Have Mercy!

Since Biblical times, Christians have argued over sin. Who’s sinning? What is sin and what isn’t? And they argue the most about what should be done about it. I’ve found that most folks in the church think the worst sins are the ones they don’t struggle with. But I digress . . .

I’m not about to be able to settle that argument today. But if you’ll indulge me, I’ll tell you a story and share my opinion about it. Not that my opinion matters all that much — it and $5.69 will get you a venti caramel Frappuccino from Starbucks.

One of the greatest blessings of my life was serving in a college ministry when I was young enough to sometimes be mistaken for one of them. The story I’m about to share is in no way an indictment on anyone’s character and not meant to shame or hurt people. I dearly love the folks I’m going to tell you about and consider them a great part of shaping who I am as a Follower of Christ. I’m only sharing it because it’s a great lesson about mercy and grace.

Back in the early 90’s, there was a young girl named Amy in our college ministry who found herself pregnant and alone. Amy was scared to tell her parents, and scared to tell us at church. I believed, and still do, that the Church must love, support, and help single moms. Otherwise, the next one won’t come to us looking for a safe haven.

Somehow it was decided that Amy shouldn’t sing in the choir for a while, and she seemed to be okay with that. I wasn’t part of that conversation so I’m not really sure how it went. All I know is, after the baby came, Amy assumed, as did I, that she could sing in the choir again.

She found out she was mistaken when she came to get her choir robe one Sunday morning and was told she had to sit out longer. Needless to say, she was shocked and hurt.


I stomped into the choir room and demanded an explanation, going into a rant worthy of Julia Sugarbaker on Designing Women (I know, I’m old). I said something like: while it’s true that the Bible says sex outside of marriage is a sin, having a baby is NOT a sin. Furthermore, if Amy couldn’t sing in the choir because she had premarital sex, then neither could anyone else who had done that, including me (GASP!). I think I even said I wanted to take a quick poll of the choir to see who had sex before they got married, but I didn’t get very far with that. Then I hung up my choir robe and left in a huff.

Rick Amato was our guest evangelist that morning. He didn’t know any of us, and of course he knew nothing about the choir room drama. I was mad as a wet hen, but I wasn’t about to miss him preach! So I grabbed Amy and we sat on the second row (no one sits on the front row of a Baptist church!), right in the middle, directly in front of the pulpit and choir. Amy stared at her lap and I put my arm around her . . . and glared. (BTW, I’m not suggesting this is how you should handle things when you get mad at church. I’ve been known to be a little hotheaded when I’m defending people . . . oops!)

Rick was preaching up a storm when he stopped right in the middle of his sermon, looked at Amy and asked, “Young lady, what is your name?” Wide eyed, she whispered, “Amy.” He looked right at her and said,

Amy, the Holy Spirit won’t let me finish preaching until I say this. Whatever you have done, whatever is in your past, whatever guilt you’re carrying, whatever cloud of shame over you is now behind you. You are a Child of the King. You are forgiven! Hold your head high and let that weight be lifted off of your shoulders.

After that, the Holy Spirit filled that little country church. When Rick gave an invitation to come know the Jesus who heals and forgives, the altar was FULL of people repenting of their sin, choosing to follow Him. There was a lot of tears and a lot of snot slingin’. It was truly a good day.

Amy was back in the choir the next week. And so was I.

Please don’t miss the point! This story is NOT about whether or not you think premarital sex is a sin — or anything else you think people shouldn’t do — insert whatever transgression you wish here. It’s about what mercy, grace, love and acceptance can do when someone feels like an outcast.

When Amy’s sin was judged, all it brought was shame, hurt, division and embarrassment. When she received mercy, grace and forgiveness, it brought great healing not just to Amy, but to all of us in attendance that morning.

There are those who think we should be tough on sin, that we are watering down Scripture. Maybe so. I’m not suggesting we let an embezzler be the Church Treasurer or a child molester work in the nursery. I’m simply saying, LET THEM ALL COME. There is no shame too great, no transgression too deep to be outside the realm of the forgiveness of God.

So how do you know which is more important? Mercy or judgment? Personally, I err on the side of mercy — and I’ll admit it’s because I want to be SHOWN mercy. I’ve always believed the mercy you show will be the mercy you’re given.

James said in Chapter 2, verse 13:

Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Most people already know when they’ve messed up, done wrong, sinned. They don’t need us to point out their shortcomings. Deep inside, we all know we’re jacked up. What they need to find when they walk in the doors of our churches is open arms. They need to find HOPE in Jesus Christ.

As Billy Graham famously said,

“It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge and my job to love.”

Let’s not clean the fish before we get ’em in the boat. And once we get ’em in the boat, let God clean ’em up. There is room at the foot of the Cross for us all. If we’re too loving, too kind, or show too much mercy and grace, God will redeem it. I’ve read the Book, and in the end, He wins.


Jesus to the Rescue


There are some parts of our stories we’re all reluctant to tell. For years I’ve wanted to share this, but I was hesitant because of possible negative reactions. Some of you will believe God would never do what I claim He did for me, and some of you will think it’s just a tall tale. But some of you will be encouraged and blessed, some of you will feel hope in the midst of despair, and for those people, I continue to tell my story.

In late January 2007, I knew something had to change. There was no way to fix it on my own. I had given it all I had. Only God could tell me what to do next and I wasn’t about to take matters into my own hands. I was at the end of my rope. All strength was gone. I couldn’t hold on any longer.

I stayed up all night crying out to the Lord. Before the sun came up, I prayed this final prayer:

Lord, I have nowhere to turn. I have no money. Please provide me and my children a place to go. Maybe there is an older lady with a big house who would let us live with her for free until I can get on my feet.

