A friend of mine while in seminary asked me one day as we were walking, “What are you reading today and studying in your time with God this week, and what has God taught you today?” I was in my 20’s and had known, backwards and forwards, how to grow as a believer, reading your Bible and praying daily … Christian Living 101- basic stuff! I was in seminary for goodness sake! I have to tell you, in that moment, I was speechless. I’m sure it had been a crazy week of tests and papers, but I honestly hadn’t been reading my Bible or praying much. It wasn’t that I never did, of course, it was just that I let it slide when I was busy, which seemed often as a 22 year old. I lived by grace after all! In my hesitation, she was hugging me before I could open my mouth, as I tried to come up with a spiritual answer that both didn’t disappoint her and made me look like I wasn’t a pitiful example of a Christian. Her smile that day had such joy and authenticity that I felt exposed and ashamed. She took me by the shoulders and looked me square in the face, and with her big smile said, “Sheri, let’s talk about this verse that we have to live by. “In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…”(I Peter 3:15).
She started walking again and said, “Be ready, cause I will ask you that anytime.” Thank you Carla for holding me accountable. Thank you for risking my unrighteous indignation. I was so humbled and grateful for such a friend. She always saw the best in people, even when they didn’t deserve it. It seems crazy to say this, but I had never in my life had anyone put me on the spot the way she did. I was literally speechless. The fact is, no one ever truly held me accountable for much of anything. I wasn’t the squeaky wheel. It was assumed I was always doing the right things. And I wanted to … and tried to!
I was a faithful leader in our youth group; publically surrendered to the ministry. People looked at me as a good Christian example to follow. It was my identity. It was what I was known for. So, that was good … I guess? In hindsight I realize it is much more likely I was the one who saw myself that way! I was living in the world of Sheri and all worlds revolved around me. I don’t really want to know what everyone really thought! I am literally scared! I’m kindly asking my oldest friends to not comment on this part. I was trusted to make the right choices, but the problem was, I was a kid who shouldn’t have been trusted. It isn’t just kids, it is all of us. We need accountability everyday at any age. I had grown up reading my bible and memorizing scripture, having amazing times of sharing Christ and fellowship. I experienced times of true revival where the Holy Spirit fell and people’s lives were forever changed. I loved Jesus and was faithful. I am truly blessed to have lived at a time and in a home that lived and breathed Jesus. It deeply impacted who I became.
If you have been a Christian a long time, people will assume, by who you are, that you have been spending time with the source of our strength, Jesus. It may be that because of who your parents are people assume that you, too, are in the word. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned, sadly, this isn’t always true. I heard Matt Chandler say at a Southern Baptist Pastor’s Conference a few years back (and I have it memorized), “I’ve long since abandoned the belief that all of you (speaking to pastors and wives) spend time in the word and in prayer each day.” What! You could have heard a pin drop. It was a sharp but needed rebuke. I saw a few shoulders shift and a few ties straightened. I saw ladies look at their husband, whisper, then recross their legs in the other direction. It wasn’t pretty! I could tell by the mean-spirited comments I heard from some pastors, in regard to his message, that they rarely spent time with the Lord! How did they get to that place? How does anyone?
That message was so powerful and resulted in the little book “The Explicit Gospel” by Matt Chandler. If you don’t have it, you must get it and read in one sitting. It hit me like a ton of bricks because I knew it was true in my life. I realized the older I got, the lazier I had become. Too often I was relying on yesterday’s bread for todays strength. It was stale and pathetic. I was sporadic … with sporadic power to live the Christian life. Many times, I was hit or miss. Even though, daily, it was on my heart to do first thing –many times I didn’t … or I just went through the motions. Trust me, it will catch up to you.
I’m going to borrow a quote from some friends who served with a pastor long ago. (Not surprisingly, this man is no longer in the ministry.) They literally heard him say these words to his staff, “Well I don’t know what to preach. I’ve looked from Genesis to Revelation and can’t find a thing to say!” I am mouth opened, speechless! We wonder why churches are literally boarding up their doors all across America? It seems if any pastor can relate to that statement then the reason seems clear — they don’t have the source of strength from the Holy Spirit to speak the truth. They either need to repent of deep seeded sin, and/or repent and get saved.
Authenticity. It is a common word used now, and we are truly much better as a body of Christ in helping people to be just that. Until I met Carla Morris in 1980, no one had ever nailed me down and asked how I was honestly doing on my walk with Christ. They wouldn’t dare. I’m sure I was so arrogantly self-righteous, that it was implied. I’m being authentic with you right now. I believe this generation is much more authentic than we were, and those before us. I was generally, publically consistent. I was also, however, never approached and asked such a pointed personal question back then. It was about appearing spiritual more than it was about truly being spiritual and held accountable for sin. So, people like me – the pastor’s daughter, who wouldn’t shame my parents or Jesus for the world, learned how to hide the things that I couldn’t handle — the sin we inevitably fall into as teenagers trying to grow up and still live for Jesus. It seemed there were just certain things you didn’t talk about. You buried them. It just felt implied that if I struggled with a sin I should just work it out between me and Jesus — which is good, but I believe that’s also a good way to create a mess of a person on the inside. No one asked, no one told. Everyone seemed happier that way – at least, on the outside.
The longer we live and never confront our hurt, the more damaged our insides become. This inside, in me, that wouldn’t even admit these things out loud until I was half way through my life. Whether it is stuff in our lives that we did or things that were done to us as a victim of someone else’s sin – either way you can’t just act your way into being ok. At some point, it needs to be dealt with. To ask forgiveness or to give forgiveness is the only way to be whole again. To avoid brokenness is in itself arrogance. Until you have fallen on your knees and cried out in brokenness over your sin, I would go so far as to say, you are held captive by that sin.
Carla danced her way into my life one sunny August day and I was changed for the good. She was absolutely the most encouraging Christ-like person I had ever met. She went to those who were hurting and lost and brought them Jesus. I’ll be honest; she took me a bit out of my comfort zone. She had me downtown Fort Worth cutting homeless people’s hair… that is just who she was. She made me start to live honestly. She watched me live my tornado of a life, and watched my whirlwind level the people I loved when I wasn’t even aware. She lovingly helped me see the blind spots in my life and I was grateful. I wasn’t perfect, I was flawed but, according to her, I was precious! Her favorite word was, “precious.” Everything was genuinely precious to her. She was a photographer and I loved that she was always taking pictures of her “precious people.”
My husband reminded me that back in the day before we all instagramed our food, Carla was way ahead of everyone. When preparing and having a meal together she would make us all wait before we could eat so she could photograph the beautiful precious food- very endearing. I’ve lost touch with her and I wish I hadn’t, because I’d like to tell her what she did for me. She is just one of the amazing people I’ve passed on my journey … my precious friend. I love you, Carla Morris.
Photography credit to Rachellynphotography