Posts by Mark Edwards

Happy Anniversary

Early church Sunday was very meaningful even though school spring breaks in full bloom resulted in lower attendance in every respect, although I don’t fret about such like I used to. Making a point in this installment of his Lenten sermon series -- “whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant” -- senior pastor Davis mentioned that he and a half-dozen others were leaving that afternoon to go to Amman, Jordan on a mission related to the refugee crisis in that part of the world. “We’ve talked about this situation long enough; we want to try to DO something about it!” That was one example of being a servant, but not all acts are or even need to be of that magnitude.

Later he reported that long-time BUMC member Elizabeth Hill died last week and her memorial service was Friday. Elizabeth’s ministry was making shawls for people who were ill or otherwise needed to sense the warmth of God’s love or the support of God’s people wrapped around them in times of crisis. She and several other women would gather at the church one day a week to knit shawls and pray for persons in need. (Davis affectionately refers to that bunch as “The Knit-pickers.”) He said the Jordan mission team would be taking eight of Elizabeth’s shawls to Amman this week to share with some of the refugees, extending her servant heart that expressed itself in specific action.

That’s when it hit me -- Honey received one of Elizabeth’s shawls when she was sick; one of the pastoral care ministers had brought it to her. Honey loved that shawl and was so touched by their kindness and inclusiveness. After the service I rushed home and found the shawl, laundered and stored in her cedar chest at the foot of our bed. I scribbled a note, put both in a bag and returned to the church. The contemporary service in progress in the sanctuary, Leslie, the church’s Executive Director happened to be in her office adjacent to the narthex. I handed her the bag, shared the shawl’s history, and asked her to see if she could get it in one of the suitcases bound for Amman later in the day that “Honey would be all over this!” (All of us who knew Honey well would readily agree.) Leslie’s face lit up as her eyes filled up. I explained that this week -- actually Friday -- is the two-year anniversary of Honey’s death and sending her treasured shawl to a refugee halfway around the world would absolutely delight her and be the most appropriate way to remember and celebrate who she was.

(The most amazing part of this whole incident is that I put it all together. Maybe I AM beginning to catch on to some of this.)

Leaving worship Sunday a text from daughter Weslee reported that Jonathan (12) and Andrew (9) had made their professions of faith at their church. Their child-like faith has been blooming for some time, they have been talking about it awhile and have decided to follow Jesus. Whoa! Can anyone else besides me see Honey’s wide smile from here? If schedules can be worked out, the boys’ two grandfathers will baptize them. Will that be cool or what!

Like many of you, I seldom answer or even use my home phone. For some time now, its most important function remains as a repository for telemarketing messages. Sure, I check it when the message light is blinking but nine times out of ten it is someone trying to sell me something. They have no idea what a waste of time that is. However, getting dinner together one night last week I noticed the blinking light feverishly signaling a message -- this one from Nettie Hunt.  NETTIE HUNT! Holy smoke, that’s Honey’s chemo friend who became like a sister to her. You may remember reading about Nettie in some of Honey’s early Facebook updates that made their way into the Notes From Susie book. They loved each other, they were about the same age, and those gals had a big time traveling a hard road together. I called Nettie when Honey died but today she was calling me to see how I was doing coming up on March 24. We had the nicest visit, she’s doing fine, I sent her a copy of the book, and we committed to stay in touch. What an unexpected blessing!

I’ve never been particularly good at celebrating anniversaries, but celebrating Honey on this second anniversary of her death is off to a good start -- two grandsons declaring their faith, reconnecting with Nettie, and a shawl shared with a Jordanian refugee. Add to all that a visit to the cemetery last Saturday with my brother and Nathan coming to town later this week that includes catfish on Friday, the words of hymnwriter Fanny Crosby come quickly to mind – “what have I to ask beside?”

While we’re at it, we might as well sing the rest of Fanny’s hymn; sing it with me, you know it –

All the way my Savior leads me;
     what have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy,
     who through life has been my guide?

Heavenly peace, divinest comfort,
     here by faith in Him to dwell!
For I know whate’er befalleth,
     Jesus doeth all things well.

All the way my Savior leads me;
     cheers each winding path I tread,
     give me grace for every trial,
     feeds me with the living bread;
     though my weary steps may falter
     and my soul athirst may be,
     gushing from the rock before me,
     lo! a spring of joy I see.

All the way my Savior leads me;
     oh, the fullness of His love!
Perfect rest to me is promised
     in my Father’s house above:
     when my spirit, clothed immortal,
     wings its flight to realms of day,
     this my song through endless ages:
     Jesus led me all the way.

Words – Fanny Crosby, 1875

Happy Anniversary, Honey!


