Sunday, December 22, 2019

Grammy Jo and the Babies

During three years of seminary (many years ago) I spent the majority of my free time with the same dear friend. Mrs. Jo and I walked through those days, side by side, sharing life. I had two small children she referred to as “the babies” and she had free time afforded by retirement. I peppered her with questions like a ticker tape machine, gleaning from her vast well of practical knowledge. I learned how to quilt, can, bake petit fours, grease a bundt pan to perfection, and cook a fine pan of cornbread in my cast iron skillet. Mrs. Jo had a family tree with sons, daughters in law, grandchildren, family, and friends that filled her life. Yet, she still had space to draw me and my little family into her heart. She made us her own and adored us like a rare and valuable treasure. 

Most of our collective days were filled with the mundane. However, there were a few excruciating weeks following the impossible diagnosis of her oldest son’s brain cancer. I brought “the babies” to visit with her and her husband as often as possible. We couldn’t fix the hurt but we were most definitely a distraction. The moment she called to tell me her son had been healed in heaven I rushed to her house to be by her side. I asked, “give me a task, what can I do?” Mrs. Jo handed me a bottle of pledge and a dust cloth. She said, “this house is filthy and is about to be filled with people.” I understood her prioritized cleanliness and the need for being busy.

In a chapel talk years ago, Rev. Anthony Carter described two types of friendships. Those that make sense and those that can only be described as “In the Lord” relationships. Mrs. Jo and I had little in common as far as hobbies, bedtime, and daily tasks. But we both loved Jesus and had time to pour into one another. 

Sunday morning brought the news of this beloved friend's passing. I am so thankful for the role Grammy Jo played during long and lonely hours while Andy was flooded with seminary and pastoring. I will never forget those saturated seminary days by her side nor the sporadic conversations sprinkled through the decades since. I will also never stop making her cornbread in my cast iron skillet. 

“The Gospel makes strange friends.” 
-Rev. Anthony Carter

Thursday, March 14, 2019


At the conclusion of every episode, Mr. Rogers would look deeply into the camera, reaching the minds of children everywhere and say two simple words, "You're special". In the documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor Rogers elaborates, "'You're special' means, you don't have to do anything exceptional to be loved by those who love you." With mad respect to Mr. Rogers I would dig a little bit deeper. You're also special because the gifts God has bestowed making you unique. Eliot turns eighteen today. I'm tempted to find a great deal of pride in the accomplishment of raising such a man. The fact of the matter, Eliot is exceptional because God has created him exceptional.

Eliot has always been friendly. Thinking back when he was two, I can still picture my blond toddler walking into a group of grown men who were settling in for a deacon's meeting. Left hand in his jean pocket, he stopped in front of each man to offer his right. Seeming not to notice he wasn't a grown man, he circled the room, shaking hands while chatting incoherently. Present day, he has been known to saunter onto an elevator and loudly exclaim to the lucky inhabitants whose heads are down hoping not to make eye contact, "How's everybody doing today?" 

On icy mornings in Cary, NC, Eliot would quickly dress as soon as he woke up. "I have to go get the paper from Mrs. Marjory's driveway or she'll try to get it herself." At the age of seven he was very concerned his elderly friend would attempt to make her way down icy steps. We had this sweet elderly neighbor for a few short years before she tragically died in a car accident. I took a heart broken Eliot to her memorial service. During the share time in a room full of seated adults he didn't know, Eliot stood up and verbalized a picture of his unique friendship with their beloved Marjory. He reminisced to her family and friends how he and the elderly lady would work together to blow leaves off her back deck. He relived how for hours he and Mrs. Marjory looked through all his baseball cards. He would talk, she would listen. I'll never forget how he wrapped up his little speech to the sea of tear filled faces, "She left me, but I'll never leave her." I'll also never forget how he wept in the parking lot after the service. He was ten. 

