Thursday, February 19, 2015

SCSU and the Absentee Legislature

I believe that there are certain things that you just shouldn’t get credit for…

Paying your bills on time.

Respecting your Elders.

Staying faithful to your spouse.

Providing for your children.

Having your family’s back.

Loving God with all your heart, soul and mind.

Loving your neighbor as you love yourself.




There are some things that grown, mature, responsible human beings just do. We do them without form and we do them without fashion and we do them without calling the newspaper simply because they are the right thing to do. How foolish would I be if I nominated myself for husband of the year each time that I killed a spider or woke my wife up at her specified time from a nap or took her to get a massage. I don’t sound a trumpet- I don’t pull an alarm when I take care of my wife because looking after her is what I’m supposed to do! It’s what I promised God, my family, her family, my friends and her friends that I would do on June 9, 2007 and quite frankly the way that I handle my husbandly business is really no one else’s business…

Here’s my point:

I received a news bulletin today that the State of South Carolina no longer intends to pursue a proviso that would shut down my beloved South Carolina State University. Instead, the story in the press goes on to mention that the legislature will pay closer attention to the election of Trustees at SCSU because there are people who are invested, elected and entrusted to run the school who would never be elected to the board of one of the State’s “flagship” schools. The story further noted that the President and entire board of Trustees would be fired and control for the school will be turned over to the State Budget and Control Board for future, strict oversight…

This story has popped up on social media to a cacophony of “Hallelujah’s” and “Thank You Jesus” responses. I haven’t shouted over this news yet and here’s why:

SCSU was NEVER going to close!!! Never! Not once! The well trumpeted vote by the Higher Education Sub-Committee can best be described as an attention-grabbing temper tantrum. There was no way under the sun that the State of South Carolina was going to voluntarily surrender accreditation for a school that they are responsible for only to spend taxpayer dollars to sponsor scholarships to another one of their (marginally overcrowded) schools. SCSU was NEVER in danger of closing. I knew that, most of you knew that and the legislature knew that so 3 of the 4 people who voted to close it last week opted to embarrass the University with a token, meaningless vote that was squarely aimed at generating and producing a headline.

I didn’t cut a rug or enter a praise break when I received the story today because all the Legislature has promised to do concerning SCSU is what they already should have been doing towards SCSU! South Carolina State should have never had an opportunity to amass this debt or be in this predicament because:

Legislative oversight should have ensured that SCSU was properly funded.

The legislature should have monitored resources both in and out of SCSU both during and after the economic downturn of 2008.

The legislature should have performed a full audit once the chairman of the board of Trustees was indicted for public corruption.

The legislature should have resisted the attempts of other colleges and universities to dilute the course offerings that were unique to SCSU by duplicating them at their own institutions. 

The legislature should have paid as close attention to who is on the board at State as they do concerning their research institutions in Columbia and Clemson.

 So, forgive me if I sit this celebration out. I choose not to get in the Spirit when Husbands, Wives, Stewards, Trustees, Legislatures do what they are supposed to do.

I am not excited that the absentee legislature of South Carolina has now a firm and vested interest in the school that shaped me- instead, I ask those who write my laws the same question that any child would that’s just meeting someone that claims to be their Father for the first time…

Where in the world have you been for so long?

God’s Best be With You Always,

Rev. Sterling J. Dowling

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Life Support- Thoughts and Musings Inspired by Bobbi Kristina

I smile every time I remember the words of a great Presiding Elder of the church who is now deceased- every time he would stand to preach, he would confess (and even make his voice tremble) that he was scared. The Elder would continue that if the Pastors on his district were not scared when they stood to preach, then something was wrong with them…even further he would challenge the lay folks present that if you are not scared when you go out on a task for Christ, then he would smile in his holy way and let them know that something was wrong with them too.