Days of Darkness

Last week began on the negative side of my mental ledger. Of late, several things in which I’m involved have not been going particularly well or as I had planned, so already by Tuesday morning clouds outside and within had blown in -- one of those “days of darkness” the hymnwriter talked about. During the second half of my life I’ve become a fairly positive person, but the early part of last week, I was just plain sad.

I have never forgotten one point our pastor Frank made in his sermon the Sunday after 9/11, the essence of which was “when things in life are dark, keep your routine, doing what you know to do, and look for a handle to grab onto…” His text was Psalm 25, what my Bible calls an “Acrostic Prayer for Instruction.” Each stanza of that psalm begins with the letter in order of the Hebrew alphabet. That day Frank surmised that the psalmist may have been in the midst of a dark day or perhaps a national crisis – as we were post 9/11 -- and grabbed a hold of any available handle on which to hang his personal routine.

Normally on Tuesday mornings my Belmont Bible study group meets but with several of our seven being out, we didn’t meet last week. Some of you know my recent routine has included walking a couple of miles inside Cool Springs Mall before heading to the office nearby. So, sans Bible study I decided to keep the morning walk ritual secretly hoping I might encounter one of my new mall friends or even make a new one.

Periodically, I had noticed and waved to a gentleman who always seemed to walk alone and whom I had not met. Monday (the previous day) I had seen him again, waved cordially across the divide when the thought crossed my mind that, for whatever reason, he may have never connected with any other mallers and perhaps our paths would naturally cross one of these days at which time I would break the ice.

Sure enough, the very next day -- dark Tuesday -- halfway around the perimeter of the food court on my first of four laps, through the outside door walked this gentleman whom I greeted and fell into lockstep never breaking stride. It couldn’t have been choreographed any more seamlessly…and I’m not making this up.

Meet Reece. He is retired from mostly the retail and wholesale hardware business so with my liking of hardware we had a lot to talk about. I enjoyed a short history of the hardware business in downtown nearby Franklin. In our early days in middle Tennessee the kids and I even bought a few things in his store and he may well have waited on us. He is a long-time member of Walker Memorial Baptist Church in Franklin and knows my friends Jana and Tommy, both of whom are former music directors at his church. We both remembered fondly Jana’s daughter Laura, whom, apparently, Reece’s wife taught in preschool Sunday School and later as a real smart Vanderbilt student sang in the Sanctuary Choir at our church downtown after I retired. One morning during worship Laura sang a solo I’ll never forget -- not the song, but her authentic delivery of it. It was a simple, childlike song -- just right for her voice and spirit. I didn’t hear or need anything else that morning. After church she told me it was her first time to sing a solo in worship.

Leaving the mall, the clouds outside were still there but the ones inside had all but vanished. A new friend and remembering a couple of high moments in worship lifted my spirit noticeably -- a helping handle in my routine.

I’m pressing on the upward way,
     new heights I’m gaining every day;
     still praying as I onward bound,
     “Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”

My heart has no desire to stay
     where doubts arise and fears dismay;
     though some may dwell where these abound,
     my prayer, my aim is higher ground.

I want to live above the world
     though Satan’s darts at me are hurled;
     for faith has caught the joyful sound,
     the song of saints on higher ground.

I want to scale the utmost height
     and catch a gleam of glory bright;
     but still I’ll pray till heaven I’ve found,
     “Lord, lead me on to higher ground.”

(All together on the Chorus)

Lord, lift me up and let me stand,
     by faith, on heaven’s table-land,
     a higher place than I have found;
     Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.

Words – Johnson Oatman, Jr. – 1892

Those are good words to sing and live into, for sure; but the fact remains that, in this life, not every day is higher and brighter and better. But in times of downness, darkness and danger, sometimes in keeping our routine earnestly pressing, praying and aiming for the upward way, the Lord somehow places our feet on higher ground. That day Reece and remembering Laura together was part of God’s lifting me up and helping me stand.

Thanks be to God!

- Mark

A Day of Birth

In recent years March 7 has become a day to remember for me. It is a day of birth:

March 7, 2008 – grandson Andrew was born. Andrew is daughter Weslee’s middle son and has the healthiest head of red hair and corresponding freckles you ever saw. He is one cute kid! Andrew is the biggest of her three and the most tender-hearted. He’s the one that will get up off the floor from watching TV or playing a video game to give me a hug and say “I love you, Papa” or in the middle of something else blurt out of nowhere, “I miss Honey!” Papa loves that not-so-little football lineman boy. Andrew’s special two-year-old friend Anna Kate’s funeral was last March 7, 2016.