And with that, I got up, took a shower and went to work. I didn’t tell one soul on the planet what I prayed — not my children, not my friends, not my sister, not even my Mama. Only Jesus knew today was the day. I didn’t know what was going to happen or how. All I knew was I needed a miracle.

When I sat down at my desk and opened my email, there was only one. Even though I hadn’t talked to her or seen her in months and had never told her what was going on, my friend Carolyn had it on her heart to check in on me. Her email was one paragraph and in it she said, (this is an exact copy and paste):

As I am typing this to you, the Lord put a thought in my head… I have a large house with only me in it. Would you like to stay here for awhile? I would love to spend some time with you. Pray about it and let me know what you think.

Pray about it?!? I certainly had that box checked off! I picked up the phone immediately and called her, asking if she was serious. She sounded a bit afraid and who wouldn’t be?!?! Opening your home to a woman and her three teenagers!?!? No one would willingly do that!! She assured me God told her to ask if the kids and I wanted to move in with her. No doubt her head was spinning when I took her up on that offer!

She had a 5-bedroom, 3-story house just a few miles away. We packed our clothes and moved in that night. We stayed with her for most of that year until I could get on my feet. I cooked and cleaned and did my best to bless her back for how she’d blessed us. Looking back, it still seems so hard to believe. I can only pray God will repay her 100 fold for allowing Him to use her in such a powerful way.

Please don’t get distracted here. This post isn’t about the rights and wrongs of separation and divorce. We can all agree that divorce is painful and it leaves lasting scars. This post is encouragement that God will make a way when there seems to be no way.

This post is about RESCUE.

All throughout Scripture, God is about setting people free when all hope was gone. He rescued His Chosen people enslaved in Egypt, Daniel in the lion’s den, the four Hebrew children in the fiery furnace, the woman caught in adultery. He rescued me and He will rescue you when you need it most — not because we deserve it. God rescues because He loves us. We are His beloved.

That cold and dreary winter day so many years ago didn’t look like I had hoped and prayed it would, and neither have several of the other situations God has seen fit to remove me from since then. God sees what I don’t see and He knows when something simply isn’t going to get better and it’s time to move on.

I don’t know what your situation is, but I do know there is someone reading this who needed to hear it today. Maybe you’re the reason I felt it was finally time to tell this part of my story. Maybe you need rescue from an unhealthy relationship, or a dead-end job, or from addiction, depression or despair. Whatever situation you’re in, God hasn’t forgotten you. He doesn’t show favoritism. If He rescued me, He will do the same for you.

Or how about this?!?! Maybe you’re the one the Lord wants to use to rescue someone else! Are you willing to be a “Carolyn” to some other family in need? Can you open your heart and home? Can you donate your time and resources, and risk getting nothing in return? Remember that God uses us to bless each other. Sometimes we’re the rescu-ee, and sometimes we’re the rescu-er. I don’t know where I’d be today if Carolyn hadn’t done it for me!

One day our final rescue will come from bodies that no longer serve us and He will take us Home. Until then, He will show us the way if we continue to wait on His perfect timing. It might not look the way you want it to, and not everyone will understand, but He is faithful to speak if we are faithful to listen. May His promise in Psalm 91:14-15 bring us comfort:

Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;
    I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
He will call on me, and I will answer him;
    I will be with him in trouble,
    I will deliver him and honor him.

Trust and believe, my friend. God is still in the rescuing business. Let go of what you think your rescue should look like. God knows better than we do. Hang on to that rope until you hear Him say, “Let go.” Let Him catch you . . . then let Him use you as someone’s “Carolyn”. We get by with a little help from our friends.

Teach Us to Pray



My Grandma and Grandpa Bunton were tenant tobacco farmers and lived in an old farm house in rural northeast Guilford County, NC. When they moved into it in the early 1940’s, it was already 100 years old. It wasn’t much, I don’t suppose, but it was the place where I felt the most safe in the whole world.

My parents split up when I was just a toddler, and my daddy and I moved in with Grandma, Grandpa and my Aunt Bet who had never moved out. We might have been poor by other people’s standards, but I didn’t know it — and I wouldn’t have cared if I did.

The foundation for my life was laid in those formative years when we lived with my Grandma Bunton, before my daddy remarried and we moved out. Although she had already raised 11 children, she didn’t seem to mind taking me on as well. And I wasn’t the only one. I have many cousins who would tell a story similar to mine about how Grandma Bunton was instrumental in raising them.

She’d say, “Drag up that stool and he’p me do the deeshes. I’ll warsh and you raynch.” (Translation for you non-Southerners: I was too small to reach the sink. She would wash the dishes and I would rinse them). She would try to call me by name, but it usually came out, “John, Bet, Alvin . . . ” and she’d finally get around to “Dee.” There were just too many of us to keep up with!

Although she never once complained, Grandma Bunton lead a hard life. She lived in that house for over 30 years before she got indoor plumbing and didn’t have to go to the well to draw water or go to the outhouse. She didn’t buy clothes or food from the store — she made it all. She never learned to drive and never had a car.

Some of her children followed her in faith in God, but some took the long way home. More than one of them called the house needing to be bailed out of jail, yet never once did she turn any of her wayward ones away. Each was loved and welcomed as much as the next, no matter what they’d done. She buried her husband, 5 children and several grandchildren, one of whom was murdered, before she died at 92. When I think about losing one of my children or grandchildren, I realize I can’t imagine the heartache she lived through.

