My Friend William Chaney and Me

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I first heard him speak as a guest lecturer when I was in seminary. I loved his passion, energy, and message so much that I was compelled to run out of the class to catch up with him even before my regular professor was finished teaching.

I ran to introduce myself to The Rev. William Chaney. We chatted, I learned he lived in my same county, and at the end of our short conversation I asked, if it was ok to give him a hug. See, I knew then and there that William and I were soul mates—not the kind of soul mates for marriage, he already had a beautiful, intelligent, wife and they have a lovely daughter, but soul mates in that we both had an inner need to reach people for Jesus. We both have a deep desire to make disciples for Jesus, and we both know that the process requires new ways of thinking. That kind of soul mate—the kind that has a heart for Jesus and the people Jesus wants to reach. 

Over the next year William and I became fast friends. We shared time together with our respective families, we encouraged each other with new ideas for ministry, and we listened to each other’s stories. William had always loved the Exponential Conference held in Florida every year, and in the spring of 2010 I decided to accept his invitation to attend. We independently booked flights on the same Southwest flight. We were bound for Florida!

As it happened Ron, my brother-in-law who has since gone onto glory, had just retired and had managed to get a free condo that had three separate bedrooms, with separate bathrooms. Ron wanted to golf, and William and I could each have a separate room. Free is always good. It saved our respective churches some money, so we decided to stay there together.  William and I even arrived a half a day early. We had each procured tickets for Disney, and we spent that half day before the conference riding roller coasters. 

The conference was good, even if it was oriented to male pastors. (That is a story for another day, I personally know how to filter that prejudice out.)  William and I had dinner with several colleagues that we knew who were also attending. We arrived back at the condo late. We each said goodnight and went to our respective rooms, closing our doors behind us. 

The next morning I had not yet seen William and we were five minutes away from our appointed time of departure. I banged on his room door and asked if he was ready. He said he needed about ten more minutes.

When William came out of his room I said, “You don’t look good, are you ok?”

William: “I did not get much sleep last night.”

Me: “Why not, are you worried about something?”

William: “No, but I slept in the gym last night, until the security guard got me up, and then I moved to the pool.”

Me (very confused): “What, what happened?”

William: “I went out to take a short walk last night before bed. When I came back the door was locked with the chain, and I could not get back in.”

Me: “Why didn’t you call.”

William: “I did not take my phone, it was just going for a short walk.”

Me: “Why didn’t you knock on the door.”

William: “I did but no one heard me.”

Me: “Why didn’t you bang on the patio door until we heard you?”

William: “A black man banging on a patio door in the middle of the night?”

That is when it struck me full force. My friend William cannot do things that I can do. Some call it white privilege, others call it oppression. Whatever you want to name it, William cannot react in ways that I would react out of fear of being perceived as a threat to others. If he had banged on the door, surely someone would have called the police. So William, who did have his key card, slept in the little workout room on the mat.

Understand, my brother-in-law had retired from the CIA. He had locked the door with the chain assuming everyone was inside behind their closed doors. He ALWAYS locked doors well, and checked them a second time. There was no malice involved, just a series of unfortunate events. The next morning the chain came off when Ron went to get the free paper in front of the condo. With that, William came inside, and since we all had our own rooms, none of us knew William had been missing all night. 

William never said a word about the incident again. He handled it all with grace. But the incident has remained with me. As I continue to socialize and work with my African American friends, I realize they have to do things differently than I. They have to think twice about doing things that I would just do. They have to ensure that their actions are not perceived as a threat to others. They have to constantly be thinking, is this going to be taken the wrong way. 

William and I are still good friends and communicate regularly. It was about six months ago that his wife became outraged, over another unjust incident. She posted about the event, which William never mentioned. He and an African American District Superintendent had been working late in a church in an unnamed state in the south.  On the way home their car was stopped by the police. They had done nothing wrong. Not only did the police check their licenses, but he made them both get out of the car and searched them, for no reason! This is unacceptable behavior, and it has to stop. 

We cannot remain silent. We who do not have to suffer this kind of injustice need to speak up. It’s time we who do not have to think about our every action and how it will be perceived in the world need to take a stand for justice. Systemic racism has deep roots in our land. It is time we all repent. It is time to speak up, and it is time to ensure real change will happen. 

