The Taco Cabana Story

Wanting to start blogging again, I reminded myself of a promise not to do so until I wrote about a particular story.

I’ve been wanting to share this story for some time.  The events of the last few months cause me to believe some might want to hear it now.  Our son, Jack, and I refer to it as “The Taco Cabana Story.”  I’m not sure if that is the best title, but I do know that the story will stay with me a long time.  Why?   After you read this, you might question my judgment.  I ended up questioning something else.  It’s a long one, so get comfortable.


Many of you are aware that Jack played select baseball in DFW for many years.  Three or four times a week, Steve or I would drive him from our home in Richardson to McKinney, Texas, where he would practice with his team.  To be honest, we didn’t really mind – I don’t think any of us would change the alone time we had with him in the car.  At least at the young ages, he was willing to talk and share details about his day, and I viewed that as a blessing.

On this night, I was on car duty.  Jack was 11 or 12, and after practice, he and I agreed to stop at the Taco Cabana on Stacy Road and Highway 75 in Allen, Texas.  I’m really a fan of the EZ-on/EZ-off drive thru places, and Jack had recently become somewhat addicted to Taco Cabana’s brisket tacos.  So, I pulled into the parking lot, prepared to order him his favorite.

As we pulled out of the drive-thru, Jack already chowing on his taco, I saw a man pushing a car in to the parking lot.  Now, remember, it was after sunset, and not many people headed for Taco Cabana on a Tuesday or Thursday night at 9pm in Allen.  I had a feeling this man wouldn’t have many offers for help in the next hour.

broken down car

I stopped the car, told Jack to keep eating, and stepped over to the broken down car, now with the hood popped open.  The man was trying to get the engine to roll over, and he wasn’t having much luck.  Being the properly trained mechanic that I am (my dad made sure I could charge a battery, and I had jumper cables in the trunk), I asked him if I could help jump the battery in his well-used car.

He stopped turning the key, and took a big breath.  This man was probably in his early 20’s.  An African American, he was dressed in jeans, a t-shirt, and tennis shoes.  Then he turned to me, looking very tired – almost worn out – and said simply, “Yes.  Thank you.”  Then he smiled.

Jack helped us move his car up the incline and into the parking spot next to mine. I got out of my car (still dressed for the day in my business clothes, mind you) and popped the hood to connect the cables.  Thankfully, each of us knew what we were doing, and his car was running again soon.  He thanked me kindly, shook my hand, waved to Jack, and started to back out of the parking spot. I told him I would follow him, at least until we had to get off of the highway in Richardson.  All was going well as he turned the wheel to leave the spot.

Then the car stalled again.

Another man was driving into the parking lot, and I asked him if perhaps he could help.  I had used up all of my mechanical knowledge on the jumper cables.

He just looked at us, didn’t attempt to get out of the car, pointed to his watch, and shook his head, “No.”

The young man lay his head on the steering wheel, and pounded his fist into it.  “Just wanna get to my boy,” he cried.  When I asked him to tell me about that, he said his 3 year old son was with his girlfriend in Dallas and he hadn’t seen them in a few days.

Something nudged me.  I tried to shake it off, but it kept pestering.  So I told him, “Look, we’re headed that direction.  Why don’t you get your things and I’ll drop you off at the DART location in Richardson.  Then you can ride the train to downtown and your girlfriend can pick you up from there.  Will that work?”

He looked at me like I was crazy.  Maybe I was, but as the offer hung in the air, he slowly said, “Sure; thanks.”  He grabbed the few pieces of clothing he had in the back of his car, said “Hey” to Jack as Jack gave up the front seat to him.  I bought him a drink, took off onto Highway 75, and we started a reasonable conversation.  I wish I could recall his name.

I learned he was driving down from Sherman, where he lived with his grandmother.  He had just finished several days of late shifts at a nursing home where he worked.  That’s why he hadn’t seen his family in a few days.  He was trying to save enough money that they could all live together, but for now, they were apart.  And, they were expecting another child in a month.  I suggested he call his girlfriend so she would know what was happening.

I overheard his side of the conversation, and I could hear her mumbled voice on the other side of the phone.  The night was edging on, and it was clear both of them were tired.  Further, being new to the area, I interpreted that she thought I was referring to the Greyhound Bus station and not the DART line near their home.

I quietly asked him, “Where do you need to go to get home?”  With that, he stopped talking, turned his head, and looked at me like I was insane.

“What?” he asked.  “She lives off Knox/Henderson.  Why?”  All I could think of was an 8 month pregnant woman out at night, trying to find the right rail station, and wandering around.