She took me to church every Sunday, but that isn’t what influenced me the most. It was what I saw her do at home. She truly lived out her faith. Every year she read her Bible through — from Genesis to Revelation. Then she’d get on her knees by the bed and pray softly under her breath, not stopping until she had called all our names in prayer and thanked the Lord for her many blessings.

This is either my birthday or hers — we were both born in January. I had to be about two years old. She is teaching me to thank God for the food before we had cake — she is teaching me to pray. I wanted to be like her, so if she was a woman of prayer, that’s what I was going to be, too!

She didn’t just teach me to say the blessing at meals. She taught me to pray about everything, in every circumstance. Because of her, there has never been a time in my life that I haven’t had this most important tool of faith.

If you didn’t have someone like Grandma Bunton to teach you to pray, don’t you worry! It’s NEVER too late to learn to take all your cares to God. We can all learn straight from Jesus, just like the Disciples did.

The Disciples knew where Jesus gained His strength, what kept Him close to His Father. They knew He was a man of prayer because they watched Him pray. Just like I did with Grandma Bunton, they knew if they wanted to be like Him, they had to do what He did. Luke records in chapter 11:1,

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When He finished, one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray . . . ‘

If you don’t know how to pray, if you don’t have a grandmother like I had, if you don’t have a mentor in the faith, please know you can still learn to pray. The Spirit of God will lead you, teach you, help you, strengthen you and guide you.

We’re all struggling right now. Every one of us. We are nearly a year into a pandemic that has cost lives, destroyed livelihoods, separated family and friends, and been the detriment of physical and mental health. We can’t fix it, but we can pray. We can ask God for help. We can ask Him for strength, guidance, endurance, direction and faith to see us through this nightmare. I know where to go because I learned it from my grandmother. If you don’t know what to do, I invite you to trust God with me. He will never leave us nor forsake us.

There is power in group prayer, so will you join me in taking my concerns to Jesus like my Grandma Bunton taught me?

Precious Lord Jesus, here we are, dealing with a virus that is bigger than us. We don’t know what the answer is, but we know You do. Whether that answer is to come through the medical community or through any other means, we pray You will lead us to an end of this pandemic. All eyes are on You.

While we are socially distanced, divided and afraid, help us to be kinder than ever, more loving, more thoughtful, more like You. May the world see the Followers of Christ as the Love of God in the flesh.

We thank you, Lord, for the great cloud of witnesses who have been giants in the faith, who have taught us to trust You, and we ask You to enable us to lead the next generation to do the same.

Lord, teach us to pray. May all who come behind us find us faithful.

In Your mighty Name and for Your glory, amen.

Through the Peephole


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When I was married to my first husband and the kids were very small, we lived in a sweet little house that I loved near Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, NC. The front door was solid and I couldn’t see who was there when someone came over. So I asked him to install a peephole.

He was so proud of his handiwork. It was perfectly centered. No splinters around it. No scratches on the paint. There was only one problem . . . I couldn’t see out of it.

I’m 5’3″ and he was 6’3″. The peephole was an entire foot above my line of vision. He had made the peephole where he could see clearly who was on the porch if he was standing flatfooted. There was no reason to fuss about it. It would have looked stupid to have two peepholes in the door. So for the rest of the time we lived there, I pulled up a chair to stand on when the doorbell rang.

There was no malice in what he’d done. He wasn’t trying to inconvenience me. He was simply doing what most all of us do from time to time — he was looking at the world through his own eyes.

We all have our own peepholes. We have a tendency to be egocentric, and unless we make a concerted effort to think about how things look from another’s point of view, we’re destined to think all views are the same.

We’re in the middle of a pandemic, in case you haven’t noticed. People are dying. Our entire economy is shut down. One phrase I keep reading (and quite honestly it’s getting old) is, “We’re all in this together!” 

Not exactly. Someone else said it much better, I think,

We’re all in the same storm, but we’re not all in the same boat.

Some of us have had COVID-19 and have recovered. Some of us have died. Some have lost loved ones and couldn’t even have a proper funeral. Some have enjoyed the time home and are glad to have had the downtime. Some have felt desperately lost and inadequate trying to teach their children who are upset that school is canceled. Some are stuck with an abusive spouse or parents. Some have lost jobs, their small business or their retirement plan. Some have lost their senior year — no prom, sports, and no graduation. Some are on the front lines, caring for the sick and risking their lives, and some are safe in quarantine. It’s been a vacation for some and a nightmare for others.

Even though we’re not all having the same experience, we can still be good humans. We can do our best to see things from others’ perspectives. We can fight the urge to compare our INSIDES to their OUTSIDES.

It might be tempting to judge a young mom for bringing her children into the grocery story instead of keeping them safe at home, when the truth is she’s a single mom with no one to help her, and she can’t very well leave them in the car.

It might be tempting to judge someone who fights to keep the family business open because it’s safer to stay closed, when the truth is they’re trying to put food on the table and not go bankrupt.

It might be tempting to say you are young and healthy and would be fine if you caught the virus, when the truth is, you might unknowingly give it to someone who is immunocompromised or the healthcare worker caring for them.

I don’t pretend to have the answers. I don’t know when this mess will be over or what life will look like when COVID-19 is a dot in our rearview mirror. (If it’s never going to be, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know!)

So here’s my suggestion. Instead of thinking about what we CAN’T do, let’s think about what we CAN do.

We can be kind to everyone, even if they’re not kind to us. We can stop and think for just a second how things might be for someone else that is different from what we’re experiencing.

