Plenty of Parking Available

On my way to preach Sunday morning, I passed by dozens of church buildings with a variety of shapes and sizes. What I saw surprised me—and offered a decades-long “heads up” to the institution that we call “church.”

On January 15, I had the privilege of preaching for Ridgeland Drive Baptist Church in Six Mile, S.C. (Yes, we have a town called Six Mile in my home state). Services started at 10 a.m., in clear violation of all unwritten Baptist church rules and regulations.

As I headed for this semi-rural congregation, I kept driving. And driving. And driving. After getting around the 13 mph wide-load truck that was blocking the narrow two-lane, I arrived a full eight minutes before the service started.

It was a great little church—relatively new (by church standards) well-kept building. The traditional mint-green carpet and pews. Nice but not gaudy chandeliers. I felt right at home in this very traditional Baptist setting. Doubly so because I received a warm and friendly welcome from this small congregation.

That may be the key word. “Small.” Regular readers will know that small church does not bother me. In fact, I feel a bit more at home with it. But I looked around at this very nice building, these kind people, and the sprawling subdivisions growing up around it. And I had to ask: why?

Why would people not want to walk across the road from their house (and a lot of folks could) to be a part of this small, welcoming community?

True, they didn’t have flash or flare. No fancy sound system, no pyrotechnics, no guitars or drums. Just sincere people, doing their best to worship and serve. And even still, this might not be enough.

As I wandered once around the parking lot of this nice, family-friendly setting—complete with picnic area and playground—I wondered what they might do to invite more folks into this kind community. Unfortunately, I had no answers.

Then I embarked on the hour-long journey to our home. I intentionally took the long road, to see what else was happening in the communities between Liberty and east Greenville.

The nearby community revealed a lot—a beautiful little town that was largely empty. Abandoned mills and buildings, along with nice churches that probably once had full parking lots. But today, at the typical church hour of 11:30 a.m., there were plenty of parking spaces available.

So many of these buildings revealed a once-thriving congregation with full-time ministers and the need to add on new buildings. I am guessing that many of those buildings are empty and the spare land not needed. I am also guessing that somewhere inside, a pastor and deacons and members are wondering how they will manage to maintain all of this. Or perhaps they are wondering when it is time to hang it up and move on.

Even the larger, more modern churches had plenty of parking. Sure, they probably have the resources to hold out for a very long time while accessing the resources for online success. But one wonders how long that can last. Certainly this mass exodus is not impacting every church or region; but it is growing and it is a long-term question for the life of the church universal.

Church folk apparently have two typical responses to the rapid decline in overall church attendance. One is to blame everyone and everything—a card that the church has played consistently for the last 2000 years. People are lazy. People want to live in sin. People are warped by godless education and culture. People are _____________ (insert your negative assessment word here).

This is not unusual. From the time I was five years old, I heard my father and other pastors talk about what was happening and why people were not attending. We are simply witnessing an acceleration of the trends of the last 50+ years.

The second—and better—response is to begin asking questions. Why are people no longer interested? And what can we do, as a community, to respond to a hopeless and hurting world? Finally, what is Christian community going to look like in the future, even if it does not look like what we want or have now?

Neither response is easy. The former is very typical and plays to our human nature to complain about the changes happening around us. While all of the allegations against society may be true, it does little to address the problem.

The latter is personally, professionally, and organizationally challenging to even the strongest of churches. It causes us to be willing to admit that we may be doing it wrong; that we need to change; and that what we have built may no longer work. That is a bitter pill to swallow, no matter how needed or necessary it may be in a particular time or place.

A few months ago, I heard a sermon from John Roy at Pelham Road Baptist on Ecclesiastes 3. It is a text that we often read because of its lyrical beauty. In reality, it may be a beautiful warning to us that nothing stays the same. There is a season for what we have done and what we are doing. Yet that season may change at any moment, and we must choose to adapt or to die.

My fear is that far too many churches are choosing to die. Or they are scouring the landscape to copy what other churches are doing rather than being true to themselves and their calling. If faith in Christ teaches us anything, it is that things cannot remain the same if we are to remain in Jesus.

Now is the time to recognize that we are not called to be the church as it has always been. We are called to be the church in this time and place, in this era of circumstances and culture. If that looks different than the familiar or comfortable, then so be it.

People are fond of the phrase that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.” I believe this to be true. But our understanding of Jesus Christ is forever changing, as is Christ’s call on us to live and act in the world as we know it. While Christ may not change, the world around us does. And we must act accordingly.

If that means giving up buildings, or meeting online, or meeting in smaller groups, or using more volunteer/bi-vocational clergy, then so be it. Better that than falling for the Fool’s Gold that it’s not our fault or our responsibility.

The Holy Spirit may call us into different spaces and different places. It may call us to give up our buildings or our status. It may even call us to work at a pizza place while we minister to the congregation. At some point, we have to be willing to do that. Such is a task that only comes through the power of the Spirit.

The Spirit does not just take us to new heights. It also leads us through new lows, and new levels of humility. Just because it is not like it used to be does not mean it is “less than.” As the Billy Joel song says, “The good ole days weren’t always good, and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.”

We are losing our ability to maintain what was. Yet I still believe that this is a promise rather than a curse. May we learn to open our hearts, minds, and spirits to what may be, rather than remained chained to what was. While our communities of faith may look different, they continue to rely on the same thing: the church of Christ in the power of the Spirit.

And my prayer is that the good people at Ridgeland Drive will keep working and hoping until the Holy Spirit shows them a way forward. Amen.

Playing a Dangerous Game

Pastors are not trained as counselors or psychiatrists. When they claim to have a full understanding of mental health, they are fooling themselves. And the consequences may be lethal.

One of my favorite movies (and terribly underrated, IMO) is “The Big Short.” This spin about the 2008 financial crisis opens up with a terrific quote from Mark Twain. “It isn’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

When a minister is just getting started, it is a tremendous benefit to have mentors that will drill this axiom into their head. If there is one thing that I learned from the pastors who tutored me over the years, it is that I do not know everything. And pretending that I do will result in healthy doses of humility.

Still worse, such pretense can result in actual harm and irreparable damage in the lives of others. This is a risk that ministers cannot afford to take.

But in recent years, I encounter more pastors or ministers who take this approach regarding mental health. Saying that you understand it when you do not is a dangerous game.

Reality check: the majority of pastors and ministers are not trained as counselors or psychiatrists. When they claim to have a full understanding of mental health, they are fooling themselves and their constituents.

And the consequences of that can be damaging, perhaps even lethal.

Most ministers are trained in what we call “pastoral care.” This means a couple of classes in seminary where they learn to listen, pray, provide spiritual support, and generally practice not saying anything really dumb during a crisis situation. This is assuming they attend a viable, accredited seminary.

Some take additional classes in pastoral care or counseling, perhaps even getting credentials through other degrees or programs. Even with such training, they are rarely prepared to deal with the full range of mental and emotional issues that people face.

For this reason, it is vitally important that ministers use extreme caution when counseling or working with people who suffer from mental or emotional illness. And we are too often failing to acknowledge that reality.