March 7, 2010 – the day Celebrating Grace Hymnal was born. After four years of intense, rewarding, joy-filled work, we rolled out that book two consecutive nights at Atlanta’s Second Ponce de Leon Baptist Church to a house full of church musicians. We sang the stars down, I’m telling you! I’ll never forget the sight of Tom and Julie McAfee trying to sing through the tears as we all belted out “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name.” That book was his dream and it had come to life before our eyes. In his remarks that opening night, Terry York reminded us that the main test of a hymnal is “Does it sing?” and that night did it ever. And it still does! I have had more than my fair share of high moments in music ministry through the years, but none higher than that those two nights.   


March 7, 2013 marks the birth of “Notes from Susie.” Honey’s first surgery just completed, standing in a hospital hall, I noticed my phone flooded with emails, texts, and voice messages. Overwhelmed trying to figure out how I could respond to it all, Weslee calmly said, “we start a Facebook page.” We did, she hosted, and what a blessing it was to Honey and me, both in the writing of messages and receiving responses from people we knew and some we didn’t know. By the grace and goodness of God, that informational vehicle morphed into an almost daily “relief valve” for Honey and me to vent our fears and gratitude, our faith and grief – frequently expressed and nurtured through words of timeless and time-honored hymns. And then came the book!

Here is a hymn in the Celebrating Grace Hymnal written to be sung at the beginning of a calendar new year. But March 7 seems to begin a sort of new year for me, so let’s sing it today. The tune is the one to which we sing “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow” (itself not a bad choice for an occasion as this.)

Great God, we sing your guiding hand
     by which supported still we stand;
     the opening year Your mercy shows;
     that mercy crowns it till its close.

By day, by night, at home, abroad,
     still we are guarded by our God;
     by His incessant bounty fed,
     by His unerring counsel led.

With grateful hearts the past we own;
     the future, all to us unknown,
     we to Your guardian care commit,
     and peaceful leave before Your feet.

In scenes exalted or depressed,
     You are our joy, You are our rest;
     Your goodness all our hopes shall raise,
     adored through all our changing days.

Words – Phillip Doddridge (based on Acts 26:22)

I doubt that hymn has made any list of Top 10. But it certainly is good fodder for straddling a pivotal occasion, seeing/celebrating what lies behind and striking out on yet another lap led by God’s guiding hand. 

Thanks be to God for March 7. Onward!

- Mark

Blue Monday

This photo leads me to wonder if yesterday was Blue Monday at Cool Springs Mall.

We couldn’t get Al to stop long enough take off his jacket or to come down from the ladder and show his face.

He said “we have a lot of work to do today.” 

Angelo (center) protested “Aw, Al come on-a down. How long does it take to have-a your picture made? You don’t-a have many people want to take-a your picture every day!”

Betty (age 95) readily parked her rolling basket with jacket and hand weights in the bottom of it long enough to join us and seemed to delight in the photo op.

Ernie -- also wearing blue -- was nearby but he was the party pooper.

In a matter of about 20 seconds everyone was back in stride working, walking, or pooping.

A few minutes later and approaching my exit, Bill Long was just arriving and assumed his pace. I rounded the corner to make another lap, looked up and noticed that he had turned around, held up his pace, and waited for me to join him. We had a nice visit for an entire lap swapping stories about Nashville area churches to which we have belonged. The Longs were long-time members of Crievewood Baptist but have been members at Brentwood Baptist fifteen or so years.  Daughter Gina who lives in Austin TX keeps him up on her friends Tana and Julie all three of whom were in our choir down at First Baptist as younger adults. Good musicians all three and I still love those gals.

How cool it is to think of all the wonderful people who have crossed our path in almost forty years in Nashville. Through those years Honey would often comment how blessed we were in that regard and I would always readily agree. The other day Beth Taylor called out of the blue just to catch up a little. Beth and I were on staff together in my early years at FBC. She was part-time children’s minister and most of that time she and Rubynelle Dixon (part-time preschool minister) shared a too-small office together. Of course, any office would be too small for those gals. Oh my soul, did we have too much fun during those days! Sometimes in staff meeting we’d fight like siblings, but we also loved each other like brothers and sisters. Those two women raising teenagers at that time could say things and tell stories that would make you laugh all day. Sweet Rubynelle died a few years ago and Beth and hubby Bob are not able to come to church much, but thinking about them absolutely God-blesses me still.

I told my Dad the other day that one thing I want to do is think of as many people as I can who have touched my life in a special way and write a page or two about each one. I wish my Dad had done that very thing. I better get started on that project because there certainly are many on the list. Perhaps I’m not the only who needs to do a project like that and hasn’t.

Here is a two hundred year old hymn that still appears in many hymnals today. It is that timeless:

Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love;
     the fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.

Before our Father’s throne we pour our ardent prayers;
    our fears, our hopes, our aims are one, our comforts and our cares.

We share our mutual woes, our mutual burdens bear;
     and often for each other flows the sympathizing tear.

When we asunder part, it gives us inward pain;
     but we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again.

