Frankensteining

“Don’t step there!”

I stopped in my tracks at my pastor’s sharp words.

“There’s a hole in the floor, step around the board or you’ll fall through.”

Duly noted, I stepped carefully around the board.

This is not typical church talk, but I don’t go to a typical church. We recently acquired a decrepit abandoned building. I’m sure building inspectors have nightmares about buildings like this. Even I had a difficult time wrapping my head around what I saw.

The roof stopped being a roof quite some time ago and the water damage was catastrophic; mold and decay were everywhere. Animals had taken up residence and my body reminded me after working in the building that I should probably wear a mask: the intense migraine and the black stuff coming out of my nose wasn’t good.

The building sat vacant for several years, according to the utility company. It was as if these people just up and left; everything was still left in its place. Haunting, really. Nothing was packed up, nothing was put away. If you sat in the main office and ignored the inches of dust on everything and the mid-90’s computer monitor, you’d think whoever was there would be back in just a moment.

It was something straight out of a horror movie set, a church member commented. I agreed.

Like an old woman falling into dementia, this building’s demise had started well before complete abandonment. I threw out unopened junk mail post marked from 1987, school supplies, church items, children’s toys, random junk, obsolete books, rejects from a defunct rummage sale – it was all here – covered in dirt, mold, and bits of ceiling that caved in from the moisture. And that’s only the stuff I’ve found. My favorite find was the pristine box of audio reels from the 1970’s, yet I have no way of playing them.

In the end, the dementia won, ravaging this once beautiful building; it now belonged to the rats and the fungi. Her decline probably happened slowly, her condition chronic for years, before she drew her last breath when the lock turned for the last time. What was once a wellspring of life 100 years ago, had become an encased tomb filled with things no one would ever need in Heaven…or on earth for that matter.

There’s no electricity, so the hot Carolina summer is really felt in there. There’s no running water either. I’m pretty sure I missed my calling as a dramaturg, so I’m making up for that by going through all the things. I am in search of history of the building and any information I can find about its former inhabitants. I’ve found a few pieces, but I’m sure there’s more under the mire. I went into full genealogy mode and found its historical references online, but I want more than names. I want stories, and if I can find them, personal accounts.

Modern science can’t bring back the dead, let alone someone who’s mind and body were destroyed years earlier. Our church is firmly planted in the resurrection business and we’re going to revive this corpse into a beautiful healthy older lady again. It’ll take a lot of time, effort, and money – but we know this Guy – and He comes through in ways you didn’t think were possible.

I can’t wait to get back into that building to uncover her secrets.

Make Like a Plant and Leave

The hashtag #exvangelical is comprised of people who have left Christianity and some who are still Christian but don’t believe the Americanized gospel flavor we’ve all been seasoned with. Every time I see this hashtag, I think of David. He’s the reason I came to Christ, yet I don’t think he’d walk into a church today.

David was an outcast in high school and had no sense of self. I’m not even sure how we became friends. He had a crush on me, but I ensured we’d never leave the friend zone.

David went to a Christian conference and came back saved. I mean saved. Instead of being “on fire,” as they say in the Southern Baptist circles, this kid was his own little forest fire – slightly out of control and too hot to get close to. I remember telling him as an apathetic Catholic that it was great he found Jesus in his life (didn’t seem like a bad thing, really), but he needed to start acting like a normal person again. After a couple of weeks, he returned to normal David mode, but this Jesus thing stuck. I got curious about all this and ended up at a youth game night at church. This was the beginning of my story with following Jesus.

David had a vision from God on the bus home once. I was part of that vision, where God told David that He would take care of me. David shepherded me in my new faith and our friendship grew closer because of it. He wanted to become a pastor. Even our classmates nicknamed him “Rev” as he was never without his Bible and sometimes overstepped his boundaries with calling out someone else’s sin. “Simonne,” he’d say, drawing out the “onn” part. “What are you doing? You know where that can lead,” after I told him about making out with my boyfriend in the woods. I filtered most of that because I didn’t want his wisdom bestowed upon me. We were all virgins, True Love Waits was part of our church curriculum, and our drink of choice was Mt. Dew. Still, Rev David wanted to make sure we were living pure God-honoring lives. He was a one man inquisition.