Some of my students this semester are survivors of mental, spiritual, emotional, and physical abuse. Some suffer from hereditary disorders or mental issues that plagued members of their family before them. Some are trying to recover from unimaginable trauma. Some are sadly experiencing all of the above.

One student and I share an inside joke that she is the “alphabet soup” of disorders and trauma. If it exists, she has it. We laugh at this to keep from crying under such an unbearable weight.

The all-too-common reaction they hear from ministers is blame. Mental health is “just sin attacking you.” These issues are you “weak faith.” If you would just “pray harder and trust God,” then all these problems will go away. And my personal pet peeve: if you would “deal with your sin,”then mental health wouldn’t be an issue for you.

It is unimaginable for me that a minister would say such a thing to a student suffering from mental/emotional illness. But according to multiple students, this is not at all unusual. My disclaimer is that I did not witness such comments. Whatever was said, these are the messages that students heard from both church members and ministers.

Let us assume for a moment that these are accurate reports. The responses betray a dangerous lack of understanding of both mental health and the teachings of Christ. Not to mention the role of a minister in offering spiritual encouragement for someone struggling with trauma.

What if a person walked into the pastor’s office and said, “I’ve been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.” Would the pastor condemn that person by calling their cancer a result of sin? Would they encourage them to stay away from doctors and instead just pray about it? Would their words insult them for seeking some type of medication or treatment?

If a minister pulled such a stunt, it seems likely that people would be outraged. So why do we view it as acceptable to treat mental/emotional issues in such a way?

This points out a reality that we need to face in our society, government, health care system, and churches. Mental health is health! Pretending that we can explain it away as “sin” or dismiss it as a lack of faith diminishes the real trauma and illness that many endure. If God chooses to cure someone, God can certainly do so. Aside from such a miracle, those suffering from mental health issues depend on the care of competent, trained professionals to help them persevere.

As Ministers of the Gospel, why would we push them away from the resources they have? Why would pastors encourage them to turn away from the best care available and towards those who have only partial training to assist? How do we know that the Spirit is not providing the doctors and medication necessary to empower people to get better? It is the height of arrogance for ministers to believe that they are the sole “keymaster” for the well-being of those who seek their help.

More than one thing can be true. Spiritual guidance and resources can prove extremely helpful to anyone who seeks them, particularly those struggling with mental health. At the same time, there is nothing flawed, broken, or sinful in seeking health resources that merge with their spiritual journey. It is entirely possible, perhaps likely, that God provides such resources to empower people who want to get well.

There is a story about a man caught in a terrible rainstorm/flood who stood outside his house as the waters began to rise. As he stood on a hill near his house, a firetruck came by and offered to take him to safety. He declined the offer, saying, “I prayed that the Lord would save me, and I have faith that the Lord will do that!” As the water rose, he climbed a tree when a boat came by to offer assistance. “No thanks, I prayed and have faith that the Lord will save me!” Finally, he ended up at the peak of the roof on his house when a helicopter came to get him. “No, I don’t need you. The Lord will save me!”

Eventually the man died in the flood. When he got to heaven, he angrily went straight to Jesus. “Lord, I prayed faithfully that you would save me from the flood, and you didn’t do it. You let me die! Why???”

Jesus said, “Well, I sent you a fire truck, a boat, and a helicopter. Why didn’t you take the help I sent you?”

Our “pastoral” reactions to mental health may be no better than bypassing the resources God is providing. Ministers are ill-equipped to deal with mental, emotional, or physical trauma—and there is no good reason for them to shun the help that professionals can provide.

Do those suffering from mental health issues need the spiritual to help them through? Almost certainly. Do they also need professional counseling, medication, and well-trained doctors/counselors to assist? Absolutely.

Turning to mental health professionals does not demonstrate a lack of faith. To the contrary, it may show evidence of tremendous faith that the Holy Spirit provides resources from a wide variety of people and places.

We cannot afford to let our God be small when it comes to mental health. Ministers and believers alike need to open their faith to the reality that God can work in all fields, all disciplines, all ways. When we limit our belief to only our view of how God works, then we miss the abundance that God provides for us to deal with our trauma.

As a people empowered by the truth of the Gospel, may we open our eyes to see all the resources that God provides to those experiencing mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual trauma. After all, someone’s life may depend on it.

There is no shame in admitting that we do not know how to deal with something. But there is unimaginable danger in pretending that we know something that just ain’t so.   

No Candles in the Windows

One of my friends is fond of saying that he “does not hold tightly to brick and mortar.” I understand that, even agree with it. But living that mantra is a gut-wrenching challenge after 46 years.

406 Great Glen Road

Greenville, SC 29615

This address implanted itself into my memory when I was five years old. Over the last 46 years, it never left and never wavered. No matter where our journey took us around the world, we knew the power of an anchor at the top of the hill in the Del Norte neighborhood of Greenville, SC.

And no matter how challenging life was, we could return to that magnetic anchor to remind ourselves of where we came from and who we are. There would be candy in the dish, cookies in the jar, cereal in the pantry, and people to welcome us back to a place to call home.

On December 9, 2022, the physical presence of that anchor disappeared with the stroke of a pen.

After my mother passed away in June 2022, we knew one incontrovertible fact: things would never be the same at 406. Mom and Dad were in their 80s and had not moved since 1976. Their house certainly showed it! We knew we had to sell it, and whoever bought it would make it look vastly different.

In fact, it already looked vastly different from when we moved there. Add-ons and renovations—some that we liked, some that we did not—forever altered the original picture of the home where we grew up. Even those changes held memories of visits and celebrations and certainly ghosts of Christmases past.

Now those memories are all that remains. We signed our home over to a new family on December 9. My sister Kellie thought about buying the house. Hell, even I let it cross my mind for a minute or two. This really did not make sense for either of us, for many reasons. Even if we did, we would make major changes to create a space of our own.

I really did not think this sale would be hard for me. I moved out of that house in 1990 and never returned. Even during my first year of college in 1989, my mother destroyed my room by taking out all of the beautiful pennants, posters, sports memorabilia, and NFL curtains of my youth. For some reason, she decided to junk it up with nice furniture and curtains and all that “guest room” stuff.

The night before the closing, it hit me that this was hurting, far worse than I ever anticipated. I broke down early that Friday morning, telling my wife Tracy how hard this was. I barely went over to the house after it was empty—perhaps knowing deep down how hard this might be. I had to go for one last look that morning, before signing the papers.

It was almost more than I could take. When I went out to my Dad’s shop for the last time, I was overwhelmed with emotion and grief. That building was a shrine that I kept for all these years, a memorial to my father and his innate ability to do just about anything with his hands. I relished the ability to go out there and get any tool known to humankind, with my mother’s blessing.

To see it almost completely empty was unimaginable. It forced upon me the reality that he was gone. My mom was gone. And they are not coming back. Maybe that house kept me from fully facing such a reality—and that was about to go as well. For good.

I gathered the few little items that remained at the house, tossed them in Dad’s truck, and headed to the closing. This was it. And it was the right thing to do even if it was the most grueling thing to do.

My dad had a knack for pinching every penny he could out of anything he could. This meant that we never had a new lawnmower in my life. In fact, I WAS the lawnmower! We never had a riding mower that actually worked. No self-propelled. No mulcher. Just me and an 18-20-inch blade (smallest available!) and a rusty looking Briggs & Stratton on the top. One that NEVER started on the first try, mind you (since it did not have a primer pump on it).

