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.

 

Apartheid American Style

anti-apartheid-demonstration-in-johannesburg-h“American preachers have a task more difficult, perhaps, than those faced by us under South Africa’s apartheid, or Christians under Communism. We had obvious evils to engage; you have to unwrap your culture from years of red, white and blue myth.

You have to expose, and confront, the great disconnect between the kindness, compassion and caring of most American people, and the ruthless way American power is experienced, directly and indirectly, by the poor of the earth.

You have to help good people see how they have let their institutions do their sinning for them. This is not easy among people who really believe that their country does nothing but good, but it is necessary, not only for their future, but for us all.”

While many white South Africans were kind, hospitable people under apartheid, they let their government commit racial sins and oppress, he said, advising: “Take care that your institutions are not sinning for you around the world in ways that would make you ashamed.”

Peter calls good-willed Americans and people of faith to be part of a groundswell calling for “being strong in a different way,” because “history shows no empire survives by throwing its military weight around.  Having U.S. bases in 200 countries will not save this empire.  God has a way of humbling empires.”

Peter Storey, South African Methodist Pastor who worked for 40 years to dismantle the injustices of apartheid.

Don’t neglect to Workout!

Our receptivity to God may be increased by exercise or destroyed by neglect.  A.W. TozerGod Directs

God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on, There is no other.  C. S. Lewis

Get into the habit of dealing with God about everything. Unless in the first waking moment of the day you learn to fling the door wide open and let God in, you will work on the wrong level all day, but swing the door wide open and pray to your Father in secret, and every public thing will be stamped with the presence of God.   Oswald Chambers

 

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.

Broken Hearted Boldness

sad teenage boy with head in hands I had coffee with a friend recently and as we sipped, the conversation veered to a vulnerable place.  With trusting rather than guarded hearts, we began to talk about times when life became emotionally flat rather than joyous.  When life began to feel more like going through the motions than “purpose driven”.  Both of us confessed that these times of dullness came when we sensed that we had “failed” the Lord in some area. Or they came when we were satisfied to describe our sin rather than to be broken heartedly repentant of it. It is a struggling–defeated place to live.

With that conversation still swirling in my mind, I found so much help this morning when in my quiet time I read the following words from John Piper’s sermon “How to Deal with the Guilt of Sexual Failure for the Glory of Christ and His Global Cause”.

The sense of failure that I struggle with is not of a sexual kind… and that phrase was included so that you would not be distracted from the real help that is in this teaching on how to deal with failure of any kind!

“Listen to these amazing words. Mark them. Memorize them. Use them whenever Satan tempts you to throw away your life on trifles because that’s all you’re good for.

Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me. I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him, until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me. He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon his vindication. (Micah 7:8-9)

This is what victory looks like the morning after failure. Meditate on it long and hard when I am gone. Learn to take your theology and speak like this to the devil or anyone else who tells you that Christ is not capable of using you mightily for his global cause. Here is what you say:

“Rejoice not over me, O my enemy.” You make merry over my failure? You think you will draw me into your deception? Think again.

“When I fall, I shall rise.” Yes, I have fallen. And I hate what I have done. I grieve at the dishonor I have brought on my king. But hear this, O my enemy, I will rise. I will rise.

“When I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me.” Yes, I am sitting in darkness. I feel miserable. I feel guilty. I am guilty. But that is not all that is true about me and my God. The same God who makes my darkness is a sustaining light to me in this very darkness. He will not forsake me.

“I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him, until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me.” O yes, my enemy, this much truth you say, I have sinned. I am bearing the indignation of the Lord. But that is where your truth stops and my theology begins: He—the very one who is indignant with me—he will plead my cause. You say he is against me and that I have no future with him because of my failure. That’s what Job’s friends said. That is a lie. And you are a liar. My God, whose Son’s life is my righteousness and whose Son’s death is my punishment, will execute judgment for me. For me! FOR me! And not against me.

“He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon his vindication.” This misery that I now feel because of my failure, I will bear as long as my dear God ordains. And this I know for sure—as sure as Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is my punishment and my righteousness—God will bring me out to the light, and I will look upon his righteousness, my Lord and my God.

John Piper, “How to Deal with the Guilt of Sexual Failure for the Glory of Christ and His Global Cause”,  Passion 07’ Conference, January 4, 2007

I’ve Looked at Clouds that Way

There are clouds in human life, shadowing, refreshing, and sometimes draping it in blackness of night; but there is never a cloud without its bright light. “I do set my bow in the cloud!”
 clouds21
If we could see the clouds from the other side where they lie in billowy glory, bathed in the light they intercept, like heaped ranges of Alps, we should be amazed at their splendid magnificence.
We look at their under side; but who shall describe the bright light that bathes their summits and searches their valleys and is reflected from every pinnacle of their expanse? Is not every drop drinking in health-giving qualities, which it will carry to the earth?
O child of God! If you could see your sorrows and troubles from the other side; if instead of looking up at them from earth, you would look down on them from the heavenly places where you sit with Christ; if you knew how they are reflecting in prismatic beauty before the gaze of Heaven, the bright light of Christ’s face, you would be content that they should cast their deep shadows over the mountain slopes of existence. Only remember that clouds are always moving and passing before God’s cleansing wind.
Streams in the Desert, May 15