I vaguely remember when it started. “I asked Pastor about it and he shut me down,” a dejected David shared with me. “He actually yelled at me, saying something about just accepting it on faith.” David wanted more information on the supernatural part of the gospel – demons, ghosts – stuff like that. Apparently at this church, questioning too deeply meant you didn’t believe correctly, didn’t have enough faith, or were trying to circumvent the pillars of the SBC. David was upset his questions were continually dismissed with some glossed-over church verbiage.

We left for college. David went to an ultra conservative Christian one. While there, he met Jessie, a preacher’s kid. They fell in love so hard it caused them to drop out of college and get married the summer after freshman year. Jessie was a few weeks pregnant when they walked down the aisle. I found this out at the rehearsal dinner.

Their marriage was tumultuous. They attended church here and there and then not at all. Jessie forbade me from contacting David. She had what I can only describe as a mental illness and two more kids later, she abandoned the family by hopping on a Greyhound bus to Pennsylvania to meet some guy she met in an internet chatroom. Once it was all figured out and the missing person report was trashed, David filed for divorce. The judge granted him full legal custody. Thank God.

David married again. Some years ago, David apologized for severing our friendship because of his ex-wife. I stepped away because I naively thought their marriage was more important than our friendship; now I would view it as a sign of abuse. I hoped it would restart our friendship, but it didn’t. The last time we spoke David wasn’t the guy I remembered. He had a faraway look in his eye and we only small talked for five minutes before he had to go.

On his social media profile, it says “Ask me” under religion. I’d like to someday.

Most Southern Baptists would just say he was never saved to begin with if he’s fallen this far away. I disagree. I believed his faith was real. Was David just a seed that fell on those rocky places? Was he all leaves and stem and no root? Did the church ever amend the soil for him? I don’t know. But I wonder: will he be reseeded? Will anyone water him? Is there anyone in his life with a big old bucket of spiritual compost?

I’ve always wanted to reach out to him, see how he’s doing, but I’m afraid that season of friendship had sailed. I don’t have that kind of access anymore. Decades later, I’ve changed, he’s changed – is there any common ground left, outside of the distant past?

I wonder if he considers himself an exvangelical. Does he read his Bible? Does he pray? Have his children grown up knowing the Lord? I can only speculate, but I think the answer is no.

I’m leaving the door open to the possibilities, praying once again Jesus will connect our lives.

Parable of the Grape Vine

“I am the vine and my Father is the vinedresser.”

Since becoming a vinedresser last year to a bronze magnolia scuppernong muscadine grape vine (or grape mom, as I call myself), I’ve learned a lot. I am self-taught, but I am now well on my way to a bounty of grapes for next year.

Last year my vine didn’t grape because it was young and not pruned correctly – I mistakenly thought I should hold back on the young plant. It made loads of leaves. Luscious, green, and healthy leaves without a hint of grapes. My neighbors said the plant was probably too young to grape, but it was really my pruning sheers. I pruned it over the winter in hopes of fruit. I ended up pruning it incorrectly for its size, but it prevailed.

Behold, fruit! This is all of it. Like a new Christian, it isn’t much, but it is something! In addition to the fetal grapes – it made even more leaves than last year – a few more branches too. Grapes come from new growth on old growth – its a delicate balancing act. You can’t have every branch make grapes. The fruit will taste bad because it’s limited resources are spread too thin. 

Sound like any Christians you know?

“Every branch in me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

A proper grapevine will concentrate the grapes to the fruiting arms off the main vine – you have to cut back on the beautiful folage if you want grapes. The main vine trunk sustains everything – the fruit is on the on the braches – never the trunk. 

“As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

I read this verse in John 15 with fresh eyes and heart after taking care of a grape vine for two growing seasons. The Lord wants us to bear fruit, not folage. Fruiting doesnt just spontaneously happen like leaves: it requires removing things, even good things, to make room for the fruit. It requires direction and it’s a limited venture: grapes only come off the fruiting spurs on the braches. The fruiting spurs come from pruning most of the previous season’s growth. I know it sounds counterproductive to our Americanistic ideals, but I am continuously reminded that the way of God doesnt really jive with the way Americans are bred to live, think, and act. 

This grape vine is a tangile reminder that the gospel is alive, the Lord knows what we need when we need it. Only He can prune the branches where they need to be. Jesus is the trunk of the vine, sustaining everything. 

And if I’m really quiet in the garden, I can hear the Holy Spirit.

Gardening Contemplation

Since turning to the contemplative prayer lifestyle, it’s changed other areas of my life which I never expected. Ah, but such is the life of a Christian.