I’m very familiar with that intersection of off 75 in Dallas.  I used to live very close to it.  I lived on the ‘right’ side of the intersection, that is.  The side that had its own patrol of town police; the side that felt safe.  Not the side that intersection other streets filled to the brim with poverty and unemployment.  Not that side.  I knew, if I continued to drive…I knew which way I would turn at that intersection.

“Tell her you’ll be home in about 15 minutes.  Jack, you ok with that?”  I asked as I caught Jack’s eye in the rear view mirror.  Jack nodded, and I said, “Tell her you are on your way.”  He did; he hung up the phone.  I called Steve to let him know we were helping someone with car trouble; why I didn’t elaborate, I don’t know.  In the car, we continued to talk, the three of us, until we reached Knox/Henderson.  “Which way?”  I asked.  “Turn left,” he replied.


After a few more turns, we reached our destination.  He grabbed his clothes, shook my hand and Jack’s, and thanked us over and over.  “Pay it forward someday,” I said.  “God Bless.”  And we drove away.

Silence in the car.  I was thinking about a lot of things, maybe even feeling good that I was able to help someone.  Then Jack asked me, “Mom?  What are you planning on telling Dad?”  I thought about it for a second.  “I don’t know, Jack.  I’m not sure he’d be very happy with me.”  Jack prodded:  “Why not?”  I thought about it again, and I sighed.

“Jack, if I were to share a story with some people that I drove a strange black man from a Taco Cabana in Allen, Texas, to this neighborhood, after dark, with our 11 year old son in the car….well, they might think I was lacking in judgment, to say the least.”

Now it was Jack’s turn to think for a moment.  And after a minute, he responded with words that slapped me in the face, and words that I will never, ever forget.

“Mom?” he asked.

“Yeah?”  I answered.

What’s his being black have to do with it?

For so many reasons, a lump formed in my throat.  I cringed, and with all the humility I could muster, and tearing up with knowledge that even a seminary student who cherishes a God who loves each person as equal can fall prey to ridiculous and hateful stereotypes …..with all of those feelings, I replied to this young, 11 year old boy:

“Not one thing, son.  And thank you.”  And we were quiet for the rest of the drive home.

Having told this story a few times verbally, I have seen the reaction from others.  And yes, some people do think I lacked judgment on that night.

Should I have taken the safe route, and called this stranger a taxi?  Probably.

But not because of the color of his skin.


I’ve silently asked him for forgiveness for my arrogance, and in my head, he has forgiven me.  I know God has.  I never want to forget this story.  And that’s why I’m sharing it with you.  Be mindful, my friends.  Listen to others with intention and love.  We owe it to each other.



The Color Craze

The story begins on a holiday.  I’m fairly certain the holiday was Thanksgiving, and the reason should become clear later in the story.  Get in a good reading position; this is a long one but a great story.

We were together with Steve’s sister and her family for the holiday weekend.  Our daughter, Shannon, was the oldest of the bunch, around 9 at the time; then came Cameron, about 5; and Jack, still a chubby cheeked lad of 2.

As many parents do, we had prepared well to keep the kids occupied for the weekend.  Aside from just general play, and movies, I had found a brand new box of crayons at the discount store.  You know the ones – the 128 jumbo box, sectioned off in smaller cartons of 8, waxy smell drifting upward as we tear off the top, each crayola perfectly crafted, yet to be used.


This particular box that I found was special.  On the outside, the box advertised a ‘NAME THE CRAYON CONTEST.’  Inside the larger box, one sleeve of the crayons was a white box.  The concept was to name the colors in this sleeve, send in your innovative creations, and receive the honor of having ‘named’ one or more crayola crayons.  Brilliant move.

Now, I know that recently the coloring craze has been touted as a stress reliever for adults as well as educational and creative play for children (a discovery that I am completely in favor of, by the way).  But that research hadn’t been completed at the time of this story.  Which is why it was a bit curious that the person most excited about the contest was not our daughter, Shannon (who probably kept crayola in business), but her Uncle Tim.

Since the time our nephew, Cameron, could draw, Tim had been fascinated with coloring, and joined him at every opportunity.  We weren’t too surprised that Tim jumped down on the floor with the kids, eager to name the crayons.  Pulling out the first one – green – he turned the crayon on its edge, scribbling the color with flair onto a white piece of paper, Tim declared with confidence:  “Bent Grass Green.”  We were hooked.

He selected the orange one next.  Tim, along with Steve and I, were graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, and we were certain he’d have the perfect name for the orange hue.  Again, a scribble on the page, and another confident declaration:  “Sunset Orange.”  Amazing.

