Prayer is Not Passive…


Prayer is definitely not passive, but this blog title is written in what’s called passive voice. Action voiced sentences should read something like these:Prayer makes a difference. Prayer changes things. Prayer overcomes the problems of the world. Prayer chews up evil and spits it out as good.

After reading a book called Violent Prayer, I met with a group of intercessors in Chattanooga, TN to pray over the violence that caused one writer and speaker to refer to our gorgeous community as “two cities”. There’s the Chattanooga that makes the list of most liveable cities in the country. Its got a wonderful cost of living, great private and magnet schools, a river, a large outdoorsy community, an up and coming downtown, jobs, and community foundations that throw money at renovation, small businesses, art, and educational projects. Its nestled beneath lumpy green mountains and a ridge with an awesome view of the skyline. There’s a fresh market and a church on every corner. Happy children play in the streets.

Then there’s the other Chattanooga. This part is where those pushed out of lower income housing have come to live. Its a world of babydaddies and babymamas rather than traditional families, pre and post prison males, gang warfare that leaves a casualty laid out in the street on a regular basis. This Chattanooga is encroaching, and all people know to do is pray.

“It won’t help anything,” one of my friends complained when I invited her. Lots of people would silently agree with her; she was just bold enough to express her heart out loud. Burned out, frustrated, and tired, she has seen the underbelly of the city for too long. She was losing hope. We argued about the issues for quite awhile, and then we quietly released each other and agreed to disagree.

But that night, the few of us gathered to pray lifted our voices. We lamented the lack of unity among the churches, the stiff religiosity that kept people in close quarters with their friends but blocked their empathy for those who were different. We confessed our own sins of gossip, sneakiness, judgmental attitudes, idolatry. We proclaimed life rather than death, wealth for poverty, unity for distrust, joy for despair. We asked for creative and unique ideas, changed mindsets, more feet on the ground, for pricked hearts, for open minds. We quoted our favorite scriptures, and we laughed, and we cried. And we chose to believe that the violent passion of our meeting was more powerful than the indiscriminate and misguided violence lurking outside its doors.

We want  everyone who believes that there is a God who created the universe to pray like He can change the world again. Raise your voice in stern indignation for injustice, for youth who die young, for apathy and self-centeredness. And don’t you dare let your prayers be passive.

The Emancipation of Robert Sadler-Book Review


The Emancipation of Robert Sadler By Robert Sadler with Marie Chapian
Bethany House Publishers-1975, 2012


Robert sadler
American slavery officially ended at the close of the Civil War. Despite this well-known fact, however the practice continued on for many years in isolated places in the South where Jim Crow law, the Klan, and the oppressive culture protected its secret existence. Robert Sadler was a courageous man who lived through this difficult reality. Unbelievably, he was a plantation slave in the 1900s, well after the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued. After many years of shame and silence about this part of his past, in the latter part of his life he endeavored to have his story written down.
This amazing and inspiring tale chronicles Sadler’s humble beginnings as a tongue-tied youth sold by a family member at the tender age of five, and his triumphant end as a world traveled minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The reader sees the darkness and evil of the institution of slavery through his tender eyes, and the reality of what he and many of our ancestors endured is only made bearable by the knowledge that freedom eventually came.
Kept in ignorance of the outside world and without resources or immediate help, God himself was a slave’s only hope. Once Sadler left the plantation that he practically grew up on, the reader follows him on a spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical healing path that eventually leads him to his Creator and the great love and call God himself placed on this humble man’s life.
Though Sadler does become a preacher, he was not like many we have ever known. He was a man of great sacrificial love, unbelievable compassion and insight, and a faith that worked miracles in the lives of ragged and tired individuals from all walks of life. He did not seek fame, power, or glory, but only to reach out to those around him in tenderness and unquenchable faith.
By the book’s end you may find you have fallen in love with this man’s kind and stout heart, and if you’re like this reader, you will want to be just like him. His life is worthy of the telling, and his story is the type that can and will change your mind, your heart, and your life.