After the 23rd pull, perhaps it would start. And I would begin my journey around the yard, sneezing all the way. I had terrible allergies that went haywire from the smell of grass and gas that filled my nostrils. Keep in mind that there was no guard to keep grass or dirt or rocks from spraying you while you cut. I regularly got nicked on the shins from whatever debris lay in wait for me.

And people wonder why I hate yard work.

Want to know the silliest thing about this? I would give anything to crank the mower and run it over the yard one more time. First off, all of their additions to the house make the yard a lot smaller than it used to be! Second, to have the honor of doing something for my mom and dad just one more time would be glorious.

One of the last things I did before leaving was to look under the house. Low and behold, there was a push mower—much better than the Snapper held together with zip ties and duct tape that I used! I pulled it out to give to my son, who now needs his own mower. How fitting that my last act at 406 Great Glen Road was to pull the hated lawnmower from under the house.

One of my friends is fond of saying that he “does not hold tightly to brick and mortar.” I understand that, even agree with it. But living that mantra is a gut-wrenching challenge after 46 years.

Empty kitchen. Empty living room. Empty attic. This was the overwhelming sense of dread and loss that filled me that Friday morning—emptiness. Perhaps I was saying goodbye to nothing more than a pile of brick and mortar, a collection of materials that would one day be gone no matter who utilized and lived in it.

It is so much more than that to me. Time and place and space are inextricably connected to the people that occupy them. This was not just letting go of a house. It was letting go of my parents. While I do believe that I will one day be with them again, that new time and place and space feels millions of miles away.

Nowhere did this hit me the hardest than riding by my mom’s house on the night of December 9. The very kind and gracious family that bought it did not appear to have moved in yet. So it is no surprise that there were no candles gleaming in the windows or Moravian star shining on the porch.

I cannot imagine a starker reminder that life has changed forever.

Anyone who knew Ann LeGrand knew that she loved Christmas, the one date around which her entire senior adult year revolved. Now, not gonna lie here—I did NOT miss getting her decorations out this year! Dad would never allow us to help him with the decorations. After he died in 2018, we did not exactly know the procedures for distributing the dozens of boxes stashed in the attic.

But no matter. My mother was perfectly happy to sit in her chair, directing traffic and correcting every misplaced trinket or figurine that was not situated in the appropriate order. It usually took most of Thanksgiving weekend and then some to get it all out and situated in the manner established in the LeGrand Bylaws and Constitution in 1976, heretofore remaining unchanged except for an edict from the Recliner of Ann.

Seeing those windows without life, in the second week of December, was simply unimaginable. One of my first jobs as a child was to make sure the tree and lights and candles came on before dark, and went off before bedtime. As much as I do not miss the ordeal of putting up/taking down all the things, I desperately miss their presence during Christmas.

Mom’s tree and various decorations are scattered to the children and grandchildren, memories of a wonderful history of our family at 406. I can still smell the cedar we used to decorate, and remember the childhood joy of putting every ornament on the tree. We had a real tree in the den and an artificial one in the living room by the window. The second was of course designed and decorated by my father, who measure the number of branches and hung color-coordinated ornaments in specific locations.

Those memories are more than just Christmas. They are the memories of who my mom and dad were and are and will continue to be in my heart. I spend the better part of my ministry hoping that I can live up to an inkling of who my father was as a pastor and servant of the poor and needy in the Greenville community. I pray that we can be as generous as my mother, who financially supported 26 different organizations in the last year of her life. (FYI–Pelham Rd. Baptist, Furman University, and Limestone University topped the list).

Our hope now, and for the immediate future, is to create those similar memories and moments for our remaining family, certainly for our own children. Our anchor is lifted, and we do not have 406 Great Glen Rd. as our place to call home. Yet the legacy of the people who lived there for 46 years remains.

Perhaps our eternal anchor is the lessons of life that Ann & Spencer LeGrand passed along to us. For all of their flaws, they taught us how to live and love one another, in the best and worst of times. Our prayer for now is that the new family living in that space will make it just as special and as much their own as our parents did.

Our prayer going forward is that we can impact the lives of others in the same way that mom and dad did, whether or not those we help see it and appreciate it. May we all see that it is not the gift of “things” that makes the difference in someone’s life, but the sacrificial gift of self that brings true meaning.

And may we find an anchor of faith, love, service, and compassion that holds us to what we know and believe. For such an anchor will hold power longer than brick and mortar ever will.



21,536 Steps Later…

I have this ridiculous propensity for agreeing to do things that I am not sure I can do. It’s more like a vibe of, “Of COURSE I can do that!” Until, that is, the time comes for me to do it.

Then I spend the three days before the event drinking unholy amounts of coffee and asking myself, “WHY did I ever agree to this???”

Friday, August 19 was no exception. How did I ever end up in charge of Freshman Move-in Day at my University? After all I am a walking, talking organizational nightmare. Who on earth thought this was a good idea? My first go at this in 2021 was mediocre at best, so I was hoping for progress rather than perfection.

This was part of our LAUNCH welcome program at Limestone University, where we do all we can to make our first-year students feel comfortable. As my day ended about 7 p.m., I took a final look at my step count that began at 6 a.m. The somewhat astonishing result was 21, 536. Yes—21,536 steps in one day, roughly 9 miles and climbing 22 stories.

Most of this had nothing to do with moving students into the dorms, as I only handled a few of these tasks. It generally involved running water to our assistants, showing students where the business office or health office is, or redistributing our resources to the dorm with the greatest need.

A set of walkie-talkies might be worth the money for 2023.

Like many of our volunteers, I was absolutely drained at the end of the day. Some of our Adamah Christian Leadership students put in eight full hours helping students move in and came back on Sunday to set up LAUNCH worship as well as the CommunityWorks Fair for our community partners. (By the way, I am amazed at the work ethic of this year’s Adamah group).

21, 536 steps to get our first-year students into the dorms. 21,536 steps to welcome our largest first-year class in history. 21,536 steps to make parents feel like they are leaving a student at home rather than a strange place. Maybe others do not track their step count, but it is a good bet that all of our faculty/staff/students logged hundreds of thousands to welcome our first-year group. Add to that a group of community volunteers from local churches that get our students plugged in beyond the campus.

And every step was worth it.

Limestone is unique in many ways, but we are most unique in our diversity on a very small campus. On August 19, I met students from as close as down the road in Gaffney, SC and as far away as Mexico, France, and South Africa. Can you imagine flying your child all alone over to Gaffney? Or driving up from Mexico to leave them here, and not having anyone there to welcome you?

We already have a long list of ideas to make next year’s Saints Serve Move-in Day better. But what will make it best is having more volunteers, more greeters, more people to make our students—from near and far—feel at ease in their first days on campus. Rest assured that we will start well ahead of the game next August. With your help, we can make this an amazing start for our students.

21, 536 is a lot of steps, pushing my all-time personal record. If it can make one parent feel better or one student feel more comfortable, then I will gladly do it again. I ask you to jump in with us next August to get our students off to a fantastic start—and introduce them to all the things that make Limestone special.

