31 for 41: The Little Girl in a Tree

Dear Donovan,

When I was a little girl, something bad happened.  I won’t write the details in a letter, but it was a sexual assault.  There are images and words that I can never forget.  There were bad days, but one day in particular was the worst.

For so many years, I would not even think of sharing this information as I am doing now.  I did not even voice it to another human being until I was seventeen.  It wasn’t that I didn’t have the best parents ever or good friends or a loving church family.  I had all of those things.  I did not tell anyone because of shame, guilt, and the conception that I was protecting other people.  I did not tell anyone because I could not expect any single person to hold on to my secret.

I paid a price for someone else’s sin.  I hated myself at times.  I tormented myself over whether I should tell or not tell.  My OCD and perfectionist tendencies were exacerbated to the point that I had to have physical therapy in eighth grade because my muscles were so tight.  It is possibly the reason, at least in part, that I now have Fibromyalgia.   And I will remind you that I had a wonderful home, extended family, school experience, and church family.  So many victims do not get all of those things, or any of them, as they try to learn how to survive their trauma.

Like countless other sexual assault victims, I never had the opportunity to confront my abuser or have my day in court.  I did have the benefit of receiving free counseling services in college, which helped me to direct anger to my abuser.  You see, I had thought that if I was angry about what happened, that anger would be wrong and the abuser would win because I was an angry person.  I did not want him to win.

I had to learn that anger is not sinful, as long as it is managed in healthy ways.  Jesus showed anger.  While I thought I was conquering anger, it was actually all being directed back to me and hurting me.  I had to picture another little girl my age and ask myself if she would have known what to do in the same circumstances.  The definitive answer is “No.”  I had to then allow myself that same consideration, and release myself from the responsibility and guilt of what happened.

Since I am now very clear about the fact that I do not have to feel ashamed, I do not fear sharing my story with others.  As a teacher, I especially like to help other people learn about triggers resulting from sexual trauma.  For me, there is a certain color that triggers memories of the worst day.  There is a certain combination of smells that triggers unwelcome memories as well.  Only Brandon knows what these triggers are.  I do not want anyone, even you and the twins, to feel like you have to tip-toe around me about a certain color or smell.  If you can understand this issue of triggers, though, it will help you to be a kind and compassionate man.

A young mom once shared with me that as a little girl, she was repeatedly sexually abused by a male family member who wore a certain cologne.  That cologne seemed to disappear from stores for a while, but then made a resurgence years later.   As this lady was shopping in a store one day, a man walked past her wearing that cologne.  It was a scent she had not experienced for many years, but at the moment she smelled it, she immediately vomited right there in the store.

That is the power of a trigger.  It is a smell, a sound, a phrase, a voice, a song.  It can sucker punch you at any given moment.  I was once in a meeting with a Sexual Assault Response Team, something I routinely did each month with no issues until this particular day.  There was a review of a certain incident with details similar to my own experience.  I suddenly could not breathe and the walls seemed to be closing in around me.  I was able to recognize it for what it was, and started consciously taking deep breaths until the walls seemed to back away.  No one else in the meeting knew what was going on with me internally, but when I left, I physically felt like I had been repeatedly punched all over my entire body.

Now imagine a child being triggered.  She doesn’t know why or how.  She doesn’t know to take deep breaths.  She cannot remove herself from the situation that triggered the triple punch of a physical, mental, and emotional response.  Imagine an adult who is aware of his triggers, but still lives with this terrible gift that may keep on giving for the rest of his life.  This is why I say a victim of sexual abuse should never apologize for wanting justice, for even when justice is served, the victim will still pay a lifetime price for the abuser’s selfish and vile actions.

As you go through life, there will be so many people around you who have experienced sexual assault.  People may suddenly have a strong reaction to some circumstance, or may suddenly withdraw.  You can choose to be judgmental, or you can consider the possibility that the person was triggered.  Give people time to process their own stuff, and try to be as consistent as you can in your own behavior.  You don’t have to allow others to treat you badly, but you can be aware that so many behaviors that we take personally were really about the other person’s private struggles.  You can be the man who speaks up to remind others that not everyone wants to hear a lewd joke, or be exposed to certain images, or smell alcohol on someone’s breath.