We can keep scrolling when someone makes a post online that makes you think they might not be socially distancing like you think they should be, or if they are doing anything else you don’t like. No one EVER changed anyone’s mind about ANYTHING by starting an argument or shaming anyone on social media.

We can patronize local businesses. The big guys are going to survive. When this is over, Walmart, Target, McDonald’s and Taco Bell will still be there. How about getting takeout from the local eatery and help some folks keep their houses? Guaranteed it’s healthier than fast food anyway!

We can check in on an elderly neighbor. See if you can bring them groceries and leave it on their step. Talk to them through the door. I bet they’re lonely and would love a little human interaction!

We can send cards to those in nursing homes or homebound and brighten their day since they can’t have visitors or see their families.

We can call or text someone who lives alone, is a frontline worker — healthcare or first responder, or anyone especially struggling right now. Ask how they are, let them know you care.

We can choose NOT to politicize this pandemic. For the love of all that is holy, PLEASE don’t use it to promote and/or disparage the elected official you love or love to hate. It is OKAY for someone to disagree with you.

Jesus told us in Luke 6:35-36,

Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind.

We’re all scared. Even if we don’t show it. We’re uncertain about the future. Most of us are tired of being on lockdown. We’re lonely. Many of us are ready to get out of the house and get back to our lives — we just don’t know what that will look like. We can’t fix it and we can’t control it.

But we can do our best to try to see things from another’s perspective.

Grab a chair and look out someone else’s peephole. They’ll be glad you did. And so will you.

Hope in the Midst of Fear


As I sit in isolation and social distancing in the middle of a global pandemic, I find myself looking for any smidgen of hope. You might be there, too.

This virus is already close to home to me. My pastor, Andy Lambert, whom I dearly love, and who lives less than a mile away from me, is hospitalized as we speak with COVID-19. It’s no longer in China, Italy, Los Angeles and New York City. It’s here.

To encourage you, I’d like to share where I’m looking for the hope we all so desperately need right now.

For hope on the virus, I look at the medical experts. I’m doing what what they’re telling us to do: ie.,WASH YOUR NASTY HANDS. STAY THE HECK HOME. Our most vulnerable are at stake. We haven’t seen my dear father-in-law in person in weeks as he is in a nursing home memory care unit. He doesn’t understand why we aren’t there, and although it breaks our hearts, we follow the rules to protect his life. It matters!

For hope on economic stability, I look at the financial experts. As an accountant, heck yeah I’m worried about what our retirement looks like now. I’m doing what they’re telling us to do. We need jobs when we come out of this. We need a strong economy again. It matters!

These are things that will make even the most glass-half-full people be afraid and start to think negative thoughts. This is where I find myself today. So I thought I’d share some of my personal fears. The details of your fears vary from mine, but I know you have them, too.

I’m worried to death about my daughter, Lindsey, an ICU nurse on the front lines of this life and death battle. This isn’t a picture of someone else — this is a picture of my firstborn. At the end of every shift, she has marks on her face from this mask, but whatever keeps her safe makes me feel better.

I’m worried to death about my daughter, Kaitlyn, who is also a nurse and is full term with my grandson. She is facing delivering a baby in a hospital that has COVID-19 patients in the building. They are still currently allowing my son-in-law to be with her when she goes into labor, but some hospitals are already making mothers deliver alone. I was there when my granddaughter, Kinley, was born. That isn’t even an option this go around.  She’s scared about bringing a baby into this craziness. She’s scared of laboring and delivering alone. She’s scared for her mama not to be with her. I share all those same fears with her.

I’m worried to death about my son, Daniel, who lives in the Los Angeles area. He had just started a promising new job that is now on hold with the rest of the world. Uncertainty around how he can make it swirls in my head, but right now I just want him to be protected as he isolates 2500 miles away from me. Gone are the days when I could keep all my babies under my roof and make sure they were all safe.

I’m thankful our other two, Joseph and Kelly, are hunkered down and doing well. Joe is a senior at Appalachian and finishing the rest of his semester online. Kelly is a first year 4th grade teacher, and although she is sad to be missing time with them, online teaching seems to be going well for her and thank God she’s still getting a paycheck.

Now you know where I go for medical advice during this pandemic. You know where I go for my economic concerns. If you read this blog, you won’t be surprised to hear where I go when I’m afraid . . . and this mama is afraid.

I go to the Word of God. When fear strikes my heart, I can’t always process clearly. Sometimes I can’t think of what to pray when I’m paralyzed with fear. During these times, I ask God to bring to mind all the verses I need to hear. And He’s faithful to give them to me. Here are a few I’ve been meditating on, and I hope they will encourage you, too.

Psalm 62:5-6,

Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
    my hope comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
    he is my fortress, I will not be shaken

Psalm 46:1-2,

God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea

I wish I could tell you what is going to happen. I wish I knew whether the doomsayers are right and a significant percentage of the population is going to die, or whether those who tend to have their heads in the sand are right when they say this won’t turn out to be a big deal. The truth is, people are dying and there isn’t an immediate end to that sad statistic. One of you reading this, and even the one writing it, might very well succumb to it . . . if we don’t die from this, something else will get us. Am I right?!

So won’t you join me in trusting the Lord right now? Isn’t that a whole site better than sitting there full of anxiety over something you have NO CONTROL over?! Although we need to follow the advice of medical and economic experts, the only One who can truly see us through this is God Almighty. 

Will you let Psalm 121 comfort you like it comforts me?

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
 the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
    he will watch over your life;
 the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore.

Be encouraged, dear friend. Let’s all do our parts, heed the warnings, and be kind and helpful to others. We can trust an unknown future to a known God.