Words – John Fawcett, 1782

Thank you, God, for the people you have placed in our path and the tie that binds us together. And thanks for new people we continue to meet; help us to represent you well to them.

- Mark

(No) Alternative Facts

Surely you’ve noticed all the new terms in vogue skirting the issue of lying. First there was “fake news,” then “alternative facts,” and more recently “incomplete information” was added to the lexicon. (Any day now, I expect “intentional misleading” to burst onto the scene.) The main thing, if not the ONLY thing missing from that last week’s “incomplete information” was the truth. How is one to know what to expect, what the reality of nearly any situation actually is, who is trustworthy, how to plan, on and on amid blatant lying no matter what you call it?

A pastor with whom I worked early on in my music ministry made it abundantly clear to me that the impression left with a parishioner over a particular matter was more important that the actual words said. He was absolutely right and as you can tell, I’ve never forgotten it.

Thank Goodness Christian faith has a perfectly reliable source that neither misleads nor delivers alternative facts. Although the Bible is not inerrant or infallible – there are conflicting accounts of more than one biblical event – still its message is complete, true and trustworthy.

The hymnwriter knew this when he wrote –

Word of God, across the ages comes the message to our life;
     source of hope forever present in our toil and fear and strife;
     constant witness to God’s mercy, still our grace whate’er befall,
     guide unfailing, strength eternal, offered freely to us all.

Story of the wondrous journey from the shadows of the night;
     garnered truth of sage and prophet, guiding forward into light;
     words and deeds of Christ our Master, pointing to the life and way,
     still appealing, still inspiring, ‘mid the struggles of today.

In the tongues of all the peoples may the message bless and heal,
     as devout and patient scholars more and more its depths reveal.
     Bless, O God, to wise and simple, all the truth of ageless worth,
     till all lands receive the witness and Your knowledge fills the earth.

Words – Ferdinand Q. Blanchard, 1953

But even the Bible is not God’s only word or final word. God still delivers His reliable word to people today, sometimes through the Bible, but also by other means and in other ways. Another hymnwriter knew this when she wrote “beyond the sacred page, I seek Thee, Lord.”

Fake news? No. Alternative facts? Not hardly. Intentional misleading? Never.

“All [we] have needed, Thy hand [and word] hath provided.”

- Mark


Recently in this spot we talked a little about one’s outlook on life. Yesterday, I met Exhibit A of the “glass half-full” sort.

Only a few days into my two-month-old morning mall walk routine, Diane, who seems to know all the walkers by name and history, introduced me to Betty, an older woman strolling along at a slower pace pushing a basket cart. That day Diane stopped to visit with Betty and I barely broke stride not wanting to impose on their lady-talk. Since that day I’ve seen Betty off and on, waved and greeted across the other side, and moved on.

Last Monday midway around the “block’ I pulled up beside her and her cart –

“Good morning, Betty. I have a burning question I’ve wanted to ask.”

“Really?” she said looking a little startled and puzzled, but with a smile.

“Are you pushing that thing or is it pulling you?”

Her face relaxed and she snickered, “Probably a little of both.”

“How long have you been walking this mall?”

“I moved here about fifteen years ago and been walking it since.”

“Where did move from?”


“Did you see Atlanta lose the Super Bowl the other night?”

“Yes I did. That was awful, wasn’t it!”

We walked on carrying on a conversation about this and that.  It turns out that Betty’s niece was a member of FBC, Nashville, some fifty years ago and married Robert Denny who, at one time, was General Secretary of the Baptist World Alliance. I knew Dr. Denny only by reputation. Small world.

Betty and I have both lost our spouses. Her husband ended his long battle with depression twenty-nine years ago by taking his own life. 

“Depression is tough battle and losing him was hard for me. I did all I could trying to help him for a lot of years, but there’s only so much you can do.”

Nearing the mall south entrance, she grabbed her coat in the bottom of the basket.

“Are you done?” I asked.

“Yeah, one lap is enough for a person my age.” 

“Oh, you’re not old.”

“Yes I am and I’m not as healthy as I used to be.”

“Aw, how old are you?”


“You’re not 95!”

“Oh yes I am, every day of it.”

“You are remarkable at 95! You have a bright spirit, you’re friendly, you’re out here staying in shape and visiting with people. Good for you!”

“I’m doing what I can and I enjoy it.”

I helped her finish putting on her coat and resumed my walk as she and her trusted cart headed out the door toward the parking lot. My last lap was consumed thinking about this dear soul with enough zest for life even at age 95 to get up before the break of every morning, drive to the mall to get in a healthy walk. I don’t know if she is a person of faith although her countenance makes me think she is; I’ll find out in a few mornings and let you know.

