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what to do when you’re faced with a room full of strangers

Public speaking is considered the number one fear for many people, prompting responses such as a choking feeling, dry mouth, clammy hands, butterflies, and profuse sweating.

Not me. A crowd of 200 people? No sweat.

Interestingly, I didn’t discover this about myself until I was in my fifties. I’ll never forget the first time I spoke in front of a group and that feeling of utter amazement as I realized, “Oh; that’s who I am!” Ever since that day, I’ve been able to make ‘em laugh, make ‘em cry, make ‘em question why –it just seems natural to me.

What isn’t natural to me is the part that the professionals say is the most important: Interacting with the crowd before you speak.

That’s the part that makes me nervous.

Standing up in front of a crowd of strangers, entertaining, and inspiring them is one thing; walking up to them individually and striking up a conversation is a whole other level of communication. I mean, come on; they’re strangers.

Oh, I do it –I just don’t do it very well. If you study the etymology of the word “hospitality you’ll see it originally meant something along the lines of, “loving strangers.”

Hellooo! I’m the stranger. Couldn’t somebody take me around and introduce me to some people, make me feel welcome?


Pay. Attention. To. Me.


In a perfect world, this might actually happen. In my world, it rarely does. It is up to me to wipe my sweaty palms on my wrinkled linen skirt, pop a breath mint, walk up to the table of seated women, put on a smile and attempt to break the ice.

Here’s how it frequently goes:

Me, squinting to read their name tag: “Hello, Doris! Don’t you look spiffy in your springtime yellow dress!”

I look around and realize everyone is wearing yellow; apparently there was a theme I didn’t know about and I’m wearing my usual, “looking like I’m dressed for Halloween,” depressing black attire.

Doris: Looks up, says, “Hello.” Looks down again.

Me: Desperately trying to think of something else to say: “I’m your speaker!”

Doris: “Oh, that’s nice.” Looks back down at her program.

Me: “I live in Raleigh.” (Really, Sue?)

Doris, perking up now: “My next-door neighbor’s son-in-law’s sister’s best friend lives there! Do you know her?”

Me: “Um. I don’t think so.”




Someone rescue me, please. I can’t do small talk. After 15-20 minutes of making the rounds from table to table, I cannot tell you the relief it brings me when the microphone crackles and I hear the chairperson call the meeting to order.

Oh, blessed Jesus, just give me the microphone, please, and I promise I’ll give you my first-born son or anything else you want. Just don’t make me have to actually have a conversation.

Ok, so I maybe overplayed that a bit, but really, not all that much. Pretty pathetic, huh?

Sigh. I know, especially when the experts say that the difference between an amateur speaker and a professional is that the amateur looks out at the crowd and says, “Here I am!” and the professional looks at them and says, “There you are!

I want to be the latter but confess that more often than not, I’m so relieved to get past the meet and greet part that I come off just the opposite.

So it was with great interest and a real desire to learn from a “pro” that I shared the platform with my friend Becky Burgue last week. I knew from our weekly talks and individual post-speaking engagement rundowns that she was much better at all this than me. In my defense, she taught public school for 38 years and learned long ago how to “work a room.” Except for her, it’s apparently not work. She’d hate it that I called it that.

For this particular speaking engagement, I was the “feature,” meaning I was basically warming up the crowd with an inspirational topic before she spoke. Then she would come up and share her testimony. Seemed like a plan. We were prepared and prayed up, so when we walked in we both went into action, walking around the room, greeting the ladies and hopefully turning strangers into friends before the “real” part of the meeting began.

That, I quickly realized, was where I had it all wrong. For Becky, the informal introductions were the real part of the meeting. The best part.

I knew from our conversations that Becky often experienced that same invisible wall with certain ladies –the wall that sent me heading off desperately in search of a cup of coffee, a restroom, or a quick glance at my text messages; anything to avoid another close encounter. Becky apparently just considered those occasional awkward exchanges like a dropped call and moved on to the next woman.

A smile on her face, enthusiasm in her voice, she made her way through the room, interacting with the women, laughing and jotting notes on her note pad. “What in the world is she writing?” I wondered. I finally gave up, sat down and just watched her do her thing.

Not only did she speak to every woman in the room (I was exhausted just watching her) she quickly became on a first name basis with the servers and took it upon her self to learn their history and career aspirations. Here’s a picture of Becky and I with Beau, an energetic young man working three jobs. Pretty sure he’ll end up owning the place after the pep talk Becky gave him!



When she began to speak, it all became clear: she included those women, (and those servers) their names and bits of their stories, in her introduction. Again, in my defense, I had done this in the past; if I met someone with a really unusual story and characteristic, I’d weave it into my intro. But this was different. When Becky did it, the women were the intro.

And because of this, she had them in the palm of her hand. She saw them, she heard them, she entered into their world and in return, they gave her a little piece of their heart. They trusted her. And they responded to her presentation.

