Author Archives: Luke

The Coming Messenger

I wrote this for my church’s yearly Advent Devotional so I thought I would share it here as well. There are some good devotionals to use today or tomorrow if you want to check it out.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?

Malachi 3:1-4 (NRSV)

For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.

When I was a kid, we would always go to my grandparents house on Christmas Eve in Winston-Salem. Around 7 or 8, we would start to head home to Greensboro. During that 30 minute trip, my sisters and I would scour the sky making sure that my dad would beat Santa and his reindeer back to the house. There was no way that we had waited all this time for Christmas morning to have it spoiled by I-40 traffic. Luckily, my dad was a fantastic driver because we never once saw Rudolph’s nose in the sky flying to our house before we could tuck ourselves in bed and listen for hooves on the roof. 

But just as a kid – and in many ways like we are now – I think I was missing the point of Christmas. It was not until much later in life that I realized how powerful the lead up to Christmas morning was and still is for Christians. Our prophet Malachi reminds us of that very point. 

Christmas is more than presents, stockings, Santa, and even the sweet images of baby Jesus. When we look at this passage, we are reminded – somewhat strongly – that God is coming on Christmas morning. Dietrich Bonhoeffer preached that “We are indifferent to the message [of this scripture], taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us.”

However, despite the tone Bonhoeffer used to describe this text, many scholars also point out the overwhelming love found in this scripture. In simple terms, God came into our world on Christmas morning because God loves us so much. Our maker wanted to be “hands on” in the process of drawing us in – refining and purifying us like the precious metals we are. 

And when I think about it like that, suddenly, I realize, it’s the baby in the manger – not the sugar plum dreams or sack of toys – that is worth rushing home to on Christmas Eve. 

Systems and Grace in Schools

A couple of Sundays ago, my minister, David Mallory, preached a sermon titled Systems and Grace using the scripture of Genesis 21:8-19. David (really the Bible tells the story so he was just paraphrasing) tells the story of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar. Abraham and Sarah struggled to have kids initially.  As was the custom during that time, Sarah chose Hagar, the beautiful member of the house staff, to help Abraham start a family. Hagar and Abraham celebrate the birth of Ishmael, but soon after, Abraham and Sarah have a baby named Isaac. As you can imagine, this was awkward for everyone, especially for Sarah. Like super awkward…

While it was common practice for men in that time to have multiple wives, the OW (original wife) was still the queen of the household. Sarah eventually goes to Abraham and asks him to banish Hagar and Ishmael because they just aren’t fitting in with the family. Abraham is crushed by this request because this is his son – his first born son. However, due to their customs (read: their systems), Abraham is forced to grant Sarah’s request, and he kicks Hagar and Ishmael out of his house. David paints the picture of Hagar and Ishamel walking out of the door for the last time as “Abraham falls to the floor cursing this unrelenting, unforgiving system” (Mallory, 2017).

Because of a system, Abraham banishes his wife and first-born son out into the world with no protection, no future, and nowhere to go.

This is nothing against Sarah or Abraham personally. They were just doing what the system allowed them to do, which from their perspective, appears to be caring for their family’s best interest. David challenges his parishioners by saying, “I wonder when the system starts inflicting pain and suffering on the people it was set up to protect, is the system accomplishing what it was set up to do?”

This question has stuck with me ever since that sermon. When I look at schools, I see so many systems that were designed to help at one point in time (in some cases, decades ago), but now they are hurting, restricting, and preventing.

Let’s say a student forgets his lunch money so he eats fruits and vegetables (a usual fall back for most school cafeterias). Healthy? Sure. Filling for a student who might only eat lunch today? No. In this system, the student might go hungry for the rest of the day.

Let’s say a teacher and his/her students work hard over the course of an entire year all for their hard work to culminate in a four-hour bubble test. A student doesn’t test well and fails the test.  The teacher is then held accountable for that test (maybe even in their paycheck).  In this system, both a hard working student and teacher feel like a failure.