I want you to know that the man who hurt me is no longer living.  Only because God has done a work in my heart, I can say with all sincerity that I hope that man received Christ’s atonement before leaving this world.  Christ’s death was sufficient to pay for all the sins of the world, regardless of whether or not individuals ask for forgiveness.  The sufficiency of The Cross provides healing for me, even though that man never apologized for all of the ways that he hurt me.  And the beauty of healing is that it places me in a position of strength and understanding, from which I can help others who have been hurt in similar ways.   

I am not always strong.  All these years later, there are still days when I feel really weak, and then I get mad at myself for “letting it get to me” again.  There is still the fear that my own lifelong battle with this will somehow negatively affect my ability to be a good wife and mother.  I fight against that.  I need God’s help.

Sin is ugly, but Christ is beautiful.  Since I have experienced evil things done in darkness, I have the opportunity to appreciate beauty and light in a very special way.  I choose to see beauty all around me, and I think my quality of life now is actually better for having gained that skill.

When I was that little girl, going through bad things, I had a favorite tree.  I would find my safe haven in its branches, and I would write fantasy stories that carried me away from reality.  I no longer need an escape, as my reality is so rich and includes three beautiful sons.  I still love trees, though.  And I love you so much.  You don’t even know how much God used the gift of you to help me heal.  I determined to be healthy so that I could love you immensely.

Now go into the world, love God first, and love others.

He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.  Psalm 147:3

The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble.  And they that know thy name will put their trust in thee: for thou, Lord, hast not forsaken them that seek thee.  Psalm 9:9-10

I love you forever,

Your tree-loving mama




31 for 41: Let it go

Dear Donovan,

When I was in third grade, I received my first academic award.  It was actually an award for a regional writing contest, and I wrote about pollution in a creek.  I received both a trophy and the praise of people that I loved.  More awards came later, and I began to define my value through academic achievement.

Just like with any talent or gift, there was nothing wrong with the exercise of the gift itself.  The problem in my case was that I began to use the gifts given by my Creator as a replacement for trusting my Creator.  I would have told you that my favorite verse was “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding“(Proverbs 3:5).  I was not actually doing that, though.  I was indeed leaning on my own understanding, looking to my own academic abilities in times when I just needed to submit to God.

At the center of this incongruence in my life was my pride.  It was not the case at all that I thought I was better or smarter than other people.  It was an issue of trying to rely on my own abilities and even essentially arguing with God at times.  Any time we place our own ability before God’s ability, we are acting out of pride.  And just like a Proverbs prediction, it did not go well for me.

I was tortured in my mind.  It was a silent battle that very few knew about.  It exacted a price on my physical health.  At one point, I truly felt like I was going to lose my mind.  God had to show me that He could take away the one thing I prided myself on.

So I say to you, “Let it go.”  Whenever you find yourself having to choose between holding on to some area of pride or submitting to God, let go of the pride!  In life, that will be the wise decision to make every single time.

There is a story that Preacher McLeroy told in youth camp years ago that I have never forgotten.  He told about a method used to catch monkeys in the wild (look up “Monkey Trap”).  The trap can be a simple coconut or gourd that has been hollowed out.  Some treat like a nut or piece of fruit is placed inside the trap.  A monkey can fit his hand through a hole in order to grasp the treat.  With the treat in his fist, however, the monkey cannot remove his hand from the trap.  Suddenly encumbered but unwilling to release the treat, the monkey can then be caught with a net or trapped in a cage.

The monkey loses his freedom because he is unwilling to let go of something that he wants.  It was a temporary trap from which he could have easily escaped with one simple action.  I do not ever want you to lose your freedom, your joy, your relationships, your reputation, your peace…simply because your pride will not allow you to let go of something that has you trapped.

God’s plan was not for me to abandon my gifts.  He wants me to use them for Him and to help others.  But I could not be used until I was willing to do things His way.  And that makes much better sense for my life, since He knows everything and since He loves everyone around me with a perfect love while my love remains imperfect.

If you remember how God views pride, it will keep you humble.  Always agree with God, and be ready to let go.  You are my child and I always desire for you to have wonderful gifts and experiences.  I would never ask you to give up something unless I know it is for your well-being and safety.  How much greater is the wisdom and care of a perfect heavenly Father.

“For pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.” C.S. Lewis

Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.  Proverbs 16:18

I love you forever,

Your mama

31 for 41: Talents and Trophies

Dear Donovan,

When you were in preschool, I came to pick you up one day and a teacher met me at the door.  “I need to tell you about something that Donovan is doing.”  That statement often means that the child is in trouble, so I braced myself to hear what had happened.