We’re all in this together and gotta stick together during this crazy time. Even if it’s from a distance.

Traveling Light


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When I was in the 2nd grade, my beloved teacher, Miss Havens, took us to see “Charlotte’s Web.” I don’t remember if I already knew Charlotte dies or I was shocked to my core right there in my seat. All I remember is I just about had to be carried out of the theater. I cried all the way back to school, the rest of the day in class, and all the way home on the bus. I was still crying when my daddy got home from work.

When I was in the 7th grade, my teacher showed “Brian’s Song” in 5th period gym class. I was unaware that Brian Piccolo was going to die, and I was utterly heartbroken. I sobbed all the way through 6th period, and all the way home on the bus. I was still crying when my daddy got home from work.

My daddy mandated that I was no longer allowed to see movies at school where spiders or football players die.

As long as I can remember, I have always felt deep sorrow when something bad happened. I carried other people’s pain as deeply as I carried my own. It was too heavy of a load for a child, or a young teen, and it’s too heavy of a load to carry as an adult.

My overly-sensitive heart lead to an overwhelming fear that I was going to lose my beloved pets or the people closest to me. I remember praying as I child that God would let me die before my dog, Snoop, or my Grandma Bunton. I just couldn’t bear the thought of losing either one of them.

Snoop ended up on the losing end of a dog fight when I was 8, and my sweet Grandma Bunton died in her sleep at 92 when I was 31. I’ve done a lot of living since then, so thanks for telling me “no” on that one, Lord.

We weren’t meant to carry that kind of fear and that kind of deep pain — not for long anyway.  If we live long enough, we are going to experience incredible grief and sorrow. People we love are going to get sick, and some of them are going to die. We’re going to have financial trouble, lose jobs, lose relationships, you name it. Bad things are going to happen.

I don’t know what you do when bad things happen, but I figured out pretty early on that I needed better coping skills. I had to find a way to carry on when I was stricken with grief and fear.

The very Grandma that I was afraid of losing taught me what to do when I was was burdened or brokenhearted. She taught me that I didn’t have to carry it alone, that I had a place to lay my burdens down. She taught me there was Someone who cared about my broken heart, who cared about the things I cared about even more than I did. And most importantly, she taught me that Person was strong enough to not only carry that burden for me, but He was powerful enough to fix.

She taught me about Jesus. 

Through her, I learned that I could give God my pain, grief and sorrow. I learned that God WANTED me to give it all to Him. He didn’t intend for me to carry the world on my shoulders. It’s exhausting, and sometimes completely immobilizing. And I’m not strong enough.

I’m a visual learner, so when I’m burdened, I picture myself picking up what I’m worried about — most of the time, I’m worrying about my children. So I close my eyes. I pick them up and hold them in my arms. (Yes, they’re all five bigger than me, but this is MY vision and in my vision, I’m strong enough to do that!). I hold them close to my heart.

Then I envision a big Cross. I walk to the Cross, carrying my adult child and I bend down and gently lay them on the ground at the foot of the Cross. Then I say, “Lord, You love ‘insert said child’s name here’ even more than I do. I can’t fix what’s wrong, but You can. Please take care of my baby and let me know if I can help in any way.”

And I walk away. 

Now, do I go back to the Cross and pick them back up again? Sure I do. Every. Single. Day. Multiple times a day! Sometimes I only leave them there a few minutes at a time. But for that precious little bit of time, I lay my burden down. I take a deep breath. I can think about something else, and even sleep.

I can travel light — even if it’s just a little while.

Whatever burden on my soul gets handled this same way:

  • Worried about finances or how to get it all done? Pick it up and lay it at the Cross.
  • Worried about my sick dog? Pick her up and lay her at the Cross.
  • Worried about my dear father-in-law who had a stroke? Pick him up and lay him at the Cross.
  • Worried about lost or strained relationships? Pick them up and lay them at the Cross.
  • Worried about mean people bullying me at work? I pick them up and lay them at the Cross. (God loves mean people, too, ya know!)

If you need help with your burdens, too . . . if you’re trying to carry them alone . . . it’s too heavy for you to bear. Let the only One who was meant to carry them do it for you. He’ll show you how to live freely and lightly.

Jesus showed His deep love and concern for us in Matthew 11:28-29 when He said,

Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Lay that burden down, dear friend. God wants to show you how to take a real rest. He wants to carry it for you.

It’s time for some traveling light.

Our Sweetheart


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If you’ve read this blog, you know I’m a dog person. And if you know me personally, you know how much we adore our beloved miniature schnauzer, Shotsie.

This is her story.

I was separated from my 21 1/2 year marriage. My two daughters were off to college, two hours away. My 15 year old son, Daniel and I were figuring out life with just the two of us.

I was taking a DivorceCare class at a local church. Since I’m a rule follower, and because I desperately wanted healing in my life, I was determined to do everything they told me to do. They suggested we get an indoor pet. A warm body next to ours would ease the loneliness. We had two outdoor dogs, but I could definitely see how having one to sleep with would help.

I wanted one that didn’t shed. Daniel had loved a friend’s standard schnauzer and wanted one, too. I wanted a smaller dog because they live longer. So we settled on a miniature schnauzer.

We found some puppies for sale who were full-blooded but not papered, so they were less expensive. The lady said, “If you don’t want a dog that wants to sit beside you on the couch and sleep right up next to you at night, please don’t walk out the door with this puppy.” Daniel and I both said that’s exactly what we wanted! I had no money what with all the single-momming, so Daniel used every bit of his Christmas money to buy this precious little one. We brought her home on January 25, 2009.