Finally, Tim pulled out the next crayon, which was a darker shade of purple.  We all stared at it, with serious trepidation.  Here’s why I’m sure the holiday was Thanksgiving:  because Texas and Texas A&M had just played a sports game (I’m assuming football), and A&M had won, with more than a few questionable calls during the game going against our beloved Longhorns.  Tim stared at the tip of the crayon; he drew a straight line – no flourishes for this one – and declared, with all the passion he could muster:  “Cheaters Maroon.”

Our family loves that story, and we reference it often.  It’s one of those inside, legacy stories that will live on in the Sweeney and Host households.  Our family passion for coloring hasn’t waned one bit since that time; I can’t seem to part with any of the bits and pieces in our crafts closet.

Earlier this month, I read something new, by author and artist Ingrid Sundberg (


She’s created a Color Thesaurus so that she can name every shade of every color.  How brilliant is that?  Having reviewed the chart, I’d say she has hit the mark with almost each one (although she could use some of Tim’s creative adjectives for emphasis).  I’m amazed at how she’s able to see a distinct difference between, say – ‘ballet slipper’ and ‘lemonade.’  Some people just have a great eye for details like that.

Here’s something I know:  God knows those kind of details.  God, the creator, who made each of us distinct, and who knows each of us by name.  We read from the prophet Isaiah, in chapter 40:26

Lift your eyes and look to the heavens;
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one,
and calls them each by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing.

The same God who created the starry host, created us….with great detail.  As we continue in the Lenten season, I urge you to stop and contemplate what God created in you….what is the Holy Spirit calling you to become?  More importantly, how will you act upon it?

See, unlike the crayon naming, this isn’t a contest.  This is, first and foremost, between you and God.  God already knows who you are, what you’ve done, and what you can become.  And God is waiting, more than patiently, for you to accept him.  What’s stopping you?


Note to the keenly observant:  Tim didn’t win the contest, although we believe he could have.  Turns out the package that I purchased from the discount store were ‘out of date.’  The contest had wrapped up about three years prior.  But someday…….

Lighten the Load

For Christmas a few years ago, I received a wonderful hobo purse as a gift.  You may be familiar with them – large bags, flung over shoulders, expansive enough to hold wallet, electronics, makeup, and more.

hobo purse

Now, I really like this purse.  I organized the inside with one of those purse organizers….I was really flying high.  Never was without something.  Always had everything with me.

One day last week, I reached up and grabbed my neck, by the shoulder.  It was hurting, and I couldn’t figure out why.  Eventually, I tracked the problem: my purse was weighing me down.  The “everything purse” was carrying a load, and it was having a negative effect on my neck, shoulders and back.

What could I do but open up the purse and start to purge?  Ever had to do that?  I started with the obvious – the coins – and pulled them out, placing them in the coin holding pot in our kitchen.  (We use those Coinstar coin counters at the grocery store – love them!)  Then I worked on the rest of my wallet, making sure I wasn’t holding on to unnecessary receipts, business cards, etc.

Then it got a little more difficult.  I quietly reached for my key chain, and knew I had some work to do.  This particular key chain was a gift from my daughter, many years ago.  At one time, it held two drop charms – one of a girl, one of a boy, each named after our daughter and son.  And the drop charms were connected to a big round key ring.

It’s not just that the key ring itself held meaning.  What was on the chain was equally revealing.  For example, I was still carrying around a key or two from an old office where I worked, on a difficult project.  Why would I want to look at that every day, to remember a difficult time?  Another example:  I still carried around the key to a file cabinet from a location where I worked over 10 years ago; I don’t even know where that file cabinet is now.  But I can tell you what was in that file cabinet – legal papers.  As in litigation (which is sometimes necessary in business).  Why would I choose to look at a key that reminded me of litigation and fighting and bickering?

So I did what I should have done a long time ago.  I tossed the stuff I didn’t need to hold onto anymore.  I lightened my load.  And within a day or two, my neck did feel better.

Matthew 11:28 shares with us the words of Jesus, who asks us to “come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”  As we begin a season of Lent, and as many of us attend Ash Wednesday services today, I pray that you are able to lay your burdens down at the feet of Christ, who provides the forgiveness and the peace we crave.

Consider attending some Lenten services in your neighborhood.  At our church (Christ UMC in Plano, Texas), you will find us in the sanctuary every Wednesday night at 7, and in the chapel at 730, as we share in spiritual formation activities that will help us lighten our load and give all to God.

