Guard Your Heart

FF412EF2-E311-4F00-9859-65D0582E5935A heart can break so easily. Life is filled with heartbreaking things, and no person is immune to heartbreak. Hurt from one’s children, the loss of a loved one, a marriage rife with anger, abuse by a trusted person, betrayal by a lifelong friend β€” all of these can leave a heart crushed.

How important it is, though, to find healing for our hearts, to find the healing balm that will ease the pain. We recall the comfort of Scripture that says, β€œDo not let your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” We lean on the everlasting arms that always hold us, we rest on the promise that β€œGod heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds,” (Psalm 147:3) and we hear again the tender words of the Psalmist.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

β€” Psalm 34:18

So we take these promises into our souls, and we give ourselves the time we need to heal our broken hearts. To be sure, the healing depends upon letting enough time pass for restoration to happen. Never do we heal on a swift timetable. The clock must move and the days must pass on our heartbreak. The weeks may well turn into months, even years. Yet we move ahead with confidence in our resiliency and faith in the Great Healer who abides with us for as long as it takes.

The final message is this: Be patient, but persevering, for the healing of your heart must be a life priority. Always guard your heart. Believe in the healing that will surely come. Know that your broken heart will mend as it rests in the hands of the One who heals every broken heart, every time, always.

Why is healing so important? It’s all about β€œthe springs of life.”

Above all else, guard your heart,
For from it flow the springs of life.

β€” Proverbs 4:23


Holy Wondering

7CD31664-E73F-4B6B-B168-4291D78B28DBWandering may well be a spiritual discipline. Many years ago, young Annie Morgan sang about it as she wandered in the hills and hollows of Appalachia. . . β€œI wonder as I wander out under the sky.”*

Wondering while we wander makes wandering a spiritual act. It is not merely aimless meandering. NorΒ is it rolling on pointlessly as if there is really nowhere to go. It is not wandering around in circles because we are hopelessly lost. It is more like a contemplative journey of discovery. J.R.R. Tolkien observed a truth about wandering. He said, β€œNot all those who wander are lost.”

We wander, most certainly, but might there be a purpose in our wandering? Suppose our wandering becomes a joy to us. Suppose we learn and grow as we wander about. Suppose our wandering leads us to a deeper relationship with God. Suppose in our wandering we do some wondering, looking up into the sky for new light and sparkling new thoughts that change our lives forever.

So I wonder . . . How are the stars set in their places? Apart from the certainties of astronomy, of course.

I wonder . . . Why does the sun rise every day, and then set in a wondrously painted sky at dusk making way for the rising of a luminous moon? Apart from the scientific explanation, of course.

Wondering is not about science at all. It is about discovery of beauty in most unlikely places. Perhaps it is about practicing mindfulness atop a majestic mountaintop, or contemplating life on the edge of the sea, or meditating in a forest filled with all manner of living things. It is about the exploration of the heart to know its deepest desires and longings. It is about looking into the soul, and there finding both the intense pain and the tender healing that completes a life.

A well known Christmas carol, β€œI Wonder as I Wander”* was first sung by young Annie Morgan, a destitute girl in Appalachian North Carolina. At a Christian fundraising meeting, Annie stepped out on the edge of the platform and stood before a crowd of people. Although she wore rags, unwashed and in shreds, she stood proudly. It is said that she smiled as she sang, β€œsmiled rather sadly, and sang only a single line of a song the people had never heard.”

I wonder as I wander out under the sky . . .

I imagine that Annie, a girl living in poverty, wondered about many things as she wandered through the Appalachian mountains. She probably wondered about the stars in the sky, the rising and setting of the sun, the brilliant moon that lit the path before her in the night. I imagine she wondered about God and about the ways God might be present with her. I imagine she wondered about herself and about what would become of her.Β Like her, we wander through this life, mostly alone.

As this is my very own blog, I can freely change tenses to say with great certainty that, as I have wandered through many years, I have grown by myself, but not alone. For as I wandered, I learned to wonder.

So I highly recommend wandering for the sole purpose of wondering. Our wondering might well reveal the longing in our hearts. Our wondering might lay bare the pain hidden in our souls, but also show us the balm of healing that dwells there. Our wondering might open up a place within us to hold God, all of God, more completely than ever before.

I don’t know about you, but I plan to do even more wandering. And on the journey, I will pour myself into some holy wondering. Who knows what I might discover!


