Mother Emanuel Church Shows a Nation What to do When Tragedy Strikes

     Every day it seems new tragedies shout their headlines of horror and despair. It may be the ongoing Christian genocide in the Middle East, a terrorist murdering an Israeli family, African children kidnapped by malevolent terrorists, and yes, tragedy right here at home. What do we do when tragedy strikes?
     Two church congregations-among others- serve as inspiring role models. In 2015, a white supremacist walked into a Bible study at “Mother Emanuel” AME church in Charleston, South Carolina. He left behind nine church members shot dead in a hateful display of evil. Then recently a deranged man full of the same hate and evil burst into First Baptist Church on a Sunday morning in Sutherland Springs, Texas murdering 26 church members.
     The reactions of two congregations a thousand miles apart- black and white- are awe-inspiring almost beyond comprehension. And only one reality explains it: their reactions spring from their faith as believers in the Lord Jesus, their reliance on the Bible, and their faith communities.
Mother Emanuel Church  
Credit: The Post & Courier 

     Prior to and during the trial of the killer, Emanuel AME church members openly offered their forgiveness to him. Felicia Sanders’ son Tywanza was the youngest killed. She said, “May God have mercy on your soul. You have killed some of the most beautiful people I know. Every fiber in my body hurts. “Another member, Bethane Middleton Brown, lost her sister saying, “I acknowledge that I am very angry but my sister taught me we are the family that love built. We have no room for hating, so we have to forgive.”
     The grieving church was clearly drawing on the truths of the Bible like this verse in Ephesians 4:31-32 NIV “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger…along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
     Expressing his grief in the tiny Texas town, Joe Holcomb said, “We’re having a hard time.” He went on to say that his family “has gone home and he will see them in heaven.” And smiling he said, “We'll be together again for a long time." Mr. Holcomb lost 8 family members; children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, one of whom was an unborn child.
     Pastor Frank Pomeroy whose daughter was murdered, encouraged the remaining congregation saying, “Whatever life brings you, lean on the Lord rather than your own understanding Though it may not make sense in our finite mind…leaning into God is the way we should go, because God's got it figured out whether we do or not." The pastor quoted this verse in Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.”
     Evil people must suffer consequences. For victims and their families, forgiveness is an antidote for bitterness and loss. How can we do this? We overcome by the Blood of the Lamb. Rev. 12:11 These families, these churches, are authentic in two important ways.
     Authentic in their grief, shock, trauma, and loss. They are also authentic in their faith. They are living out of John 1:5: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  #InJesusLightOvercomesDarkness

