened the American church.

CONSUMERISM

consumerWe live in a culture that revolves around consuming. Every TV commercial, every store, every credit card company, every bank, every TV show or movie, every piece of clothing, car or product, every website, every restaurant…every everything is tailored to fit your desires, needs or personal preference.

We are easily infuriated when things don’t happen exactly as we want them. We exist in a place that implicitly says this: “We are here to serve you and meet your every whim and desire. Let us take care of you.” What’s more, it’s never enough.

Eventually the house or the car get older and we want new ones. The clothes aren’t as fashionable and we want something more in style. That restaurant is getting boring, we must find another. Our favorite TV show is wearing thin, so the search begins for the next favorite. And on and on and on. This is how we are wired to think in the United States. And it is all backed up by this rationale: You’re worth it. You deserve to have what you want, how you want it, when you want it. And for the most part, the church plays the exact same game.

consumeWe do as best we can to provide as comfortable an experience as humanly possible, using every means at our disposal to attract them in (and then keep them in). So we tailor what we do around their wants and desires. That’s Marketing 101, right?

The problem is at the end of the day, the only thing that Jesus is counting is disciples. That’s it. He doesn’t seem to care too much about converts, attendance, budgets or buildings. It’s about disciples. And, by nature, disciples are producers, not consumers.

Yet most of our churches are built around feeding consumers. I’d argue 90% of the church’s time, energy and resources are linked to this. But the issue is this: The means you use to attract people to you are usually the means you must use to keep them. In other words, if you use consumerism to attract them to your church, it often means you must continue using it to keep them…or else they will find another church who will meet their “needs.” And yet…that consumer mentality is antithetical to the Gospel and to the call of Discipleship.

Disciples aren’t consumers, they are producers.

Jesus cared about disciples more than anything else.

Question: In what ways is your church community using consumerism as the means to draw people to a Gospel that is, in and of itself, anti-consumerism?

Mike Breen, “Obituary for the American Church,” Verge Network