We probably all hope to have a zest for life as long as we live. If the recent NPR life-outlook guest/guru was correct and the scientific research she referenced is accurate, a glass half-full outlook is something we must practice along the way, ahead of the fourth quarter. For some it will come easier than for others.

People like Betty are an inspiration to me. Perseverance is a word that comes to mind; grit is another. With all she’s been through for as long as she’s lived, I can’t help admire her and marvel at the sparkle still in her eyes. 

Here’s an old hymn in the Perseverance section of the Celebrating Grace Hymnal.

What a fellowship, what a joy divine,
     leaning on the everlasting arms;
     what a blessedness, what a peace is mine,
     leaning on the everlasting arms.

Oh, how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way,
     leaning on the everlasting arms;
     oh, how bright the path grows from day to day,
     leaning on the everlasting arms;

What have I to dread, what have I to fear,
     leaning on the everlasting arms?
I have blessed peach with my Lord so near,
     leaning on the everlasting arms;

[Ok, sing the refrain with me…with parts and echoes]

Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms;
    leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.

            Words – Elisha Hoffman, 1887

Sunday, the Brentwood United Methodists sang a bit of that hymn like a bunch of rowdy Baptists. Gregg, their Baptist-trained organist turned that instrument inside out sounding like a single-stanza revival meetin’. It was great! Upon completion and en route to the kneeling rails for the morning prayer, the Liturgist (also former Baptist) remarked “something tells me that’s not the first time y’all have sung that hymn!” He was right and we all laughed in assent.

It appears Betty is sweetly walking in this pilgrim way; observing her encourages me to do the same. 95? Holy smoke!

- Mark

Half Full, Half Empty

Listening to NPR recently between my morning mall-walk and the office, there was a feature piece about outlooks on life, posing the question “are you a glass half-full or glass half-empty person?” The guest expert talked about observable and not-as-obvious characteristics of both life perspectives, health effects each tends to produce, career advancement and related earning power, and even life expectancy.

My heritage and DNA definitely slants toward the half-empty. I love my father but, bless his heart, he has lived 90 years looking at the underside of nearly everything. From a hundred paces, he has always been able to spot the risk and danger of nearly any action or situation and act accordingly to mitigate every one of them. Admittedly, such served him -- and us -- well in many cases. For instance, when I was very young, he and I built some fairly sizable pieces of furniture but he never had a power saw because he “couldn’t afford to lose a finger.” We were a single income family of six and he was a jeweler/watch repairman. The loss or even damage to a finger would severely impede his ability to make a living. Good thinking, Dad! And thanks! On cold winter nights, we turned off all the heat in our drafty little country house so awful things wouldn’t happen as we slept warmed by gas heat. He was ingenious at figuring out safeguards against all manner of things that could go wrong and in nearly every case they worked and apparently diverted disaster.

Unfortunately though, his careful, creative caution as a young man has, over the years, gradually morphed into preoccupation with impending doom as an old man to the point that his glass is no longer half empty but done dry. For a couple of years his total focus by day and by night is on what he can no longer do so he misses relative enjoyment of what is still within his capability. To say he is miserable -- sharing it liberally with his four offspring – is an understatement.

As already suggested, this apple did fall far from that tree although through the years there have been a couple occasions when people have called out my default gloomful outlook admonishing me to approach life differently. The one that made so deep an impression that I’ve never forgotten it was my seminary piano teacher – or more accurately, the substitute teacher standing in for my assigned teacher who was on sabbatical that year.

It was the year for my senior recital so the pressure was on both of us. Rhealene the sub was short of stature, a sweet, gentle never-married gal, and a highly competent musician. Not long into the fall semester I must have shown up in her studio “poor me-ing” about something or some such. When I finally wound down, she delivered a most powerful lesson the essence of which was that Christians of all people have the most reason to be positive, that the outlook we project in life presents our witness of faith and that a hope-filled outlook is part of what the Apostle Paul would call our reasonable service. Obviously I’ve never forgotten her powerful words although along with the hymn writer occasionally “days of darkness still come o’er me.”

Luckily, my Mom was also half of my lineage – the brighter half. But even greater than that, after nearly forty-five years of marriage, I seem to have inherited more Honey than DNA from either parent. That gal Honey was at least a half-fuller -- mostly-full may be more accurate. Honey was adaptable to nearly any situation, believed that people and things would be and would get better; she was quick to forgive and offer second chances because she took delight in people.

The NPR expert indicated that for some, becoming a half-full person is a learned attitude, that it has to be practiced until it becomes one’s default. She concluded with two simple things a person can do at the end every day to begin moving toward with a half-full attitude:

1. Write down what you did to be kind, to make life better for someone else. 

2. Make a list of things you have to be grateful for.

Ah, now I better understand why Honey’s glass was so full all the way to the bitter end – she had spent considerable time over sixty-three years making life better for others and was absolutely filled with gratitude even in life’s low places. Hopefully, a good dose of that has rubbed off on me and for that I am grateful.