In short, contemplative prayer involves meditation. It is taking the time to be silent before God and just be. It’s a chance for my soul to rest at the feet of my Lord. It goes further than just checking a box while reading the morning devotion. It means quality over quantity: reading a short passage or a line of Scripture and mulling it over in your mind for a few minutes. Sometimes it means unpacking the message, viewing the context from the view of someone in the passage, or asking yourself questions and how it relates to your treatment of others/God. Other times it’s imagining the sights, sounds, and smells that would accompany the words of Scripture.

It’s an anathema to modern American Christianity. It’s centering. It’s quiet. No flashy lights, no sleek messaging, nearly impossible to Instagram it. It is simply dwelling with Jesus. I use the Pray As You Go app during my lunch walk. It’s an English production and while it is backed by the Catholic Church, it’s so focused on Jesus, you won’t be able to tell it’s Catholic.

Following Jesus means you’re living a life of intention. For many Christians, Christianity is habit, not an intent. Contemplative prayer breaks you out of the typical Christian humdrum of bouncing across the surface instead of plumbing the depths – sometimes where the light doesn’t shine. I want the real Jesus, not this sanitized American version that comes with the “If you do X, God will do Y” formula. That is nothing more than a prosperity gospel dressed up for a middle class capitalistic society with education and money.

A fruit of my garden labor….my favorite garden flower, a Camellia (Corina variety)

I’ve become a better gardener since becoming contemplative. So many times we plant things and then life happens: days, weeks, months later we go to find them dead, diseased, or struggling to survive. We promise to do better and then we don’t. We don’t follow through. Our modern lives are filled with so many things that light up, ding, talk to us – not to mention cooking, cleaning, eating, sleeping, random household things – there simply isn’t time.

I disagree.

If you make it a priority, it’ll happen. But that’s just it: you have to want it and make time for it. Sometimes 10 minutes of contemplative prayer is better than an hour long Bible study. I do a quick survey in my yard at least once a day to see how things are going and address the issues straightaway. Beyond that, it’s a tangible way for me to slow down and take in the sights, sounds, and smells of the garden. I get joy from seeing my double formal Camellias carry on with green glossy leaves. My tea plants are flushing with new growth, although they’re still well below my knee. The bed I made around the water oaks with ajuga from my old house, white lantana, and a prized red azalea as its center piece always makes me smile – especially now that the ajuga is taking off. Pretty soon I’ll have to divide it up and give it away someone else.

That’s the beauty of the garden – I get to share it with others. Just like the peace and calmness I get from sitting quietly before Jesus, contemplating the finer notes of Scripture, savoring every new leaf and rejoicing at the flower buds.

Slow down, you busy Christians. This life Jesus calls us to is meant to be lived with purpose and love. Yes, sometimes life gets crazy busy – that will happen – but it should not be a lifestyle to maintain.


Feasting for Body and Soul

“Hey, you should come see what it’s all about,” my contact said. I agreed.

The venue was teaming with people; a lot of white folks, a lot of black folks. Some lived on the streets, some lived in houses. Others didn’t make it to high school. Some had post graduate degrees. Most were like me, somewhere in between, but none of that mattered here. We were all here to be fed.

I darted to the back of the room, as I do. My contact greeted me, while I was waiting for the line of food to go down. I saw a hand wave at me in the crowd of tables. Joe. His wife Marianne was next to him. I wandered over to their table, I hadn’t heard from them in months, despite texting them. Marianne and I hugged. “Phone got stolen,” Marianne said sadly. She gave me her new number, a 302 area code: Delaware. “I don’t know how I got that,” she says. “It’s just what they gave me.” Joe told me he’s still learning German with Duolingo. They’re getting housing soon, by month’s end. I tell them if they need help moving and cleaning to call me, I’ll help. I hope the housing isn’t a mirage this time.

I make my way to the food. It’s all the good southern cooking: chicken, bbq pork, mac ‘n cheese, baked beans, green beans, potato salad, coleslaw, the good rolls, and enough cookies to give the room diabetes. The seats at Joe and Marianne’s table filled up, so I was left to find my own table. It felt like the lunch room on the first day at a new school.