“Donovan can climb all the way to the top of one of the posts of our shade shelter.  He gets up there and can just hang out and look at the other children.  None of the other children can climb up the pole.  We just wanted to make sure you knew and were okay with it.”

D spiderman

I was not surprised by this bit of information.  I had my very own four-year-old Spiderman living with me.  Not long after you could walk, you were already climbing as high as you could and then jumping off of whatever you had climbed.  You were certainly gifted with physical abilities.

So for any gift you are given, the question that follows is “Why was I given this gift?”  The short answer is:  to glorify your Creator who gave you the gift, and to help others by using your gift.  This answer is in keeping with Jesus’ words when asked which is the greatest commandment of the law:

 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.  Matthew 22: 37-40

As you develop a talent that has been given to you, look to others who have successfully developed the same talent but who also use the talent graciously and unselfishly.  Also be considerate of those who are not gifted in the same way, and who may self-conscious in that particular area.  Remember when you had a hard time understanding why some of your classmates dreaded PE class?  There are many adult versions of PE class, and if you can be sensitive to others’ insecurities, it will make you an understanding and insightful man.

What will make you a humble man as well is remembering that you need help from others who have talents in areas that will always be weaknesses for you.  Also, if you daily acknowledge the Source of your talents, you will not become arrogant in the exercise of those talents.  When you broke your thumb playing baseball in elementary school, you asked me why God let it happen.  Then only answer I had then is the answer I have for you now.  Since you have been gifted with physical abilities, maybe it was an early lesson to never become too prideful in those abilities.  You were allowed to experience just how swiftly a physical ability can be taken away.


You have been given so many gifts, my son.  To be given gifts means that you have a purpose.  To be fulfilled, then, you need to partner your gifts with hard work and let God direct for you a purposeful path.  Do not be like the man who buried his talents out of fear (Matthew 25).  Be a good steward of what has been given to you.

D with displayed art

As for those around you, view each person as someone who also has a gift, and with it, great potential.  That is central to our belief in the value of each human.  Love people by noticing their talents, supporting them in the discovery and development of their talents, and by celebrating their achievements with them.

Finally, while it is fine to use your talents to strive for a championship or award, be aware that many trophies quickly lose their value and people soon forget about awards.  So do not pour too much of your energy into the gain of temporary trophies that have no eternal value.

I was once reading the story of David and Goliath, a great tale about combining talent, preparation, and the desire to glorify God in order to defeat a giant in one’s life.  That day, a certain verse stood out to me.  It’s not as well-known in the story, but it says “And when the Philistines saw their champion was dead, they fled.” (I Samuel 17:51b)

We have a Champion who is alive and victorious.   “I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death. (Revelation 1:18)  So, we have no reason to flee from difficult tasks in life.  If you are doing what you have been called to do with the gifts you were given, you cannot fail because the Champion who created you is also guiding you and supplying you with His power.

Use your talents for God.  Expect great things and attempt great things (William Carey).  Work for a trophy that can never be stolen, burned, or forgotten.

And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men;  Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.  Colossians 3:23-24

I love you forever,

Your mama who is proud of her Spiderman


31 for 41: About Domestic Violence

Dear Donovan,

Their stories are still with me.

A college student I meet in court does not want to testify after her boyfriend attacked her.  He also held her dog over the balcony of their apartment and threatened to drop him, all after she discovered he was cheating on her.

A mom in my support group contemplates spending money for her small children to participate in a school program they are excited about, and wants to know what I think she should do.  I cannot tell her what to do, because she is quite sure her husband will beat her if she goes against his command and spends that money on the kids.

Another mom sits in shock while nursing her newborn.  I held the baby while a judge just granted her an emergency protective order, but the judge says she has to give the newborn to the father for a two-day visitation over the weekend.  Following the “protective” order will mean giving a newborn to an unstable man who just assaulted her the night before.  It will also mean trying to get her newborn to take a bottle and drink formula, things she did not want to do yet.  She doesn’t even know if the baby will respond well to formula.   She decides the court cannot help her, and starts devising a way for her and her newborn to go into hiding.

A business owner sits beside me on a bench in a courtroom.  Her ex-boyfriend continues to harrass her, but she does not want him to be convicted of anything.  She just wants to move on with her life in peace.  Within months of that day in court, the ex-boyfriend who already took her peace takes her life as well.