If we treat these students and families like family, then we can help them stay with the family for four wonderful years.

Requiem for “The Building”

At times, my mother hated it, perhaps even cursed it. But it was the place where my father found solace and connected with his roots. Cleaning it out—and realizing it will soon be gone—is a pain that I can no longer avoid.

My father was a highly educated man, perhaps educated beyond original expectations in life. This is largely because my grandmother insisted that her nine children go far beyond the eighth-grade education that she received. And WAY beyond the fifth-grade education that my Granddaddy LeGrand earned.

While Granddaddy did not have much formal education, he knew much beyond textbooks. He was a carpenter beyond compare, building houses and fixing things that PhDs like me could never imagine. His knowledge and impeccable work ethic never translated to financial success, but they still filtered down to my father.

Spencer LeGrand Sr. loved to work with wood; and, when he had the time, he was brilliant with it. Last Saturday, I spent the better part of my day trying to decide what to keep and what to sell from my father’s astonishing collection of tools and devices. He accumulated a stockpile of tools and devices that we could never hope to comprehend. More than once, I looked and thought, “That is AMAZING! If I knew what to do with it, I might keep it!”

Need Sandpaper? The man had a whole dresser full of it!

Need a drill? Nuts and bolts? Sandpaper? A lathe? Some lumber? Woodcarving tools? 406 Great Glen Road is the place to be. Five drills, 11 different kinds of power saws, more nails than an Ace Hardware, and an old dresser slam full of sandpaper…he had it all. He knew what to do with it—if he could find it.

Seriously, talk about a disorganized mess. The Building had stuff (and junk) scattered from one end to another and at all points in between. But somehow, some way, it was organized for him. Could any other human on the planet figure out this “system?” Not a chance! Yet he managed to put his hands on just about any tool he needed at any given time.

Sadly, Dad never had the patience or the time to teach either of his children how to do the carpentry that was second nature to him. No one ever taught him. He had to learn it because my granddaddy needed him to help. So you better watch and learn and get it right—the first time—which is what my Dad did. We never had that opportunity.

Since his passing in 2018, I avoided going through his stockpile of tools in his storage building/woodshop. With mom’s passing in June 2022, I could no longer avoid this task. You would think that a place where I rarely spent any time would hold little sentimental value. But last Saturday was one of the hardest days of my life, certainly one of the hardest since losing my parents.

Even after losing Dad, I loved the ability to find anything I needed in The Building. I shunned the hardware store for four years because I could get pretty much anything from that shed.

Every time I walked through the back yard to open the door, a piece of my father went with me. I can still remember the smell of sawdust he brought into the house, the aroma of “burning” of freshly cut, sanded, or drilled lumber.

It called me back to a “My dad can beat up your dad!” mentality. The man did not know defeat. He had a determination to figure out a way even when no way presented itself. While it did not quite “take” in the same format, he imparted that mentality to his children as best he could. (By the way, picture below may be the remnants of Dad’s final project).

My mom sometimes complained about the time dad spent in The Building. One time, he embarked on a project to make wooden candleholders, stained to match the pews at East Park Baptist Church, with a stand that attached to the end of each pew. If you know woodwork, you can imagine the time and precision such a project would take.

Dad told me on the phone one day, “I think I messed up with your mama.” He had an intercom installed so she could get him without having to walk out to The Building.

Mom took a phone call for him, around 8 p.m. at night. She punched the intercom button and he answered, but she hit it a little too quickly. He heard her say, “Let me get him. He’s out in that damn building again!”

Okay, the “damn” is unclear. Did she say it? I cannot remember, although it was about the only curse word my mother ever uttered. She might not have let that fly depending on who was on the phone. (But if you know my mom, it makes the story a little funnier).

Over the last few years, “that building” took on a new meaning for her as well. She kind of loved that if she ever needed something, I would tell her to let me check the building and could often find the necessary supplies. She loved that I borrowed my Dad’s tools and knew that I could give his stuff a shot before buying anything.

Most of all, she laughed and loved when I would pick some random tool to perform a task for which it likely was not intended. These occasions were just too on point for Spencer Sr. I think it lifted her heart that I inherited a little of that figure it out attitude. Was I as good at it as my father? Not even close. But I did learn to make a few unexpected items work.

My parents lived at 406 for 46 years. They added, renovated, altered, and improved that house half a dozen times over the years. Maybe that is why I feel a little less sentimental towards it now than I might have if it had stayed basically the same. And perhaps that is why I feel more attachment to a part of it where I spent almost no time over the years.

In fact, it is not even the same building. The first one was an aluminum shed that served as the backstop for backyard whiffle ball games. But the tools, the smells, the sawdust, and general mess remain the same.

It is funny and often surprising what we remember when we lose those we loved the most. My mother rarely—or perhaps never—went into The Building. But she did not really want it cleaned out and understood why I never wanted to touch it. It was a part of who my Dad was, and he was eternally a part of her. That took many forms, but that workshop was one unchangeable, inextricable part of their life.

The “organized” corner of Dad’s shop. A system that T. Spencer LeGrand alone could understand!

This weekend will likely be the last time I walk into that building where it bears the marks of my father, the craftsman. Next week we have an estate sale; and after that, the house goes on the market. My sister and I now acknowledge that we do not love that house. We love the memories and the people who occupied it for more than 90% of our lives.

No matter what happens next, that sawdust smell in my nose and that view of my Dad with a sander are etched in me for the rest of my life. I can remember the clothes he wore when it was cold and the drone of the window fan when it was hot. It was his place to escape the cares of the world and just let his hands do the work. Which, thankfully, left us some of the products of his handiwork to keep forever.

I will also remember my mom griping, complaining, fussing about all the time he spent in “that building” while thoroughly enjoying the finished products that he made, sometimes as surprises for her. And I will recall that she wanted to me to live his legacy—not of woodwork, but of perseverance and determination and figuring out how to do what needs to be done.

A side table, made by my dad sometime in the ’50s (we think). Now sitting in my office at Limestone, along with mom’s Limestone yearbook from 1959.

What could be more appropriate than to offer a Requiem for The Building, a small recognition of the giant impact of my parents’ 57-year relationship and the impact they had on the people around them? As much as it was my Dad’s space, it was also emblematic of who he was, who they were, and why their marriage created a model to be followed. It reminds me of all the things that were great and funny and at times a bit annoying about who they were.

After all, those are the memories that make life great.

As I recall the images of my father working in that space and making it his own, I pray that I am reminded of all that my mom and dad were. I also pray that this spurs me to try to be who they taught me to be—and perhaps a little bit better.

And if my wife is lucky, perhaps a little bit cleaner.

A box of saws, tools, and aprons that belonged to my Granddaddy LeGrand, found in “The Building.”

The Friends We Forgot We Knew

Friends are a funny thing as we grow older. Some stay in our past, while others remain in our lives forever. And then there are those that only pop up at the most critical moments.

Growing up, one of our joys in life was our parents’ decision to allow us to take a friend with us on family vacation. Throughout our middle and high school years, this was a source of incredible fun for us. And no one was more fun on vacation than Shane Bailey.