Originally reviewed for the Chattanooga News Chronicle by Tabi Upton-2/27/14.

5 Things to Try Before you Check Out on Life-Raw and Real


Ok, so you won’t admit it, but I will. Despite all the wonder that life can present to us, sometimes it just feels hard, and you’d rather stay in bed for days than face it. Or you go through the motions for months. You may settle for pushing through the grind with gritted and worn down teeth for years.

People stop living on purpose when they lose sight of all other alternatives. There are some pretty good ones out there, though and perhaps you can grab hold of one of them when you feel yourself slipping. Here goes:

5) Tell someone exactly how you feel. I hate to cry in front of people, but I am loathe to cry alone as well. Its best to cry in the midst of others who are also crying. This way you’re not on the spot, but your deep feelings are shared. And somehow it helps. Directly inviting someone into the deep, secret places of your heart brings incredible relief to us. Just make sure they are tried and true and trustworthy for you…

4) Change your whole house around. Paint a wall, rearrange furniture, buy a new focal point. Move the TV out of your central area. Buy a fountain and listen to the flow of water. Burn scented candles and play soothing music. This will change the energy in your abode and perhaps provide a respite for you rather than another place that creates stress.

3) Go on a trip, even a weird one, like walking through a pumpkin patch and looking up at the clouds for a few hours. This is like hitting the reset button on your emotional mind. All those cues (the overflowing garbage outside your house, the sound of a screaming–other person, bills piling up on your table, dirt on the floor) that make your stress buttons pop against your forehead, are rearranged or gone for awhile.

2) Quit your job, move away from your city, leave a toxic situation. I know its drastic, but sometimes drastic is the only way. If your life is killing you, try a new life. It may be scary, but it opens up so many possibilities whereas checking out offers…well…none.
1) Ask God to help you in a specific, expectant, and sincere way. Tell him the literal situation, ask for help in every single detail, eg. Giving you a new perspective, feeling it differently, healing the pain, taking away the distress, bringing in more love, helping you understand your life’s purpose, making you deeper, building up your character, helping you allow Him inside in more fulfilling ways, drinking in the Father’s Love, getting answers to troubling questions, figuring out why you’re stuck, and on and on. We usually ask such general repetitive prayers, its a wonder God isn’t bored. Be creative. Sing, shout, dance, whisper, listen, weep. Then stand back and see what happens.

Crazy Animals, Interesting People, and Crunch’nMunch


Part I
You would think a shrink wouldn’t use the word “crazy,” but I’ve got to tell you, counselors use the word quite liberally. We know the truth, we’re all a little bit crazy from time to time. In fact, the world would be quite boring if we weren’t. So, I’ve been thinking about some recent encounters that were just a tad bit off kilter… and humorous to boot.

He looked a lot like this one...

He looked a lot like this one…

The other week I returned from work and just as I was about to pull into my garage, saw a strange puppy sitting calmly in my neighbor’s yard. It was white with a black spot

Part II
When I was walking back to my house,  I saw a woman walking in front of me carrying lots of bags; she seemed disoriented and tired. I asked if I could help. She was looking for a certain house but was lost and had a problem with her leg. She asked to use my phone, appearing exasperated. I allowed her in (yes, as I have already said, I am a bit crazy too) and long story short, ended up driving her to her destination. Of course we got lost along the way, but she was very nice and grateful.

Part III
A few days later I was driving downtown and saw a man in a wheel chair traveling down the middle of the road. Curiosity got the best of me, and I slowed down. “Why are you in the road?” I asked.
“Can I have 8 dollars?” He replied.

“No.” I said.

“Two dollars?” he asked.

“No, but I’ll pray for you.” I asked his name and prayed for him right there in the road, and he seemed at peace with that.