He wanted to name her Shotsie after the miniature dachshund on “That 70’s Show.” I wanted to name her Gracie because she was the evidence of God’s grace to us. But since he paid for her, I gave in. Her name means “Sweetheart” in German (although Daniel decided to spell it phonetically).


We were all smitten. She surely was our sweetheart.


Just like they said it would, having her to sleep with at night helped ease so much of my loneliness. God used her to fill many of the empty places each one of us felt.

Even if I just went to the mailbox, it was Christmas morning to her when I’d come back! Truly I’d never felt so loved in my whole life. When I was utterly and completely overwhelmed, alone and afraid, scared to be by myself, believed I was unloved and unwanted, she fixed it all. When I would lay in the fetal position and cry from a broken heart, she would lick my tears. This one little dog, all by herself, made me feel like I was worthy of love and could face any trial in front of me.

When I moved to Lynchburg so I could work at Liberty University and get free tuition for the girls, my oldest moved back in with me. She had her own room, but she still wanted to sleep with Mama. So every night, my grown daughter would pile in with me and Shotsie in my little double bed. And every night, Lindsey would say, “Shotsie, I love you more than anyone in the world. Including Mom.” We would both laugh — but I knew it was kinda sorta true!

Years later when I remarried, Todd had his own little beagle mix who slept with him as well. It got a little crowded with two adults and two dogs in a queen sized bed, and we soon migrated to a king. Shotsie has slept cuddled up to my side for over 10 years now.

Todd says she would crawl in my skin if she could. I say he’s just jealous because he doesn’t love me like she does. He’s never once almost passed out when I came home from work from sheer joy! He says he does love me that much — she’s just more dramatic. He may be right.

A year and a half ago I noticed some discoloration on her nose. She was eventually diagnosed with skin cancer, and although she was given 6 months with no hope of treatment or cure, a veterinarian friend of Todd’s felt he could help. She has been cancer-free since surgery to remove it, and we were beyond relieved.

A few weeks ago, on August 17th, the 13th anniversary of my daddy’s death, I noticed her lymph nodes were enlarged. First thing Monday morning, I took her back to Dr. Crawford, and my worst fears were realized.

Our sweetheart has T-cell Lymphoma.

The prognosis is not good — 6-9 months. I’ve already cried a river, and no doubt there are oceans more to come. Here is our brave girl on her way to her first chemo treatment.


Part of me is scared that she feels her purpose in our lives is over. Many broken places in me are healed. Lindsey lives 5000 miles away and has a cat to love. Kaitlyn has a wonderful family, including a dog of her own. Daniel lives in California and says he’s never been happier. Although I’m thrilled for all of that, none of us are ready to lose her. Ten years is not enough.

Since I have such a heart for animals, it comforts me to know God cares about them, too. Luke 12:6 tell us,

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.

And if He hasn’t forgotten a sparrow, surely He hasn’t forgotten my Shotsie. 

Will you pray with me that her story isn’t over quite yet?

Maybe God will shine His grace and mercy on us and give me another 5 years with her, as I’m boldly asking Him to do. But if not, I’m going to spend every day doing for her what she did for me. I’m going to make sure she’s never alone. I’m going to be thrilled for every moment I get with her and cuddle her all I can. I will hold her tight and make sure the last thing she hears is how very much she is loved, how she was one of God’s biggest blessings in my life, and if I live to be 100, I will never stop missing her.

I believe dogs are God’s greatest example of unconditional love this world will ever see. If you have a fur baby that you love like we love our Shotsie, will you hold them just a little closer today? Cherish every moment you have with them.

“Dogs’ lives are too short. Their only fault, really.” – Agnes Sligh Turnbull

Find Your People


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When I was growing up, I remember how it would make my stomach hurt if I felt rejection of any sort. Maybe someone didn’t want to be my partner on a project, or sit beside me on the bus, maybe they were after my boyfriend, or maybe they just didn’t like me.

My Mama would always tell me, “Not everyone is your friend, Dee.” Somehow or another, I always thought they were though. I trusted everyone, even if they weren’t trustworthy. Daddy used to say I’d invite Charles Manson in for supper. I guess I would have.

I’ve grown a little more discerning in my old age, but I’m still learning that not everyone is my friend.

I’ve lost people I thought were my friends when I was at the lowest points of my life. People unfriended me on Facebook when I got divorced. They avoided talking to me in Walmart. Maybe they were angry at me, or maybe they just didn’t know what to say. It took a while, but then I realized those people aren’t the ones I’m meant to do life with. If they had been, they would have stayed.

One person I considered very close to me explained that my life was just too hard for her to handle. To be honest, although it hurt me deeply at the time, I completely understood it and appreciated her honesty. I mean, shoot fire, if I could have gotten away from the nightmare I was living, I would have done it, too! I’ve never once held it against her. She wasn’t able to be part of my inner circle anymore. If she had been, she would have stayed.

What later came as a complete surprise to me was that I lost friends when times were good! There are those who can’t handle other people’s joys, as strange as that sounds. Some folks are unable to be glad you have a successful career, a happy relationship, healthy children, a nice house or car  . . . fill in the blank with whatever you have that someone else doesn’t. If they were happy for me, they would have stayed.

If falling on hard times makes you lose what you thought were close friends, and if coming into a season of blessing makes you lose some too, then here is my conclusion:

Those aren’t your people.

It’s hard to accept, but you’d do best not to chase after those who aren’t your people. It will only end up causing you pain.

You might be thinking, “If they aren’t my people, then WHO ARE?!?!” And do you wonder if anyone considers you THEIR people?