Each of us can do something. What can you do? Here are some ideas:

  • Ask forgiveness for times when you did not notice how you might have contributed to an injustice.
  • Ask forgiveness when you did not notice an unjust situation taking place. This is a place where I had to start after William asked me the question, “A black man banging on a door late at night?” That was ten years ago!
  • Pay attention to a neighbor who is different than you. Start a relationship with them. Listen to their stories.
  • Stand up for justice when you see injustice happening. 
  • Write a story, like this one.
  • Use your vote for change.
  • March for in peace for justice.
  • Write to your elected officials.
  • Write a nice note to someone who is different than you. Ask them how they are doing in these turbulent times. 
  • Read material that helps you understand the world from a different perspective.
  • Watch movies based on real life. “Just Mercy” is a good place to begin. 

Each of us can do something. The time is now, choose something today!

(This article was written at my initiative with permission from William Chaney and his wife, Michelle.)

Growing in our Relationship with Jesus

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She can read!

My eldest granddaughter is an emergent reader. Recently we were on vacation together, sitting in a tourist tram, and I asked her to read the words in the front of the tram. I waited, figuring I would have to help her with the more difficult words. Yet, slowly but surely, she read the entire sentence! “Come as guests, leave as friends.” I was surprised, yet excited for her.

It is a thrill to watch this 5 year old have a new world open up to her as she grows in her ability to read. New opportunities are now at her fingertips.

I realized the same is true of us in our relationship with Jesus. When our knowledge of God moves from head knowledge to heart knowledge, an entire new world opens up to us. When we realize that Jesus, God in the flesh, desires nothing less than a personal relationship with each of us, we begin to see and understand that new opportunities are available to us. Those opportunities were available all along, but now they can grow and be nurtured in new ways, because Jesus has just become real to us.

Just as my granddaughter is an emergent reader, so, too, many of us are emergent followers of Jesus. We are just discovering what lies ahead. She has to continue pressing on to read well, and we have to press on, in the words of Paul, to grow in our faith. This is a time to continue your discoveries. This is a time to seek out growth, seek out going deeper in this relationship with Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of Life. What are you doing today to help you grow in your relationship with Jesus?

And, if you are one who has not discovered this reality, that Jesus is real and wants a relationship with you, this can be a time to seek him out, to allow emergent discoveries to become a reality in your life.

Just as my granddaughter is discovering that reading is so exciting, you will be amazed at the exciting path that lies before you when you allow Jesus to be central in your life.

Grief-5 Basic Steps

This is the season when our grief hits us the hardest. We are entering into those seasons of great memories, and hard memories. Because of changed situations, waves of grief might be falling upon us.

Waves of grief: I remember it well, and it has the potential to come  again, over and over again. Washing over me and my family. Its like the ocean. You think the water has stopped, all is calm, and suddenly wave after wave begins to splash all around you, above you, and sometimes carries you away. I had forgotten how grief comes in waves.

One of my call verses to ordained ministry comes out of my first story of grief. When my own young husband died suddenly in a car accident 25 years ago leaving me behind with two babies-the unbearable grief almost got the best of me–but God was there all along. God is with you too, though you may not feel it at this time.

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2 Corinthains 1: 3 has the Apostle Paul’s greeting the people from Corinth with these words:, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”

Now I am here to walk alongside of others in their own grieving process. In all that experience it still does not “prepare” you for the next time when you will be in the midst of grief. The second worst day of my life came three years ago, when my brother-in-law, the very one who had stepped in to help me when my husband had not been there, died suddenly of a massive heart attack. This kind of heart attack is called the widow maker, and virtually there is nothing anyone can do when it strikes. One day he was healthy, working out in the pool and helping strangers in the nursing home, the next morning he woke up not feeling very well, and died shortly thereafter. Ron was only 61, loving life, and serving others.

And now my cousin’s husband, suddenly departed this earth on Thanksgiving day; and all the loss of the people I love at the church I serve. It is never easy.

So how do we cope? How do we survive? How do we go on living when sometimes there seems to be very little to live for? Here are 5 basic steps, a very good place to begin. Sometimes in the beginning of grief, we need to go over these basic steps daily for a long time:

1) Grief is a process, it takes time. While this seems basic sometimes we forget that grief is not something we “get over” quickly. We can be grieved over many things: Loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, kids moving out of the house, divorce, a change in our own health status or that of one we love. I remember when I attended a grief support group for young widows and they told me I would not feel whole again until 5 years. I remember thinking, “There is no way I can make it that long in this condition.” 5 Years was right, I did not feel fully alive again until 5 years later. (Sorry to be the bearer of that bad news, but keep reading there are things you can do NOW.)