If you visit, come find me.  I’ll be the one with the hobo bag that’s not sagging.

How do the Faithful Pack a Lunch?

For many years, I made lunches for our daughter, Shannon, to take to school.  As a vegetarian, she sometimes had few options provided in the school cafeteria, and packing her lunches was a good way to make sure she had something she would eat.

Shannon graduated from high school in 2012, and by that time, I had added lunches for Jack to my daily routine.  For each, I made sure that the lunch contained a healthy balance of items:  one main item (like a sandwich or wrap), a veggie, a piece of fruit, chips and a treat.


Some might question if that is, in fact, a healthy balance; I say yes, given some of the alternative choices we face.  As a junk food junkie myself, I know the temptation to select the quick and the easy.  I don’t want that for my kids (we’ll talk about me another time), so I’m happy to pack the lunch each morning.

For whatever reason, this morning got me thinking about each of the items in the lunch, and how living a faithful life also requires us to select from certain ‘food groups’ every day (or at least every week).  Let’s take a look at the lunch items and see if we can determine an equivalent for leading a faithful life:

  1. The Sandwich:  being the main portion of the lunch, this item keeps us filled and fueled until the next meal.  What’s a sandwich in our spiritual lives?  I’d suggest that worship fills this role.  Once a week, we come together with others to hear a message, learn more about God and our relationship with God – to praise and to proclaim that which we know is good.  With lunch, some choose turkey over pastrami; some choose a veggie wrap over chicken tortilla wraps.  With worship, some people choose traditional, some like modern or contemporary.  Some prefer live streaming, some come in person.  Whatever the choice, the meaningful service hold us over until the next week; but alone, it’s not enough.  What else do we need?
  2. The Vegetable.  Yes, I know.  Many of us would not choose to include a vegetable for our lunch.  Yet, each day, I make sure I put carrots, or green peppers or cucumbers in Jack’s lunch sack.  Vegetables are those lunch items that need a little more chewing; they are often crunchy, needing more time to digest than some food items.  The equivalent in our spiritual lives, I think, is bible study.  No, not because the Words is hard to digest;  when we read and strive to understand the Word, we are pondering and listening, and learning.  Reading the Word, and understanding it, takes time – just like eating the crunchy vegetables sometimes takes time.
  3. The Fruit.   You’re waiting for me to make some kind of lame connection to the apple, aren’t you?  Instead, I’m going to point you to Galatians 5:22-23:  “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”  Packing a piece of fruit in our lunch reminds us that there are ‘fruits’ we gain from living a faithful life.
  4. The Chips.  Let me be the first to say, this is a hard one for me.  I often go overboard on chips.  But adding chips to the meal brings a variety, and adds a bit of tasty salt to the mix.  Wait – you ask – isn’t salt bad for you?   Yes, it can be, but not the way Matthew uses it in The Message, MT 5:13.  In that verse, Jesus says, “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness?”  Using salt – and chips – sparingly when we pack our lunch, that’s the key.  We add chips and salt to flavor the rest of the meal – the worship, the bible study, the fruits of the Spirit.
  5. And finally, the Treat.  This morning, I packed the Boy Scout Trail’s End brand of chocolate covered popcorn.  Soon, I’ll switch to Girl Scout cookies.  Often, I pack graham crackers and nutella spread.  The lunch just isn’t complete without that last item.  In comparison, I don’t think a life of faith is complete without relationships with other people.  We read in Genesis 1:18 “It is not good that the man shall be alone.”  And so God created humanity, and gave Adam a partner to share life, and it was only after God created humanity that it is written “and it was very good.”

That treat in the lunch is not meant to be eaten alone; when we live a life of faith, we want to share the joys of that life with others.  We share by faith and by actions – loving others, serving others, loving God, serving God.

That’s what I call balancing a faithful life.  And I think about it every morning, when I pack Jack’s lunch.

From the Scoring Table

This may not come as a surprise, from someone who graduated UT with an accounting degree:  When given the opportunity, I keep score at Jack’s basketball games.  Most of the parents from Jack’s teams (basketball or baseball) know why:  Keeping the book keeps me from yelling from the seats too often and too loudly.  Keeping the book helps keep me calm, and rational, and really makes me focus on all aspects of the game.

OSU Basketball Scorer

I enjoy keeping score, which I only do in the rec league.  From the scorer’s table, I get a unique view of travels, and steals, and the often missed/improperly called foul.  From the scorer’s table, I can hear coaches and assistants planning strategies before the game, and during time outs.  At the scorer’s table, you’ll often see me smile when I overhear the boys ‘encouraging’ each other with heated commentary.