Fast forward to the dreaded years of middle school. We will forever be grateful to God for the boys in our neighborhood. Specifically the Voyles boys that created an Eliot sandwich in age and grade.  That posse tromped through the woods behind our houses, lighting fires, climbing trees and doing various activities of potential harm that now tend to trickle out in elaborate story telling around the dinner table. They had a pact, if any of them did stepped outta line, the others were allowed to tell parents. A time or two I have told Eliot, "If you can't tell Will or Coby about it then you probably shouldn't be doing it". How many kids have that type of tangible barometer for judging whether they have a good idea or are about to do something completely insane? 

Eliot LOVES being a part of a team. Eliot played JV Football in sixth grade, grabbing ankles and recovering fumbles. For Varsity games he ran on the field to collect the kicking tee...every...single...time. Seventh and Eighth grade, he was the backup QB. Most games, he would come in once the starting QB gained a solid lead. He was small but he worked hard. He could barely see over the line of scrimmage, but he listened well, remembered the plays and we all loved it. He played baseball too, causing my heart to double in size. The one game that sticks out in my mind, Eliot saw zero minutes on the baseball field. But you could hear him in the dugout cheering on his teammates during every pitch. He helped his coaches talk through positioning suggestions for the outfield. After this particular game, Eliot asked if we could stay a few minutes late so he could run poles with the pitcher. "Running poles must be so boring, if I run with him it'll be more fun." On awards day, Coach Warren said, "Eliot would run through a brick wall if I asked him to." He was 13. 

There was also a wrestling career but I try not to remember anything involving a singlet. We'll just let that go.

High school brought rock climbing, cross country, chorus and musicals into Eliot's world. He hates running but has loved his cross country teammates. For three years in a row he received significant leadership awards. In chorus, Eliot has had little time in the spot light. His name has been listed under titles like ensemble, townspeople, tree #1, and Lurch in the Adams Family (he grunted like a pro). It's been very common in the theater at Ridgeland High School to find him building sets, hanging lights, and behind the scenes in the sound booth. This year, all that hard work paid off and he was cast as Topher in the broadway musical Cinderella. After the last show, the director singled out Eliot and his friend Bekah who went above and beyond to make the show a huge success. I'm as proud of his off stage leadership as I am his onstage performance. 

Junior year Eliot tried out for Georgia's All State Chorus and didn't make the cut. Senior year, he took this last chance for a spot in the elite choir. A few weeks ago, he had the amazing opportunity to travel to Athens and sing with Georgia's best of the best. 

Plain and simple, Eliot is the hardest worker I know. He may not always be the best or the biggest, but he works harder than most in order to accomplish his goals. Equally astounding to me is his capacity to care. He rushes to those who are hurting or in need of help. He rarely stops to calculate what it will cost him, the time it will take, or the inconvenience it will involve. He just jumps in with whatever emotion, strength, brain power he has to offer, feeling a deep sense of self imposed responsibility. 

What I want Eliot to do more than anything else is continue being an even better version of who he has always been: kind, caring, determined, hardworking, loving, uncomfortably friendly (especially on elevators), and overwhelmingly compassionate. 

I love you LT. You make this Mama so proud. 

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Dimples and Roses

Memaw was one of the prettiest people I've ever known. She was always coordinated, bejeweled and smelling of roses. As a little girl I was enamored by her pretty jewelry and bright red fingernails. I have countless memories that will creep up as little reminders that she walked this earth,