That day, I, the Shared Table “Hospitality Guru,” got schooled by a schoolteacher in the art of hospitality, as well as in the art of public speaking. See, I preached the gospel of “loving strangers” but in this situation, my own insecurity made me focus on the “stranger” part. Becky focused on the “loving.”


And that made all the difference.


Here are some more lessons I learned from observing my friend:

  • Have a servant mindset
  • Greet guests as they come through the door
  • Mingle
  • Be curious – ask questions
  • Listen to the answers
  • Be interested and genuine
  • Be an encourager

As the main speaker, Becky could have easily put herself on a pedestal, but instead, she helped out by holding the door, passing out nametags, assisting the event organizers and servers whenever and wherever she saw a need.

She built rapport and connected with the guests by showing genuine interest. By the time she stepped to the platform she was no longer a stranger; she was part of the group. Because of her proactive approach, she didn’t have to do any awkward promotional gyrations or sign-up sheets at the end of her talk. I watched women pull out their phones and Facebook friend her while they stood in line waiting to give her a hug.

But the best part of all? Those early introductions paid off in an eternal way. She reached out to those women, showed them acceptance, showed them Jesus and so they responded to Jesus when she made the invitation. Lives were changed that day.

I know mine was.



When you’re in a room full of strangers, how do you practice hospitality? the end of all of our hospitable activity we are faced with two questions, “Did we see Christ in them? Did they see Christ in us?” Esther de Waal










PLATFORM: To Build Or Not To Build? (hint: it’s not about you)

Platform – it’s a word you hear a lot these days, especially, if like me, you’ve ever dreamed of publishing a book, (or releasing an album, starting a speaking ministry, etc.) Maybe, like me, you’ve struggled with the whole concept of promoting your work.

In this day and age, I guess it’s a little naive to think that if we simply “build it” (write the book, record the song, compose a speech) “they” will come. There’s too much noise in the world today to think anyone will ever notice little old me. And besides, it’s not about me, anyway, right?

No, it’s not about me, and it’s not about you; that message you carry in your heart, the words that echo in your mind, the music you can’t stop singing – where did you first hear it? Probably in the wilderness, where your ears became fine-tuned to listen for a word, a whisper, a grace note of music sung over you. Personal and precise, precious and powerful, they are meant to be shared with those who are undergoing their own dusty desert experience.

But how? Everybody’s busy. Nobody’s listening. It’s too noisy!

And that’s why you (and I) need a platform. Trust me, it’s Scriptural. Listen to this:

* “Give praise to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations the things he has done.” GULP! The nations?

* “What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops.” The HOUSETOPS? But I’m afraid of heights!

I’m so grateful that someone dared to use their platform to proclaim the Good News to me; I remember it like it was yesterday, even though it was 40 years ago. I was watching the Phil Donahue show on TV; his guest that day was Graham Kerr, the Galloping Gourmet. I listened in amazement as this successful man talked about how his life had become a shambles of alcoholism, bankruptcy, marriage troubles and addiction. And then he started talking about how Jesus had transformed his life. I was hooked.

I knelt down in front of that old black and white TV set that day and gave my life to Jesus, too. But here’s the remarkable part of that story: a couple years ago I decided to look online to find a video of that TV episode. I didn’t find a video, but I did find transcripts and discovered that on that eventful day when he testified “to the nations’ on TV, he had only been saved a few days. His willingness to risk his reputation and use his platform to share the Good News changed my life forever. 

Platform? It’s not “all that” – it’s more of a “so that”  tool to exult the Living God!

Friends, we live in a remarkable age. We can make God known among the nations without ever walking out the front door; we can shout and proclaim on the highest housetops with the click of a button! Facebook! Blogs! Podcasts! Periscope! Has Christ proven himself faithful to you? Has he provided? Healed? If he’s given you a story it’s because he wants you to share it. I need to hear your story and I know some people need to hear mine, because there is hope in our stories.

Is there fear involved in telling our stories? In daring to ‘build a platform?” Absolutely! What if nobody wants to listen? Nobody shows up? The publisher says no or the record producers tell you to come up with better songs?

Sometimes the biggest obstacle is the voice in your own head –the ‘not good enough, who do you think you are, slow down sister!’ monologue that plays on repeat, especially on the days when you’re staring at a blank computer screen.

I like how Jim Cymbala puts it in You Were Made For More: “We need to realize that what God does in our lives is not just about “me, myself, and I.” He is doing things that will overflow into the lives of others through our testimony of his faithfulness. God is always into making his children channels of blessing. Remember this every time you face a difficult challenge.”

To that I would add; remember this every time you hesitate before sharing your story, every time you shudder at the thought of figuring out how to drive blog traffic, every time you feel defeated because you don’t have a big enough platform. Remember this: It’s about Him! Do the work, share your story, build that platform, and then climb up on it, even if your knees are trembling.

Be willing. Be available. And while you’re at it, help someone else climb up! Don’t stand up there alone. Join arms and make it a place to shout, “Our God Reigns!”