If on this Ground Hog Day you have already given up on your New Year’s resolution(s) to lose ten pounds and/or get more exercise you might try daily logging your acts of kindness and listing objects of gratitude. I haven’t been actually logging and listing but I am consciously looking for and looking at.

One sure-fire way to improve your outlook is to live into this nearly two hundred year old hymn:

When morning guilds the skies, my heart awaking cries,
     may Jesus Christ be praised!
Alike at work and prayer to Jesus I repair;
     may Jesus Christ be praised!

(My favorite stanza)

The night becomes as day when from the heart we say,
     may Jesus Christ be praised!
The powers of darkness fear when this sweet song they hear,
     may Jesus Christ be praised!

Ye realms of humankind in this your concord find:
     may Jesus Christ be praised!
Let all the earth around ring joyous with the sound:
     may Jesus Christ be praised!

In heaven’s eternal bliss the loveliest strain is this,
     may Jesus Christ be praised!
Let earth, and sea, and sky from depth to height reply,
     may Jesus Christ be praised!

Words – Katholisches Gesangbuch, 1882

This is one of the hymns I have committed to memory and every time, EVERY time I repeat it, my soul is refreshed and my gaze is lifted.

- Mark

Goodness and Mercy Shall Follow

I've been waiting to tell this story for nearly two weeks, but now that Sunday is over, I can. As mentioned in an earlier post or two, for more than two years I have served as chair of our church's Bicentennial Celebration Steering Committee which doesn't happen until 2020. (It takes more time for some of us to get things done than others.)

Early on, we came up with a prop to help our church leadership -- mainly deacons, decision-makers, and gate-keepers -- begin to wrap their minds around two hundred years in order to grasp the significance of the occasion, determine what level of Celebration they expected, and thus would support administratively and financially. The simple prop consisted of a narrow and thin plank of plywood, sixty inches in length, well-sized for demonstration in a committee meeting room, Sunday School department, or even a deacons meeting in Fellowship Hall. Into the plank we drilled holes to place flags as we identified significant events in our almost two-century history -- a sort of visible time-line. And people seemed to "get it."

Our pastor decided the entire congregation should see the presentation and invited us to deliver it in "big church" which we did this past Sunday, some two hundred Sundays before the end of year 2020. The problem though, was our meeting room sized prop would be underwhelming in our some 1500-seat sanctuary; a serious upscale was necessary. 

Last fall I mentioned to Wilburn, church Property Committee chair, that I needed a large rough-sawn timber from one of our older buildings. He said it would not be any problem, that they were preparing to renovate the fourth floor of our chapel building -- a 1927 model. They would be removing the floor down to the joists and would cut out a section of floor joist for our purposes and replace it with a new one. In a few weeks Wilburn reported back all the joists were smooth-planed and thus probably not what I had in mind. He was right! He went on to suggest that perhaps there would be something suitable toward the top of our iconic steeple that sits on the corner of 7th and Broadway and that he would talk to the renovation crew foreman about helping me scout and "acquire" it. 

Thanksgiving and Christmas came and went -- no timber -- and knowing our presentation was slated for January 22, I was getting nervous. Not just any lift could snake into the opening at the base of the steeple, so more delay. Five days into the new year, I told Wilburn that I would come to the church "next Tuesday morning (1/10) after Bible study, meet the foreman with the lift and go up into the steeple myself" to see if there was anything we could use. Foreman Brandon met me there and hoisted me to the hatch door at the bottom of the enclosed part of the steeple. 

There are three or four levels inside that structure, each accessed by a sturdy, well-preserved ladder permanently secured top and bottom. Wilburn had told me, if nothing else, Brandon could take one of those ladders apart and we could use one of the vertical stretchers as our timber. I led the way up the series of ladders to about the third level where I spotted a timber that appeared to be a vertical brace tying in the west and south walls of that 1886 structure. My tape measure three inches thick, six inches wide, eight feet long. Holy smoke, that's almost exactly what I need if we can just get it loose and get it down. Bumping it with the heel of my hand -- what? The bloomin' thing wasn't attached to anything; it was just lying there. I shouted to Brandon on the level below me -- "Found it!" I was so excited. Finally, after these many weeks, we have our timber! We are home free!

We carefully eased it down two or three flights of ladder, onto the lift, and finally to the ground. That timber was beautiful in the full light of day and just what we needed. I carried it into the sanctuary placing it on a couple of flower pedestals, adjusting the height with hymnals to ascertain how tall to build the permanent supports. I loaded it in the back of my SUV and made a couple of stops -- one to order a foot long piece of Plexiglas to match the timber's profile and another to my cabinetmaking friend to make a single carefully placed cut in one end. Sharing the punchline of my project with those two vendors, both were as excited about it as I was. 