Like most families, the Honea clan has our own way of putting things. The instant we arrive at home from being out and about, we will immediately put on "soft clothes." It's important to be aware, all jammies are soft clothes, but not all soft clothes have to be jammies. We always referred to my grandparent's house in Lake Jackson, TX as "the house on the court".  The grandfather clock in the hall would sing a piece of "Ex. 6. Westminster Quarters, 1794" every quarter hour and on the hour dong the appropriate number of times. The deeper you walked down the hall the more your olfactory senses would alert you to the existence of lots of things that have been undisturbed for decades. Not like some grandparent homes of dust and mothballs. Just a subtle stillness of time and large closets. Every square inch of every wall in that hallway was filled with framed photos of our very own family history. My favorite time to remember in that house is the six weeks I stayed my fourteenth summer. All the adults in my life thought I might get bored, be ready to come home. But I loved it. I loved how my Grandad went to bed early and Memaw and I would talk for hours about everything and nothing. I loved how Grandad would go to the store every morning to replenish any of my favorite food items I had consumed.  Memaw took me shopping and bought me REAL Keds, with the little blue rectangle on the sole of the heel. They were red. I lived life alongside them, visiting my great grandmother twice a week, watching Memaw's "stories" in the afternoon (Days of Our Lives specifically). I'd sing in the choir at rehearsal on Wednesday nights and put on an assigned robe to sing in church on Sunday mornings. I sat in the soprano section with Memaw while Grandad sang two rows back with the Baritones. I was there long enough to be enveloped into their habitual patterns and they were proud.

Memaw loved the tiny specifics that would make memories special. On my wedding day she wanted to be the last person to call me Miss Honea and the first to call me Mrs. Jones. I can still see her after the ceremony racing across the reception hall to be the first to reach me. It was important to Memaw that she be able to see in her mind's eye where I was housed. That way when we talked she had some specifics to build on as she imagined me living life. She visited every place we have lived from college days at Masters to our current home in GA. After Grandad died these trips were taken alone. Due to macular degeneration she was completely dependent on the strangers around her. I will forever be grateful for her brave determination that allowed these trips to happen. One time she was visiting and my kids got the swine flu. I called my aunt in a panic convinced she would get it and croak. Ann told me, "she would think it was worth the trip." Another night on one of these visits, Memaw and I split a bottle of muscadine wine. We giggled until wee hours, swapping stories and laughing at life. She would stay a few weeks, long enough to live my habitual patterns, and I was proud.

I visited her a few times in the assisted living apartment where, quite frankly, I fit in a little too well.  I loved these visits, slowly walking the halls, stopping so she could introduce me to her friends, gushing with unmistakable pride that her adult granddaughter enjoyed her company enough to come sleep with the old people. She was always cold so her apartment felt like a furnace. I would sit in shorts and a t-shirt, she sat in her sweater with a lap blanket. We never agreed about a comfortable temp but we always agreed on our nightly activity. We would visit. She'd share stories from long ago, some I had heard and forgotten, others were like a family mantra and my lips would move along with hers silently mirroring her words. One visit she had me breakout her letters to and from my Grandad during the Korean War. Memaw could no longer read them due to failing eyesight. So I squirreled them away in every nook and cranny of my suitcase, flew them home, organized them in binders, and started to record each letter. I would email the recordings to my very sweet Uncle Rich who would laboriously download the recordings onto Memaw's phone. She could then listen and remember that for most of her life, she had been completely adored by Charles Raymon Honea.

These moments and so many more will be carried in my heart forever. I have her dimples, high cheekbones, and love of good whit. I also have her heartburn, bad knees and protruding chin. It's a fair trade. She was my Memaw. She was my friend. I will never cease to miss having her in my life, thinking the world of me. Being proud just to call me hers. I am thankful for the comfort we have in our sweet Savior's redemptive power and promise of eternity. If there is dancing in heaven, she and Grandad are teaching the two step.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Meet Jay

Jay Finlayson may be the most respectful individual I have ever met. He started calling me Mrs. Jones as a Covenant student and continues to do so as a post grad North Florida farmer and appraiser in training. He is the epitome of chivalry and respect. Jay's a thinker. A deep thinker. A percolating, verbal processing, deep thinker. Jay preached at his church last Sunday and was kind enough to share with me his sermon notes. This blog take over is a small portion of those notes. I've made a few adjustments for brevity and readability but these are his thoughts. 
It also bears mentioning, that in the midst of putting these thoughts to paper, Jay's mom was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma. After you read about God's faithfulness in the midst of struggle maybe you can take a moment and pray for Mary Beth Finlayson, the wonderful woman who raised their author.