* “I Wonder as I Wander” is a Christian folk hymn, typically performed as a Christmas carol, written by American folklorist and singer John Jacob Niles. The hymn has its origins in a song fragment collected by Niles on July 16, 1933.

While in the town of Murphy in Appalachian North Carolina, Niles attended a fundraising meeting held by group of evangelicals. In his unpublished autobiography, he wrote of hearing the song:

β€œA girl had stepped out to the edge of the little platform and began to sing. Her clothes were unbelievable dirty and ragged, and she, too, was unwashed. Her ash-blond hair hung down in long skeins…. But, best of all, she was beautiful, and in her untutored way, she could sing. She smiled as she sang, smiled rather sadly, and sang only a single line of a song.”

The girl, named Annie Morgan, repeated the fragment seven times in exchange for a quarter per performance, and Niles left with “three lines of verse, a garbled fragment of melodic material. In various accounts of this story, Niles hears between one and three lines of the song.

Based on this fragment, Niles composed the version of “I Wonder as I Wander” that is known today . . . His composition was completed on October 4, 1933. Niles first performed the song on December 19, 1933, at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina. It was originally published in Songs of the Hill Folk in 1934.

Looking into the Sky

C6F419F0-5C81-4A26-B890-76C7BCD762FCFor Christians around the world, the end of the Christmas holiday occurs on Epiphany, the 12th Day of Christmas. It commemorates how a star led the Magi, or the three kings or wise men, to the baby Jesus. Epiphany is about finding Jesus β€” again β€” in a fresh new way, looking into the light that has the power to change our lives.

In his homily on Friday before Epiphany, Pope Francis called on the faithful to be like the Magi, who, he said, continued to look at the sky, took risks and set out bearing gifts for Christ.

If we want to find Jesus, we have to overcome our fear of taking risks, our self-satisfaction and our indolent refusal to ask anything more of life. We need to take risks simply to meet a child. Those risks are immensely worth the effort, since in finding that child, in discovering his tenderness and love, we rediscover ourselves.

Looking into the sky and taking risks is a way of life for women. We have found the need to look up, above the hurts of our lives. We have looked into the sky to escape misogyny, discrimination, disrespect and abuse. We have looked into the sky to search the heavens for hope when we have felt only despair.

It has not been for us just a flighty inclination to retreat from unpleasant realities through fantasy. Instead our sky gazing has been a way to pour our souls into the kind of change that makes life worth living. We have dreamed improbable dreams. We have been wise. We have been brave and persistent. We have taken risks and defied whatever was holding us hostage. We have been determined emboldened and empowered. Β We have been inspired and ennobled. We have changed our world.

Like the three Wise Men, we journeyed, wise women in search of the child that would more fully empower us. Our desire and longing led us, like a fire burning within, until we found the flaming star in the night sky. And there we found Jesus β€” Β again. So we celebrated. We rejoiced, because Jesus wanted for us a new day, a new life of respect and well-being and inspiration and hope. That is epiphany. Amen.

A Prayer for Peace

A81E9F0E-2271-4149-9432-5B83AFE1AEBDLoving God, Creator of all,

Listen to the cries of our hearts as we await the coming of the Prince of Peace.

Hear us as we cry out in the midst of a world where peace is not a reality.

Comfort us as we reach out with heart and hand to our brothers and sisters in need.

Ennoble us to open our arms to those who are in exile.

Make our nation a hospitable land in which all people love their neighbors.

Forgive us for acts and words of hatred, exclusion and bigotry.

Grant us open hearts that care for all,
and help us walk in the image of Christ.


What do you do when you’re tired, very tired?


Photo by Steven Nawojczyk

For years, Steven Nawojczyk has been one of my heroes. Yesterday I posted on my blog one of his many beautiful photographs taken while enjoying nature with his delightful dog, Feebi. The two of them explore nature every day, taking in the extraordinary beauty of Arkansas. Steve has learned to immerse himself in the life-giving sights and sounds of creation. It is therapy, really, a time of re-creation for a person who spent his life as a public servant, immersing himself far too deeply in human tragedy.

In the early 90s, Steve was the county coroner in Pulaski County, Arkansas. He saw too much, felt too much, cared too much and investigated the deaths of far too many young people. Steve was the “face” of the 1994 documentary that gave Little Rock a years-long reputation as a haven for gangs β€” HBO’s β€œGang War: Bangin’ in Little Rock,” While that star billing turned him into a sought-after public speaker and educator throughout the country, it didn’t make him popular in Little Rock city government.