Shane and I went to Eastside High School together, played football together for one year, and hung out periodically throughout our four years. Funny thing was that we were not always together, and not always “best friends” or anything like that. In fact, we often ran in different circles. But we seemed to get together at various times for the best aspects of life. This includes fracturing a few rules.

And even a few laws. Well, several laws. Actually, multiple laws on multiple occasions.

I started inviting Shane on vacation with me in our freshman year, as we ventured to Litchfield Beach. We had a terrific time finding ways to get people to buy us beer and combing the beach for any girl that would talk to us. (If only we had been as cool as we thought we were!). We stayed out late at bonfires or whatever was happening. Perhaps against their better judgment, my parents trusted us not to get into too much trouble.

We’re still not quite sure what they were thinking on that one.

Shane taught me how to drive a stick shift when I was 15 and he was 16. We cruised the Del Norte neighborhood in my stylish tan Mazda GLC wagon praying that the cops and the neighbors would not notice.

After that, we took trips to Lake Toxaway, NC to my grandparents’ vacation house. We did not let on to my mom and dad even a tenth of what we intended to do in our time up there, from drinking beer to chewing tobacco to once again finding a vacation girlfriend. No corner of the lake went unturned in our quest for female attention.

Let me offer a word of encouragement here. Remember that I am a chaplain and a professor. Shane is a school principal. So parents, take heart–there IS hope for the future!

After high school, Shane and I went our separate ways. The funny thing is that the two clowns from the good old days always found our way back to one another at the most critical times of our lives.

Shane was one of the groomsmen at my wedding in 1991. We occasionally got together for golf when I could still play for free at Furman University (and when I still played golf). Shane and his mom were on the scene after my son Spencer was born. After that, we lost track of one another until our 20th reunion in 2009. We reconnected enough to enjoy the occasional text message, social media post, or phone call.

Then, in 2018, my dad passed away. One of the first people to contact me was Shane Bailey. He even shared a beautiful prayer with me that I used at my dad’s graveside service. Who knew that the guy who joined me to violate every rule, moral, or law over the years would offer a prayer worthy of my father’s internment?

Then Shane’s mom passed away a couple of years later. This was a woman who put up with an awful lot from me over the years! I had to reach out and share my best with him. I knew how much his mom meant and what a good woman she was to all of us.

Now my mom has passed away. And one of the first people to reach out on Facebook was Shane.

Friends are a funny thing as we grow older. Some stay in our past, while others remain in our lives forever. And then there are those that only pop up at the most critical moments.

It is unusual that sometimes our “best” friends when we are young are not always the ones that stay with us when we are old. There does not have to be a reason for this other than sometimes life happens. It’s not always the ones you spent the most time with that reconnect with you later in life. Instead, it is often those that formed the closest bonds, even in short periods of time, who strive to be there later in life and when life is the worst.

Or it could be those that happen to look up at the right time and reach out because they feel called to do so. It consistently stuns me when I hear from dear friends of the past at times of grief. Just weeks before my mom died, I attended a funeral for my friend Wells Black. Ran into a slew of high school acquaintances and friends there, almost all of whom reached out to me about my mother. One of those people was Wells’ cousin Laura.

She came to my mother’s visitation, and we texted a bit leading up to my mom’s service. I commented that it would be nice if we could connect somewhere besides a funeral. She replied that “funerals can serve as gentle reminders that we have friends who love us even when we don’t see each other often.”

Perhaps that is a sliver of the good that we see even as we lose someone we love.

We always need to be grateful for those who remain close that are always there when we need them, like my friend Jamie from high school or our friends from college. We received dozens of calls, cards, messages, and visits from friends, as well as congregations we served years ago. This includes our dear friends from Camden County, 8 hours away and 20 years in the past, a few of whom made the drive to be present for mom’s funeral.

But we can also be grateful for the prayers and encouragement that comes from people we might least expect. Is there any greater evidence of God’s overwhelming grace than those who show up in our lives when we need them the most?

As we struggle with grief and loss, it really does not matter what stupid arguments we had in middle or high school. Or any falling out or falling away we had in the past. Or the fact that we did not stay in touch as well as we should have after graduation. The important thing is that people we once loved find a way to reconnect when we need them the most.

Proverbs 17 says that “A friend loves at all times, and a brother (or sister) is born for a time of adversity.” I still struggle with the grief of losing my father, and now I have lost my mother. In the midst of it all, I am encouraged by rediscovering the love and kindness of friends—some eternal, and some re-emerging from the past.

I can barely keep up with my friends’ birthdays on Facebook, much less the various hardships of life. But it is my hope and prayer that I can be some small comfort to them in their time of need, as so many of them have lifted me. I am thankful that so many reached out in so many ways, large or small, to make life a little better when it was at its worst.

May we all be reminded that it is never too late to let the love and grace of Christ shine through us. What is past is past. What we do now and in the future is what makes the difference from this moment forward.

Is There Power at the 50-yard Line?

Football coach David Kennedy recently won his Supreme Court battle for the right to pray after games. Author and lawyer David French agrees with this decision. Here is why they—and many Christians cheering this decision—are looking at the wrong thing. We still need to think carefully about a Christian approach to public prayer.

In its rash of decisions over the past few days, the Supreme Court ruled in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District that football coach David Kennedy has a Constitutional right to walk to midfield after games to lead his team in prayer. Author, Constitutional scholar, and evangelical Christian David French likely cheers this decision, along with many other Christian people around the nation.  

David French is an expert in constitutional law. I am about as far from “expert” in that field as one could possibly get. But I do know sports and religion. That knowledge leads me to believe Christians in America are missing some key truths about sports, prayer, and faith.

We can start with French’s misunderstanding of the power of a football coach. He and the majority of the Court equate a football coach in a community with any other employee in a school. Constitutionally, they may be correct. Realistically, they could not be more wrong.

There is not a more team-oriented, religiously affiliated, conformity demanding sport than football. Coaches insist on loyalty to themselves and to “team” above any individual expression. Patriotism and prayer are standard procedures in the sport, as are expressions of religiosity. It is hard to believe that this was lost on Coach Kennedy.

A football coach exercises tremendous power and influence in a school or community. Walking to midfield to pray is not a coach offering a lesson in free exercise choices. It is a de facto command. And the athletes are expected to follow, whether they agree with the coach or not.

In other words, there is nothing “voluntary” in football, particularly at the high school level. The player who skips those “voluntary” activities will suddenly find himself volunteering to be the water boy. From the first practice they are told they know less than they think they do, so following their coach is paramount to success.

Kennedy knows this. He also knows that players are likely to imitate the actions of the men who play on Sunday afternoon and often gather for prayer after games. While those professionals are acting voluntarily, it is hard to see how Kennedy’s imitative and intentional actions are not coercing his players to a specific religious activity.

This is the nature of the the argument over prayer at public school events that has raged for almost half a century. Is it a public endorsement of Christian faith for a leader who is paid by the state to engage others in Christian activity? Many Christians are ecstatic with this Supreme Court decision, which seems to decide the matter at least for the near future. But as David French and others cheer for this victory, they are forgetting the most important question about public displays of religious devotion:  Are they Christ-like?