Friday, August 10, 2018

We've Been a Catch 22

Twenty-two signs you may have been married twenty-two years... 

1. You have to get your ring resized due to the hunk of flesh just behind the second digit on your left ring finger.
2. On occasion, one of you will stand up from sitting and say "oh my hip".
3. The ownership of particular household chores has evolved and is now set in stone. There is little deviation and when one is slow to act the other waits patiently (patiently with little almost inaudible grumbling). 
4. If your old selves looked at your current grocery cart you would question your own sanity. High cholesterol and expanding waistbands are for real. 
5. Freedom has been found in accepting graying hair and receding hair lines.
6. It feels a great injustice when the teenager isn't home to cut the grass. 
7.You have come to the realization that the longer you parent the less you know about parenting. 
8. Your one flesh-ness doesn't take away your individuality. It's important to trust each other with your separate passions. 
9. Fluency in the other's giftedness allows the confidence to take a back seat and follow their lead.
10. The sorrow brought about by dropping a kid off at college can only be fully comprehended by your spouse. 
11. The habits of health can not be dictated by the other. We all know what we need to do, and there's no way anyone can make us do it. 
12. The things about your kids that make you most proud have little to do with their raising. This reality makes you incredibly thankful for God's good work.
13. Your passion for Braves Baseball and Auburn Football is shared and almost equally so. 
14. You do big things you used to say you could never do, like work together. 
15. Some current styles of hair and clothing bring the realization that nothing would ever convince you being cool is worth following suit.
16. You have shoes that are so old they've gone out of style and come back in. 
17. Some of your co-workers were born after you were wed. 
18. The things that used to seem like insurmountable indifferences now make you chuckle. 
19. You have found a whole new set of insurmountable indifferences that don't make you chuckle. 
20. Keeping old furniture and a half broken TV becomes as much about the sheer challenge as financial deficiencies. 
21. In a few facts of life you have a large enough sample size to have a little bit of clout. 
22. Even on the bad days you know you would do it all over again. And it's been long enough that that's saying something. 

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Meet Megan

Often times we focus on one thing completely enabling us to ignore other important things. Recently, my friend Megan stepped into surrender and let go of that one thing in order to acknowledge all the rest. Her bravery, her belief that Jesus will continue to be as good to her in the future as he has been in the past has changed me. BLOG TAKE OVER!

Ed Welch defines shame as The deep sense that you are unacceptable because of something you did, something done to you, or something associated with you. You feel exposed and humiliated.” For over a decade my biggest source of shame has been my hair. Over the past year and a half I have come to realize I am called to find my identity in Christ. Due to the power of shame I have spent years identifying myself by my hair. Every time I would leave my house, I would worry what people would think. For so long my identity was defined by what others saw and what I thought they saw. I have allowed myself to simply be “the girl with the bad hairstyle” or “the girl who wears headbands all the time”. I let this define me and eat away at all the other parts God has made me to be. With this new sense of purpose, I can't help but share the work God has done in my life.

I grew up in a home with an alcoholic, abusive father. He was in and out of my life throughout my early childhood. During the last few years that my dad lived with us, my parents noticed my hair thinning on the sides of my head. We realized that I had started pulling my hair out. After meeting with counselors and our family doctor, we learned that this was a habitual form of OCD that people use to self comfort when stressed, anxious, or worried. This subconscious habit quickly transformed from something that comforted me in my suffering into a cause of suffering. By sixth grade I was having to wear headbands every day to cover the bald spots.
Eventually my dad moved out of state and my parents divorced. Although my dad was no longer in my home he left me with scars from years of hurt and shame. My mom, the biggest gift of my life, always made sure my brother and I were involved in church. God used my church as a tool for His work in my life. From an early age I knew God loved me and was present in my struggle. However, my dad's hurtful words, actions and interactions left me searching for ways to deal with my shame. To relieve the stress and find relief, I continued the obsessive habit of pulling my hair out.