I’ve wondered the same thing. After lots of prayer, grief, and soul searching, I’ve come up with an easy formula to figure that out. It’s based on one rarely noticed verse in the Bible. Romans 12:15 says,

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.

This simple verse will show you who your people are!! It will also show YOU how to be the person others want to be close to as well. It’s been said many times, to have a friend, you must be a friend. 

This verse means those who care the most about you, will BE THERE, no matter what is going on. During the good times and the bad. It means that’s what you’re supposed to do for them as well.

Being there doesn’t mean you know know how to fix it — some things can’t be fixed. It means you don’t run away when hard times come. Real friends will let you cry when your heart is broken and full of sorrow. They will be happy when you get a promotion at work. You won’t have to worry if they’ll stay or not — they will.

Your people will stick by you when the bad times come — and bad times will come.

Your people will pitch a tent and sit down beside you when you’re alone.

Your people will let you vent when you just need to talk. Or leave you alone when you don’t.

But also:

Your people will be happy for you when you’re on the mountaintop.

Your people will rejoice when you come into good fortune, even if you get something they want but don’t have.

Your people want you to succeed — they want you to shine.

It doesn’t mean you don’t have anything to do with the rest of the people you know. They are casual friends, even acquaintances. They belong on the fringes of your life. You say hello from time to time. Comment on their Facebook posts, like their pictures on Instagram. Maybe meet up with them for a fun night every now and then.

But they aren’t the ones you go to when you need a helping hand, or the ones you share great news with as soon as you hear it. They certainly shouldn’t be the ones you share your deepest secrets and your open heart with.

I’ve got some folks who walked beside me during the worst times of my life, and those same people are happy when I receive a blessing. They’re the ones I ask to pray for me when I’m in deep need. And I KNOW they do it. We might not see each other very often, but I know they’re still there if I need them. They know I’ll move heaven and earth to be there for them as well, day or night.

It isn’t that I have never disagreed with them. We’ve had fusses and fights, some of them even heated and seemed irreparable. But true friends will come back around because you love each other, even if you take a little break for a while. They are my people.

Accept this fact: The world is full of folks who won’t appreciate your personality, your gifts, your shortcomings or your blessings. You’re not everyone’s cup of tea. And that’s okay.

Finding your people means YOU being THEIR people, too. It means you giving to them what they give to you. It’s not too late to be the friend you want to have. You’ll be blessed if you do.

We were never meant to do life alone. There are plenty enough human beings to go around, so find your people. Do you rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep? If you do, then your people are out there, and they’re looking for you, too.

Hope and a Palm Tree


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Christmas of 2006 was shaping up to be the worst Christmas of my life. I couldn’t imagine that I would ever be happy again, or even that things could improve. I can honestly say all I wanted for Christmas that year was for it to be OVER.

My daddy had died a few months earlier, and he had loved Christmas so much. It would never be the same without him, and I knew that. My life was such a mess that I was relieved in some ways that he wasn’t here to see it. My family was on it’s last leg, my children were hurting, my marriage was about over. The last thing on earth I wanted to do was Christmas shop. If I hadn’t been trying to find some way to bring normalcy to my children, I wouldn’t have done it at all.

I was praying with every step as I walked through the mall, begging God to help me. Help me find presents that would bring a smile to their faces. Help me find it cheap, and help me find it quick so I could be done with the pretense. I must admit that celebrating the Birth of Christ, the hope of the world, was about the last thing on my mind.

I don’t remember how or why I ended up in Waldenbooks on the second floor of the Four Seasons Mall in Greensboro, NC, and I don’t remember if I bought anything. All I know is I glanced at a calendar for the upcoming year on a display shelf. There was a palm tree over clear blue water on some tropical shore. As I blankly stared at it, quite unexpectedly, I heard the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit quietly say three words . . .

There is hope.

A strange feeling washed over me. It was so foreign that I didn’t recognize what it was at first. It had been so long . . . it was hope. God said it, then I felt it.

If you’ve ever been without hope, then felt it again, you know the stark contrast. There is no mistaking the presence of hope vs. the deep void of hopelessness. “Hopeless” is the saddest place on earth to be.

I’m gotta be honest and tell you that feeling of hope didn’t last long. Maybe only a few moments. But it felt so good that I was determined not to forget it. God had spoken to me. He had promised me. There is hope . . .

From that moment on, a palm tree signified hope to me. My life was somehow, someway going to get better. Sooner or later. My wallpaper on my computer and my cellphone became palm trees. When I felt the black hole of despair coming, I would find a way to stare at a palm tree and recall that moment of hope I had felt in that bookstore at Christmas.

I didn’t know how long it would take, but I believed God would keep His promise to me. Maybe not today, but one day I wasn’t going to live in anxiety and fear. One day I would feel joy and peace, safety and security — just like I felt when I looked at that palm tree.

A few months later, I even let a few of my best girlfriends (Lelia, Trinady, Cathy, you ladies know who you are!) talk me into getting my one and only tattoo. I don’t recommend it, by the way. I found out the hard way they don’t give epidurals in the tattoo parlor! Know what I got? You guessed it. A palm tree with “hope” written underneath it.

The next year I took a beach trip with my kids, my girlfriend, Marjie and her kids. She and I went shopping in some little beach mart, and I found this framed picture that said,

If my dreams could all come true, Paradise would be . . . in a little bungalow . . . by the sea . . .

I told Marjie, “I ain’t got a pot to pee in, but I’m gonna buy that picture. One day, I’m gonna have me a beach house, and this is gonna hang in it.”