Jesus, The Disrupter

     We rightly focus on descriptions of Jesus that include words like gentle, wise, self-sacrificing, loving, perfect. Yet Jesus also displayed other characteristics that don’t often come to mind: disruptive, confrontational, counter-intuitive, unsettling.
     In His walk on earth, He often “upset the apple cart.” Examples abound. When he called Matthew the tax collector as one of His disciples, He shocked everyone. The Romans enlisted Jewish people to collect oppressive taxes so the Jewish community hated Tax collectors who were considered traitors. Yet, Matthew responded to Jesus’ call, invited Him to dinner in his home, and traded his former life for a transformed life.
     For new hires, companies look for employees with skill, harmony, team work, and mutual respect. Yet, the twelve disciples that Jesus chose could not be more different and basically unskilled for the tasks ahead; the fishermen, the tax collector, the beloved John, the deceptive Judas, the doubting Thomas. It’s safe to say that their backgrounds and personalities created internal discord.
     Why would Jesus bring together men of such diversity? Might it be a life lesson in forging unity as they walked together for three years? Think of Jesus’ teachings. They overflowed with lessons in building good relationships and holding fast to Kingdom principles. And of course, His own life was THE example for all. By the time Jesus ascended, then the day of Pentecost, the disciples had grown to be a cohesive group of leaders with one goal in mind: sharing Jesus’ transforming life throughout the known world. They operated in different roles exercising their individual strengths for the Kingdom but their message of salvation was the same.
     We have the Gospel and New Testament today because Jesus left His imprint in His disciples and so many other Jewish men and women who served as the foundation of our Christian faith birthed in the cradle of Judaism. Our Jewish Jesus practiced His Jewish faith as a Rabbi and often visited The Temple in Jerusalem. Imagine the astonishment of the religious leadership and the vendors in the Temple when Jesus walked in, threw tables and coins everywhere and accused them of dishonoring God. I’m sure the person-to-person news cycle in Jerusalem harshly criticized our Lord for His unusual, angry, and disruptive actions.
     Think of Him thirsty at a well in Samaria and his subsequent conversation with the Samaritan woman. Jesus and His disciples were on their way from Jerusalem north to the Galilee. Samaria was the short cut. First, much discord existed in Israel about Samaria and Samaritans. And, as a Jewish Rabbi He was not supposed to talk to woman alone. Much less drink water from an unceremonial cup. Even His disciples were shocked when they returned from a nearby city. Gossip could have traveled faster than lightning. Yet, the encounter with the Samaritan woman resulted in salvation and His teaching among the Samaritans for two days.
     At the time of Jesus, the Jewish people were desperate for a King. The Roman oppression created dangerous hardships for most of the population. They longed for a King who was visibly regal, crowned, powerful, and ready to rescue them. On Palm Sunday, the crowds treated Him like a rock star when He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. Yet in a few days’ time, He shredded their hopes, wore a crown of thorns, and blood-soaked garments as He dragged His cross through the streets of Jerusalem. What sort of King was this?
     Imagine another kind of shock and awe after His grim, violent crucifixion when they learned He was a King who rose from the dead, walked and talked among His friends for 40 days, then ascended to sit at the right hand of our Father in Heaven.
     Let’s make room for our “unexpected Jesus” by abandoning the boxes we put Him in and remember that He was God in human flesh. He experienced emotions we experience yet He was wrapped in Perfection. He carried out actions and plans that looked like defeats and disruption but produced glorious results. That God became human flesh “to restore our souls” to Him is a mystery for our finite minds. Yet it is a reality. It is a majestic gift that He came to live among us, to redeem us, and then to send His Holy Spirit to comfort and counsel us all the days of our lives until we are with Him in eternity. #JesusDisruptionsArePurposeful
John 1:14
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Colossians 2:9
“For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,”
Hebrews 2:17
“For this reason, he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.”
Philippians 2:6-7 "For he, who had always been God by nature, did not cling to his privileges as God's equal, but stripped Himself of every advantage by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born a man."

A Blessing List- Another Kind of New Year's Resolution

I'm taking a deep breath and thanking God that 2020 is exiting into history. I'm sure I have lots of company! 

At the precipice of another new year, many Americans make resolutions and set goals.  This year instead of New Year's resolutions, I'm glancing into my rear-view mirror of the year I just lived. 

I'm making a Blessing List to carry into 2021. I invite you to join me. When creating my list, I also found great blessings in what DID NOT happen! And in small blessings too. I’m tucking my list in my bible and when I feel overwhelmed in 2021, I’m pulling out my Blessing List.   

A few verses have held special meaning for me this year. Even in the agony of sorrows, Jesus understands. He Himself experienced loss and grief. So many in this world are grieving; the passing or illness of loved ones, loss of jobs, businesses, homes, friends-Isaiah 53:3 is a reminder, "He was despised and rejected -a Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief."

I often read Psalm 103:1-5 out loud as a praise to chase away doubt, depression, or anxiety:  Bless the Lord, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits:  Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases,  Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,  Who satisfies your mouth with good things, So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s."

The political dramas of 2020 have created chaos. Here’s a verse I have often read to remind me of God’s sovereignty:  Isaiah 9:6 “For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the GOVERNMENT shall be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Here's a blessing on my list that DID NOT happen. I'll begin with profusely thanking the Lord for delivering my husband and me from Covid-19 without going to the hospital. We are 74 and 76! We specifically prayed-and thank those who prayed with us and sent food and other gifts-that a hospital decision would not even have to be made. We were miserable with moments of fear, depression, and anxiety. But we did not face that hospital decision. We call that a miracle. Honestly, I have no idea why some recover and some don’t. All I can do is thank God, pray for others, and help where I can.