Later that afternoon our daughter Weslee called; I shared that story and my excitement about finally having located suitable timber for our presentation. Her immediate response was "that thing was just up there waiting for you, Dad! God was saying 'I've got this!" Her comment stopped me in my tracks. In all my excitement finding, extricating, measuring, sizing, and running around, the thought that God's hand could have been a part of this provision never even crossed my mind. I'm not ready to say that God placed that rough-sawn timber high in that tower and has protected it since 1886 until this day and for this purpose, nor am I ready to say that He didn't. It will always be a mystery and I'm okay with that. Maybe I'll remember to ask Him about it when I get there. 

Here's a hymn about far weightier matters than an eight-foot rough-sawn timber in a historic church steeple, but it does express God's care and provision for us in all of life and beyond. It is based on Psalm 23. 

The King of love my Shepherd is, 
     whose goodness faileth never;
     I nothing lack if I am His
     and He is mine forever. 

Where streams of living water flows, 
     my ransomed soul He leadeth,
     and, where the verdant pastures grow,
     with food celestial feedeth.

Perverse and foolish, oft I strayed, 
     but yet in love He sought me, 
     and on His shoulders gently laid,
     and home, rejoicing, brought me. 

In death's dark vale I fear no ill
     with Thee, dear Lord, beside me;
     Thy rod and staff my comfort still, 
     Thy cross before to guide me.

And so through all the length of days
     Thy goodness faileth never:
     good Shepherd, may I sing Thy praise
     within Thy house forever.

Words -- Henry W. Baker, 1868

If you care to see how we used the timber, see the photo or video below. 

- Mark

Bicentennial Tiber Presentation


Morning mall-walking continues and becomes more and more serendipitous.

A couple weeks ago in the “Lost Cajun” installment of this blog, I mentioned Boompa, my late father-in-law. Early on, walking Cool Springs Mall I noticed an older gentleman also lapping the place every morning. Walking behind him, his gait and speed, his height, both bowed knees that created the same slight limp, and even his cap reminded me mightily of Boompa. I wish those of you who knew Boompa could observe Robert walk every morning – you wouldn’t believe the similarity either. 


Robert’s photo makes him look taller than my father-in-law, but my new friend is only a little slimmer – they were likely the same size at Robert’s age of 71. Boompa claimed walking on concrete floors in his grocery stores all those years took its toll on his knees causing his slight limp. Today I caught up with Robert and in conversation asked him what kind of work he did while in the workforce. You guessed it – Kroger, 42 years. The take-away here – if you want bad knees and to walk with a slight limp, spend a whole career working in a grocery store.

Robert asked about my line of work, and when I told him First Baptist Church downtown, it turns out he plays saxophone and for a while played in a band that rehearsed weekly in our church basement with Bill York, FBC’s security chief. Small world.

Today Robert and I were walking the lower level of the mall and when it was time for me to go to the office, I said a few parting words to him and hopped on the escalator to the top level where I had parked. Rounding the corner I overtook a new-to-me walker and howdied as I went by. In a half-dozen or so paces he shouted my way –

“Didn’t you used to be at First Baptist Church?”  

Turning around “I did!  I’m Mark Edwards. Tell me who you are.”

“Bill Long. I’m Gina’s father.”

I lock-stepped with him a few minutes of visitation and then headed to the parking lot amazed at what had just happened. The funny part about that is a few weeks ago when I wrote about the poofy-haired walker – Suzanne – Gina commented “My Dad is also an early morning Cool Springs Mall walker.  Sometimes I join him when I’m in town, so if you see a girl yawning, with bed hair trying to keep up with her Dad…that’s me!”

I’m not making this stuff up; I’m enjoying it…but beginning to wonder some about the recent connections I’m discovering and making. 

I’m noticing that since Honey died nearly two years ago, I seem to see different things and see things differently. Perhaps my gaze is wider or vision clearer; I’m looking more intently or intentionally. Good things – people and situations – seem to be showing up unexpectedly and more often; maybe I’m living with a greater sense of expectancy; so far, it’s interesting and down-right delightful.  Soon after Honey died my brother Randy made a comment to the effect that the “next chapter” for me may be the best yet. I also remember my long-time friend Rita commenting a few years following her husband’s death that she didn’t know if she’d ever be happy again, but she genuinely was. I still see and feel a big hole in my heart every day, but life nearing two years later is good. 

These serendipities mall-walking and elsewhere bring to mind an old hymn I love as did Honey. She always wanted me to play it at night after putting her to bed – “it’s happy and calming.” The hymn has appeared in various hymnals since 1779 when it was written. The fact that it has been paired with various tunes could indicate the search is ongoing for the right tune.  Perhaps the tune I penned – JONATHAN (named for my eldest grandson) – included in the Celebrating Grace Hymnal will end the search…or not.