When HBO came to town, largely because of Steve’s urging, Little Rock was a city with a problem. Gang-related killings had spiked the murder count to a record high of 76 — a higher per capita murder rate than Los Angeles and New York. With the coming of crack and gang skirmishing to determine who would sell it and where, there were areas of where drugs could be purchased openly in the streets. Graffiti threats covered every wall, every bridge. Gang life had even spilled over into the suburbs, with white teens suddenly willing to do violence for their colors.

Steve Nawojczyk did not sit in his office in those days. Instead, he walked city streets, listening to gang members, hearing their life stories, holding before them the possibility of change and hope. But that kind of life commitment made him tired, more than tired.

Today, national media are again interested in the soaring murder rate in Little Rock, surmising that gangs are once again taking their place in the city. And they are calling Steve for interviews and information. This is, in part, Steve’s response to them:


I am not doing any interviews or returning phone calls about the LR night club shoot-out nor the current status of gangs. I’ve been saying the same things about it since the early 90s when I was the county coroner . . .

I will address one question all of the reporters, even the one from CNN, seem to be leaving on my voice mail- “…how does this compare to the gang wars of the early 90s when HBO came to town?”

Here’s my answer- ask the leaders in LIttle Rock this question since almost every single one of them were involved in one way or the other back then.

The current mayor was the prosecutor. The current city manager was in the city manager’s office. The current prosecutor was the chief deputy prosecutor. Many of the city board were around then as were many of the same preachers that are still preaching the same sermons. So, they should have been working to understand this and work to prevent it from recurring for the last 20 plus years. At least you would think . . . No need to reinvent the wheel, dudes.

So, I’m retired and tired, very tired. Thanks for thinking enough of my opinion to call me. But I’m done with it all, I’m tending to other more important personal battles right now. Paz y amor.

Steve Nawojczyk

So what does one do when they are tired, very tired? Again, Steve is our example.

Go out into the serene beauty of nature. Take in all that is right and good about God’s creation. Let the sunrise awaken your soul and the ripples of an Arkansas lake sooth your spirit. Let the weariness of the past fade into yesterday; let the present day give you strength; and lift your vision to the bright hope of tomorrow.



Steve and Feebi are restoring their souls in their daily adventures. They are opening themselves up to stunning sunrises and the gentle breezes of soul healing. So if you are tired, very tired, spend some time letting nature give you a fresh, new vision of the world.

And as Steve so often says, β€œPaz y amor.”

Telling My Myth


The village of Aperi, Karparthos, Dodecanese, Greece

A myth is a story that’s told again and again and serves to explain why something is the way it is. (

Our stories, the stories that emerge from living our lives, are myths. I tell a number of stories that my grandmother told me, from stories her grandmother told her. My Yiayia shared stories of life joys and life tragedies. She told stories of her losses and her fears. In tears, she told me about weddings and funerals, birthdays and name days. She told stories of faith and worship. She told me about all the ways God ordered her life.

Her stories, from her tiny island of Aperi in Greece to her later years in Alabama, became her life myth. So as I retold her stories and they became mine, my myth. It’s interesting that both my grandmother’s stories and mine tell of loss and pain, of dark moments that indelibly mark life.

Those dark moments make us who we are. They become an eternal part of our myth, our story that is told again and again as the years pass. The myth we tell reveals why Β life is the way it is. The telling is the cleansing that makes life bearable and meaningful. The myth we tell is full of the kind of power that propels us and gives us wings.

The truth is that we are our tragedies, even more than we are our joys. Joseph Campbell writes about the power of myth.

One thing that comes out in myths is that at the bottom of the abyss comes the voice of salvation. The black moment is the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come. At the darkest moment comes the light.

― Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

(From The Edge, a beautifully written blog;

I will always tell my myth, because in the telling, I find boldness and perseverance for my life. In the telling, I find inspiration. The myth I tell definitely speaks of “the bottom of the abyss.” It also tells of the transformation that I find in the abyss. My myth proclaims with strong certainty that, in my darkest moments, I always found the light.

The Lord is my light and my salvationβ€”
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my lifeβ€”
of whom shall I be afraid?