At the scorer’s table, I meet people.  There are always two of us – one keeping the book, and one working the clock.  Many of the league refs know by now that I do not like to keep the clock.  The pressure is just too much on the clock, and the action is so visible- turn it on, turn it off, make sure you turn the arrow, and my favorite – was that a 2 or a 3?  Sure, the more you keep the clock, the easier it is; I’d just as well keep the book.

 Keeping the book relaxes me.  I have a system for Coach Nick – written numbers in the quarter, and beside the player’s name means a shot was taken and made; zeros mean a 2 pointer was taken and missed; triangles mean a 3 pointer was missed; circle with a line through means foul shot made for 1 point; circle underlined means missed foul shot.  Throughout the columns, you’ll find my R’s, T’s, S’s and A’s:  Rebounds, Turnovers, and Steals…..and the ever illusory Assist.

Let me tell you, if this Sweeney gives credit for an assist, that player rocks.

See, an ‘assist’ in basketball is one of the most subjective statistics in basketball.  Assists are granted completely at the judgment of the scorekeeper (that would be me).  There is no formal definition of the ‘assist.’  The NBA Statistician’s Handbook states that ‘A player is credited with an assist when the player makes, in the judgment of the statistician, the principal pass contributing directly to a field goal (or an awarded score of two or three points)‘.   That is, two things need to happen:  first a pass is made from one player to another; and then, the second player makes a shot that goes in.

burke assist

I’m very stingy on handing out assists, and I feel so judgmental about it.  I guess that’s the one thing I don’t like about the scoring table – there is a point where I watch refs and coaches and players act as ‘judge’ for others, by applying the rules of basketball as they see from their position on the court.  And I really don’t like to judge.

I know of another table where there is no judgment, only forgiveness.  How I wish every table could be like the welcoming communion table, the open table to which Christ invites each and every one of us.  At this table, we recognize that God gave us the ultimate assist by giving us God’s son, Jesus Christ. God passed Christ to us, and it’s up to us to carry the ball to the basket by sharing Christ with others.

And this month, we all get to add a beautiful scoring to our book of life:

 Let’s make it a star, for the ultimate assist God has given to us in the form of a baby, come to save the world.  (MT 2:9b-10; LK 2:10-14)

Merry Christmas, everyone.

God Blesses and Prayers

When our kids were younger, we had a nighttime routine for bedtime.  After baths, after brushing teeth, after the bedtime story and that last drink of water, we prayed.  We prayed the same basic prayer every night, and we called it “God Blesses and Prayers:”

children praying

“God, thank you for a beautiful day.  Thank you for [insert good things that happened today.]  God Bless Mommy and Daddy, Shannon and Jack and Ash-a-lee, Grandmas and Grandpas, Aunt and Uncles and Cousins, all our friends, people who are happy, and those who need help.  We love you, God.  Amen.”

Such a simple prayer that reminded all of us, each day, to thank God, remember those who are close to us, and to help others in whatever way we could, and especially through prayer.  But is prayer enough?  Some say yes, some say no.  And, to be inclusive, some say prayer just doesn’t make a difference.  I’m one that says yes, prayer helps.

Recently, some in the national spotlight have taken heat for offering ‘thoughts and prayers’ for the families and victims of the San Bernardino shootings.  Perhaps we’ve all just had enough – too much violence, too much fear, too much inaction to help those who need it most.   Some seem to be saying that prayer is not enough – they want action; they want progress; they want an end to this insane run of violence.

I, too, want change, and action, and an end to violence.

But I also don’t think I’m going to get that without prayer.  Why?  Because when I pray, I listen; and when I pray, I wait for God to respond.  And when God responds, we are called to act, sometimes courageously, to make a change where change is needed.

Mother Teresa understood the power of prayer.  She helped us understand the purpose of prayer when she told us:

prayer changes us

And so, we pray.  We pray thanks for all that is right in our lives.  We pray for the right words to comfort a friend who is grieving the loss of a family member during this holiday season.  We pray for the soldiers, and the first responders, who put their lives in danger every day and night, so that we are safe.  We pray for our fears, and for others’ fears as they face difficult medical problems.  We pray for wisdom to enter into discussions to help solve problems that seem to grow larger every day.

And we pray that each of us listens closely for God’s call, and that each of us has the courage to act on that call, wherever it might lead.

When we do, we’re doing a lot more than ‘offering thoughts and prayers.’   We are changing things for the better.  And in doing so, we make “God Blesses and Prayers” an action, not just a phrase.