That picture hung on my walls for 11 years, nowhere near the beach. I wasn’t sure what it would look like, but I hoped the day would come that I would have my own palm tree . . .

This month, I got one.


If you’ve read this blog long enough, you know that God gave me a new life, and although I didn’t go looking for him, God gave me a wonderful husband who makes my life a joy every single day. No matter what awful things happen, he’s never the source of hardship.

That sweet man bought me a beach house. With a palm tree. And this is the first thing we hung in it, just like I told Marjie I would.


This evening as the sun was setting, I walked on the beach by myself so I could spend some time in worship and prayer, thanking God for His blessings, for always keeping His promises, and for giving me a glimmer of hope that dark December day. I’m thankful that periodically, when we don’t have it rented out, when we can sneak away for a weekend, this is my view right down the street from our new vacation home.


It’s just a little beach house. With a big mortgage. And one little palm tree. But all I need is a little. A little hope during Christmas of 2006 was enough to help me tie a knot and hang on to the end of my rope, and I pray God will give you a glimmer of hope to help you do the same.

Romans 15:13 is my prayer for you,

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

I don’t know what God will do to show you there is still hope. I don’t know what your palm tree will be, but He will give you one. All you need is a little. And if He did it for me, He will do it for you. He’s faithful.

Bullies: They Walk Among Us


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Bullies have always been around. They go all the way back to Cain and Abel. Sooner or later, it will happen to you. The question isn’t how to get them to go away. The question is, how do you handle it when they come after you?

Like most of us, I had to deal with some people making fun of me in school. I started out at quite the disadvantage, making me an easy target. My parents decided to name me after two wonderful women: a great-aunt named Ella Delona and my grandmother (whom I adored) named Callie Vivian. They could have named me Ella or Callie, for crying out loud! Wouldn’t that have been nice? But nooooo, they thought it sounded like a good idea to name me Delona Vivian, thereby giving the kids at school a golden opportunity to call me Delona Balogna. If you were one of those who called me that, who could blame you?

I had always been called Dee unless I was about to get my tail beat, and then I was Delona Vivian. I thought my first grade teacher hated me for a month every time she called the roll! Needless to say, I was determined to name my kids something people could pronounce and something they couldn’t make fun of.

You would have thought my days of being bullied would be long over by now, right? Yet here I am, in my 50’s, still killing it.

In the past, I’ve been bullied in romantic relationships, by church members, by so-called friends, by coworkers and bosses, and now I’m being bullied by complete strangers. Bullies know no limits.

If you’re honest, you’ll admit you have been bullied at one time or another by someone, too. At some point in your life, you have felt powerless while someone shamed and criticized you — and you didn’t know what to do about it.

I’ve come to the conclusion that all bullies are basically the same. I’ll let the professionals debate why they do it — maybe they have low self esteem. Maybe they were bullied themselves as children. Maybe they’re narcissists. Maybe their parents were bullies and they’re passing on the abuse to the next victims. Maybe they lack the ability to empathize. Maybe they’re jealous. You know the saying, “Hurt people hurt people,” right? Or maybe they’re just downright evil. Either way, they need Jesus, like we all do.

The details of my situation probably aren’t much different than yours or anyone else’s. If you’re going through it too, I wish I had better news. I truly don’t have a fool-proof way to deal with these people. If I did, I wouldn’t need to be an accountant anymore. I’d have my own book deal.

Bullies like tell you it’s all your fault, you deserve to be punished. They never admit they’re wrong. They shame you, call you names, tell you you’re not good enough and they’re better than you. They broadcast your mistakes and refuse to give you well-deserved praise. Everyone is on their side and you’re alone. Some do it privately, some do it publicly, and sometimes it’s both.

Either way, it’s a painful existence to live in, to wake up every morning and wonder what they’re going to do to you today.

In my current situation, I tried everything else to get them to stop. I tried to be so good they’d have nothing bad to say about me. I tried to ignore them and maybe they’d go away. I tried to talk to people who might believe what they said about me and try to explain I wasn’t a bad person. Nothing worked.

Finally I had a belly full and I exposed what they had been doing to me. Afterwards, it felt good for a lot of people to defend me. It made me realize I wasn’t alone in the battle.

It’s not over by a long shot, I’m afraid, and I don’t know if it helped at all. All I know is, I couldn’t go another day being the victim. I felt better about myself to have taken a stand.

Here’s my amateur advice if you’re being bullied:

  1. Tell someone about it. Gather some support. Don’t weather this storm alone.
  2. Gain encouragement from others’ stories who have been there and survived.
  3. Don’t engage in a social media fight with them. There’s a difference between defending yourself and getting down in the trash pile with them. Find that happy medium between standing up and walking away.
  4. Don’t lower yourself to bully them back. Resist the urge to shame and name-call in retaliation. Take the the high road. You have to like the person you see in the mirror.
  5. Always tell the truth, no matter how much they lie about you.
  6. DRAW CLEAR BOUNDARIES. Give them as little opportunity to hurt you as you can. “NO” is a complete sentence!

Most of all, rest in the assurance that God sees what’s happening to you. HE will make it all right in the end. Romans 12 says,

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

It’s the right thing to stand up to bullies. It’s the right thing to defend others who are being bullied and let them know they’re not alone. To quote the great John Wesley,

Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.

Try to stay strong, dear friend. You’re not alone. And I will try to stay strong along with you!

But can you do me just one favor? If they make a movie about this mess I’m dealing with, will you please make sure Jennifer Aniston plays me? And if, God forbid, they make a Dateline about it, will you cry and tell Dennis Murphy how much you loved me and what a great person I was?

Just kidding  . . . I hope.