I’m thankful for the fellowship, support, and love from my husband. Thankful that our adult children have navigated 2020 and have come out better on this side of it. Thankful for new friends and old friends. For the USA.  I’m thankful for my calico cat. And my list goes on. With each challenge Paul and I faced this year-and that list is pretty big-the Lord intervened. We don’t deserve it.

I also like to read about Joseph, Job, and Jeremiah, and so many other biblical figures to reflect on how the Lord redeemed each situation in their life stories; how God re-fashioned each challenge or heartache for valuable purposes that they-and we-could never have imagined. You may not be far down the road yet trying to make sense of a hardship or disappointment. But let’s walk together.

Keep your Blessing List handy and let’s rely on Philippians 4:8. “Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think on these things." And as Hebrews 12:2 teaches us, “We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the Champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.







Decorating our Lives

When I was a child, I grew up with a hammer in one hand and a staple gun in the other. 

My parents, Henry Erwin and Lena Mills Bridges owned a professional parade float business called 
Universal Decorators.  

While our travels weren’t “universal” we did travel all over the south of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s providing beautiful floats in festivals stretching from Virginia to Alabama. One newspaper described my Daddy as an “architect of dreams.”

My Mother told stories about boarding a train when I was just a baby leaving from Raleigh, NC where we lived at the time to meet up with Daddy. Each year, he furnished floats for the Hampton Watermelon Festival in South Carolina which began in the 1940s. Growing up, we spent 2-3 weeks there every summer where my younger sister and I played and worked on the floats.   
Bare bones of the Miss America Float 1956

It was a wonderful setting not only for our imaginations but to learn our parents’ dedicated, entrepreneurial work ethic early on. The Watermelon Festival was the biggest event of the year in that rural part of South Carolina and usually featured 25 of our floats. 

My younger sister and I learned early to wield a hammer and to staple fringe, festooning, foil, and floral sheeting on floats featuring swans, toy houses, a little train with a caboose, and other fanciful themes.   

You may ask, what does decorating parade floats have to do with decorating our lives? 

When Mother and Daddy designed a parade float, they began with raw wood and architectural ideas. They built a sturdy frame which had to withstand the rigors of the road from town to town; unadorned, only wood, nails, and bolts set on top of a steel frame with a trailer tongue. Not very attractive. 

The raw foundation took shape over days and weeks. Sometimes a nail didn’t go in straight or a piece of wood wasn’t measured correctly. The foundation had to be just right and sometimes changed or reworked.  

In the meantime, many boxes of decorating materials arrived by train from a Florida manufacturing company.  It was like Christmas to open the boxes and pull out the rainbow colors from an array of decorative materials.  That’s when the staple guns went to work, affixing the bright materials onto the wood and steel frame creating a float to delight the eyes of thousands of children and adults alike.

In our walk with the Lord, He begins with raw materials too, laying a foundation for our faith. Our Master Decorator sometimes rearranges and/or changes our lives. All the while He is "decorating" us inside with His spirit as He builds us into an outward reflection of His love.  

Just like the sturdy underpinning of my parents pride and joy, the Miss America float, Jesus changes our lives into one of faith and action as part of His family. 
Bless Others With Beauty From Inside Out
Miss America float finished
1 Kings 6:37In the fourth year the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid, in the month of Ziv.”  
Matthew 7:24-27   "Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock.” Jesus 
1 Corinthians 3:10 “According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it.” Apostle Paul

Everybody Loves a Parade

Published in Hilton Head-Islander Magazine,  July 1984   

Everybody loves a parade! We'll stand for hours in summer or winter, forgetting the temperature and our aching feet just to get a brief glimpse of each beautiful float and thrill to the sight and sound of the marching bands and beauty queens.

 The South Carolina Low Country can boast of its share of parades from the granddaddy of them all, the Hampton Watermelon Festival, to the now-famous St. Patrick's Day parade in Savannah. It's parade time again in the Low Country with the 28th annual Beaufort Water Festival. Begun in 1956, it has grown to be one of the leading festivals in the south. One of the center-stage events each year is the grand parade which gracefully rolls down oak-draped Bay Street to the delight of thousands of spectators.