Fear is a great motivator. You and I may be cautious of using fear because of all of the negative connotations associated with threats and various modes and means of discipline but I recall my childhood vividly and when my Mother told me that she was going to tell my Daddy…and when my Daddy called home and told me that he would see me when he returned home…my fear was healthy enough to change me into a respectable, obedient, mannerly young man. Fear of unemployment motivated many of us to brave cold weather to make it to work this morning. Fear of failure motivates some of our children to study a little harder and our college students to attend class even when they just don’t feel like it. Fear of disappointing loved ones on Valentine’s Day motivated us to buy chocolates and diamonds, teddy bears and roses. We get flu shots because we have a fear of being ill. We walk on treadmills because we have a fear of obesity. We take out life insurance because we have a fear of leaving our bills to our children. We wash our hands because we have a fear of dangerous germs and parasites. Fear is an excellent motivator.

I’ve read all of the news (true and false) concerning the grave condition of Bobbi Kristina Brown and as unfortunate as the entire situation is, I honestly shake my head whenever it is reported that the family will choose to pull the plug and “let her die” on this day or on that day or on the anniversary day that belongs to her Mother. I shake my head at the assumptions because you and I- we deal in life; only God deals in both life and death. I shake my head because I’ve read stories about brothers and sisters swallowing 30 pills and waking up the next morning like nothing had happened. I shake my head because I’ve seen how people put pistols in their mouths, pulled the trigger and a perfectly functioning gun refused to shoot. I shake my head because I’ve shaken hands with individuals who have permanent scars on their wrists from when they slit them hoping to die and yet they lived.

I shake my head at the news mostly because I realize and acknowledge that ALL OF US are on life support.

God supported our lives to the point that we were allowed to open our eyes this morning.

God continues to support our lives because when we woke up this morning, we still knew our names.

God’s life support allows us to breathe his air, live in his house, work his job and inhabit his world.

God’s life support has kept deer from running in front of our cars.

God’s life support has allowed us to survive even when deer, debris, cars and 18-wheelers hit our cars.

God’s life support allows wives to forgive wayward husbands.

God’s life support encourages husbands to look past flaws of foolish wives.

God’s life support keeps us employed even when we provide subpar work.

God’s life support allows God to keep his word that no weapon formed against us will prosper.

God’s life support will allows us to have anxiety attacks instead of heart attacks.

God’s life support gives us heart attacks, triple and quadruple bypasses then serves us cardiac rehab with a side order of “living testimony”.

God’s life support dries up tumors.

God’s life support gives those with tumors in hospice the strength to preach this 2 word sermon to their family: “I’m ready”.

God’s life support keeps on blessing us in spite of all we have done.

God’s life support is responsible for the next 5, 10 and 15 minute segments of our existence.

Here’s my point:

I never want God to pull the plug on me so I choose to preach like my hair’s on fire. I don’t want God to stop my respirator so I drive straight home from work even when there are in-boxed offers for detours. I enjoy God’s life support and because fear is an excellent motivator, I’m terrified to lose it…and if I have to lose it, I don’t want to be responsible for it. The challenge for each of us is to live our lives in a worthy enough manner so that when God is strolling through the ICU unit of heaven’s hospital, he doesn’t decide to disconnect our power source because he decides that we aren’t going to bear appropriate fruit in his kingdom. I’m fearful of God but I’m not afraid of him. I’m thankful for his hand of mercy- I’m thankful for his voice of cheer- I’m thankful that every time I’ve needed him, he was always near. I’m fearful of him but I’m not afraid of him because his life support assures me that when I need him most, Jesus will step right in and when Jesus steps in, the devil couldn’t end my life support even if he turned the power out.

God’s Best Be With You Always,

Rev. Sterling J. Dowling

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

She's Afraid, He's Terrified

She's Afraid:


Let me start this post by saying that I am not yet a biological mother. But I have "mothered" quite a few children in my 30-something years of life. As a public school teacher, I've dried tears, calmed fears, clothed bodies, provided encouragement, a safe haven, love, care - and countless other "motherly" things to the hundreds (yes, it's that many now) of 7-10 year olds I've taught.