– Psalm 27:1, New International Version

Today We Remember


Today, April 4th, marks the 49th anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. A minister, a change-agent, an advocate for equality, Dr. King was a civil rights leader whose message of non-violence inspired generations.

At 39 years of age, he was fatally shot at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. King, who was in Memphis that day to show solidarity for striking sanitation workers, delivered one of his most famous speeches on April 3 at the Mason Temple Church in Memphis. Toward the end of the speech, he referred to threats against his life and used language that seemed to foreshadow his impending death, yet he reaffirmed that he was not afraid to die. His words hung in the air as an ominous predictor of what was to occur the next day.

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.

And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life; longevity has its place.

But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will.

And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land.

I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.

So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

Just after 6:00 p.m. on the following day, Dr. King and a group of others were standing on the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel when he was hit in the neck by a single bullet. He was taken to the hospital where he was pronounced dead later that evening.

For all of us, for all persons of compassion and good will, for a world filled with racism, his death was a deeply felt loss. We remember his eloquence. We remember his tenacity. We remember his faith and his courage. Today, we remember and we honor his legacy

When I Die: An Epitaph



When I die, give what’s left of me away
to children and old men that wait to die.

And if you need to cry,
cry for your brother walking the street beside you.

And when you need me, put your arms around anyone
and give them what you need to give me.

I want to leave you something,
something better than words or sounds.

Look for me in the people I have known or loved,
and if you cannot give me away,
at least let me live in your eyes and not in your mind.

You can love me best by letting hands touch hands,
and by letting go of children that need to be free.

Love doesn’t die, people do.
So when all that’s left of me is love,
give me away.

– Epitaph By Merrit Malloy

In celebration of the life of Elizabeth Scott Hankins . . . Libby

June 16, 1993 – March 17, 2017


The Light in the Harbor


Photo from the February 13-20 cover of the New Yorker magazine featuring the light of the Statue of Liberty snuffed out.

Lady Liberty’s torch went out last night due to a power failure. New York harbor was absent her light. There was even online speculation that the move was deliberate, to show solidarity with the “Day Without A Woman” inequality protests taking place today. We will possibly make more of this than we should, seeing the loss of her light as a commentary on our times. For certainly these days, some of our citizens experience the light going out on their freedom.

For those young people we call Dreamers, the light seems dim and their dreams seem to be in jeopardy. For our Muslim brothers and sisters, freedom’s light has dimmed. For Mexicans seeking refuge, there is the shadow of an unwelcoming dividing wall. Women once again fear the affliction of inequality.

Is it true? Has freedom’s light really gone dark in our country? Is there no light in the harbor?

The answer is a resounding “No!”

The Light was out for only two hours. What is more important is that America — the land of diversity, freedom, welcome and acceptance — will endure. The Statue of Liberty lights the harbor again, and the inscription on her base will remain as a testimony of welcome to the immigrants, immigration ban notwithstanding.

Inscribed on the base of the statue is the poem that Emma Lazarus penned in 1883. Protesters across the country cite the Moving poem as a clear argument against President Donald Trump’s travel ban and immigration crackdowns.

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

God grant that America will always welcome the tired, the poor, from every corner of the world.



Today you are being handed a towel of servanthood with your name on it.

Those are words written by Nancy Hastings Sehested for my ordination service on March 29, 1992. From that day to this, the power of that towel has been a part of my life. I won’t lie. There have been times when I wanted to lay it aside, get out from under the high calling it symbolized.

In 1996, I was presented an actual towel of servanthood by my church family. That towel has remained with me, a reminder of God’s sacred call to ministry. I took it out of its box last week and contemplated the flood of memories it holds.

I thought of patients I encountered as a hospital chaplain. I remembered their pain and suffering as if it happened yesterday. I remembered baptizing a stillborn child as her parents held her close.

I remembered the mother who prayed for a miracle in the hospital chapel after her son was injured in a car accident and declared brain dead by the doctor. I remembered the very moment he miraculously woke up and started his path toward healing.

I remembered the funeral of one of my church members, also a dear friend. I remembered the sheer joy of living and working with the people of Uganda. I remembered the day I preached my first sermon as a pastor.

I am grateful that the Holy Spirit abides with me and reminds me of my call — the grief, the pain, the labor, and most of all the joys. Remembering inspires me.

The Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and remind you of everything that I have told you.

– John 14:26

Today, I placed my towel of servanthood in a visible place so that I would see it every day. That’s where it really needs to be, to help me remember.