Have you ever wondered who built these beautiful floats, who imagined these flights of fancy that so delight the eye? My parents, H. E. and Lena Bridges, were professional parade float designers and builders. They called their company Universal Decorators. As a child, I would often ask my dad how he got started in the business. I always loved his stories about the early days and here's what he said in a newspaper article in the Florence (SC) Morning News in 1956.  "I began working in the business in 1923 for the Little Washington Decorating Company in Little Washington, North Carolina. I was hired for $15.00 a week and the privilege of sleeping under a truck. In those days, we decorated wagons, express carts, and an occasional truck and there was none of the material we have to work with now. I can remember adorning one of the units of a parade by stretching chicken wire over it and putting bright colored paper napkins in each hole in the wire. That was work!"

Daddy and me
 My eyes widened with wonder as he described how he "draped literally millions of feet of crepe paper over vehicles when that was the only means of obtaining the desired effect." Daddy, then when he married Mother, grew to be one of the best in the business, making floats for the New Orleans Mardi Gras, the Wilmington Azalea Festival, and just about every parade you could imagine from Virginia to Louisiana. Christmas parades served as a big part of our float menu which began during Thanksgiving each year. Although we traveled many places including Charlotte, Raleigh, Charleston, and Columbia for Christmas parades, I vividly remember taking a train each year from our home in Florence, South Carolina to Savannah at Thanksgiving for their Christmas parade. Mother and Daddy would run beside the train with excitement as the train pulled into the Savannah station with my sister and me on board. I always had a special place in my heart for the Low Country parades from Savannah way up to Myrtle Beach-not really considered the Low Country-but the Fun in the Sun parade there was spectacular as it rolled through one of the south’s most popular tourist destinations.

One of our essential tools of the trade was a staple gun. Growing up, I held a staple gun in one hand and a doll in the other. We had a seasonal crew of men who assisted in the building and decorating, always under the watchful perfectionist eyes of my parents. We also picked up day-labor to help us transport the floats over the thousands of miles we traveled each year in convoy. Every time we completed the grueling task of readying 15 to 30 floats, my family watched with pride as the floats began to move down the parade route.

From the drawings on the paper to the last staple on the fringe, my parents dreamed it all and made it a reality. Each of the floats was built on four-wheel trailers which ran from 20 to 25 feet in length. Some of them were as much as ten feet high and decorated with all sorts of beautiful materials with names like floral sheeting, festooning, foil paper, and fringe. Daddy came a long way since the chicken-wire days of the 1920s.

The “Miss America" float was one of our favorites.  In 1956 when Marian McKnight-a Manning, South Carolina beauty-won the national title, the South Carolina Jaycees
Photo in 1963 South Carolina Roadmap
commissioned my parents to build the float without even asking them what they had in mind. The "Miss America" was built to withstand the strain of thousands of miles of travel all over the country wherever Marian McKnight appeared. Mother described the 36-foot long float’s underpinning being built like a Sherman tank. A snow-white American eagle perched on the prow and at the rear a nine-foot tall red, 
white, and blue shield sat as a backdrop to the queen. Two four-by-six floral sheeting American flags flanked the queen's throne on either side of the shield. This float was one of the most magnificent we ever built and newspapers frequently carried pictures of it when it appeared in parades. Daddy always said that he wanted to build a Miss America float for me, for he had visions of his little girl becoming a beauty queen. He died in 1966 the year I was crowned Miss Florence, and the Miss South Carolina Pageant parade was the one I so wanted him to be a part of.

Photo in 1963 South Carolina Roadmap
My beautiful Mother
In the summer we traveled with our parents and I celebrated my June birthday at the Hampton Watermelon Festival each year. 

Artist Carew Rice was an institution, watermelon was king and politicians made sure they showed up at Hampton’s town square. We decorated the floats in the old airport hangar located next to a corn field.  My sister Jane and I always had a hand in the decorating. The towns people came out in droves when it cooled off each evening just to “see how the floats were coming." It was the highlight of the year in small town Hampton where the festival began right after World War II. My dad was right there readying the very first parade. When I was a baby my Mother and I rode the train from Raleigh, NC where we lived at the time to Hampton, SC to be with Daddy. A few years later, Mother and Daddy ran our business together. They were quite a team blending their two smart, creative, administrative, and entrepreneurial ideas.  