I am not a biological mother. But I am a Godmother, Wife, Aunt, Sister, Cousin, Daughter, Friend to black men. And I'm afraid for them. I'm afraid because this country (and it's justice system) doesn't seem to care about them. I'm afraid because day in and day out, I encounter the smiles, laughter, hugs, curiosity, and naturally infectious personalities of many black boys. In them I see doctors, presidents, teachers, engineers, politicians, fathers, sons - I see the future in them. But I also see fear. I see fear because some people may mistake their rambunctious behavior for insubordination. I see fear because someone may mistake their outspoken and competitive nature for aggression.


I am afraid because I do not want to get a phone call, text or visit letting me know my little black boy (son, nephew, godson, cousin, brother, etc.) has been killed simply for being who he is - rambunctious, energetic, competitive, loving, passionate, male....and black. I am afraid because I may not get to see my little black boy live up to his full potential. I am afraid that due to societial pressures, the eagles wings meant to help my little black boy soar may be broken, and he can no longer fly. I am afraid because one day he may ask me or his father why does everyone fear me? Why does no one like me? What did I do wrong? And I won't be able to answer his questions. I'm afraid that instead of seeing love, I may see fear in my little boy's eyes.
I am not a biological mother, but one day I will be. And I may be a mother to a little black boy. When I look into his eyes, I do not want to see fear, I want to see hope. I want to see change. I want to see the future. Please join me and others, in praying for our sons - not only this week, but everyday. Pray for their blessings and protection. Pray that instead of fearing them, our country will embrace them. After all, if not for the backs (and labor) of black men (and women) - where would our country be?


He's Terrified:
Lights? I love lights! I believe lights to have saved my life once or twice. There have been times where I was driving while way too sleepy and may have been bobbing and weaving on the road only to look up and see the lights of the city and a great feeling of energy coming over me and being able to make it home safely. I love lights. I love the way fireworks light the sky. I love candlelight services of remembrance. I enjoy the lights of the holiday season and a reflection of the effort it takes to deck the halls, string the house and trim the tree. I love lights. I have an affection and fondness and appreciation for lights of all shapes, forms and presentations- I love lights…except when they are blue.
I am terrified of blue lights. I am absolutely, categorically, unapologetically terrified of blue lights. Blue lights lower my blood pressure. Blue lights raise my heartbeat. Blue lights make me scramble around in my car to hide crack pipes, liquor bottles and marijuana bags THAT DON’T EVEN EXIST! Blue lights make me lose my insurance card instantly. Blue lights make me drop my license when I pick it out of my wallet. Blue lights make me scared to even reach for my wallet (remember Amadou Diallo?) Blue lights make me nervous to even video the interaction with my cell phone (remember Eric Garner?) Blue lights make me grateful I snack on Peanut M&M’s and water instead of Skittles and Sweet Tea (remember Trayvon Martin?) Blue lights make me thankful that I’ve never had a smoking habit (remember Mike Brown?) and further thankful that I don’t have asthma (google Brian Dennison Florida.)
Blue lights behind me make me immediately search my mind for the last time I kissed my wife. When was the last time I told her, Mom, Shandrea, Steve, Dad that I loved them because these blue lights may fix it so that I never see them again. Blue lights make me thankful that my premiums are paid. Blue lights remind me to get right with God and stay right with God. Blue lights reinforce to me that this world is not my home. Blue lights bring to my memory my own preaching- that we should eliminate the word “fair” from our vocabularies. My license is good, my tags are current, my policy is paid, I don’t drive drunk, or high or reckless…and I still could be next.
Blue lights terrify me because I’m supposed to bury my parents, my parents aren’t supposed to bury me.
Blue lights terrify me because I have 41 years left to serve the A.M.E. church as an active Pastor and I’m looking forward to it.
 Blue lights terrify me because I have 3 separate life insurance policies that are all fully vested but my wife says that “she can wait”.
 Blue lights terrify me for the same reason gambling terrifies me- the house always wins and chances are, while no indictment will ever be returned and no charges will ever be filed, I’ll have a really sad funeral and a brief protest on the courthouse steps.
Blue lights terrify me so I wear my seatbelt. Blue lights terrify me so I keep my music contained inside my car. Blue lights terrify me so I drive no more than 8 over the speed limit and I break my speed when entering small towns and I nod my head at police officers and I use words like “sir” and “ma’am”.
Blue lights terrify me because my education, my pants around my waist, my driving record, my status in the community means nothing to an officer that says that my skin color fits a description.
God’s best be with you always,
Mrs. Erica S. Dowling
Rev. Sterling J. Dowling