Part IV
THEN, and this is my last one, I came home and saw a moving truck parked behind me house and someone moving furniture into MY garage! I thought I was really losing it. I approached, and an old (former) neighbor ran toward me. “Tabi! I’ve been calling you…”

“Are you sure about that?!” (I looked down at my phone.) “What are you doing?” I asked, shocked.

“I knocked and knocked on your door,” he said this in a breathless way, like he had been chased by a rabid wolf or something and needed me to open up right then. “I just need to store these things until tomorrow. I promise I will pay you.” (famous last words)

“How much?” I asked, feeling suddenly broke.

“Whatever you want,” he lied.

“Will you really get this stuff out by tomorrow?” gullible me.

“I promise, ” he said.
Well, you know what happened. The stuff is still there a week later, and then a month later. I saw him in Bi Lo. He said he was still looking for a place but would understand if I had to move his things.
“Can I get you something?” He asked. I looked at his basket, noticing the Crunch’n Munch.
“Do you want some Crunch ‘n Munch?” He had read my mind! So you know I said yes, and took my box home. The only payment I have received.

I have no moral insights to add to these stories. I can only say they make my life very interesting, and I could not possibly make them up.

Let Him Love You…


I am part of a class at church called Flourish, which is basic teaching of spiritual truths. Yesterday, the instructor was teaching on condemnation, how it causes us to shrink back. When we shrink back, we can’t give our best or achieve all that we are called to.

 He told the story of the woman caught in adultery and how Jesus artfully made the famous statement to her accusers, “He who is without sin, cast the first stone..” Of course most of us know how that ended. They turned and walked away. Then Jesus says to her, “….Neither do I accuse you. Go and sin no more.”

In contrast, I watched a film on Saturday about an Orthodox Jewish woman who was barren. She was living in Jerusalem, and she and her husband were in love with each other. He was forced to leave her, however, and she wasted away in shame… I kept thinking, now I see why Jesus came to save the “lost sheep of Israel”, steeped in religious bondage and life-choking traditions. They represent us all– our huge need for a Savior to set us free from all our life-choking habits and emotions.

He is telling us, “neither do i condemn you, but go and sin no more.” Then he gives us the ability to do that. 

I was thinking about another statement made by my instructor yesterday. He said, “Sometimes, when we think that God is angry with us, we are really feeling his jealousy for us. His love for us…” Wow.

How often have we shrunk from the passion of God? I was feeling quite bashful a few days ago because of this very reason. I felt palpably that God loved me and had given me something very special, something i needed right then. I was a bit overwhelmed that the God of the universe would care enough to be so sweet to me. But He is. He is sweet to all of us. And in our ignorance, we misunderstand Him continuously. Let us run, run to know Him better, to learn of Him, to sit at His feet, and as John Sanford would say,  “Let the Lord love you.”

Easter Weekend



My prayer on Good Friday was, “Lord, bring to death anything in me that is not like you.” That afternoon, I had planned to spend time reading with a new friend who is also a writer. While enjoying a table full of scrumptious goodies and surrounded by artifacts she collects from all over the world, we talked for hours about spiritual things. We talked so long, in fact, we gave up on reading our pieces and gave ourselves fully to the topic at hand. It was a God-ordained meeting, it seemed, and I was humbled and awestruck to spend my good Friday in such a vein.

Her heart, so open and searching–mine, so quick to focus on any agenda,  somehow met in the middle and found that the Savior had already been expecting us.

The next day found me at a unique Seder (Passover Meal), one that linked parallels with the African American experience and the Jewish one of enslavement and exodus. Amid the matzo toast and bitter herbs, the readings and even a song sung in Hebrew by the woman of the house, we discussed the slavery of our literal and spiritual history and our own personal lives, and the freedom God wrought in both.

And then on Resurrection Sunday, church was packed like the old days. The drama, the music, the open hearts and raised hands, the feet that made it to the altar, the eager desire for more of Him, and salvation of souls. Easter fell hard on us with fresh meaning…like the latter rain we have all been longing for.