I saw an open seat at a table with strangers. “May I sit here?” I asked an old man. “Go right ahead young lady,” he said. The man was obviously on the streets, unwashed, and looked generally unhealthy. “I ain’t never seen you around here before,” he drawled in a smooth southern accent. “I’m usually behind the scenes,” I replied. He’s from here, as was the lady across the table, who was in much the same state as the old man. The lady – who must have been in her late 40’s – spoke about losing her parents two years apart. She talked about it as if it just happened – it was 25 years ago – but that pain was very recent to her. I’ve noticed that a lot among the extreme poverty stricken: there’s always unhealed trauma poking its head through the surface, like a noxious weed.

As the dinner line wound down, the service started. The Master of Ceremonies began with deep breathing exercises and a centering bell, straight out of a contemplative handbook. A woman with a guitar started playing and everyone sang Happy Birthday to someone at a near by table. He was tickled pink at the acknowledgment. The woman sang the old hymns like a soul who knew pain, which resonated with the room. And then she broke into “Hallelujah.” This group sang it like a worship song, its aching lyrics reaching out to the shattered hearts. The song is really about the ending of a sexual relationship, but its roots are in agony. They ended with “Amazing Grace,” and the singer didn’t know all the lyrics, so the crowd filled in the blanks.

All the while, people were milling about the room: using bathrooms, grabbing a last morsel of food, heading outside for a smoke break – some people got up and switched tables for seemingly no reason. The room, like much of these people’s lives, was in a constant state fluid motion.

A short sermon was preached by a woman pastor. Her thesis statement was spot on: The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood. Indeed it did.

There was a time for prayer which included soothing piano music and lighting a candle by the altar to honor that prayer. I nearly went up to light one for my struggling loved one, but I didn’t. The room had largely cleared out. Many had left after the meal, which is fine by this group. “Eating together is part of the worship service, it’s their decision to stay for more.”

The pastor celebrated communion. As I went up, I saw a familiar face from church. “I’m glad you’re here,” he said, patting my shoulder as he walked past.

At the end of the service, the room was nearly vacant. Even Joe and Marianne had vanished into thin air. One by one everyone had slowly melted into the night, scattering like dandelion seeds in the wind.

Just like everyone else, I left that night with a full stomach and a full soul.

That Saturday

Holy Saturday, Batman.

I’ve always been intrigued by this day in the Lenten season only because it contains so much mystery, my mind goes straight for what is unknown. Luke says it best: “On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.” (Luke 23:56)

I can only imagine this was the worst Sabbath ever.

Sadness. Despair. Confusion. That kind of misery that makes you curl up into a ball. Everything they had been living for, everything they had known in the past three life-changing years was now pulled out from under them. Being the Sabbath, they couldn’t leave to walk to a fellow disciple’s house to grieve. They were stuck, alone in their own homes with the senseless grief. And how could they honor God when He took is Son away from them? How could God let this happen? Was following all for naught?

What of Mary? Man, I would have loved to have her take on all this. God chose her as a vessel to bring Jesus into the world, and then took Him out of it in the most tragic way ever, and she was there to witness it all. It could have all been prevented, she probably thought, yet God let it happen. The struggle, the do-loop of the whole ordeal replaying over and over in her mind, stuck in the terrible state of a melancholy heartbreak. Even time, it seemed in this moment, would not ease the pain.

What of Peter? He claimed to be the one to take a bullet for Jesus, yet told a stranger – a lowly servant girl of all people, not even a Roman soldier type figure – that he never knew this Jesus person multiple times. And now Jesus was gone. How would he go on?

What would happen next?

What were the other disciples thinking? How did they get through the darkest day of their lives? I wish there was some record of their thoughts and actions.

My favorite devotional app has a short devotion about Holy Saturday that really touched me this morning, exploring the weight of today.

I’m ready for Sunday. And sweets.

Take It to the Lord in Prayer

I was caulking a bathroom window during a recent remodel when out of no where, I heard that voice in my head.

“You need to pray for Ruth’s future in this coming year.”

Wait, what?

I love how the Lord really does meet you where you are in the moment when the focus is elsewhere. I am amused how when I’m walking during my contemplation devotional time, He largely remains silent, yet when I’m in the middle of something mundane – like caulking a window – He decides to pipe up.

I paused caulking as I took in the gravity of all this. Alright, I can do that. I wasn’t sure what I was praying for, as her life was in a state of flux, but it always comes around to the same thing: that she would seek the Lord’s guidance and that whichever path she should take would be lit by His guiding light.

You can’t miss those lighted walkways.

I must confess that I haven’t always been consistent about it, but today, it hit me that it needs to be a priority.