2) Take time to grieve. Give yourself space and permission. Some circles call this the “white space.” This is unplanned time to allow yourself to be, to remember and to be sad.

3) Tears are healthy. Use them. Take time to cry. It might seem that you have already been crying far too much, maybe it seems that there are no more tears left. Tears also help you process. There is a chemical element of tears that is cleansing. After the two year point when my tears no longer came at regular intervals several times a day, I would take some space and listen to music that would MAKE my cry. This did two helpful things: It helped me control my emotions in public, and it allowed the grief process to continuing working in me.

4) Find out how you “process” things and DO it. I have discovered that I process life events with pictures. So I pull out pictures of my loved ones and go over them and remember. (I even did this when my dog died, I loved my dog!) Maybe you process by telling your story. Find a trusted friend or a pastor who will listen to your story. Tell it over and over again, this helps the processing. I have also found that writing to my loved one in a journal helps me process. This had an added benefit in that months later I could reread my journal and really see that I HAD made progress in my grief work even though sometimes it FEELS like you are standing still.

5) Don’t leave God out of the mix. The Risen Christ Jesus promises to be with us until the end of the ages. (Matthew 28:20) The biblical witness reminds us from the beginning to the end that we have a God who loves us, who cares for us and who will be an abiding presence with us.  But in the midst of our grief sometimes we feel that God HAS abandoned us, we feel that God has forgotten us and we feel like God doesn’t care about us. God is big enough to hear your cries of pain and hurt. There are very real persons of faith, particularly in the Psalms of Lament (Psalms 22, 88 and many others,) who cry out in their pain and they ask the question, “God where were you and where are you now?” (Psalm 22 is what Jesus cried from the cross, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me.”) Cry out to God, and when you cannot seem to pray for yourself, ask others to pray with you and for you. (Get on a church prayer list, have faithful friends pray for you, find a Christian prayer and healing service near to you.)

This is a contemporary praise song that helps me in times of being in the desert by Hillsong United entitled, “The Desert Song.”

Grief work is hard, but whatever you do do NOT do nothing. Doing nothing will only help you become bitter and self destructive. REALLY! May the God of all comfort comfort you in your pain and grief.

In Christ,

Pastor Sarah

Speak Life ~ Our Words DO Matter

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It is no secret that I am a Toby Mac fan. When I first saw this Christian artist in concert, I was not sure that I really enjoyed him, but then I heard him in a talk back session, and I realized that I liked what I heard from his heart. The more I see Toby, the more I like him and appreciate what he is doing to build the Kingdom of God. It is always with great anticipation that I attend his concerts.

His very short testimony of one of his songs speaks to my heart in a new way. I have been enjoying his song entitled “Speak Life,” but during one particular concert he told us the story behind the writing of the song. Toby had read the Raggamuffin Gospel when he was younger. He says he remembers reading Manning’s words, “When you speak to someone you either speak life or you drain life, there are no neutral exchanges.” Hence, the song that Toby wrote was birthed.

I’ve been thinking of this quote for a long time, “There are no neutral exchanges.” What about me and my words? Sure it is easy for me to speak life when I am doing the work of the church, that is easy. But what about when I am running into the grocery store to buy something quickly or as I move about my busy day in the world? When I am doing errands I have a purpose and I move through that purpose quickly. To be blunt and honest, people who are serving who are not on my same page when I am rushing around irritate me.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not mean, I am not impolite; but I don’t speak words of life. I thought these were neutral exchanges. Toby’s words, “There are no neutral exchanges” have been haunting me. I can do better, I can be better. Maybe these exchanges have a divine appointment for me or for someone else. Maybe I am the one to speak life into someone else’s life who is drowning. After all, I know the Good News, and maybe I can speak enough life to allow a person to trust me so that I can share that Good News which is what really matters.

Meanwhile, this week I have been practicing speaking life into the lives of those who would otherwise be “incidental” in my day. They have been wonderful exchanges. I am learning and growing.

How about you? Do you speak life or do you drain life? Are you the one from which someone will remember the conversation or are you the one they wish they will never wait on again? As for me, I am trying to practice new habits.

Thanks Toby, for giving me a new perspective on the way I speak in common everyday exchanges of words.