The Beaufort Water Festival always came on the heels of the Hampton Watermelon Festival. When the Hampton parade was finished, we immediately began to transport the floats with our fleet of cars and trucks over the lovely two-lane roads, some still prevalent in South Carolina today. In the '40s and '50s, though, it was the only way to  travel. We tried to do the driving in the late afternoon when the white-hot heat had begun to recede into the relief of evening. Jane and I loved to jump into the back of a      pick-up truck and just enjoy the wind on our faces, the green of the land, and the smell of the marshes.

Beaufort was a joy to us, for we loved the magnificent oaks and the quaint town set like a jewel beside the bay. The parade traditionally began at the National Cemetery and proceeded down Bay Street with a grace and beauty not unlike a queen. The Navy's Blue Angels and the Marine Corps band were always a thrilling part of the celebration each year. My parents were there at the beginning of this Low Country tradition too.

In their legacy, my parents instilled in us hard work, pride in our craftsmanship, and an innate sense of bringing something beautiful out of the ordinary to brighten the lives of others. They gave the crowds a sense of wonder and a touch of the extraordinary to their everyday lives. That's why newspapers called them "architect of dreams."

Next time you enjoy a parade, remember that somewhere decades ago in an old airport hangar or tobacco warehouse, my parents created memories, beauty and enjoyment for thousands of onlookers. I hope you were among them.

The Ring

Over the years, my husband Paul has given me many flowers on any day in the year. On my 60th birthday though he gave me a ring composed of a gold band with six petite embedded diamonds, one for each decade. After returning home from a mountain trip last year, I realized the birthday ring had gone missing from my finger!

Thinking that it slipped from my finger via water, Paul and I teamed up to loosen the plumbing under three sinks here at home. Wrench in hand and laying on the floor, he loosened the pipes under the sinks, while I sat in a chair holding a flashlight. And you understand who did the work.

Three sinks later, we had no success. Paul, a very persistent man who often morphs into a knight in shining armor said a prayer: "Lord, please show me exactly where that ring is. If You do, I will give you every bit of the glory." A thought then occurred to him to look under our bed and investigate the recently used suitcases stored there.  Of course, my mind was already made up that the ring slipped off into a drain so I was not hopeful at all. 

Persistent Paul slipped a quarter of the way under the bed shining a flashlight into each corner. Lo and behold, in a rather odd place partially hidden under a decorative box, the slightly visible ring shone in the glare of the flashlight! He wiggled out from under our king-sized bed shouting, "God is good!" As you can imagine, I was laughing and jumping for joy. And now I want to give the Lord glory by sharing the tiny miracle with you. 

Of course, we all hope that EVERY prayer would result in miracles or at the least produce the answer we long for. Many prayers seem to go unanswered. Heaven's silence can indeed be deafening. Our timetable doesn’t coincide with God’s timetable. We experience frustration, anger, and often despair. Although we realize our finite minds cannot comprehend the infinite mind of God, it’s painful to pray repeatedly and either hear nothing or hear what we don’t want to hear.

Hebrews 11:13 provides a reality check that some in scripture faced. …” All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.” Yet, in Luke 8:50, Jesus answered Jairus’ prayers for his daughter right away saying, “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.” Yet another verse, 1 Thessalonians 5:18 challenges us, “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

I surely don’t pretend to understand the mind of our Heavenly Father. My experience tells me though that during seasons of unanswered prayers, looking for the tiny glimmers of joy gives me a glimpse of hope as I traverse through life's small problems and enormous tragedies.  I hope this glimpse into Paul’s answered prayer will encourage you today.

The Christmas Shepherds, Levitical Priests for Their Bethlehem Flocks

S hepherds and sheep hold a prominent place in the Bible. The most famous are the Christmas shepherds!   I s it possible that Mary birthed ...