    When I was a junior in high school, my dad passed away from a heart attack leaving me with an unexpected sense of loss. He had not been present in my life, but his death brought an assurance that there would never be reconciliation this side of Heaven. Again, this pain brought a desire for comfort, and I continued to pull my hair. While I thought that I was leaning on Christ, I continued to seek comfort in hair pulling rather than turning to Jesus and resting in the promises of the cross. Looking back now, I can see that a way to know I was using worldly ways to comfort rather than Christ was that my source of comfort always led to more pain and embarrassment. There was no peace or hope in what I was doing.

I went off to college hoping to be accepted and loved. I went to a small Christian college in Georgia where God gave me the greatest gift. He put me on a hall filled with girls who were crazy, fun, and welcoming. I quickly made friends who are still impacting my life. By the grace of God I had found a college where I was wanted and accepted and could thrive. I can see God laying the groundwork for me to be able to confide in several of my friends about my hair in the years to come. I never felt comfortable talking about my hair to friends in high school, so the idea of confiding in girls my age about this habit I felt was shameful and weird was horrifying to me. Beginning of my sophomore year, I confided in my three roommates. Their response to my confession changed my world and gave me hope. They didn’t see me any differently and loved me even better now that they knew my struggle. They made it clear that they hated my pain but my hair pulling was bigger in my eyes than in reality. Because of their unconditional love, I began feeling more comfortable sharing with those close to me. Each time I opened up about my struggle, I felt as though one of the chains of shame that were enslaving me fell off. These women saw me at my most vulnerable and loved me and walked through the hard times resulting an a beautiful picture of true friendship.

    College was transforming for me in many ways. It gave me an assurance that I would always have friends that would love me, regardless of my hair. However, I did not do much to stop the hair pulling. After graduating, I seemed to have just accepted that this would be my life and I would be the headband girl. Although I had gained so much hope in other aspects of this struggle, I was no closer to overcoming the actual hair-pulling.

    A few months after graduation, my mom sent me the name of a Biblical counselor in my area. Brenda kicked my butt the first few months of counseling (in the best sort of way)! She opened my eyes to so many things about Scripture and helped me understand there were two ways to view my hair pulling. Sometimes I did not realize I was pulling, so that was a habit I needed to try and break. Other times it was something I did consciously. This conscious alternative to comfort was what I chose rather than looking to Jesus, my only source of True Comfort. I started to recognize heart issues that ignited the impulse to pull. In my eyes, the hair pulling was my biggest issue. What I learned was that I have a heart filled with desires to please man over pleasing God. These desires lead to anxiety, worry, and so many other sinful areas that had gone unnoticed.

I had spent my life thinking I was a good person who just had a hair pulling problem. Now I was able to see redemption in my suffering. While we worked on these heart issues, Brenda also encouraged me to begin an accountability group. This group would be there for me when I was tempted to pull or when I did pull. I asked two women who have been such amazing counselors to me over the past few years to walk beside me in this fight. They agreed to hold me accountable, pray with and for me, and ask me the hard questions. Through vulnerability and sharing the deepest and darkest parts of my heart, these women began to feel comfortable sharing their own. The past year and a half has been filled with ups and downs. I have gone longer periods without pulling than ever before and I have also experienced some of the lowest points of shame. During all of it, I have seen God use these three women, along with so many other amazing women, to carry me when I am weak and make me feel the love He has for me.

After a year and a half of fighting, I recently said goodbye to my headbands and am able to walk around with my hair down. My new hairstyle represents ALL the work God has done in me. This hair represents the change in my heart to where I feel I am able to voice my struggle to the world and praise the Lord in it. I now recognize my need to keep Christ in His rightful spot of worship in my life. I need to have Christ as my identity and to put my hair back where it belongs— a small part of the whole person God has made me to be.

