Tag Archives: prayer

Church On My Couch


It’s not about the building…

This morning I went to church.  On my couch.  The flippant, sarcastic, class-clown side of my personality wants to call it:

The Fifth-Sunday Singing Service at The First Church of St. Social Isolation.

The trusted-Jesus-in-my-childhood side of me knows that it is, in truth:

The Church Is Not About The Building.

My childhood church had a motto that was printed on our bulletins.  It read, “Enter to Worship—Depart to Serve”.  That is ringing more true to me in these days of social distancing, self-imposed isolation, safer-at-home.  Thanks to the Interwebz, we can still participate in worship, work from home, see about our friends and family.  We can stay fairly well connected.

We can donate to causes, including the local church, that are working to provide necessary resources to our neighbors in need.  We can share music, humor, insight, and even our own original thoughts, in an effort to keep our loved ones engaged, lifted up, and encouraged in the days of COVID-19.  We can drop non-perishable necessities off onto our neighbors’ porches.  We can call, text, Zoom/FaceTime/Messenger Chat to stay connected.  I think that all of these efforts are “church”.

I completed an extended unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) in 2012.  The ages of my peer group ranged from mid-40s to late 60s.  The eldest member of our group was participating at the recommendation of a ministry of his church, a well-established, well-heeled, and well-respected faith community here in Knoxville.  Toward the end of our time together, Bob remarked that he was “seeing more church happen inside the walls of the hospital” than he had ever seen at “church”.

Which illustrates the point, once again, that it’s not about the building.

Church is loving our neighbor, whoever they are, wherever they are, however we can, without trying to judge whether or not they are worthy.  When we are unable to gather face-to-face, church can still happen.  Loving our neighbor from a distance is still love.  Prayers, financial support offered online, front-porch drop-offs, whatever we can do…we can still love our neighbor.

We can be the church.

We ARE the church.




Holding Space


Learning by doing…

Recently while reading I came across a phrase and a concept that instantly struck a chord inside me:  holding space.  Specifically, holding space in my heart for others as they walk their path in life, especially when that path is a difficult, painful one.  It is actually something I have been learning to do my entire life.

Sometimes I’ve described this concept with the following phrases:

“You are in my prayers.”

“I’ll be remembering you.”

“I’m thinking of you.”

“My heart is with you.”

During my work in CPE, I learned that the work of the chaplain is mostly about meeting and caring for people where they are, walking alongside them in their pain, providing compassionate presence, sometimes without words.  It is often uncomfortable simply to “be” with another person, without trying to fix what they are enduring.  We want to fill the silence with words, or noise, or activity.  Often what is needed is for us just to sit with someone, quietly.  These are ways we hold space for a person in need, or in pain.

I remember the morning a few years ago when my friend’s father was actively dying and ultimately passed away, when my friend and I sent Facebook messages to one another as she kept vigil at his bedside.  Just four months ago, another friend and I exchanged messages and a photo as he lay with his beloved dog while she died.  Even though I was unable to be present with these friends in a physical way, I was able to love and care for them…holding space.

The truth is, I’ve been learning how to hold space all my life…I just didn’t know it was called “holding space”.  And that phrase may be one that comes and goes away, replaced by another “concept-of-the-moment”.  I do like the idea, though, especially when someone is of a different faith tradition from mine, or from no faith tradition at all.  Sometimes telling someone that I am “praying” for them might hold negative associations, if the church has hurt them (which happens so much more often than we want to acknowledge).  Sometimes my own spiritual life is not such that I can truly pray…but I can always hold space.  God hears what I can’t say, and the person I am caring for knows they are being remembered with compassion and tenderness.  I’m holding several people even as I write this, people dear to me who are enduring pain that I cannot begin to imagine.  I communicate as best I can with them, and when we are not talking or writing, my heart is with them…holding space.







Bible Boot Camp, writing…

Since 2010, I have done a yearly “Bible Boot Camp” every summer, during which I have read through the Bible in 90 days starting June 1 and ending sometime toward the end of August.  I finished up this year’s installment yesterday and remarked that it had been a little more challenging than usual, in part due to reading a translation I had never used before.  God has always been so faithful to teach, comfort, and yes, challenge me, through this journey, blessing me so much more than my small investment of time deserves.

Because of the special challenges of this year’s Boot Camp, I’ve let a few weeks go by since my last blog post.  Maybe that’s a good thing.  I will admit to a lack of inspiration lately, not because there’s nothing to write about, but because my ability to string coherent thoughts together has been…challenged.