It’s About Him!

* Psalm 105:1
* Matthew 10:27


There are lots of ways I could summarize my Speak Up Conference experience but as I sit down to write this post, the word that keeps coming to mind is PRAYER.

Prayer #1 … A little over a year ago, I connected with a previous Speak Up attendee, Cynthia Spell, through Facebook. Little did I know then, she prayed for me that the Lord would allow me to connect with Carol Kent. I was somewhat familiar with Carol’s ministry via my speaking for Stonecroft Ministries, but at that point I’d never heard of Speak Up.

Prayer #2 …My Tampa friend, Becky Burgue called to ask me to pray with her about inviting Carol to give her testimony to her local Women’s connection. We prayed, Carol said yes, and then Becky called me and said, “And YOU’RE going to come give the feature presentation!”

Prayer #3 …Weeks of prayers, actually, trying to come up with a presentation.

Prayer #4 …I connected with Carol on Facebook, saw several announcements about the conference and possibility of a scholarship. I prayed, applied and got notice that I’d received a scholarship.

Prayer #5 …I prayed that I wouldn’t make a total fool out of myself when I spoke in front of Carol! God answered!

Prayer #6 …During the months of March through July I prayed for grace and strength because we were in full care-giving mode for my daughter who was waiting to have back surgery. I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to go to the conference at that point.

Prayer #7 …Yikes! Two weeks before the conference I found out I’d been accepted into the pre-conference Book Proposal Clinic and had to write a book proposal fast! Prayers, prayers, and more prayers.

Prayer #8 …During my morning walks, I prayed about the conference; prayed for Carol and her staff, for all the behind-the -scenes preparations, for the worship, the attendees – everything I could think of to pray for, I prayed. One morning I heard the Spirit say the word, “Reunion.” But I’ve never been there, Lord; how could it be a reunion? “Reunion,” He repeated. “Family. Connections. Home.” That theme became my prayer over the remaining days prior to the conference.

Prayer #9 …Non-stop prayers for all of us who were nervously preparing for one-on-ones and 3 minute speaking presentations.

Prayer #10 …Post-conference prayers of Thanksgiving. Thank you, Jesus, that the words the Spirit spoke that morning: “reunion, family, connections, home,” accurately describe my Speak Up experience. Thank you for giving me the courage to stick my head out of my shell and as a result, doors are opening. I am beyond excited and grateful! Thank you for all I learned from the classes and keynotes, for the Spirit moving during worship, for making a way for me to attend! Thank you for the women I met, the hard stories I heard and the stories I know are being written. Thank you for the staff praying for each of us by name, and for the ones who took time to pray in hallways between classes. Thank you for the admonition that was given over and over, to ground our ministries in prayer.

And so I pray for all of us, that we would boldly pursue what God has put in our hearts, that our ‘platform’ would be a place to stand up for Jesus, and most of all, that He would make us women of prayer. Amen.



13 Things Grandma Knew About Hospitality (without reading a single issue of Martha Stewart Living)

Recently I’ve been thinking about hospitality and how few people seem to actually practice it. Excuses abound and I’ve been guilty of some of them myself. I’ve wondered if maybe the perfectionist culture of magazines like Martha Stewart Living had something to do with it. What if the roast burns or the souffle falls? Letting others see our humanness can be pretty daunting.

Then I thought about Pinterest and all my recipe boards. Maybe pinning 500 recipes is missing the point; the point is pinning down a date to actually have people over!

Don’t get me wrong; there’s certainly nothing wrong with setting a gorgeous table or whipping up a gourmet feast if that’s something you’re good at. I did a pretty good Martha Stewart imitation myself back in the day.

But I’ve learned something over the years: there’s way more to hospitality than setting a nice table or being a good cook. I was a good cook long before I knew anything about hospitality. First I had to learn that there’s a difference between practicing hospitality and entertaining.

Back in those days, I had a routine that worked pretty well: I prepared the food, people ate the food, people loved it, and people loved me! Hooray for me! I was a great entertainer. Makes sense. I come from a family of entertainers; they played instruments – I played with food.

But as Marlena Di Biase says: “With hospitality the emphasis isn’t what’s on the table.” (Or who cooked the food.)

It’s who’s sitting on the chairs.

So what exactly is hospitality?

Well if you did a Google search you’d come to one of two conclusions:

1. It’s about the hotel and restaurant industry

2. It’s about entertaining friends and family in cozy settings.

But here’s the thing; hospitality didn’t begin with Holiday Inns or Martha Stewart. In the old days, hospitality was a way to protect travelers; there weren’t any Holiday Inns and traveling was dangerous. It wasn’t about comfort and entertainment – it was about saving lives.

The original word was philo-xenos; it meant something along the lines of ‘loving strangers’.  Notice – not a word about gourmet food, or fancy napkin folding. It was about paying attention, having an open door, and an open heart.

It was about being available.