  My desire is to shed light on a struggle that many deal with and let those people know they are not alone. There is hope. Developing a community of people to walk with you can and will make a world of difference. God is at work in the midst of our struggle. The struggle I am sharing with you has been my struggle for 14 years and will probably continue for the rest of my life. Throughout all of it, even at the awful beginning, I can see God at work. He chose not to heal me the moment I asked for it, but rather fulfilled His promise to sanctify me for His kingdom through my struggle. He has walked me through years of struggle in order to reveal, teach and heal so that I can be used for His kingdom work. Because of my brokenness He can use me to share His goodness and faithfulness and to declare His glory.

Remember, we are more than our struggle. We all deal with temptations and forms of self comfort in one way or another. No matter your struggle, it is only one percent of the whole person you are. Take your shame to the foot of the cross and allow yourself to feel the grace that God lavishes on you daily.

“When you believe what God has said rather than lies, you are doing valuable work. When you choose hope over despair, your choice has lasting significance. When you get out of bed and persevere in ordinary obedience because you are representing the King, your labor is noticed even by heavenly beings (Ephesians 3:10). When you pursue holiness because you are holy, you find honor that lasts.”

Monday, May 28, 2018

Augustine's Double Knowledge

"Lord, let me know myself; let me know You." 

When Pastor Corby quoted this line of Augustine's prayer in church I was a tiny bit unsettled. Praying these two thoughts as though they should be equally sought necessitates a desire to know myself uncomfortably well. I am complex, a reality for anyone made in the image of God. Combine that with my heart being "deceitful above all things" and you've got yourself a 43 year old hot mess (Jeremiah 17:9). 

Self-reflection is often overwhelming to my perfectionistic type A personality. I don't like realizing aspects of my sin that has darkened my perspective for decades. I especially hate it when others have been affected and possibly have seen things in my heart that aren't completely wonderful. I can always avoid these blindspots, ignore the humility, downplay the regret, and in the process create more regret. Or, I can prayerfully work through conflict, feelings, emotions and ask the Holy Spirit to show me my true self. The difficult process of repentance takes time and intentionality. It requires my existing in the presence of negative feelings or emotions in order to understand and name my sin. 

Rev. Rob Yancey from McLean Presbyterian Church preached a sermon recently that illuminates repentance as one of these words we say yet don't fully comprehend. He uses this enlightenment to contrast Biblical repentance with false repentance. I'm convinced the Holy Spirit gave Pastor Yancey a screenshot of my heart as he wrote this sermon. I do both. I'm often impatient for the latter and therefore tempted to settle for the former. Rob, if I can call him Rob,  reflects on three characteristics that contrast Biblical repentance with false repentance in Psalm 51: recognize that we're undone, receive grace and reveal God. "David doesn't hide his shame he uses his experience to reveal God to others."

As I backed out of my driveway a few weeks ago I noticed a crop of tiny weeds growing under my rose bushes. Trying to pull them would have required the use of tweezers and a magnifying glass. I could have painstakingly lifted each weed one at a time to ensure the roots came with each stem. Another option was to give them a quick spray of Roundup no doubt damaging the rose bush that encompasses the purpose of having a flower bed in the first place. So, I waited for the weed colony to grow. A week later I was able to easily grab this weed harvest by the fist fulls and remove them roots and all. Even the pieces I couldn't see under the soil came along with the parts that were annoying me. 

When I'm faced with pieces of Leah that allow my actions, reactions, attitudes, motives to be sinful, I regret not seeing them sooner. I take a mental walk through relationships with people I love, situations that hold value and realize I could have handled things better. Been more effective. Lived more peaceably. Even at the cost of regret and humility, I'm thankful for the time it takes to be able to fully extract those sinful pieces and any self deceit that is allowing the space for them to flourish. I'm thankful God continues to show me more of Himself so there's less room for me. I rejoice when I'm able to name the ugly that lingers in the deepest crevices of my deceptive heart. As this sludge is removed I have a clearer understanding of my continuing transformation and am able to enjoy my Savior more fully. I also value the kindness in God's resistance to use the spiritual equivalent of Roundup.

"Look upon me, that I may love You.
Call me that I may see You.
And for ever enjoy You."
-St. Augustine

Not the prettiest picture, but a beautiful sight.