We all have those moments, don’t we?  There is so much to say that we stumble over how to say it, or like me in recent weeks, experience verbal vapor-lock and end up saying nothing.  Even our prayers don’t seem to flow naturally, instead coming in fits and starts, or such seemingly scattered random thoughts that we wonder if even God can make sense of them.

He can.  He hears and understands the things that we cannot say in words because He listens to the heart.  And He cares about all the details of our lives.

So, as I attempt to get myself back in gear for the activities resuming this season with music and church, I will hope also to find my words again.  I NEED to write in order to maintain some sense of balance.  I need to share my story.  Most of all, I need to embrace the times when I find myself Challenged.



Dream A Little Dream


A little music, a big memory and a whole lot of Mama…

This past weekend a bunch of my kinfolks got together for a reunion in Gatlinburg, TN, an event I had looked forward to for quite a while.  It was a branch of the family tree on Mama’s side, the Williamses, namely Mama’s big brother, my Uncle Otto and his wife, my Aunt Katherine’s, kids, grandkids and great-grandkids.  These are some of my favorite people on the planet, folks I don’t see nearly often enough.  I also saw some younger cousins, all grown up now, whom I had not seen since they were little, and some I’d never met yet.

Before I had even made it into the pavilion I found myself wrapped in a warm, loving hug from my cousin Stacy.


She and I have been in touch on social media (one of the blessings of technology!) but have not seen each other face-to-face since the late 1980’s.  What a joy to see that sweet face again and enjoy a brief moment to catch up a little.  Second hug of the day was from her daughter, my cousin Danielle.  I’ve also been in touch with her online, but we had never actually met until that moment.  The musical genes in the Williams side of the family have passed on to Dani in a big way, and I was able to share a little bit of family musical history and heritage with her as we talked.


Soft breezes blew through the shaded pavilion as my cousin Hazen asked the blessing over our meal and time together, adding special prayers for Aunt Helen as she deals with ongoing health issues.  I breathed a prayer as well for Dean, her husband, that he will remember to take care of himself as he tries to take care of her.  Seeing and hugging her was a special joy, as it always is.  She and Mama were so close, and when I hug her, I can almost feel Mama hugging me back as Aunt Helen does.


I felt Mama with us all through the day, as we shared food and pictures and stories.  Aunt Helen’s kids, Lisa and Mike, were the kids out of the bunch I spent the most time with growing up.  And they were there, with Lisa’s husband Tim, who is a recent addition to the family and fits right in.  Mike’s wife Jane never changes, still glowing wth a headful of red hair and a huge smile.  All Mike and Jane’s kids were there, Aunt Helen’s grandchildren, and a huge light in her life.

As we shared food and stories and pictures, I felt Mama all around me, and I saw glimpses of her…in my cousin Robin “volunteering” to get up and sing, something Mama used to do…in the adult recreations of childhood photographs and the howls of laughter that resulted…

…in talking with Hazen about how active “my dead people” are in my dreams…


…in the photo of me and my closest-in-age cousins performing a “family breast exam” (Mama and Uncle Otto are in Heaven laughing their heads off at that, while Aunt Katherine is telling us to “Be refined!”)…


Family is not always dignified.  But that’s usually when it’s the most fun.

Unbeknownst to most of the family, Dani and I had cooked up a surprise to share, and after the meal was done, we offered them a little song, “Dream A Little Dream Of Me”.  Making music with a cousin I’d just met for the first time was both a joy and an honor, and I hope it’s only the first of many more times we can do it.  My beloved Sweet Pea captured the moment with his phone, and I am so grateful that he did!

All through the day I felt Mama there with us, along with all the others on the Williams side who have gone to Heaven and wait for us there.  The last verse of the song we shared says:

“Sweet dream till sunbeams find you,

Sweet dreams that leave all worries behind you,

But in your dreams whatever they be,

Dream a little dream of me.”

I dream little dreams of them all the time, waiting for the day we are all together once more, with God and one another, all the generations of our family making music together. All worries behind us.  What wonderful dreams!



When I Was Six…


The world looked different…


When I was six

Richard Nixon was President

and all the grownups on the news

were talking about a place called

Viet Nam

If I wanted to mail a letter

a stamp cost 6 cents

but I was only just learning to read and write


When I was six

Courtesy and Sense both seemed

more common

We were raised to say “Please” and “Thank you”,

“Ma’am” and “Sir”


When I was six

I sang all the time

just because it gave me joy

All the kinfolks I loved

were still alive

Talking to Jesus was

the easiest thing in the world

and my little-girl prayers were simple


When I was six

Summer vacation meant Myrtle Beach

and I always threw up

going over Saluda Mountain

Mamaw’s house at night seemed like

the quietest place in the world

and if Mama took us to Aunt Ruby’s

for a glass of tea

that meant there’d be time to play


When I was six

The world outside was not innocent

Then, as now,

people were doing

unspeakable things

to other people

But it seemed like those things happened

less often

When I was six


(My first grade picture from Giffin Elementary School, in one of many dresses Aunt Ruby made for me.)