You have family members who have suffered abuse at the hands of someone who was supposed to love them the most.  You have friends who grew up watching their dad hurt their mom.  In the future, you will constantly rub shoulders with both men and women who have firsthand experience with domestic violence.  You have the opportunity to be a man who sends a clear message that partner abuse is never okay.

When people are experiencing domestic violence, they need to hear that message.  They may already doubt their own reality and sanity at times, due to the nature of the abuse.  They may may entertain the idea that they do deserve it, since the abuser blames the victim and does not take responsiblity for the abuse.  They may fear that no one will believe them if they try to get help, especially when the abuser has such a great “public face.”  With all of this internal turmoil they face, there is so much power in hearing words of truth from a compassionate man.

You can explain to a woman who never had positive males in her life that real men do not use their strength to hurt women.  You can tell a downtrodden friend who wants to be a good dad that no woman should ever use her children as pawns to control a man.  You can remind adults who were abused as children that they have every right to define and maintain healthy boundaries.  You can ask a person to consider why he or she was still abused even after doing everything perfectly and just as the partner asked.  You can state with conviction that there is no mistake your mom or grandmothers could ever make that would justify their husbands being vile and violent.  And you can say you have seen the opposite instead… godly men who love their wives as Christ loves the church.

Another thing you can do is to direct people to the Power and Control Wheel.  Without you even saying a word, this tool can help people see that domestic violence is about power and control.  It is not an anger management problem, a drug problem, or a stressed about money problem.  While those problems may also be present, domestic violence is a behavior set with the specific purpose of gaining and maintaining power over a partner.  This also helps explain why this type of abuse often escalates over time.

I once sat in court as a man was arraigned for the brutal murder of the mother of his child.  When the judge informed him of the possible maximum sentence for the crime, he asked, “But what if I was justified?”  That is the culmination of a behavior pattern over time in which a person convinces himself that he is justified in hurting someone else and is allowed by others to excuse away bad behavior.

This is why your mother will always stand up against such allowances.  This is why you were never allowed to blame your choices on other people.  Apart from the laws of physics that dicate that you may hit the floor when you collide with one of your six-foot-something friends on the basketball court, no one makes you say or do anything.  Even when others are being unfair or unreasonable, even when others hurt you, you always have the choice to respond with dignity and without violence.  We need more men to sound that message to our young men and women.

When I accompanied women in court, I worked hard to gain a reputation for being firm without being hateful.  Still, a defense attorney once accused me of being a man-hater.  I don’t even think he believed it.  Since he didn’t know me well yet, I think he thought he could intimidate me, and through that, disturb my client since there was a lot of evidence against his client.

The irony of that accusation is that I always felt like I cared a whole lot more for those men I saw in court than did a lot of their attorneys.  Their attorneys took their money and often helped them avoid conviction through agreements and legal technicalities.  I stand by my conviction that if a person is allowed to continually get away with violence, he is destroying his own life, destroying the love that could have been his to receive from a partner and from his children, and is heaping judgment upon himself.

I wanted these men to be stopped, and to be held accountable so that instead of continuing down a path of destruction, they might have a chance at restoration.  I wanted them to have a chance to be proud of the men they were, instead of hating themselves for having become just like their own fathers or step-fathers, as is so often the case.  So that attorney and I will have to disagree on the definition of “man-hater.”  I hate no man, but I will not be a silent partner to a poisonous pattern that hurts all involved.

I could write a book on this subject.  It would include entire chapters on how the Bible does not condone domestic violence.  It would point out that while not every high school student will go to a four-year university, every high school student will be in relationships, and therefore, could benefit from quality education about how to recognize warning signs of an abusive partner.  It would question a system that allows judges to make crucial decisions in domestic violence court based on being experts in the law instead of experts on the complex dynamics of domestic violence.  It would warn about the dangers of a culture that allows everyone to blame their behavior on others.  It would convince others of the cost of domestic violence to our children’s education and mental health.

I may not ever be able to write that book, but I am trying to raise you and the twins to be men of character who would never purposefully injure your wives or children.  Speak the truth in love whenever someone excuses or justifies domestic violence.  When an abused person needs help, direct them to professionals who can provide safety planning support.  Be aware that the abused person’s worst fear may be that the abuser actually does what he or she once threatened to do.   And when you are provided with the opportunity, tell that abused woman that she is God’s creation, and was never intended to be anyone’s scapegoat or punching bag.