What’s Your Station?

I have a short commute to my office.  That usually doesn’t sit well with those who endure traffic, sometimes for hours, each day.  But it’s true – generally, I’m in my car less than an hour a day.

Whether the commute is long or short, we might share a common dilemma:  What shall I listen to on my drive to work?  How will I listen to it – on radio, by smartphone, or CD?

When it comes to car music, I’m old fashioned.  I like radio.  My first car was a Ford Mustang (brown, with a hatchback to carry the bass guitar and amplifier) – the buttons were hard to push, and I programmed mostly Southern Rock, 80’s pop music and classic rock on the stations.

old car radio

Time passes, and cars change.  Today, I drive a Subaru Outback (grey, still with hatchback for the boy’s equipment for numerous activities).  And the radio in the Subaru has a more technological feel to it:

new car radio

But I noticed the other day – we still have those buttons, numbered 1-6, to store our favorites, the old standby stations that we can access instantly, depending on our mood or circumstances.  Yes, automakers have expanded the number of stations that can be stored, creating FM1, FM2 and even FM3.  I’m content with just the AM and FM, though.  Too much decision when I am behind the wheel of the car leads to distraction; and distraction leads to veering; and veering leads to – well, you get the picture.  That Subaru has a few dings in it.

I was changing the stations the other day, and for some reason, I imagined that each selection was a book of the Bible.  I pulled over safely, wrote down my thought, and gently eased back into traffic, knowing that I would one day finish that thought.

The question is:  If certain radio stations bring a certain comfort, are there books of the Bible that bring the same feeling?  I say yes.  So I want to ask you:  What’s Your Station?  Here are the top six I find myself pulled to at any time (in order of the settings on my car radio).

  1. Christian Radio.  Now, I’d like to say that I select this every time I get behind the wheel; alas, I do not.  I’d like to say instinct calls me to play this one in every car ride.  Again, no.  But for those times when I really need to hear the Gospel; whether I am feeling upbeat and thankful, or whether I am anxious and concerned, I choose button #1.  Once I do, I almost always feel like I have just left a Sunday morning worship service, and my heart is lifted.  Button #1 Bible twin:  The Gospel Books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and the Acts.
  2. 92.5FM:  Lone Star Classic Rock.   lonestar925                   You know the tunes here – classics from Boston, Kansas, Styx, BOC, The Who, Skynyrd, and the ever-present Beatles.  These are the old standby’s – the ones I love to go to – at any time.  This is the music we taught (and continue to teach) to Shannon and Jack.  Kind of like the traditional Bible Stories.  They are comforting; they remind me of a foundation that was laid years ago; and I know all the words.  Button #2 Bible Twin: The Bible Stories I Learned when Growing Up.  The Classics.
  3. 99.5 The Wolf/Country Radio. 995 the wolf                                                I listened to quite a bit of country music in college and post graduation.  And I still do, occasionally.  There are all kinds of lists on the web that tell us why we should listen to country music, and most of them include ‘it’s relatable’ as a reason. There are country songs for every emotion:  happy, sad, angry, disappointed, anxious, or jubilant.   So, too, is the Book of Psalms.  150 Psalms, written by at least 7 authors over a period of at least 900 years (and here you thought David wrote all of them… more than Willie Nelson wrote every country song!).  In the Psalms, we find the ‘relatable’ context in the Bible – if you feel it, there is a Psalm for it.  Really.  Button #3 Bible Twin: the Psalms.
  4. 1080 AM – News Radio/Traffic and Weather on the 8’s.  krldThis isn’t ‘talk news’ radio – not the dial in, discussion type.  This is 15 minute chunk of what’s going on in the day.  Short little previews, with regular weather and traffic updates to keep me on the right track.  Bible twin?  Proverbs, of course:

    The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:

    for gaining wisdom and instruction;
        for understanding words of insight;
    for receiving instruction in prudent behavior,
        doing what is right and just and fair;
    for giving prudence to those who are simple,[a]
        knowledge and discretion to the young—

    Think of this as a “Things my Dad taught me” book.  While we traditionally attribute this book to the wisdom of Solomon, it’s likely that his sages, counselors and other persons actually did the writing.  Even so, Proverbs gives us wonderful direction and caution signs, much like the News and Weather station.  Read a few – you’ll see what I mean! (Don’t take Central Expressway – use an alternate route)  Button #4 Bible Twin:  Proverbs.