Ahhh….what an exultation for a soul like mine. I  struggled hard for many years to understand the Cross, the Blood, the Sacrifice. God answers me, giving me small bites that build and build until I am able to digest him–the body, broken. The blood, like wine, filling my cup until it overflows. He is risen, Hallelujah. He is risen indeed! What a blessing.

Horses Make Great Counselors!



A few years ago I took a personal retreat for the weekend to rest and write. I spent it in a cabin near a lake where horses were grazing.

I sat on the porch one afternoon to sing. I got carried away and closed my eyes for a while. When I opened them, several horses were gathered in a semicircle around me in rapt attention. I was completely caught off guard. I felt we’d somehow traversed an unspoken animal-human barrier and that, if they had begun asking me intelligible questions at that moment, it would not have been as shocking then as it may have been in a different setting.

Feeling strangely self-conscious, I thanked them for coming and politely excused myself, shuffling back inside the cabin. From a window I watched as the horses slowly returned to grazing as if nothing had happened. The magic faded.

Linda Kohanov, an equine trainer, rider, lecturer and writer, believes that horses have complex abilities to sense and mirror emotion and help assist humans in better understanding their own.

Recently, I joined a group of local therapists at Rock Bluff Stables atop Lookout Mountain to participate in an equine therapy session. Led by Georgianna Pollock and Erin Rayburn, this form of equine therapy is used all over the world for emotional growth and learning. Both these women are passionate about horses and have worked with them since childhood. They believe horses are amazing creatures.

“They are incredibly intuitive and aware of their surroundings,” Rayburn states. “Often they mirror the dynamic of a group of humans or an individual. You can’t lie to a horse. They meet you exactly where you are in that moment.”

According to Rayburn, equine therapy “is an experiential process … participants learn about themselves and others by participating in activities with horses. [Afterward] they discuss their thoughts, beliefs, behaviors, and patterns. It’s effective because of the dynamic interplay between horses and humans that requires developing life skills such as nonverbal communication, assertiveness, creative thinking, problem-solving, leadership, responsibility, teamwork and attitude. This often then leads individuals, families, and groups to more confidence in the ability to apply these life skills to their lives and relationships.”

Our group first spent time meeting the horses in the field. We were then invited into the barn to try to move a horse around the corral without touching it. In our discussion that followed, I wondered if I was bothering the horses during this exercise.

The short exercise shed unexpected light on one of my tendencies that sometimes makes me feel a little uncertain in my social interactions with people. The awareness that animals can help us grow as humans is a concept that has many benefits. Perhaps the next time I find myself surrounded by curious four-hoofed creatures, I’ll stick around a little longer.

(From a recent column I wrote in the Times Free-Press. Band of Horses Photo is by NPS.)

(To experience this for yourselves, contact Erin Rayburn today at Rock Bluff Stables. You will love it!)

My Life Coaching Session


I have wanted to write books for years. After graduate school I moved to Atlanta to start my professional life. After a harrowing job as a DCS investigator in one of the most dangerous areas of ATL, I was bedraggled and ready to make a drastic change. My brother suggested I head home to find work. My co-workers sent me off with lunch and a pearl white pen that I still have. They knew I wanted to write books, so this was their way of celebrating my dream.

I came back to Chattanooga and found it to have gone through an amazing transformation since my high school days. I settled in,got a job, bought a condo, and began writing a column. Twelve years later, I still have lots of book ideas, but the problem is they haven’t been birthed yet. A friend suggested I have coaching session  with a successful writer to help me get on track.

This Friday I met with well-known author and speaker Jan Silvious. As I sat in her posh, tastefully decorated office listening to her give wisdom in her straightforward yet witty way, I thought, No more stalling, its time to get on with it!  She challenged me to decide what I really wanted in most areas of my life, then to remove the clutter that is preventing me from moving toward the realization of my dreams and goals.

We chatted about everything from my love life to book ideas to whether or not I make my bed in the mornings.

When I grow up, I want to be a lot like her!slide-1Thanks Jan!