Let’s say a student struggles in class from a number of learning disabilities, and a school is only able to offer limited accommodations (read: resource classes, separate setting, mark in book, copy of teacher notes, etc.) due to lack of resources. The student is placed in resource classes, falls into a cycle of underperformance, and continues to fall further behind. In this system, a student struggles for most of their early educational years and drops out at 16.

In all three of these instances, the systems that schools have in place were designed to help…initially.  I don’t blame anyone who created those systems – just as I don’t blame Abraham and Sarah.

Think about it like this…

For lunch, we used to say, “at least they are getting a FREE nutritious option.”  For testing, we used to say, “this is the most accurate measure of everything a student learned.”  For struggling students, we used to say, “these classes are smaller and more individualized.”  But I think we can all ask, “Is the system accomplishing what it was set up to do?” (Mallory, 2017).

Unlike the story of Haggar and Ishmael, I have seen glimmers of grace shining in schools.  I’ve seen teachers donate their own money to an anonymous cafeteria account so students can eat a full, healthy meal if they are running low on money that day.  I’ve heard superintendents and principals tell their teachers and staff that they are worth more than a testing statistic and stand by it when the scores don’t come back as high as some think they should be.  I’ve seen teachers and administrators re-work entire schedules to fit the needs of ONE student when they are falling behind in the curriculum.  In all of those instances, we let grace shine through, and our students benefit greatly!

I agree with how David ends his sermon: “…I’m just wondering, how much different would our systems be? How much different would our world be if we could all make some room for just a little more grace?”

How much different would our schools if we could all make some room for just a little more grace?

June Update – #12MonthlyHabits

I know you’ve all been wondering what happened in May.  Well, we went a month of no fried foods.  It was way harder than we anticipated, but we did it.  We also didn’t blog about it because life got busy.  So let’s move on…nothing to see here.

However, we have a lot to talk about for June.  June’s monthly habit has been home renovations! We’ve got two down and two more to go.  The first two were doozies so the next two will be a bit more decorative and budget friendly!

Project #1 – Front Natural Area Make Over

Caroline and I both hated the bushes in the front of the house.  They were just boring evergreen bushes, and they were dying.  Because of this blog, we finally decided to pull the trigger and hire someone to do the work.  🙂

Here’s a before picture – Sorry I should have gotten more before photos.  This photo is from the fall (obviously), but it shows those bushes (that we hate) really well.

We worked with Atlantic Avenue Orchard and Garden on this project.  They sent an expert over to help us walk through our plan.  I specifically asked for LOW MAINTENANCE plants and expanding the natural area to surround a few ground clean outs in our front yard.  The rest I left up to them.  I was very pleased with the job they did, and I highly recommend Mike and his team to anyone looking for landscape renovations.

Here are a few during and after photos:

Project #2 – Trim the Trees

I’ve been doing this myself for the last few years, but this time I hired another company, Bartlett Tree Experts.  I’ve taken numerous trips to the landfill to get rid of limbs and yard waste, and it’s exhausting and costs me $$$ every time.  Also, we have a lot of branches high in the trees that hard to get down safely.  I’ve done my fair share of cutting and running as the branch falls.

So here’s something you don’t read or say very often! We needed a professional arborist! And lo and behold, I was picking up dinner at Gatehouse Tavern about a month ago, and I met a guy named Allen who happened to be an arborist and worked for Bartlett.  I enjoyed talking with Allen so much that I hired his crew the next week.

Here are a couple of process photos just to show how many branches are really attached to trees.

Now here is a before and after photo that showcases both projects at complete.  The before photo is the Google Street View of our house, and the after photo is the one I just walked outside to take.

And the most important part?  The Mrs. approves of everything! Be on the lookout for the next two home renovations!

 

Abs Are Built in The Kitchen

…or at least that’s what I read on the interwebs.