  “Take it to the Lord in prayer;
In His arms, He’ll take and shield thee,
  Thou wilt find a solace there” (J. Scriven)

Our church is contemplating another quest for leading the community to Jesus. The idea has been floated as an abstract thought, but it is moving closer into the realm of strong possibility. I did some investigative research about it and already went into the mode of “We could do X and I’ll take charge of it!”

My pastor smiled. “That’s all well and good, Simonne. You can start by praying.”

I wasn’t prepared for his response, but I should have been. I nodded. Of course. It’s not a done deal, there are moving parts and a lot of unknowns. A lot of ground has to be covered first, it might not even happen!

Since becoming a student of contemplative prayer, I’m more about doing than sitting back and praying – I was the opposite in my proper American Christian don’t-get-too-close-to-the-action conservative days.

I need to strike a balance. Action and prayer. Prayer and action. One shouldn’t supersede the other, but they should go together in concert.

Like salt and caramel. Or cream cheese icing and red velvet cake.

It restarts today.

My Testimony

I was born into a mixed marriage: my father was Catholic, my mother was Lutheran. When my mom married my dad in a Catholic church, she agreed to raise her children in the Catholic traditions, a decision she later regretted. I was baptized into Catholicism when I was less than a month old.

My dad took my sister and I to church every Saturday night or first thing Sunday morning – Mom only came on Christmas or Easter. It was just something we did. I did the whole First Confession bit, donned a pretty white dress for my First Communion, and had oil placed on my forehead at 8th grade Confirmation.

I spent my childhood in CCD: Continuing Catholic Development. In short, it was Sunday School on Wednesday nights for an hour. I received my first Bible in 6th grade and it was then we learned how to look up passages – not that we ever read from it. The most productive thing I did in CCD was make an angel Christmas tree ornament out of pasta noodles. I still have it. It was basically an uncontrolled free for all, except one year when our class was ran by Mr. Danforth: in addition to knowing my father, he ran the class like a drill sergeant with new recruits. No one dared to breathe too loudly, let alone act out.

Once in high school, I sort of continued to go to church with my dad, but was out of the CCD mess. In the meantime, I became friends with David. He had this enormous crush on me at one point, but we were firmly planted in the friend zone. David was a sensitive soul who battled bouts of depression – at one point I reported him to the counselor because he talked about killing himself. Nonetheless, our friendship continued. We had a mutual friend in our grade, who’s dad was a pastor of a well known Southern Baptist church in town. The fall of our sophomore year, David went to a youth retreat with the church; David came back a changed man.

In the Baptist church, there is a phrase for what David was: on fire for the Lord. I disagreed: he was engulfed and exploding! “On fire” just seemed too watered down for what David was experiencing. David had accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior and was not shy about proclaiming this fact from the rooftops. Always the introvert, I told him that it was great he found God and he gave his life to Him, but he needed to come down a few pegs and stop acting like a crazy person.

After a few weeks, David settled down in his newfound faith. While he was very eager to share with anyone who would listen, the roaring flames died down to a nice camp sized fire. “Our youth group is having a game night tonight, you should come check it out,” David said to me one day at school. “Okay,” I said.  I was curious about this new and improved lifestyle for David, who seemed to grow confidence and charisma overnight. I knew most of the kids there, as we all went to the same school. And, I had never been to a Southern Baptist church before.  How different could it be from the Catholics?

I showed up for the game night and had a lot of fun with the youth. I met Phil, an adult who was the youth leader, and he seemed like a pretty down to earth guy. Towards the end, Phil got everyone’s attention, they were going to say a quick prayer before everyone left. I thought it was weird they didn’t do the sign of the cross. He ended the prayer with one of those, “With every eye closed and head bowed, raise your hand if you’ve accepted Jesus into your heart.” Without thinking, I raised my hand. I had never heard that phrase before: Jesus in your heart? Well, I was Catholic! I was baptized, oiled, confessed, communed, all those things! Jesus in my heart? Sure! Why not? Whatever that meant.

It was in that moment something clicked. Jesus in your heart. Jesus in your heart. The phrase wouldn’t leave me alone. I finally asked David what that all meant and got a sermon for an answer. And I didn’t mind. He explained the path to salvation, confessing your sin directly to God, repenting – turning away – from that sin, and living your life for the benefit of God. Without Jesus in your heart, when you died, you would go to hell. This whole concept seemed revolutionary to me – I had never heard any of this in all the years I attended Catholic Church. Was this really true?