I’ve come to the conclusion that we’re actually missing the mark when we make Martha Stewart the poster child for hospitality: there’s a better role model for us:


Let me tell you about my grandmas: one was an Italian immigrant; she was a fantastic cook, but she was gruff and frankly, most of us were a little afraid of her. That was Grandma Marini. We went to her house and ate polenta.

Then there was Grandma Broughton or as we called her, Mom Minnie. We went to her house and ate grits. She was a fantastic cook, too but when we sat down at her table, we feasted on more than the food – we feasted on the fellowship.

Mom Minnie had four grown boys with families of their own, but every single weekday those ‘boys’ showed up for dinner and by dinner I’m referring to the substantial noon meal: fresh-caught fried trout, smoky collards, biscuits so light you had to smother ‘em with butter and homemade peach preserves to keep them from floatin’ off the table.

It was about the food, obviously, but more than that?

It was a noon respite, a time for sharing the news, laughing at jokes and enjoying life. I have a wrinkly old photograph of one of those meals. Even though the table is littered with plates waiting to be cleared and washed, Mom Minnie is right there with them, a big ol’ smile on her face, her eyes shining, delighted to be doting on her “boys”. She was relaxed and in the moment. She knew the dishes would be there but time at the table with loved ones was more important.

So I started thinking about all the things Grandma knew about hospitality that we’ve forgotten and came up with a baker’s dozen for you…

1. Grandma Was Ready And She Was Available.

There’s a quote that says, “When it’s about keeping everything perfect, the house is never ready.” Grandma didn’t freak out if people dropped by. She kept an orderly home but she wasn’t a slave to it. Her house was ready; but more importantly, her heart was ready.

Today people pay big bucks to go to therapists and talk about their problems. In the past they would just swing by grandma’s; she always had a pot of coffee brewing in her kitchen. “People knew they could stop by, talk, and leave feeling a lot better. And the wise woman simply gave them a cup of coffee.”

2. Grandma Kept Things Simple

Grandma never:

Spent three weeks poring over cookbooks or Pinterest looking for a brand new recipe for company. Unlike me, she didn’t keep a notebook recording all the people she’d had over and what she’d served, because God forbid, she’d repeat a recipe. People loved her pot roast, so more often than not, that’s what she made.

And she never ever forgot to serve a course of the meal she’d prepared because there was only one course – DINNER!

3. Grandma Was Cool, Calm and Collected

She didn’t lose a bit of sleep obsessing over how the meal went and what she could have done differently. Grandma didn’t take Ambien – she worked hard and slept hard.

4. Grandma Didn’t Make Excuses

She never said, “My house is too small” (it was) or “too old” (it was). And she didn’t fret that her dining room table was too small, because she didn’t have a dining room table, because she didn’t have a dining room. We ate at the kitchen table and on card tables or wherever we could find a spot to sit down and we loved every minute of it!

5. Grandma Practiced Hospitality.

Hospitality is a practice that takes practice and she practiced it daily; it was a routine part of her lifestyle.

She didn’t have the stress of throwing an annual open house – her house was open year round.

6. Grandma Was Practical

She’d never dream of spending $20 on out of season fruit to make a cantaloupe mousse in January. And yes, I did that. She picked her cantaloupes right out of the garden, in season, heavy and ripe, sliced and sprinkled with a little salt and her guests had a little taste of heaven!

7. Grandma’s Home Was A Haven

We think of a haven as a place to escape – to block the world out, but a haven actually means a harbor or port. More than a place of refuge, it’s a place of great activity! She made her home a place for family to rest and recuperate, but it was also a place that welcomed the world in.

8. Grandma Was Open-Handed

She trusted there would always be enough so she was generous with what she had. She fed her family and she fed the poor and you never left her house without a container of leftovers.

9. Grandma Had A Hospitable Spirit

Grandma knew there was more to hospitality than having an open door. Sometimes you have to walk out that door and meet some strangers! She loved on everyone she came into contact with, including the grumpy grocery store clerk. Grandma never met a stranger.

10. Grandma Was Sensitive To the Needs of Others

She reached out and offered invitations to the lonely mother who never gets out of the house, visited the widow down the street, reached out to the homesick college student, and loved on the child whose home was in chaos.

11. Grandma Had Discernment

We get a little nervous around strangers, but Grandma reached out to them, to the homeless and the wayward, even when the wayward were her own, “Oughtta’ know better adult children,” but that didn’t mean she was careless about the safety of her home and her family. She had boundaries and showed wisdom as to how best to ‘love the stranger.’

12. Grandma Didn’t Mind Interruptions

She was a busy lady but she handled interruptions with grace: her husband wanting her to sit down and watch a TV show with him, a grandchild wandering in and asking for a cookie, a knock at the door. She knew interruptions were the good stuff.

13. Grandma Paid Her Dues

Hospitality comes at a price and she was willing to pay it. It cost her something: time, money, energy, talent, but the return was priceless: friendship, stories, laughter, contentment.