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Six Seconds to Salvation

The 95th Session of the Piedmont Annual Conference was held at the Friendship A.M.E. Church of Clinton, SC in October of 2005- it was my first as an active Pastor. One of the many highlights of that conference was the presence of the late Bishop Vernon Randolph Byrd, the 105th elected and consecrated Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Bishop Byrd was asked to preside over a business session where he received Pastoral reports- during the course of hearing reports, a lay delegate approached the microphone and launched a glowing tribute to the Bishop about how he had prayed for her family many years ago and she went on to testify about how her life and her situation in life changed significantly shortly thereafter as a result of the intercession of Bishop Byrd. I distinctly remember the Bishop with a pleasant look of surprise and satisfaction on his face and leaning back in his chair and the only phrase he offered to the sister was…”you never know”.


Ministry matters. All ministry matters all the time. Ministry matters when you’re sleep deprived. Ministry matters when the congregation can’t afford to pay you. Ministry matters when your home life isn’t what it should be. Ministry matters because we never know if the next prayer we pray, the next sermon we preach, the next Facebook status we post will partner with the Holy Spirit to change someone’s life in a radical and revolutionary way.


Last Saturday, I wasn’t thinking about ministry. I woke up with recreation on my mind, drove to Lexington to play golf before heading to my Godson’s Pop Warner football game in Irmo. While at the course, I was teaching my good friend and playing partner the fundamentals of golf as he had never played before and after he whiffed on his first swing, he nailed the second one over 100 yards so I decided to record his swing to share with his family via a social network. The six second video that I took and shared just showed him lining up his shot, fixing his feet and making contact with the ball…then you can hear my shout of encouragement for him before the video ends…harmless right? The six second video that I took was fully intended for his immediate family just so they could see that their husband and father had skills but as I found out yesterday, Bishop Byrd’s words still ring true, sometimes you never know…


I talked to my friend yesterday over lunch and he said “boy, you know you’re a mess with that (social network)”. I laughed and told him that he was concentrating too hard on hitting the ball to see me recording the video that I shared. He continued- “you know, I got a call from Tennessee behind that video and a Pastor told me that he was inspired to get back out and give himself some mental relaxation and recreation time” I smiled because I know all too well that all of us need a outlet for stress relief- but I wasn’t ready for what he said next… “then I got a message from one of my cousins- this cousin isn’t saved and I’ve been trying to reach him for years- trying to minister to him- trying to show a good example- trying to lead him to Christ and nothing that I’ve tried has worked- but he saw your video- he saw your six second video and he said “Reggie, I’ll probably never come to your church, I’ll probably never come to your Bible Study, I’ll probably never come to a revival that you’re leading…but we can talk about God on the golf course…”


Somewhere in glory, I can hear Bishop Byrd saying “you never know”.


You never know how your testimony can pick someone up.

You never know how that funny picture that you share can turn someone’s day around.

You never know how an inboxed message checking on someone for no reason will provide comfort.

You never know how a kind word can brighten someone’s day.

You never know how close someone is to the edge until you use love to rescue them.

You never know how sharing a video of a choir singing or a preacher preaching or even a golfer swinging will reach the masses for the Master.