Sometimes a light surprises the child of God who sings;

   it is the Lord who rises with healing in His wings.

When comforts are declining He grants the soul again

   a season of clear shining to cheer it after rain.


In hold contemplation we sweetly then pursue

   the theme of God’s salvation and find it ever new;

   set free from present sorrows, we cheerfully can say,

   “Let the unknown tomorrow bring with it what it may.”


It can bring with it nothing but He will bear us through;

Who gives the lilies clothing will clothe His people, too’

beneath the spreading heavens no creature but is fed;

and He who feeds the ravens will give His children bread.


Though vine nor fig tree neither expected fruit should bear,

though all the field should wither, nor flocks nor herds be there;

yet God the same abiding, His praise shall tune my voice,

for while in Him confiding, I cannot but rejoice.

                Words – William Cowper, 1179

I can say for sure that in the last couple of years I have been “in Him confiding” more and that “I cannot but rejoice.” Thank you, Lord.

- Mark

A People Parable

Following seminary, the first pastor with whom I worked was Dr. James Carter -- more than a prince of person and the absolute best pastor for a minister of music practicing his craft for the first time. He was not a musician at all, even struggled to sing, "Happy Birthday," but he knew the difference between cheesy church music and that which had depth; he preferred the latter. His weekly column in the church newsletter and the title of one of his several books was, People Parables. The man could spot a sermonette in a people experience better and quicker than anyone I've ever known. I happened on a people parable today. 

The best thing I've done this past month -- second only to having my kids, grandkids, and brother Randy at my house most of four days AND experiencing some wonderful Christmas music thanks to FBC Nashville and Brentwood UMC -- is beginning to walk Cool Springs Mall in the mornings before heading to the office. I don't give a hoot about the stores and shops, but walking indoors surely beats the winter weather. The very best thing about it, though, is the people -- the fellow walkers and mall caretakers. 

 Today I met one of the caretakers, the gentleman who sees to the indoor and outdoor plants in the place. I had seen and spoken to him in passing for a few weeks, but he seemed like the kind of person who might be fun to know better. 

 "I see you messing with all these plants around here. What all are you doing to them?"

"I get the paper and trash out that people put there. I water them on Thursday, and every three months I spray and wipe down the leaves with a mixture of water and oil to clean them and help them shine."

"Wow, that's a lot of work, but I can't help but notice how nice they all look. How many are there?"

"Inside there are 95, and outside there are 25, so 120 in all."

"I've watched you and it seems like you are pretty gentle handling each one."

"Yeah, they all look alike but they're not."

There was no doubt he was Italian, even before he told me his name -- Angelo. "I'm imported!," he proclaimed. Angelo has been in this country since he was 18, and said you can't really change "my voice" -- meaning his speech pattern and accent -- after about age 12. "But being here a long time, sometimes I can speak like you. I learned it on the street."

"Well, you speak my language much better than I speak yours. I admire you and anyone else who comes to our country and learns our language... since my wife died nearly two years ago, I have a hard time managing eight or ten plants scattered around the house. I think I water them too much."

"I'll be back over here in about twenty minutes. I'll show you how I water them."

We connected back again and now with his watering cart, he took great care showing me his routine and how to gauge a plant's moisture. 

We talked some more and then we both resumed our morning routine. But I'll be on the lookout for him and we may even become mall friends. 

Walking away reflecting on the encounter it occurred to me -- Angelo tends to each plant in his care just as God tends to all "120 of us," giving each of us exactly what we need -- individually. To any other god, we might all "look alike" as Angelo said; but not so to God -- He knows and calls us by name and "all we have needed [God's] hand hath provided." Thanks be to God!

In a few minutes, another delightful thought showed up. My mission at the mall is to walk, but it's hard to get one's walk done when one stops to visit with the people. That's WHAT HONEY DID all those years at the Tennessee Baptist Convention every Tuesday delivering the paper he office produced on Mondays. Lonnie, her boss and dear friend, jokingly (and lovingly) call it her "hall ministry," and that it was. It was her very favorite "task". 

 Here's the first stanza of what may have been Honey's favorite hymn in the God, the Sustainer section of the Celebrating Grace Hymnal.

Day by day and with each passing moment, strength I find to meet my trials here;

trusting in my Father's wise bestowment, I've no cause for worry or for fear. 

He whose heart is kind beyond all measure give unto each day what He deems best -

lovingly, it's part of pain and pleasure, mingling toil with peace and rest. 

Words - Caroline V. Sandell-Berg, 1866. 

May each of us encounter an "Angelo" soon. 

- Mark