All in all, Grandma was a pretty amazing woman! But here’s the thing: I don’t think she had any idea she was amazing. I don’t believe she spent a lot of time thinking about any of this. She just did it because she knew it was right.

Because people matter.

And the little acts of kindness she did on a daily basis added up.

I’ve spent my adult life searching for the essence of hospitality. I learned to make a 12 layer dobosh torte but didn’t find it there; I remodeled my kitchen and dining room to better facilitate my guests, but it wasn’t there either. What was that elusive ‘something’ I used to feel sitting around my grandma’s table? I finally figured it out. That feeling was acceptance.

If we could just look at hospitality as a way of showing people we accept them into our lives as they are– as we are, what a precious gift we’d give them, and give ourselves in the process.

Now I like to say that one of the best measurements of hospitality is making someone feel so comfortable they fall asleep on my sofa!

Going back to that original purpose of hospitality, of saving lives – whose life could we save if we could become a little more welcoming, a better listener, a bit less preoccupied, more relaxed, or more accepting? If we could maybe just make a good cup of coffee?

It’s said that hospitality is not something you do, as much as it is someone you become.

Someone like Grandma

























































































































































































































When You’re Missing Your Mom

Her name was Esther Arlene but everyone in her family called her Sister; even my grandparents called her Sister. Her nieces and nephews called her “Aunt Sister.”

I called her Mom, not Mommy, or Mama and certainly not Mother. She was just Mom. My mom.

She’s not here anymore but she’s everywhere; I see her, smell her, and hear her everywhere I go. Mom influenced me more than anyone or anything.

She wasn’t perfect, though.

It’s almost Mother’s Day and I just said my Mom wasn’t perfect. Shame on me. Bad girl. Go to your room, Sue.

Sigh. I got sent to my room a lot. So. Not. Fair.

I didn’t know it then but Mom had a lot of ‘not fair’ to deal with in her life.   

It’s a pivotal moment in life when you realize that your Mom isn’t perfect. When you grasp that underneath it all she is struggling with disappointment. Just like you.

I’m a lot like her. Not perfect. My problem is that I want people to think I’m perfect. And I want them to be perfect, too. It’s a perfect storm.

I miss talking to her about this kind of stuff. Miss her laugh and how she could make me laugh, even on my worst days; I’d call her up to complain about something and in a matter of minutes, we’d both be laughing hysterically. I rang up some hefty long distance telephone bills, complaining and laughing with my Mom. It was worth every penny.

And I learned hospitality from her, though we never called it that, never thought about it at all, really, it was just the way we lived. I think Mom was the one who invented the concept of having an open door.

When my brother was in high school, his friends used to come to our house for lunch, even though they didn’t share the same lunch period as my brother. Mom worked, but left the door unlocked and the fridge was always stocked with cold cuts, pickles and cheese for sandwiches. I can’t even fathom how she afforded to feed extra teenaged boys on my dad’s schoolteacher salary.

We frequently had last minute guests for dinner. I remember begging her to let my friend stay to eat supper with us. “Please Mom, pleeease?!” Of course, I asked her right in front of said friend, so she always said yes and somehow managed to stretch the food to feed one more hungry kid. My friends loved her.

It occurs to me as I write this that maybe she was hungry, too; hungry to recreate her childhood experience at the table. She was one of eight children, so dinnertime was quite a gathering, and there was always room for one more.

Mom was a good cook, but it wasn’t until I had a family of my own to feed that I realized she didn’t actually like to cook; more than that, she resented it. Being the first girl in a family of ten, (hence, the nickname “Sister”) she started cooking as soon as she could reach the stove. But what she really wanted was to be out working in the fields with her Daddy and her brothers.

She outlived all but one of her brothers and that about killed her. Really, she was never the same after they passed and it was their names she called out in her final hours.

One time when I was a young mother she told me that when you became a mother you would always be thinking about your children; even when they were grown up there would never, ever be a single moment that they weren’t in the back of your mind.

But she never told me the other part; that no matter how old you get, and how long its been since your mom passed away, there would never, ever be a moment that somewhere in the recesses of your mind, you weren’t thinking of her.

And missing her.

I miss you, Mom. 





The Importance of How You Say Goodbye

Hospitality isn’t just about the welcoming. Sometimes it’s about how you say goodbye…

There’s this routine my granddaughter and I share. Hard to believe she’s nearly sixteen now, but we still come up with these things, just like when she was little. She lives just around the corner from me and likes to come over in the evening to do her homework and watch her favorite TV show. The special thing we do happens when she heads out the door to walk home.  

It’s pretty safe here in our neighborhood and she’s old enough to walk home alone but part of the routine is that I stand on the sidewalk and watch until she turns the corner. Her part is to turn around every so often to see if I’m still watching. One last glimpse and with a wave, she’s gone. 

But wait! Don’t rush back into the house because all the sudden there she is again — looking to see if I’m still looking. And there I am waiting for that one last wave, that heart-stopping smile, the final goodbye.