And so, I did what any young budding scientist would do: I researched. Next time we went to the mall, I picked up a Bible. It was a NIV and marbled blue, but it looked like a huge paperback book (David suggested the NIV flavor). I had never read the Bible before.  Of course, the Catholics followed the Bible, but how did I know that? I had no idea what was in there outside of the Christmas and Easter stories. I don’t remember what I read first — something in the New Testament, like John — but I do remember climbing into a tree that overlooked the river in town and reading parts of Isaiah. It was my first stab at a quiet time with the Lord.

The letters of Paul really stood out to me. I’d ask David questions and if he didn’t know, he’d find out and tell me. I started showing up more at the youth group on Tuesday nights, much to my mother’s chagrin. She was afraid of me becoming Baptist, which meant to her no make up, no dancing, no playing cards, long skirts, and I’d be on of those “holy rolling Bible thumpers.” I assured her I wasn’t going to be a holy roller and the pastor’s son played cards and went to school dances. My dad wasn’t too pleased either, but he didn’t seem to care one way or the other.

I finally attended a Sunday morning at this church with David and was shocked (shocked!) at how everyone talked to each other before the service. As a Catholic, when you were in church, you were silent! It was a culture shock. I knew none of the songs. No one kneeled. The shaking of hands and greeting was personal, unlike the cold “peace be with you” muttered for 10 seconds at the Catholic Church. I could take communion there, and I thought it a bit silly they used grape juice and they brought communion to you! It was beautiful. It was so different.

During this time, my parents marriage, which had been strained since the beginning of time, started to show signs of more strain. With my new church, I’m not sure if I gave my mom strength or if she was really afraid of me becoming “one of those Baptists,” so she suggested we start attending the Lutheran Church together. I was all about this Protestant stuff. I agreed. The Lutheran Church for me was a cross between the Catholics and Baptists, leaning more towards Baptists with their down to earth message, but leaning towards the Catholics with tradition. I really enjoyed the services there. It was the first time I had ever done anything remotely religious with my mom. And thus our family was divided: 2 protestants, 2 Catholics – my sister still attended Mass with my dad.

My dad said something one night about how he didn’t like me going to this Baptist church. I told him no. I was going to stick with it – it preached the message of Jesus, same as what he believed, it was just slightly different. I then said something to the degree of I don’t think I’d raise my children Catholic. He got really angry and yelled something I can’t recall. I walked away and hid in my room. I never disobeyed my dad to his face before. He got the last line, however. He banged on my bedroom door until I opened it and he screamed, “It’s your fault if your mom and I divorce. You divided this family by going to another church. This. Is. All. Your. Fault.” He stalked off, leaving me at the door, bewildered. My mom said nothing. I was 16.

I knew even then that I was not responsible for the unravelling of my parents marriage. I knew that was between them. Nonetheless, those words stung like freezing rain on naked skin. I had to get out. “I’m going for a quick run,” I said through tears as I ran out the door. I did not take a coat for the cold midwestern winter night I ran into and I didn’t care. I ran as fast and as hard as I could to the end of our street, bawling, trying to make sense of all this Jesus and family stuff in my head. One thing was clear: I wasn’t going to turn my back on Jesus. While I hadn’t given my life to him, like David did, I certainly wasn’t about to go back to what I was before with the Catholic church. I had come too far and read too much of the Bible for that. I also absolved, before God that night, with my lungs burning from the freezing air, that I would never punish my children for choosing a different religion than me. The pain was too real and too raw to inflict on someone I loved.

My dad didn’t speak to me again for almost 2 weeks. I chose Jesus over family. For a people pleaser like myself, that was huge. The Holy Spirit had begun Its work in my life.

I spent the rest of the spring and early summer continuing my research. I was attending Sunday morning services quite regularly now, also going on Sunday nights and Tuesdays for the youth group. In addition to reading the Bible, I joined a Bible study on Thursday nights. It was entitled “Experiencing God” and had a workbook with friends from the youth group. I learned so much about God’s character by using this Bible study and reading the scriptures. It was led by a strange couple at church who didn’t have children and eventually left under weird circumstances, but they provided the space for exploring my spiritual journey, and introduced me to journalling; for that I am forever grateful.