    5.  105.3 The Fan/Sports Talk Radio.  1053 the fan      You had to know I’d end up here at some point.  Let me be clear:  Sports is not a religion – there is no transformation, no redemption.  We can get into that discussion later.  As this relates to Bible, though, we find Paul’s letters surrounding us with imagery of athleticism:  2 Tim 2:5 (competition); Phil 3:14 (push to the prize); 1 Corinthians 9:24-25 (athletes running the race); 2 Tim 4 (fought the good fight, run the race).  I’m certainly not going to say that when I listen to my FanFave @BenRogers and @SkinWade  ben&skin, I pull over and start reading the letters of Paul.  But I find it interesting just how many times I hear something on 105.3 that reminds me of Paul’s imagery of athletes finishing the race.  Button #5 Bible Twin:  Letters of Paul.

    6.  You may be surprised to learn that Button 6 is not pre-programmed.  That’s because sometimes I like to try something new, and I use this button to save a new station I might find with the scan button.  You may have one of those buttons – scans through all of the local antennae and pushed the strongest ones out to you.  I use it a lot when I am driving long distances, or when I am unsure of radio stations in certain areas of Texas.  And, while the ‘scan button’ may not have a Bible Twin, I do hear a comparison with the Holy Spirit.  John 3:8 (NIV) reads “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.  So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”  When we push our own ‘scan button,’ we’re listening for those top five or six places where the Holy Spirit nudges us.

    Whether your commute is long or short; whether your car has an old-fashioned radio or the snazzy new technology – choose your stations wisely.  I’m sure you’ll hear God in many of them, if you are listening.

    [photo and logo credits from Google Images]

The Bell Ringer

Most of my professional career has been spent in the commercial real estate industry.  Development, property management, asset management, accounting, finance, leasing, executive suite – 25 years leaves a lot of room to practice a variety of services!

I admire the common practice of celebrating successes at the close of a transaction in real estate.  For some transactions, the celebrations culminate with a large ‘closing dinner;’ the parties participating in the deal share stories over a lavish dinner.  Often, a group will create a ‘deal toy,’ a little prop that notes details from the project, and ends up on someone’s desk or bookcase.  You might have seen some ‘brag shelves’ in your day?  Those are deal toys…’s a game to make them as creative as possible.  Take for example, this one, celebrating a closed transaction with a hospital:

hospital bed deal toy

By far, my favorite way to celebrate is with a ‘way to go!’ in the heat of the final moment of the deal.  I’ve seen this done in a few ways.  One office would ring an old ship’s bell at the conclusion of a successful deal.   Some offices would ring the bell when a broker brought in a new client (which leads to more deals).

ship bell

I’ve seen other offices which had makeshift sirens installed, and the siren was switched on to celebrate meeting a goal or closing a deal or signing a client.

alarm siren

Now that I am working my way out of real estate and into church ministry, I find myself wondering if there are similar celebrations in our relationship with God.  I think the answer is “yes, but ….”    When we baptize, we celebrate the expanded family of Christ.   We celebrate weekly worship with traditional hymns and liturgy.   We finish our bible study, or Sunday morning class, by attending lunch or dinner together as a group.

So yes, we celebrate.

But let me ask you this – and it’s important – what is it in your relationship with God that gives you the feeling of ringing a ship’s bell?  Or the glee of turning on the siren?  Or, if you had a snippet of “Hallelujah Chorus” on your phone, the joy to blast the music at full tone, because you are so excited about something?

Is it prayer?  Is it music?  Is it teaching, or giving, or healing, or pursuit of justice?  Or maybe a few in the list?

Those ‘things,’ my friends – those are your spiritual gifts.  Do you know yours?  I’m sure there is a more proper definition for the term ‘spiritual gifts,’ but let’s try this:

Spiritual Gifts are those gifts which, when activated and utilized, turn us into Bell Ringers for God.

‘Bell Ringers for God.’  I kind of like that.  And I know, with the talent we have in this world, we could form a huge choir of master Bell Ringers.

This Sunday is Stewardship Sunday at many United Methodist Churches around the world; we will be asked to share our pledge of time, money and talents for the next church year.  Consider the list, and answer this for me:  Where can you be involved to make you a Bell Ringer for God?

See you by the bell, my friends!  Let’s ring it together, every day!

The Side Door

There’s a meme making the rounds again in social media, starring a toddler who wants to go home after church, but his mom is still ‘chatting’ with others:

church over and trying to leave

My son and my husband (both sans tie) have experienced this emotion.  I can see their faces now: “Will she ever stop talking?  Is there anyone she doesn’t know? How does she know every.single.person’ ”

The answers to those questions: I don’t know.  Grandma Mary just passed on the gift of gab to me; part of that gift is being aware of what others are going through in life, trying to make them feel better, and being genuinely happy to talk with them.  I don’t pull it off half as wonderfully as she did, but I try.