Again, my view on the court’s interpretation is merely an opinion. That, along with $5.78, will get you a coffee at Starbucks (at least a small one). Or maybe a gallon and a half of gas. Even if the court says that Christians have a right to pray at midfield, we must still ask if it is the right thing to do.

When I played and coached football, I leaned much more towards French and Kennedy’s position. What was the harm in leading the guys in the Lord’s Prayer before games? Now, I wonder. How many students felt uncomfortable with the Lord’s Prayer? Did they participate with a heart for the Lord, or as a ramped-up pregame ritual? Why does “the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory” become relevant under a goal post before an athletic competition?

And how many people are very un-comfortable with all the public displays of religion in school, but feared the backlash of the majority? This points to the larger, deeper, and more spiritual conversation that American Christians need to have. Is our prayer more effective when we present it for all to see? And does coercing people to join us truly furthering the cause of Christ?

In Matthew 6, Jesus tells his disciples and the listening crowds that prayer is far from a matter of public production. In fact, he says that prayer should be the opposite of attention seeking behavior: 5And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

If our prayers are just as powerful and valuable from the closed door as they are from midfield, then why do we insist on praying where the entire stadium can see us? If God hears the prayer of the faithful in secret, then why do we insist on making such things so public? Are we looking for God to change hearts and minds, or are we looking to be the center of attention for both God and society?

Christianity in America over the last 75+ years has embraced a cultural ethic of making a grand production of all things, including public prayer. We emerged from the model of Jesus Christ doing everything possible to escape the crowds and shifted to a faith that takes much more of a “Pick me!” vibe.

The problem is that this mindset is not supported by Christ or by the Scripture that points us to Christ. Being the loudest one in the room makes our faith the strongest in the room. In fact, attention-seeking behavior may pull us—and others–further AWAY from Christ rather than towards Him. Nowhere is this more visible than in Jesus’ teaching on prayer.

By walking to midfield and praying out loud, the coach clearly sought a reaction from his team and the fans. French may make a solid case for Kennedy’s constitutional rights, but he makes no case for the rightness of Kennedy’s actions in light of the guidance of Christ.

I know nothing about this coach and only know French from what I see in public. I cannot know either of their motives, much less their hearts. But in the light of Scripture, how such actions further the name and work of Christ. In fact, I would argue that most symbolic displays of prayer may reduce the practice of prayer from Jesus’ intent. Such generic, symbolic prayers allow us to pat ourselves on the back while letting someone else do the hard work of prayer for us.

God indeed loves a martyr who willingly makes a sacrifice for Christ’s cause. But David French seems to miss the fact that Coach Kennedy sought martyrdom without a worthy cause. The purpose and power of prayer is not enhanced by making it into a production for his players or the public.

Perhaps Coach Kennedy’s legal right as an American is to pray at midfield with everyone watching. But as followers of Christ, we recognize that Jesus does not need any additional eyes on us in order to make our prayers effective and righteous.

David French is better served to use his platform to make this point. Rather than cheering for our newly discovered ability to make a spectacle of our prayers, we should seek to return to following the teaching of Jesus on the subject. Christ does not need our spectacle. Rather than putting on a show, we might serve Christ better by pursuing a humble  sincerity of heart that no school district or court can take away. And that Jesus himself prefers.

I Miss My Friend

The last couple of weeks presented a wealth of topics for a blog post. But those all fell by the wayside on Thursday, May 12. I just need to write about an unexpected re-start to a friendship that ended too quickly.

As I sat down on a Thursday to do some writing for the first time in a while (a LONG while), a wealth of topics hung on my mind. I could write plenty about any number of things, and the events of the weekend certainly did not take away from the vault of topics. But none of these things were front and center on my mind. Because my mind was consumed with the loss of my friend, Wells Black.

I’ve known Wells since the days of Greenville Middle School and county league football with the Pelham Rd. Mustangs. We were casual friends during those early years, friendly but not incredibly close. Other than football, we only spent enough time together for Wells to pass along his unending passion for Van Halen–a lesson to which I still cling. Even at Eastside High, our time was largely confined to football activities, very friendly but not close friends. We occasionally got into trouble together although we need not delve into the details of that aspect.

Then Wells spent his last year at a different school and went on to Davidson, while I did my senior year before moving on to Furman. We reconnected via Facebook and talked periodically after that. This included my friend offering some sound legal advice for my ill-fated effort to become a sports radio personality (a different blog for a different day). We had limited contact here and there until 2013, when he suddenly showed up to hear me preach at my small church in Greenville.

Me, Wells, and David Seaver at the Furman-USC baseball game at Fluor Field, 2014. Wait, how did that Clemson guy Seaver get into this pic???

To say that I was both stunned and thrilled to look up and see Wells Black sitting in the pew at Augusta Heights would be an understatement. Beyond the desire to ask, “What the hell are you doing here?,” I couldn’t believe that my old friend chose to hear me preach. His home was in the neighborhood and he just happened to see my name on the church sign one day.

He continued to attend off and on through 2014. We took the time for lunch to talk about church, religion, faith, and what we saw happening in the world. Or we just took a break at talked about sports! In August 2014, I accepted a position with Gardner-Webb University, and Wells treated me to one last lunch as pastor.

It was at this lunch that I noticed that he was only using one hand to eat. I found the nerve to ask what was going on and he said, “You don’t know?” He then revealed his battle with ALS (also known as Lou Gherig’s Disease). One of our members at the church just lost his father to the disease. I therefore knew exactly where this was going. And it was likely that no amount of Ice Bucket Challenges would change that equation.

I left that lunch meeting in stunned silence. We were barely in our 40s, and surely this wasn’t happening. Everything about Wells looked to be relatively fit and healthy and perfectly fine to live for many more years. Under the surface, his body was failing him. Researching and reading about ALS did not bring even the smallest ounce of comfort.

It is a hard point in our lives when we realize that we are losing more people than we are gaining. We attend more funerals than births and baby dedications. No matter when it hits you, this is a reality of our ongoing life together. However, this reality does not make it any easier when saying goodbye to someone who leaves this celestial ball far too soon.

This reality prompted Wells and I to stay in touch throughout my time at GWU. Until his funeral service last Monday, little did I know how long and how much Wells struggled in his heart and soul with the disease that attacked his physical body. Why would I? Wells did not view me as a pastor. I was a friend. An old and trusted friend in many ways, but not someone to whom he would confide all things. This changed to some degree in 2018, when I returned to pastor a small church in Greenville.

We would get together periodically on the weekends, sharing pizza from Vic’s when he could eat it and talking about all the things that make life worth living. We discussed faith, church, and family. We argued about sports, politics, and social issues. We talked about our children and where they were headed in life. Wells was always encouraging of my daughter attending UofSC, and I regularly derided him for his connection to “snooty” Davidson. (Because Furman has no such attitude, right?).

But I still was not Wells’ pastor. And that is what made the relationship great. He did not have to share any deep, dark secrets or fears unless he chose to do so. I could be open and honest with him about my own battles in ministry without any fear of judgment. Trust me when I tell you that the wisdom from outside the church circle is valuable for someone on the inside.