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.  I Corinthians 13: 4-7

I love you forever,

Your people-loving mama

National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233, available 24/7. TTY: 1-800-787-3224

*At the date of this post, there have been 35 known domestic violence homicides in North Carolina in 2020.

31 for 41: When Bad Things Happen

Dear Donovan,

This will not be a very long letter, because answering the question “Why do bad things happen?” can be a complex task.  Ask anyone who has studied the book of Job, or anyone who has suffered loss.  I am not qualified to answer this question in one letter.  You will have to wrestle with this question like the rest of us.  I will offer a few thoughts, however, about how to interpret the pain and loss that are an inevitable part of the human experience.

Bad things can happen when you make mistakes.  This is why you should always be a student in life.  Learn from others’ mistakes so you do not repeat them.  Learn from your own mistakes so you do not repeat them.  Make wise decisions so that you do not multiply pain in your own life and in the lives of those who love you.

Bad things can happen to you when others make mistakes.  There is a mystery of humans suffering at the hand of other humans, and it can run against our sense of justice.  I once remember a woman making a bitter statement about wanting to ask Jesus why He did not stop some bad things from happening in her life.  I could hear the frustration in her voice, but the only conclusion I could think of to myself was, “Jesus did not stop me from doing or saying some things that have hurt people.”

We have been given choices about how to conduct our lives.  “Choose you this day whom ye will serve.”  Because we as imperfect people been given the freedom to choose our words and deeds, bad choices are made and people get hurt.  I am not saying I feel okay about it all.  I do try to be keenly aware of it, though, so that I may guard my own words and deeds, and so that I may speak up for others.

You don’t always get to know why the bad thing happened.  When I watched my almost 14-year-old son lay over the body of his beloved Hans’ body and say goodbye just before a veterinarian ended the dog’s pain, I had no answers.  No answer for why the freak accident happened.  No answer for why your young dog’s life had to be cut short when he brought all of us so much joy.  No answer for why it happened on Christmas Eve.  No answer for why you had to bury your dog on your birthday.  I still do not understand why.  I can only cherish our memories with Hans and try my best to learn from the experience.   This brings me to the next thought…

There is a lesson in every loss.  When we drove Hans to the emergency clinic that Christmas Eve night, I never considered a scenario in which he would not return home with us.  I talked to him and tried to comfort him.  I watched him still trying to be brave and protect us during the ride, true to his nature.  Still, had I known it was our last time together, I think I would have held him tighter and cherished him more for as many precious minutes as I could.

The lesson for me is that we never know when it’s the last time.  So, we need to hold on tightly to those we love and we need to cherish moments together.  That night was horrible, and I still feel the pain of losing Hans, but I do not want to devalue the purpose of his loss by missing the lesson in the loss.

Every bad thing that happens to you is allowed by God.  If I can hold on to this truth when there is pain or loss, then I can find peace instead of bitterness.  John the Baptist devoted his life to preparing the way for Jesus’ adult ministry on Earth, only to find himself in a Roman prison.  Facing doubt, John the Baptist sent two of his disciples to ask Jesus if He truly was the Christ.  Jesus did not reprimand John for the question, and instead said of him, “Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11).

It is okay to ask the question “why” when things do not make sense.  Wrestling with that question, and then making needed changes in your life when you do get answers to the question, is probably part of the whole purpose of this great mystery.

Do not be offended by the hard things that God allows or even orders in your life.  That is certainly easier written than done, but if you want to be blessed, trust Jesus’ words, “And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.”  Matthew 11:6

I love you forever,

Your mama



31 for 41: Work and Welfare

Dear Donovan,

The picture attached to today’s letter is the day at the Copperheads baseball game when you collected enough foul balls to trade them for a cracked wooden bat.  I remember someone jokingly asking me if they could take you with them to buy lottery tickets, as you were seemingly having a very lucky day.  But since I know you, I knew luck had nothing to do with your procurement of those foul balls.

You were certainly gifted with the ability to run fast.  Aside from that gift, though, I understood that your success that day came from desire followed by hard work.  First, you really wanted those foul balls.  Second, you were willing to focus on the game while others kids played so that you would be ready to run toward a wayward baseball.  Third, you were willing to keep running as fast as you could every single time a foul ball flew.

In your adult life, you don’t have to let anyone minimize your personal achievements by chalking it up to luck.  If your blood, sweat, and tears, figuratively or literally, earned you what you have, it is your success to enjoy.  To be a balanced person, though, always maintain an awareness that the natural aptitudes, health, strength, mentors, setting and timing that aid you in success are all God-given gifts.  Also be humble enough to recognize that not everyone has been gifted with the same supports that you have that can set a person up for success.