As a grandmother, it’s delicious. 

But she has a little sister. She’s 7. She likes to come visit too, but she’s not allowed to stay as late as her big sister. Her curfew is before dark and she just recently has been given the ok to walk home alone. It’s a pretty big deal.

So the other night, she hugged me (20 second hug – that’s my rule) and went skipping off down the sidewalk. I waited and watched.

Sure enough, she turned around to see if I was watching. A wave, more skipping, and then a fast walk with that unbelievable little girl wiggle she has. A look back – yep, grandma’s still watching.

Now she’s nearly at the corner; she turns, waves and speeds up to a run for the final few steps towards home. She’s out of sight. 

I linger. Wondering. Thinking of the routine her big sister and I share.

And it happens! Her precious little head pops back around the corner, checking to see if Grandma is still watching.

Yes, sweetheart, Grandma is here.

Watching and waiting. And loving. And praying.

That’s what Grandma’s do.

Wide Open Spaces

“You have set my feet in a wide place………”

When we moved from our large home into a townhouse last fall, we were determined to bring along all the stuff we could stuff into the tiny rooms, especially the living room. If we couldn’t have ‘spacious’ then we’d darn well have cozy; it’s amazing how much you can get in a 13 x 13 room when you plot it out on graph paper. Besides the sofa, chaise and rockers, we managed to squeeze in a huge antique step back cupboard, two bookcases,  a big vintage cabinet to hold the TV, plus a wine rack and ottoman.

I went to great lengths to make everything look warm and cozy.

But cozy quickly turns into cluttered and cluttered brought out my clumsiness. The comfy ottoman and oversized basket of books looked great but became my downfall as I tripped over them not once but twice and landed hard.

I don’t know which hurt more: my knee or my frustration at not being able to move about freely.

The second time it happened the impact shook not just the house but shook loose whatever latch had been holding back all my emotions since the move. That thing sprung open and I thought I’d never stop crying.

I’d thought if I could just make this place a miniature version of our house I’d be ok. Instead it made me miss it more. My logic quite literally tripped me up.

The solution was simple: get rid of the obstacles – put the books on a shelf, shove the ottoman against the wall (I can pull it out when I want to put my feet up) and make sure the computer cord is tucked safely away from unsuspecting ankle.

Problem solved. Turns out I wasn’t really all that clumsy – my house was just cluttered.

Sometimes we get ourselves into tight places and sometimes God has us in circumstances that seem confining and close and every time we turn around we’re running into a wall or tripping over our own feet. We can pound on those barred windows till our fists bleed, ‘shake fists at the sky’ and fail to see that the door is open.

Even in our dungeons of despair and despondency, there IS ‘a spacious place, a large room’ to set our feet.

  • The tight space expands when we choose thankfulness instead of self-pity.
  • We whittle out a few more feet to move about when we choose to worship instead of whine.
  • We gain more ground when we remove the obstacles that fight for our attention and distract us from what is really important. 
  • We give Him thanks and he removes the obstacles; the things that try us and trip us up, he clears them out.

Unemcumbered…. not burdened, vexed, inconvenienced. Not hindered or thwarted or barricaded.

He gives us room to breathe (ahhh); He gives us a safe place where we can move freely.

The Good News version of the Bible says, “You have given me freedom to go where I wish.” 

What He really does is give us the freedom to wish for what He wishes.

I wish to be home, God.”

He whispers, “You are home, child.”

Yes, He sets our big, clumsy, wayward feet in a large space and we are amazed to discover it was there right under us the whole time.


Psalm 31:6-8   “But I trust in the Lord. I will rejoice and be glad in thy lovingkindness because Thou hast seen my afflictions; Thou hast known the troubles of my soul. And Thou hast not given me over to the hand of the enemy; Thou hast set my feet in a large place.”



When You Feel Like Throwing a Pity Party

A friend of mine, displaced from her small town life, close friends and church family, has had a hard time adjusting to life in the big city. A stay at home mom whose kids are now grown, she is restless, anxious about driving in rush hour traffic, lonely and struggling to recover that sense of ‘home’ she’d known for all her adult life. Been there, can relate.

She was trying to duplicate her old life, but it wasn’t working.

It never does. God never leads us backwards.

When the present feels lonely and scary and the future seems bleak, he tells us to look back and remind ourselves of his faithfulness.

And be grateful.


But straining our necks as we glance over our shoulder, complaining about this rough road we’re on,  well…he’s not above taking us around the mountain a few times. Just ask the Israelites.

Ask me.

With Egypt behind them and the Promised Land before them – despite supernatural provisions along the way, they were still fixated on ‘back there.’ “Back in Egypt, back in my day, back in our old neighborhood, back in our old church, back when we had money, back when I was married…”

Ungrateful, really, that’s how I’ve thought about them. How could you not trust God when he had just done a miracle to save your sorry butts?! Not once but over and over.