So yes, I linger in the lobby, talking with those who want to say hi, catch up, give a hug, etc.  It’s usually a festive area, with lots of laughter and smiles.

But here’s the thing.  If I only use the front door, and if I only talk with those in the area that is known for smiles and joyful chatter, I have to ask myself, “Who is not included here?”  In other words, “Who is using the side door, and why?”

Stop to consider – is anyone using the side (or back) door because they feel out of place?  Is anyone using the side door because they don’t feel deserving?  Is anyone using the side door because they think no one cares whether they were here or not?

If we are all, truly, one body with Christ as the head (as I discussed last week and referenced by the verses in 1 Corinthians 12:12-26), then we must care for each individual part, to keep the body healthy.   We need to care for each other – the familiar and the stranger; the rich and the poor; the healthy and the sick.  We need each other.

And what happens when we show we care?  I don’t think I can show you any more clearly than in this video from one of my favorite You Tube sites, Soul Pancake:

How can you show someone you care, today?  Are you willing to search out those using the side door, to let them know they are equally important?  I’ll bet you are.

And if, when you check out those in the side door, you run across a 15 year old trying to sneak out because his mom is still talking …. feel free to chat him up until I arrive.  His Great Grandma Mary would be proud to hear he’s carrying on the tradition.




Am I a 10?

Wait, that sounds a bit too much like the loaded question, “Honey, does this outfit make me look too big?”  Hint to honey:  respond ‘no’ under all circumstances.

Perhaps clarification is in order.


I have a friend who insists that accuracy is important.  And he’s right, especially as it relates to financial analysis, the context in which he was speaking.  In that particular case, ‘perfection’ is important; but even then, inaccuracies are measured in material terms.  Are the errors material to the statement?  If not, probably ok to pass on correction.

Another example, same friend.  This one has to do with those pesky annual evaluations from our friendly human resource department.  You know the ones – rank, on a scale of 1 to 10, a number of attributes on which a person is ‘graded.’  My friend’s outlook on these forms is insightful:  Should we expect that everyone should strive for a 10, on every attribute, every time?   The answer, it might not surprise you, is ‘yes and no.’

See, we are not ‘practically perfect in every way’ Mary Poppins.  And, if you believe as I do, only one human who ever walked this earth was perfect.  So what do we do with this expectation of perfection?  Let’s look at it in three points:

  1.  We shouldn’t try to be a 10 in all categories in all circumstances, at least that’s my friend’s motto.   He is right – especially if we are working as a team.  See, one person might be an 8 in analysis, but a 2 in creativity;  another might be an 8 in creativity, but a 2 in administration.  The question I’ve learned to ask is this:  In which categories am I most likely to move my 8 to a 10?  Is it likely that if I consistently score a 2 that I should expect to raise it to a 10, or even an 8?  Probably not.  So it appears we should be focusing on two things:  finding the strength of each person, and making sure those strengths are appropriately additive to the team results.
  2. Finding our strengths.  Outside of those fun (and often predictable) social media quizzes, how do we know?  Some of us know by instinct; others don’t realize until someone points out the gift.   In a biblical setting, these strengths are referred to as ‘spiritual gifts,’ and once identified to us by the Holy Spirit, we gravitate toward those gifts with a passion.  In            1 Corinthians, 12:4-11, Paul writes about these gifts using the Greek word for ‘charisma,’ or that of which someone is graced.  See what he does there?  We are ‘graced’ with ‘gifts.’
  3. OK, I think I know my gift – what now?  Funny thing – Paul continues to answer the question for us.  In 12:12-31, Paul creates an image that we are all parts of a body, with Christ as the head.  More importantly, each part of the body relies on the other parts.  It matters not what your individual function is; what matters is that together, we make up the body.  Together, we create Christ on earth, to be each other’s strength.  Together, we strive for a 10.

And how exactly do we do that, you ask?  1 Corinthians 13:  The gift of love.  When we act in love – the love taught by Christ – we score a 10.  1 Cor 13:8 tells us that love never ends – all of those other gifts:  prophecy, tongues, teaching, knowledge:  all of these are only part of a whole and will eventually end.  But when we love – when we love and act on that love as Christ calls us to love – that is the perfection for which we strive.

So maybe we should think about changing the answer to “Honey, does this outfit make me look big?”  Consider, instead, the answer: “It doesn’t matter, honey.  I love you even where you aren’t a 10.”