As time went on, David kept on me about accepting Christ. “I am not there yet,” I said. If I was going to make a commitment to Him, which appeared to be the biggest decision of my life, I wanted to make sure I was making the right decision for the right reasons with the right information. This did not appear to be something I could gracefully exit if it did not work for me. David warned me of a being a fence sitter, and the scripture that spurred me towards a decision was Revelation 3:16: “So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of my mouth.” Yikes! I needed to make a decision. And stick with it.

My family’s yearly trip to my cousin’s cottage on the shores of Lake Huron in Michigan gave me the perfect backdrop. While I was there, I fully committed my life, heart, and everything to the Lord. No reservations, no “buts.” It felt great. I have always said there was not a “moment in time” where I came to decision like so many other people’s stories go. For me, following Jesus was like a six month download, slowly creeping toward finality.  It finished in July 1998 with no memory of the day or time.

Through this, my focus in life became Christ. No longer was I living for myself or pleasing my parents: I was living for God. It also helped my depression, as I took all of that to Him and laid it as His feet. Although I never responded to an alter call, my heart was there. Soon thereafter, I wanted to be baptized by immersion. When I spoke to the pastor about it, he said he needed my parents’ permission since I was under 18. I declined. I did not have the strength to tell them and I didn’t want to fight about the subject. And so, before I left for college – at 18 – I was dunked in the church that saved my soul.

My parents still have no idea I was baptized twice.


Last month marked 20 years of walking with the Lord. I feel like I should be more mature by now in the faith than what I am.

With all the cultural changes that occurred in this century, I no longer attend a Southern Baptist church. I have always considered myself a “non-denominational” Christian since accepting Christ. I will be forever in debt to the Southern Baptists for introducing me to sweet tea and Christ. Since moving away from the SBC several years ago, I attended a mainline Christian mega-church and found a home among Methodists. I am not Methodist: I nearly lost consciousness leafing through the Table of Contents in the Book of Discipline. I’m vaguely aware of John Wesley. The message of Christ has always trumped the semantics of denomination for me.

This disillusioned Catholic became a follower of Christ by relationships with other believers who showed love and acceptance, spurring me on towards Christ. And I still hold that truth.

No one is going to come to Christ through arguments on social media, being handed a track, or showing up to the right place in the right clothes and saying the right things. It’s difficult for me to engage others with my introverted nature, as I completely suck at apologetics and hide when everyone shakes hands at church, but I am trying. Chances are you’ll have a glass of wine on my porch with me.

Also, if you come to my church, I’m the awkward person you’ll encounter. Fair warning.

The Parable of the Pomegranate Bush

Several years ago at the Farmer’s Market, I fell in love with a baby white pomegranate bush. He was just a little guy, barely a foot high – the quart container he came in seemed large.

Over the years, he kept getting root bound in every pot I put him in – even the giant 2ft diameter one! Once we moved to this new house, I found the perfect spot for him in the ground, anchoring the corner of my flowerbed. He’s as tall as me now.

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The Pomegranate bush, July 2018. It really got branchy this year.

I prune him every February and in late spring, he would flower. These beautiful pink flowers looked as if they were the combination of a rose and carnation. Often times, my tree would be loaded with these gorgeous blossoms in late spring, but alas, no pomegranates.

I started reading more about my fruitless situation and it was suggested that not enough bees were visiting, hence the lacking in pollination (pomegranates are self-pollinators, they don’t need a friend to make fruit). The article suggested to pollinate the blooms myself, which I did this year.

Still no pomegranates. The flowers weren’t even as plentiful this year.

A part of me wonders if he is infertile. If so, it makes little difference to me. He’d be right at home here among the rest of us without descendants. Maybe next year? I’m not holding my breath. Like my own case of infertility, I have no idea how to fix it. It’s been in different soil types – I’m not even sure what I’d give it to make it happier (fruitier?).

I got to thinking too how this translates to my walk with the Lord. How often do I flower not produce fruit? Are my intentions followed through with actions, or do I just show beautiful potential, as the flowers fade away. Oh, fruit? What about all those exquisite flowers I just made?

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Another “maybe next time” getting ready to flower. So much potential.

I think a lot about others too with this analogy: how often am I distracted by the flowers without fruit production? “Oh, he’s a flower kind of guy, fruit eventually rots anyway.” I see this in the media, the insane political culture, and occasionally in the church. This is not exactly what the Lord calls us to do.

In the meantime, I’m hoping to make more fruit in both my garden (I’m looking at you, Fig tree sapling without buds) and in my life.