As you earn your own money, you will pay taxes and you can give to charities.  Having a balanced view of work and welfare will help you make wise decisions with your money and will help you be a better citizen.  I would like to offer you some guiding thoughts:

If you can work, you should work.  The Bible has some pretty strong things to say about those who are lazy and refuse to take care of their own family.   

Money can be a tool.  Some of the greatest heroes of the faith we read about in the Bible were rich men.  God allowed them to be rich, and He used them for great purposes.  In Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan, a less-discussed detail is that the Samaritan paid the host of the inn to take care of the injured man, and promised to repay any remaining costs upon returning (Luke 10:35).  The Samaritan had the money to give, and was willing to give of his own earnings to help a stranger.  

Money should never be an idol.  We are not to build up treasures for ourselves to the exclusion of what God would have us do with our money.  Money can buy temporary happiness, I say, but it cannot buy the peace of a right relationship to God.  Choose people over prosperity, and be led by the Bible instead of by your bank account.

The more things you own, the more your things will own you.  I stole this one from PawPaw.  You may acquire a huge house, that BMW you want, a boat, and a vacation home, but that will also mean more insurance payments, maintenance, and time away from family to pay for it all.  Choose wisely.

Check your heart by your charity.  The original welfare program was ordained by God.  For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore I command you, saying, “You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land” Deuteronomy 15:11.  As part of loving God and then loving neighbors as self, we have been called to recognize the needs of others and give of ourselves to help.  You can check how much you are controlling your money or how much it is controlling you by your level of willingness to open your eyes and your wallet to the needs of others.  He that giveth unto the poor shall not lack: but he that hideth his eyes shall have many a curse.  Proverbs 28:27

Welfare should promote wellness.  Government welfare can be useful as a safety net.  I was very grateful to receive Medicaid for you when I was between jobs and lost our health insurance.  On the other hand, you have had a firsthand look at how some children actually became less safe when government welfare programs went unchecked and abused.

There are certainly problems with our existing government welfare system.  Be sensitive to those who wish they did not need it but cannot presently make ends meet without it.  You and I once needed it, and in one short day’s time, could find ourselves in need of it again!  It is okay, though, to speak up about the negative outcomes of a government system out of balance.  If welfare either persuades or allows a person to trade ambition for idleness, desire for dependence, and plans for poverty, then it does not promote that person’s wellness.  You can be a compassionate and humble man without being complacent about a system that sometimes cannot serve those in need because it is serving those with greed.

I want you to prosper and be successful, but I would rather you be rich in wisdom and love than in possessions.  Work hard.  Be a good steward of the gifts and opportunities that are given to you.  But keep career and money in their proper place, and make your accounting decisions with eternity in mind.

He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase: this is also vanity.  Ecclesiastes 5:10

I love you forever,

Your mama

31 for 41: Buy her coffee

Dear Donovan,

I am writing this short letter late tonight because Brandon and I had a date today.  You know that he and I still try to schedule dates into our busy family schedule.  We believe it is important for us to take time away from everyone else, just two best friends on adventures.  We also believe this is one of the practices that helps us model a healthy, loving marriage to you and the twins.

When Brandon and I started dating, he quickly learned how much I love a great cup of coffee, and soon made it a priority during our adventures.  Sometimes when I felt like I didn’t really need to splurge on coffee or take the time for it, he would insist on buying me the cup of coffee.  He paid attention to something that I enjoy, and he made it a priority.

You were in on the Christmas surprise while he and I were dating, when he bought me the really nice camera, knowing how much I love photography.  Then when we began our marriage, he patiently accompanied me around Charleston on our honeymoon so that I could soak in the history and architecture.  Five years later, our anniversary trip was spent at Jamestown, Yorktown, and Williamsburg.  I was as excited as a little child on Christmas morning.  Brandon didn’t laugh at the history geek when I teared up while standing in the spot where Pocahontas probably got married.  He was excited with me because I was excited.

This is one of the beautiful things about mutual, unselfish love.  It is a giving love and a growing love.  He buys me coffee and I follow him around while he looks at fishing rods.  Neither of us does that in order to get something in return.  We do it because we know how much the other person enjoys it.  It makes our journey together sweeter, and we both feel supported as we continue to grow and develop.