Secret Passages


Life logistics, gateways and forks in the road…

I have a photo album on Facebook called “Doors and Windows”.  Mostly the pictures are of stained-glass windows in churches where I have been blessed to sing over the last several years, although there are some pictures of other windows and doors that have captured my attention with their beauty, location or some other unique quality.  The possibilities they represent fascinate me, the prospect of leaving a place and entering another one.

Life is like that for me right now, and, as I am firmly entrenched in middle age, it will continue to be like that for the foreseeable future.  I have encountered a number of passages over the last several years, gateways to step through, forks in the road that have demanded difficult choices.  And even as wide-open as I tend to be, there are some passages I have to navigate alone, only discussing my journey with a few trusted friends and my beloved Sweet Pea.

Choosing between good and bad options is a no-brainer.  The difficulty comes in making a choice between a good thing and a better one.  Discernment is key, and can only be achieved with prayer and wise counsel from people whose opinions I respect.  Sometimes I have to realize that “doing it all” is logistically just not possible, especially if I want to do things well.  Sometimes, I have to choose between good and better.

Baseball great and amateur philosopher Yogi Berra is quoted as saying, “When you come to a fork in the road…take it.”  (Wait, WHAT?!) On the other hand, my Mama, when someone was having trouble making a decision, would often say, “Either ____ or get off the pot!”  I’ve thought about that a lot lately, and while her words were not exactly genteel, they got the point across.

Here’s to passages, doors, windows, gateways and taking the fork in the road!


Closing Time


Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end…(and yes, I stole that line from a song)…

There have been too many goodbyes for me in 2015, too many moments when a door I took for granted slammed shut with no warning.  For that reason, I am sort of glad to see the year come to a close, and I pray that 2016 will be, Lord willing and knock wood, a healthy, happy and peaceful year for me and for all the people I love.  I pray for this…but only God knows what’s coming.

With each friend I’ve had to say goodbye to, a relationship has ended on Earth…but a place is being held for me in Heaven as they await my arrival.  I can see myself, once I’ve settled into Heaven for a bit, sitting with my friend Dave on his front porch, talking about our shared friends in the world of radio and television.  He will have birds as pets there too, creatures he loved so much while he was here.  From there I might stroll over to see Bill, and we’ll sit at his piano,singing together once more, his voice strong and clear, his body healthy and whole in a way we can’t begin to imagine down here.  And sweet Ron, who I knew the longest of the three, will  greet me with a big cup of coffee in his hand, open arms and a smile.  He is the Scarecrow to my Dorothy, sharing with me the most years of my journey here before he left to start his journey There.

Because, as I’ve stated before, just because someone dies, doesn’t mean the love stops, or the relationship ends.  It changes by necessity, but it’s not over.  The ones I have loved are just in a place where I can’t see them right now.

So I bid farewell to 2015, grateful that it is Closing Time. A new year, a few frontier, begins, swinging open a portal of fresh starts. Gracious God, grant peace, good health and happiness to everyone I love.  Draw us closer to each other and closer to You. Amen.


Stoplights And Sticky Notes


Encounters with God…

Scripture tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing”.  It sounds simple enough…but who among us has ceaseless hours to spend in prayer?  While I do try to spend meaningful chunks of time with God, more often than not, my prayers come in smaller pieces throughout the day.

I believe that God honors whatever time we offer back to Him, wherever we are.  Oftentimes I’ll read a prayer request on social media, and I take a quick moment right then to lift that person and the need up in prayer, and acknowledge that “One just went up,”.  And anytime I think of it, another one will go up.  The social media prayer army is a powerful tool we have to reach a lot of prayer warriors at one time, and I’ve seen many people join together to intercede on a friend’s behalf in this way.  This is technology at its very best.

Sticky notes live in my Bible, reminders of someone I have promised to pray for, situations needing God’s attention and intervention.  It’s not pretty, but it’s a handy way to remember a request until I can write it down someplace more permanent.  For a while, Jeff and I kept a list of prayer needs on the fridge door, because we knew that was the one place where we’d both see them regularly!  I need to reinstate that routine, especially now, when I am praying for so many needs and situations.