Also, if you have ANY tips for a fruitful pomegranate season, I’m open to suggestion.

“You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you.” (John 15:16)

Michigan Musings: Lake Huron Adventures of the Past

Nearly every summer in the 90’s was spent on the shores of Lake Huron.

They were all adventures.

My dad’s sister had a cottage on the lake in Port Austin in Broken Rocks – it was more of a house than cottage. I spent my days with my cousins, climbing on the giant boulders that jutted out from the land into the vast lake.  My one cousin and I would dig for clay at The Cove and then we fired the pots we made in that night’s beach campfire. I hunted crayfish in the shoals and attempted to net hundreds of fish that ultimately got away.

Swimming was by far my favorite. My feet adjusted quickly to Huron’s unfriendly rocky bottom and choppy waters. I couldn’t wait to get in the water.

My first brush with death happened in the lake when I was 9: the small sailboat my dad and I were on capsized when the wind changed directions and my dad wasn’t quick enough with the sail: I got trapped under the boat momentarily. My dad was freaked out, but I thought this was a great adventure. We had life jackets on, Dad was here, what could have possibly gone wrong? Ah, to view the world as a child.

I learned how to ride horses at the local riding stable. It was western trail riding on old nags, but that didn’t register to me. This was another adventure, quite different from my normal life. The trail leader said I was a natural on horseback and I began taking English riding lessons back home. The only problem was barnstorming: the horses knew the trail and once they realized they were heading back to the barn, where food was, they took off like they were wild mustangs. I had one horse take off into a gallop on me – mind you, I’m not wearing a helmet – and grabbed fist fulls of mane to stay on! I made it back okay, but ever since that time, I’ve been spooked with speed on horses.

We usually stopped for dinner at one of the restaurants in the small downtown – Chuck and Jane’s was our top spot. Evenings were spent eating ice cream and walking along the breakwater at the marina.  I loved the gift shops – Finan’s and the Dime Store – they had everything a preteen girl would want. I especially loved the cedar boxes – I have 2 of them with a horse on it – and Port Austin, MI was stamped in the lower right corner of the lid. My grandma couldn’t come downtown without stopping for bread and other delicious items from Murphy’s Bakery. For a special treat, we’d drive to Grindstone City’s General Store: they had the best ice cream in this hemisphere. This is not a hyperbole, this is fact.

Once I was a teenager, we began to stay at Ray’s (my mom’s cousin) quintessential cottage a few miles down the road in Caseville – its musty cottage smell is forever etched in my memory. The beach there had a sandy bottom, a welcomed relief from my aunt’s beach. This cottage is special to me because 2 things happened here that still ring true in my adult life: I officially became a Christian and began mapping out my family tree. I still walk daily with the Lord and am now writing down 20 years of genealogical research into a book.

As the years went on, it became me, my sister, mother, and grandmother in Port Austin trips. We’d stop at the IGA (a grocery store) in Bad Axe and get all the supplies we’d need for the week. Shopping with my mother and grandmother, this was a 2 hour excursion, which I always dreaded.  I wanted to get up to the cottage as soon as possible and see my lake! The foodstuff could wait.

Ray was there with his wife when we arrived. There were 2 cottages on the property – they would stay in one, we’d stay in the other. Ray was old enough to be my grandfather. My sister and I went fishing with him on his boat and caught so many lake perch our live wells were filled to the gills! Ray’s navigational systems weren’t working, so we had to stay within sight of land – but Ray started chasing schools of perch, as fishermen tend to do, and the next thing we know, we’re surrounded by water. It was I who got us safely back to shore after I found Sebewaing’s lone water tower in the distance.

There was no TV here. This was long before the internet was ubiquitous (I would go a whole week without checking my email!). I truly unhooked from the world I knew, the craziness of my household. And I loved every minute of it.

Watching the storms roll in on the lake was better than TV. I collected zebra mussel shells as if they were conch shells. The waterslide in Caseville proved I could get over my fear of heights. My 82 year old grandmother beat me in mini golf at Sandy Dunes. I would run the fitness trail at Port Crescent State Park, usually with my Dad when he showed up for a couple of days. Countless walks on the beach, watching the sunset, campfires every night – I never got bored and planned to move here alone after college.

These summers moulded my heart to love the beach life, which is part of the reason I live in the coastal Carolinas. Like so many others, I can sum up my childhood summers in 2 words: Port Austin.

If I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t have it any other way.