And yet I’m guilty of the same thing. Maybe it’s just that I don’t like the idea of conquering my promised land a little bit at a time. Seems easier to go back to Egypt and make bricks. Let’s at least try and make a little Egypt right here in the desert, shall we?

What’s this have to do with hospitality?

I can’t ‘practice’ hospitality where I’m living now the way I did in my old house (across town in Egypt). There’s no room for my giant farmhouse table, no fireplace to gather ’round, though my husband did buy us a fireplace DVD complete with crackle soundtrack. The oven doesn’t heat right, the bathroom too funky…. all the excuses I talked about in the past have come back to haunt me.

Yes, of course, I know there’s more to hospitality than that, but for a while there?  The only party I wanted to throw was a pity party and I really didn’t want to invite any guests. It’s hard to love strangers when you don’t love yourself.

My little itty bitty pity party would have gone on forever if I hadn’t been confronted with the truth:

Self-pity is a sin. It’s the opposite of thankfulness, and the antithesis of trust. It’s not believing that God is good. ALL the TIME.

Here’s the thing:  it’s kind of hard to break bread with people when your loaf is hard as a rock. My bread – my portion, what I have to share at this point in my life – its hard. It’s lost its moisture. Who would want it? I don’t want it! Who would want what I find unpalatable? What I’m ungrateful for? What I feel ashamed of and resentful of?

This? God? You want me to offer this?

Yes, offer it, he says – offer it to me. Your pain, your disappointment, your fears and your tears. Thank me for taking it from you and then eat the bread I’ve given you. The Bread of Life.

I’ve offered it to Him the only way I know how – in song, in tears and trembly voice, I have made a choice to worship. I have moistened this hard bread with a sacrifice of praise and miraculously my portion becomes palatable.

Sweet and savory because it is seasoned with suffering – His suffering, His sacrifice for me.

“My body which is given for you,” Jesus said when he broke off a piece of bread and passed it around to his disciples. “Remember me.”

We can dwell on the past and choke on the bread of painful labors. Or we can remember his sacrifice and feast on the Bread of Life.

Throw a pity party or have communion.

Jesus knows the pain of leaving home; he’s with me in my present home and with my friend in hers.

He’s with you, too. “Temporary homes – just a stop on the way to where we’re going.”

One day He will usher us to our eternal home.


“I came forth from the Father, and have come into the world; I am leaving the world again, and going to the Father.”    John 16:28 

Like a Good Neighbor

I’d describe it as darling, really: older, funky but fab two bedroom town house, in the ‘right’ part of town, affordable rent. Cozy (read ‘tiny’) living room, efficient (‘minuscule’) kitchen. Decorated with period furniture pieces from the 1800′s – stepback cupboard, jelly cabinet, sideboard. Warmed up with a collection of antique copper, vintage over-sized candlesticks lining the steps. What’s not to love?

It’s the perfect situation for a young married couple just starting out.

Perfect if it weren’t for the fact that my husband and I just celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary.

This is not where I expected to be four decades later. Sometimes life flat out kicks you in the butt. Luckily I have ample padding there, but I’ve still got some colorful bruises to show for it. Ouch.

So I try not to think about the house I left behind and I’m working on that ‘being content in every circumstance’ thing. One good thing about where we live – it sure is easy to clean!

But honestly – my heart has not been into hospitality much since we moved in. If the real meaning of hospitality is ‘loving strangers’ I’ve got some work to do before I invite them in for a cup of tea.

The first night we spent here, one neighbor pounded on our door and demanded we move our car because we were parked in his space. This despite the fact that there are no assigned parking spaces. No ‘hi, welcome to the neighborhood’ from this guy.

At least the lady on the other side of us was friendly. She even brought me cookies one day and left a thank you note on my door after I’d taken her some coffeecake. Then I accidentally parked in ‘her space.’ Friendly neighbor turned into neighbor from hell with flames shooting out her ears.

I think I liked the concept of being neighborly better when I was on a half-acre lot. This whole ‘near-dweller’ thing leaves a lot to be desired. Sigh. Just being real. 

Yesterday my ever-observant good friend rather annoyingly reminded me that I hadn’t blogged in months. “Yeah,” I replied, “writing about hospitality is a little too painful right now.” Silence and then she said, “Write about the pain.”

So here I am, dumping the bucket of pain about losing my house onto the page and wondering who would ever want to read it. And then I ran across some statistics: Bank repossessions increased 11% from the the month of November and are up 5% from last year. Good ultimately for the housing market but not so great if, like us, you can’t get the bank to budge on a loan modification. We had an additional complication to the cumbersome, maddening process: identity theft on our 2010 tax returns.

Here’s the thing about that kind of identity theft – ain’t nothin’ you can do about it until the IRS clears it up and until it’s cleared up the bank won’t talk to you. As far as they’re concerned, you don’t exist. Unfortunately I started to believe it. It felt like my real identity had been stolen.