Occasionally, I was able to sub for his caretakers from time to time, getting an inside glimpse of his battle. It amazed me how splendidly these folks knew exactly what he needed—where to place the remote, how to arrange him in bed, etc. He patiently talked me through it to ensure that I met all his needs.

It was amazing. Theoretically, I was supposed to be helping him. But he had to talk me through it to make sure I did not mess up the system! It was also a bitter reminder of how fragile and vulnerable life can be. And, to be blunt, how absurdly unfair. Yet it also reminds us to appreciate even the most basic life essentials like breathing or working a television remote. Hopefully it reminds us at least for a moment to cherish people, to love others over and above all the absurd things that we vainly chase at the expense of what matters most.

If these thoughts crossed my mind on the occasional visit, it is hard to fathom the heart required of his parents, his family, his closest friends, and his caretakers who daily observed his struggle. What a blessing and a heartache it was to observe his stubborn courage (he was determined if nothing else!), but also to see his suffering. If there is any grace to be found here, it is that his struggle was not in vain and that it is now finished.

I cherished these visits with Wells. I have no idea if it helped him at all, but it was great for me. It was so refreshing to have a friend who just allowed me to be completely honest, to be myself in every aspect. No judgment, no condemnation, no questioning of my faith or my ability as a pastor. Just a guy who enjoyed talking and sharing a pizza whenever it was possible.

Then COVID hit. And it all came to an end. This is one more reminder that as hard as the pandemic was for everyone, it was infinitely more difficult for people with health issues and vulnerabilities.

Other than an occasional video, text, or Facebook message, I never talked to Wells again. We tried to set up a meet, but never made it work due to his condition and my increasingly inflexible schedule. Perhaps this was a loss for him, but it was unquestionably a loss for me.

I barely knew how to start this piece, much less end it. I have missed Wells since our last gathering in February of 2020.

None of us, even the best of us, are guaranteed one minute on this mortal coil beyond what we currently have. We are all vulnerable and subject to anything at any moment. The choice we have is to cover up in the corner, or face the fear with all the grace and courage that Christ can give. It is a lesson to all that, against all odds and even his own frustrations, Wells somehow chose the latter.

Our greatest comfort, particularly for those closest to him who watched him struggle, is the knowledge of peace. I believe that Wells is at peace, truly resting for the first time in years. He’s in a place where he breathes and moves and talks freely without the chains of a terrible disease. I pray that all of his family and friends find the hopeful peace of realizing that our loss is Well’s gain.

Yet, I still miss my friend. And I will miss him for many years to come.

Truly, all of our prayers for comfort go to his family and caregivers who stayed by his side every step of the way. Along with Wells, they are the true heroes of this story. Their faithfulness to stand by his side through the toughest of days was no easy task. May we all be so faithful in caring for those in need!

Please see the obituary for ways to contribute to ALS Research: Archibald “Wells” Black, Jr.

Donations may be made in his memory, earmarked for research, to:

South Carolina ALS Association, 130 Gardners Circle, PMB 622, Johns Island, South Carolina 29455.

My Most Important Blog Ever

This my first post in a long time. It may also be the most urgent and important topic I have ever posted. That’s because it involves the life of someone who needs us.

Most of the time I hit you with a blog about some recent topic, some meaningless sports observations, or my usually…umm…”witty” banter. Occasionally, a few of you find my writing to be either important, or perhaps a bit infuriating.

Trust me this time. This one is urgently important!

Out of nowhere in 2013, I saw Facebook post that shook me to the core. My friend and Furman teammate Allen Edwards had suffered a massive stroke at the age of 42. It was unimaginable that this man who struck fear in the hearts of every offensive line in the Southern Conference was clinging to life in a hospital in Charleston.  

Anyone affiliated with Furman football from 1988-2006 knows that name. Allen was a player, a coach, and a legend in both Paladin football and in the Southern Conference.

Former teammates Pat Turner and William Hall shared the news of “Big Al” on Facebook. The guys asked us to post messages so that others could read him words of encouragement.

I sent one of these messages, although I have no memory of what I said. Allen miraculously survived and got back to the Upstate thanks to the work of former teammates and coaches, including Brian Anderson, Don Clardy, the late Bob Glass and Ken Pettus among others. These members of the Furman Football Players Association (FFPA) acquired a place for him to live, but they needed help getting him to therapy appointments and other things. 

I volunteered to get him to the therapist during the summer of 2015. After our journey to Greenville Memorial, I fought back tears until I could get Allen back inside his small apartment. I called my wife and cried openly even after I got home—tears bigger and more significant than I had cried in years.

It shocks the system to see a phenomenal athlete and giant of a man cut down like this. How could such a young man suffer such a debilitating assault on his health and well-being? Sure, we know it happens. But that does not make it any less stunning.

After this single encounter, I knew that this was not a short-term problem. Allen would struggle with this for the rest of his life.

And he would need a lot of help from a lot of people.

A Chance Meeting

In late November of 2000, my family came to Greenville for Thanksgiving. This happened to coincide with Furman’s opening round playoff game at Paladin Stadium.

Of all the things that I’d hoped to pass along to my children, one of them was a love, passion and gratitude for Furman University – just as my father and mother passed along to me. This is why I took my nine-year old son to that Friday afternoon practice. I wanted him to get a glimpse of what I loved so much about this place.

After practice, my boy high-fived a few players and spoke with a few of my former coaches. His excitement was obvious. Then we came across defensive line coach Allen Edwards, the best to ever wear the diamond F.

I had not seen Allen since his graduation in 1992, and it was a thrill to shake my friend’s hand. I say “friend” to describe our relationship off the field. On the field, he was the biggest challenge I ever faced in football.

I was a “nobody” in 1989, a walk-on center among 22 offensive linemen from the reigning national champions. My first full contact drill in preseason practice was to block nose guard Allen Edwards. As a freshman in 1988, Allen made his second collegiate start in the national championship game and posted five tackles, including one-for-loss, in Furman’s 17-12 victory over Georgia Southern.

How I drew this assignment, I will never know. But the battle was short-lived. One round of Allen tossing me like a rag doll and All-American center Steve Duggan came to the rescue.

This was an ongoing pattern for the next two years. I played a little at every position along the offensive line, but still ran across Allen enough to understand his greatness. Blocking him was a bit like trying to move a dump truck with your bare hands, with as much “success” as one might expect. I held, grabbed, tripped and everything else I could think of.

If I slowed him down a little, the coaches went nuts and said, “Great job!” Which was a waste, because this just made him mad enough to kill me on the next play.

Off the field was a different story. We were not incredibly close, but we were “easy” friends. We lifted together, joked around and occasionally hung out. Big Al always had a serious side, but his tone beyond the turf was much more laid back. I regret that I lost touch with him for so many years.

Invitation to a Legacy

At our meeting in 2000, Allen seemed as genuinely glad to see me and my son as I was to see him. And he invited me to join a relatively new organization: the Furman Football Players’ Association.

I was hesitant at first because I felt pretty unimportant in the Furman legacy. I was a walk-on who had to leave the program early for family reasons. It seemed a strange invite coming from a coach and an all-time great.

But Allen would hear none of that. He encouraged me to join and get involved as much as I could. We talked for almost an hour, and it reminded me one more time of why I love Furman so much. He made me a part of the community and insisted that I join it. This same spirit made my father such a loyal Furman alum and donor.