Then there are the “stoplight” prayers.  After I began my extended unit of CPE several years ago, I realized in a whole new way how a blaring siren and flashing lights can signal a life being changed, or ended, often in the blink of an eye.  Anytime I see or hear an emergency vehicle, I say a quick prayer for everyone involved in whatever that crisis or situation is, including the chaplain who is likely to catch that call and help in tending to wounds both seen and unseen.

All of these are little ways I can care for the people around me, the ones I know and love, and the ones I will never even meet.  Ways I can love my neighbor.  Ways I can encounter God and pray without ceasing.




It was a dark and stormy night…

After a few weeks of very dry weather, we finally received some rain, accompanied by lightning and thunder. It wasn’t scary, loud thunder that shook my house.  It was more that rumbly, distant kind of thunder that can be relaxing, almost musical, to hear.  I love this kind of storm and the way it can lull me to sleep.  But the other night was a different story.

After trying to sleep for a while with no success, I got out of bed and went downstairs to read for a while.  I thought I might even attempt to write a blog post.  My mind has been both full and empty recently; full of conflicted thoughts and empty of anything worthwhile to write about.  At least, it has felt that way.

As usual, when I got up, the dog got up with me.  Once settled in on our comfy couch, though, he was back to sleep soon enough.  I envied him for his ability to rest so peacefully.


Since it had been a while since I wrote a blog post and ideas were not coming to me, I retrieved a book from my shelf in hopes that it would spark meaningful thoughts that I could share.


I was not in a good place for writing, because every writing prompt I looked at and thought about seemed to have some sort of painful memory attached to it.  Recent conversations have opened old wounds and have made new ones.  I’ve found myself confronted by a kind of hate I was unprepared to face.

Writing, or speaking, the truth, is not always nice, or pleasant or pretty.  But it shouldn’t be hateful.  We all have opinions, and we all have a right to express them.  And if people choose to be hateful, I guess they have that right as well.

By the same token, we have the right to minimize our exposure to the hate, even if it comes from within our own family or “friends”.  Gracious God, help me to hand over to You my pain and my anger, and to keep handing it over until I can leave it with You once and for all.  Soothe the tempest that threatens me.  I come to You with open hands and a broken heart.  Fill me so full of Your love that there’s no room for anything else—Amen.


Make Me An Instrument


Hearing and seeing the beauty around us…

“The Week” has begun.  Every year the Knoxville Choral Society teams up with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra and various other music/dance ensembles for a series of holiday concerts, and this is “The Week”.  It is a week of rehearsals, final tweaking of the program and last-minute polishing of our weekend musical offerings to the community.  It is always a feast for both eyes and ears, a spectacle of movement, color and sound.

I will admit that I find “The Week” to be a mixed bag of excitement and fatigue.  Ultimately, though, there is a sense of wonderment that so many musicians, conductors, singers, dancers, sound technicians, lighting designers and costumers have all joined forces to make this concert series come together.  Numerous composers and arrangers are represented in each year’s program, and I am always especially impressed at their creative gifts, both in arranging existing music in new ways and in conjuring altogether original compositions.

At last night’s rehearsal I took a few moments to really look at some of the instruments so expertly played by our orchestra friends.  I’ve been around instruments my whole life and it’s easy to take their beauty for granted.  So it is with anything—or anyone—we have become accustomed to.  Looking at these familiar instruments through my camera’s lens brought me a fresh appreciation for their beauty, both in the craftsmanship with which they were fashioned and in the sounds they make in the hands of a skilled player.


Such intricacy of design and workmanship!  And the marks of use and love worn into them over years, often decades, of playing and working, make each one unique unto itself and bear witness to a life of faithful musical service for both the instrument and the one who plays it.



The paradox is that even the most expensive instrument is silent until someone plays it, and if it is not played well, all its expensive materials and workmanship don’t amount to much.  By the same token, a skilled and caring musician can take an average, or even poor, instrument and make glorious, beautiful sound pour forth from it.  It is all in the hands and heart of the player.

We have all heard and/or read the famous Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi:  “Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace…”  Especially now at Christmas, which is joyful but also very difficult for a lot of us, for a variety of reasons, I pray to be an instrument of peace in the lives of those I love.  Where there is hatred, let me show love.  Where there is injury, pardon.  Where there is pain, healing.  Where there is stress, calm.  In the noise and clamor and chaos of this world, Lord, make me an instrument of peace in Your masterful hands, bringing serene harmony into the lives of those around me.

Lord, make me an instrument.