For a while there (until, oh, I don’t know…Sunday?) I forgot who I was: child of the most high God, forgiven, free, saint, redeemed, daughter of the King. God, my valiant warrior, had  somehow neglected to scoop me up when he went riding off to do battle with the forces of evil. Perhaps he didn’t see my laying there bloody and wounded. After all, my identity had been stolen. Maybe he didn’t recognize me as one of his own?

It’s hard to keep fighting when you feel like God isn’t fighting for you behind the scenes. I felt abandoned and developed a spirit of fear.

The enemy zoomed in for the kill.

It felt like someone was holding my head under water. I couldn’t breathe, kicking and flailing, I guess I started to believe that God was the one responsible.

This despite the fact that my life verse is Psalm 18: 16-19: “He sent from on high, He took me; He drew me out of many waters. He delivered me from my strong enemy, And from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me. They confronted me in the day of my calamity, But the Lord was my stay. He brought me forth also into a broad place; He rescued me, because He delighted in me.”

God is the only one I know who could look at stubborn, thrashing, doubting me and call me ‘delightful.’ What a sense of humor he has. A couple of years ago I wrote a little song with these lyrics:

“I will laugh in the face of adversity,

I will scoff at the devil’s wiles.

I will say “Ha ha ha!” to the enemy

For I am Abba’s child!”

I haven’t lived up to these lines too well, but as they say in the South, “I’m fixin’ to.”

I am His and He is mine and He is with me in this little doll house of a home and it’s going to be alright. 

Just realized my neighbor lady hasn’t been going to work lately. Wonder if she lost her job? Maybe I will take her some cookies. Like a good neighbor…..





Heaven In A Copper Pot

A solid life. That’s what it’s always been about with this house.

Permanence…real materials, reclaimed goods, lasting quality, a search for what’s real amongst the fake. So, soapstone countertops instead of formica, stepback cupboard in place of veneered cabinets. An 1800’s restaurant worktable for dining, battered hardwood floors (well, they are now) and Mom’s cast iron frying pan.

I hear my uncles A.D. and Delmer and Elbert when I cook with that heavy black pan, their voices forever crusted onto the surface, I smell the laughter, their cackles and whoops, feel the humidity of those sticky, summer noontime feasts as the steam rises over my sizzling hot stove. I’m creating/recreating a life that had meaning, or that’s how it seemed to me, though I’m sure that when the price of tobacco fell and the fish weren’t biting, they probably laid awake at night scratching their Brylcreem-oily heads, wondering how they were gong to meet their bills, just like me.

But always that laughter, the adornment and garnishing of the past, high tales of high adventure, when in reality they were scrapping out a calloused, sunburnt life. But those boys chewed the fat, literally and figuratively – fatback greasy and gravy-laden rewards for labor, salvation in a pot of oily collards. Not certain if they knew Jesus but they sure knew how to enjoy his creation. They lived their lives, sucked the marrow out of each moment.

I’ve learned that you’ve got to dig deep to get to the marrow, live a lot closer to the bone than is comfortable. My husband and I have been living bone on bone for the past two years, in limbo, trying to save our house from foreclosure. Yesterday the clerk of courts said, ‘Basta,’ no more extensions, it’s in the hands of the bank. I laid in bed last night, trying to picture that: bank hands, no head, no heart to hear my soul’s silent plea…and a voice, His voice asked, “Whose hands? Your house is in whose hands?

“Your hands, Lord; my house is in your hands.”

My daughter hurt for me, sensed my need for closure and then this morning I woke up to these words in an email from a friend:

“Clarity?…Closure?…Foreclosure? eeek! What is the Lord up to?”

Then she caught my heart when she empathized with “Me, I hate limbo more than decision.”

Yeah, you gotta’ be pretty flexible to bend low enough to go under the limbo stick. “Limbo lower now, how low can you go?”

I see it all differently this morning…my homey house, my vintage stuff, my dusty dreams. I know its all fleeting, temporary, but it helps ground me, a reminder of who/what is the only timeless, ageless thing we have in this world. “We have this treasure in earthen vessels,” heaven in a copper pot, eternity in a pewter plate. You can count on it being there, doing its job, function and beauty, now there’s a marketing philosophy.

So, I guess you could say I’m a nostalgia addict, homesick for a home I’ve never lived in but had glimpses of. Home is a person, not a place and he’s everyplace I go, winking at me through the wisteria wrapped round the pergola, nudging me with the romance of the short-lived scent of gardenias…(I’m over here – inhale me), seducing me with a 150 year-old baker’s cabinet, drawers redolent with cinnamon and vanilla memories of old-timey goodness corn bread and preacher cake, baking for Jesus.

This longing for home only gets stronger, is an ache and a craving and a waiting. Life is the entrée, sometimes meager, often bitter, occasionally succulent but always there waits the sweet dreams of dessert, the last bite, the one morsel that satisfies the years of yearning, o feed me that course, Lord, indulgent bliss of forever with you.