I joined the FFPA but did not become heavily involved until we moved back to Greenville in 2007. A few years later, I found out just how important this fellowship is.

An Ongoing Relationship

Following that chance meeting, Allen and I kept sporadic contact over the years. An occasional email with some discussion after Furman games we got to attend. We lived hours away, so we made inconsistent visits to Paladin Stadium.

When we moved to Greenville in 2007, Allen had moved to Savannah State. In his senior year, my son moved to nose tackle on his high school team. Allen and I emailed back and forth, as he gave tips on how to play the position. He even helped in looking for an opportunity for Spencer to play that position in college.

After that, we lost touch for several years, other than an occasional Facebook post. That all changed when I found out what had happened to my college friend, and how much support he needed.

Events that Changed Everything

Allen needs ALL of our help.

Members of the Furman Football Players Association (FFPA) and others in the Furman family committed financial support. Former football coach and associate Athletic Director Ken Pettus continues to manage the fund.

Due to a variety of circumstances, I took over as Allen’s legal guardian in the fall of 2018. At times it is a tough task, but it is also one that has changed our lives. To watch someone like Allen have to struggle for every step reminds us all that we are blessed with some of the most basic gifts of life–particularly the gift of being able to help others. 

We take care of day-to-day needs, paperwork, trips to doctors, the gym, etc. We get more than a little help from our friends on this as needs arise.

Getting in curls at the gym, 2021

But now we have an issue where we need significant help. We are not in a financial position to support Allen with any more than we currently contribute. His fund has dipped below $5,000, an amount that will barely cover two months of expenses.

Keep in mind that Allen has no family capable of taking care of him and cannot live on his own. Disability, MediCare, and other assistance take care of about half his needs. The Furman family is contributing to keep him in assisted living. Now, we need help from all the family, friends, Furman alums, and others that are willing.

Through the advice of long-time supporters, we are pursuing a goal of $300,000 for Allen’s care. This would cover his expenses for 8-10 years and allow us to focus on his regular needs. Many have already given above and beyond–and we are praying that more can come forward to contribute.

Every contribution helps. This fund is maintained by a lot of people giving what they can to take care of a long-time friend, teammate, classmate, and coach. Like Furman football, it is a team effort in every aspect.

ANY contribution that you can give makes a world of difference.


How to Make a Difference

If you would like to make sure that this great player, coach, and person is sustained for the long term, please consider giving to the Allen Edwards Fund. The BEST option is to contribute directly by mail to:

Allen Edwards Fund, 200 Covington Road, Greenville, SC 29617

You can also donate directly by Venmo @Tom-LeGrand-3, or give to Allen’s GoFundMe

Please do not hesitate to contact me at with any questions. 

With Chad O’Rear, Christmas 2019

The Quest for Christ in the Age of Un-reason

In an era of polarization, rage, and splintering, I find myself caught in some of these very tangled webs. The only path to getting untangled is pursuit of a life that pulls us beyond all of this.

One can simply read my blog posts from the last three years to get the picture. These last three years, up until I came to Limestone University, compose an era of frustration and exasperation in life—personally, professionally, and spiritually.

Would you care for a list of the frustrations, some of which border on infuriation? Politics. Social unrest. The COVID Pandemic. Job losses. And if I can be fully confessional: Christianity and the church.

That last one is the toughest, because it has created the most rifts and friction with family and friends. Worse yet, it leaves me in a horrible place of questioning my faith practices—a horribly typical and cliched place to be in modern Christianity.

I am also not some young person going through this, with plenty of time to “deconstruct” and decide if I want to “reconstruct” my faith. I am 50 years old. And if I needed anything over the last 3.5 years, it is faith—as in “the assurance of things hoped for and the promise of things unseen.”

I am overwhelmed by the sense that we have left the Christ out of Christian community on many levels in the current era. As a confession, I have too often let my “righteous rage” and indignation over this get the better of me on this topic.  It is a struggle to see how Jesus has any part in certain expressions or actions by people who call themselves followers of Christ.

And I am at a loss for how to respond to this.

Several things help me to see a better way on this and challenge me to pursue holiness with less judgement and more humility. This fall, I completely altered my Religion 203 class on Spiritual Formation. The first part of this class is an overview of the New Testament, with heavy emphasis on the Gospels.

There is plenty of room in the Gospels for righteous rage. But there is no room for it outside of fully pursuing Jesus Christ and knowing more of who He is, what He does.

To clarify, I still get frustrated with much of what I see. Out of concern for my own spiritual (and mental, physical, emotional) health, I force myself to turn off the voices that send me towards righteous rage at the state of the world.

As much as some things should put us in an uproar, righteous rage can only take you so far before it turns into self-righteous outrage. If the love of Christ is not the source of our concern for the issues of the world, then we are simply living in judgment of those who are not like we are.

Teaching the New Testament has driven me back to the idea of seeing Christ through the mess and the madness that seem to consume the world right now. The quest to know and follow the Living Christ cannot become a secondary pursuit. It has to be a THE pursuit of our life, if we hope to find meaning beyond the social, political, or religious turmoil of this world.

It has become far too easy to talk about “holiness” as a list of beliefs to hold, ideas to support, or even as a candidate to vote into office. In youth group, we often hold up a list of “do’s” and “don’ts” for students to abide in their lives. We impress the belief that holiness is about ending up on the correct side of that list in any given situation.

This is not the holiness that Christ calls on us to pursue. While our search for holiness may lead us to do (or not do) any number of things, living like Christ cannot fall into second place behind an invented checklist. Living by the checklist means that we are finished at some point. As long as the boxes are checked, we are good.

True Holiness means an ongoing, lifelong quest to live in the light of Jesus Christ. It is a never-ending quest because we are always becoming and doing more of what Jesus is and does.

Is this the tougher path? Absolutely—because we know there is always more to do. But it is the path of discipleship that Jesus calls us to follow.

My students this semester challenge me more and more to put down the anger and frustration with the way things are and become more of what Jesus calls on us to be. We cannot honestly look at the Christ of the New Testament without thinking of how we can imitate Him in our own life (Ephesians 5:1-2). Being and doing the things of Christ is how we walk an actual path of holiness.

One last thing: two books led to my renewal of the quest for Christ. One is The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James Cone; and the other is The Crucified God by Jurgen Moltmann.

I could go on for days about these texts and their sharp insight about the nature of the Cross for humanity. But I will spare the reader and offer one hard-hitting challenge.

Years ago, I designed a t-shirt for my youth ministry that said on the back, “His Pain…Our Gain.” I have never felt so far off-base in my life. The Cross certainly does great things for us. But the point of the Cross is not for our mere personal “gain.” It is not for us to view as something that we hang in our churches or around our neck.

The Cross is our challenge, to be picked up and carried as we pursue Jesus. While Christ did all the work for us on that Cross to get us to THIS point, He now expects us to pick it up and keep going. That means seeing Jesus as one who suffered with those who suffer, and forgave without it being earned or deserved.

In other words, the Cross is not here to simply make our life easy. It is here to challenge us continue the journey. May we learn to be willing to take up that Cross and follow Christ’s path above all other things.