For March, we slaved over hot ovens and greasy pans to cook two new recipes every week.  If I’m being honest, we mostly watched the most delicious magic happen in our crockpot, but we did it…

Well almost…

Our goal was to cook 8 recipes for March, and we made it 7.  We had an amazing Italian chicken recipe on deck for March 31, and then life happened and we wanted tacos.  However, we still found some amazing recipes so here is the breakdown with commentary

Week 1

Lee’s Chicken Enchiladas – Slap yo mama good.  Sorry Mom! Taste them first and see if you blame me.

Lemon Chicken – Courtesy of Nan (also the creator of the Magic Blanket) via the Grace Presbyterian Church Cook Book.  This is a lunch staple in our house now.  It’s an extremely easy crockpot recipe.  In fact, we are eating this for lunch this week.  Just pair this very easy crockpot recipe with some freshly steamed vegetables and it’s the perfect meal prep option.

Week 2

Sesame Chicken – This was a tangy Asian-fusion option from the crockpot. To be honest, I wasn’t a huge fan, but I could be willing to try this again as a dinner entree instead of with our lunches.

Chicken Casserole

Week 3

Chicken Spaghetti – I saw this on Facebook over a year ago and saved the video. Every now and then Facebook would remind me that I saved it so we used it.  It’s good, contains a lot of cheese (1 pound of Velveeta), and sits well after a hards day work. #comfortfood

Parmesan Chicken – This was a lunch option for us one day. Just a simple breaded parmesan chicken breast.  Very tasty and a good lunch choice.

Week 4

Taco Pie – Sounds weird, but it was super good. It’s a heavy duty meal though so we recommend using ground turkey instead of beef.

Italian Chicken – R.I.P. This will live to see another day!  Oh what could have been! If only tacos, margaritas, and queso weren’t so delicious!

Here’s what we’ve learned:

  1. We eat a lot of chicken.  Like a lot.  We spend a lot of money on chicken as well, and we buy it in bulk.
  2. We are picky about the type of chicken we use.
  3. We’ve definitely added a few recipes to our repertoire especially the enchiladas and lemon chicken.
  4. Crockpot=LOVE

April is all about fitness for us.  We are each committed to doing 25 pushups every day for the entire month of April! So far so good! I’ve started lifting weights regularly instead of just boxing as well.  I’m using the 5×5 Strong Lifts routine to keep it short and focused.  We will update you in a few weeks to let you know about our progress.  Expect an update with more aches and pains than anything else.

12 Monthly Habits – March Update

Can you believe it’s already March? I can because I just had to make my bed every day in February, and I hated it.

BUT…

We’ve kept it going. It does make the room look cleaner, which – if you know me – I like a clean room. In fact, on Monday morning, Caroline was out the door pretty quick for a morning meeting. And guess what?!?! I made the bed…BY MYSELF!

So I guess what I’m kinda saying is that despite my whining here, we will probably continue to make the bed.  It definitely generated a lot of discussion on facebook…

Then my Mom weighed in…

#LoveYouTooMom #TotallyKnowWhatSheMeansThough

So let’s move onto March.  March’s goal is to cook at least 2 new recipes each week.  Since March started in the middle of the week, we did just one new recipe last week.  Caroline cooked up a delicious lemon chicken in the crockpot that we used in our lunches.  This AH-mazing chicken recipe was super simple and is courtesy of Nan (also the maker of the Magic Blanket).  If you are interested, let us know and we will post the recipe in the comments.

For this week, Caroline got down and dirty in the kitchen again this week.  One of the great things about growing up in churches is that we have an endless supply of recipes to choose from.  We have lots of church recipes that include pounds of butter and multiple “pinches” of salt.  On Monday, we devoured a chicken enchilada recipe that was seriously good…like drooling just thinking about it good.  We’ve got plenty to go around if you want to stop over and try some.  It goes great with queso, but what doesn’t? (Answer: Nothing)

For the second recipe, Caroline has created a new chicken and rice recipe. Hard to go wrong there, but we haven’t had it yet so we will withhold judgment until a later blog post. Now before you say anything, I’ve noticed that Caroline has cooked the first three recipes, and I’ll be sure to do my fair share before the month is over!

If you would like any of the recipes, comment below and we will hook you up.