This is the kind of love I want you to have.  When you find your mate, study her.  Find out what is important to her.  Show her you love her by investing in what matters to her.  Support her dreams as God directs her path.  If her love for you is true and unselfish, she will do the same for you.  She may not like coffee, but “buying her coffee” will mean that you show love in action by paying attention to the details that delight her heart.

Whether it is to your friends or cousins or daughters, be a man who reminds women that this is the type of love they deserve.  It is the type of love that Christ demonstrated, a pure and selfless love.  And as it has been designed for us, supporting your mate in her development will also develop you.  You know it’s true, since I now recognize and admire the sound of a Mach 1 engine and Brandon now appreciates the legacy of Tarheel basketball.  🙂

 My beloved is mine, and I am his.  Song of Solomon 2:16

I love you forever,

Your coffee-loving mama



31 for 41: Sound the Alarm

Dear Donovan,

I want everyone to like me.  It’s a part of who I am.  In college, I set out to accomplish goals but never wanted to make anyone mad.  Then a friend told me, “If you never make anyone mad, you will never get anything done.”  I thought maybe I could be the exception to her rule, but soon learned that I could not.  Taking a stand sometimes means making a choice to speak up for some person or some value, even though you know some will not like to hear what you have to say.

As humans, we sometimes face hesitation before we speak up.  What has given me more boldness and less hesitation, however, has been experience.  Let me give you an example.  When I started teaching, fresh out of college, I knew that I was not a psychology or sociology expert, but I was observant enough to notice disturbing behavior patterns of some of my students.  When I tried to wave a red flag, so to speak, my efforts were often met with a surprising lack of concern.

Maybe the fault was partially mine for not effectively communicating what I saw that was alarming.  Maybe the fault was partially in the hands of people who were complacent and accepting of the way things were.  Maybe the problem was partially due to the overworked and undersupported status of those who might have been able to do something otherwise.  Whatever the case, when I left that school and began going to court each day with clients, I learned how to look up pending criminal cases through public records.  I selected ten names of former students, those that I had worried about the most.  Out of the ten, seven young men already had upcoming court cases for misdemeanor crimes.

I did not find joy in being right.  I was mad that my warnings had not been taken more seriously.  I was more mad at myself for not saying more.

The experience of looking back, once sad and bad things have happened, and wishing I had said and done more, becomes a gift of boldness.  It doesn’t mean I think I am always right.  It doesn’t mean that a severely at-risk child cannot create a beautifully successful life, or that a perfectly well-behaved child is guaranteed to be successful.  It does mean that I choose to speak up when I see alarming behavior patterns in children, without worrying about which adults might not like what I have to say.

Sadly, I have seen this pattern repeated so many times through the years.  Young men and women sit in my classroom each day, consumed by anger or deceitfulness or a desire to be loved.  Some of them are very nice to me, and others not so much.  I try to demonstrate a balance of love and limits.  Some of them figure out some things, get professional help, and/or move to a more healthy home environment.  But too many take on unhealthy adult activities so closely related to the anger, deceit, or longing for love.  Some have now battled drugs for years.  Some are in prison.  Some are dead.

So you see, while I want to always be respectful and civil, I cannot concern myself too much with offending an adult’s comfort level when the lives of children are at stake.  A boy I caught stealing cookies during my very first year of teaching  is now in prison, and may never get out.  That has taught me to sound the alarm.  As I strive to be, I want you also to be a person who will choose concern over comfort, principles over social position, and people over politics.  

There will be many reasons why people will not like what you have to say, even when you come from a place of concern and principles.  You cannot control that.  What you can control, however, are two personal qualities that will give your voice more power:

First, be a hard worker.  If you have an undisputed record of a strong work ethic, then no one can say you are just trying to avoid your own responsibilities when you speak up about an issue.  Being a hard worker separates your voice from the complainers.  

Second, be a person who demonstrates authentic care and concern for others.  Then, when you speak up, others will know it is not about your own selfish interests.  They will know it is because you care about people who are hurting, in need of support or justice, or in danger.  Being a loving person separates your voice from the self-righteous.

I am so proud of you for all the times, just the ones I know about, where you have spoken up for others.  When you want to speak up, make sure you have accurate information and pure motives, and then march on!  As time tells the tale, you will never regret being a voice who tried to stop bad things from happening.  I will always support you in your own efforts to sound the alarm.

Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy.  Proverbs 31:9

I love you forever,

Your unapologetically vocal mama