A six second video of an 8 iron hitting a range ball off an artificial turf mat that was designed for family and friends but reached the world because of a social network may be- just may be the door that someone uses to make heaven their home. I can’t wait until they have their golf date…I want to sponsor it…I really want to participate…but I don’t want to ruin the moment. I’m hopeful that they will discuss temptation while on the tee, deliverance on the driving range, faith around the flagstick, peace on the putting green and salvation from the sand trap and if the brother decides he wants to be baptized, well I don’t know about you but I’ve never seen a golf course without a water hazard. (Acts 8:35-38)


God’s Best Be With You Always,


Rev. Sterling J. Dowling

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Misery of Mother's Day

I struggled severely with articulating my strong dislike for Mother’s/Father’s/Grandparent’s/Postal Worker Appreciation Day until yesterday. I was teasing a young lady that I work with about her dating life (cruel, I know) and she asked me for a recommendation for a restaurant that she could visit on an upcoming date…I rattled 2 or 3 and she guessed that I must have taken my wife there for her Birthday or Valentine’s Day or our Anniversary- I told her that the last special occasion that we went out on the town for was called…Thursday…She was shocked and asked how much an average dinner was at the place and I told her that because neither she or I drink alcohol, the average bill after tip is just south of $100 and as her eyes grew large, she said well what in the world (she didn’t say world) did you do for your anniversary last year? Pause, pause, gaze off in distance and I looked her in the eye and told her- “I can’t remember”…and I couldn’t until I remembered that the answer was NOTHING! Our 6th anniversary last year fell on a Sunday and I had a wild and wonderful plan for a great dinner but I bungled the reservation, apologized for it and fell asleep around 4 PM on the couch after worship- we went out that following Friday and celebrated the date of our wedding 5 days late and guess what- the sun kept shining, the world kept turning and the universe did not explode because we didn’t clink glasses at the exact same time that we had on the day that we both said “I do”.


The concept of Mother’s Day as a holiday (holy day) is troubling. If we suspend the wonderful feelings that we have about our Mothers -and if you know me, you know that I absolutely adore my Mother- it’s clear that Mother’s Day joins many other “holidays” as fronts for commercialism and capitalism. Christmas is the day that we celebrate the birth of Christ is a holy day and Madison Avenue loves to sell us all things  bright and beautiful related to it and in doing so increase their year-end profits and margins…a week later is New Year’s Day- a “holiday” where the only thing we celebrate is the changing of a calendar- boosts tuxedo rentals companies, caterers, champagne distributors and hoteliers…we then stay out of the mall until mid-February when we give our money to Godiva, Zales, Jared and Teleflora all in the name of arrow struck love…now if there were no manufactured reason to go back to the stores, then we would likely chill for a minute and pay down some debt- a few of us may even save a dollar or two before we go buy a new grill and support the beef, pork, chicken, charcoal and firework industry at the end of May for Memorial Day…but if we saved, if we abstained from spending then the CEOs of the member companies of the NY Stock Exchange would never be able to purchase their next private jet and we just can’t have that now can we? Instead, the marketing geniuses kidnapped an innocuous idea that originated in the heart of Anna Jarvis to offer a carnation to each member of her local church in the early 1900’s and morphed it into an all-out guilt fest of forced travel, maxed out credit cards and packed restaurants with the high potential for many feelings to be trampled upon.


So then, the reason that I absolutely cringe and recoil at these observances is that I strongly believe that love forced isn’t really love at all. Do you really want special treatment that is limited to the constraints of a calendar? I don’t. There is a Mother that perhaps you and I know that right now is negotiating a deal with a child that she gave life to for that child to simply show up and stay awake in worship on Sunday- just so that she is not embarrassed. Is that the love you want- is that the love you need? There is a child right now that is begging/borrowing/transferring/overextending and shopping knowing good and well that the 15th is next Thursday and that payday is next Friday. Do you really want the gift that has an overdraft fee attached to it? I have witnessed environments where the food prepared by the sibling that no one wanted to cook came out edible and the flowers were fresh and Dad was in a good mood and the Pastor didn’t preach too long and the gifts were all on point and while sitting at dinner, some Mother sighs and her voice drifts away as she says “I only wish (insert wayward child’s name) were here…” There is a mother and there is a child that you and I both know that will be almost cathartic on Mother’s Day because they don’t want dinner, they don’t want flowers, they don’t want jewelry, they just want to hear their Mother’s voice again and the sting and separation of death has rendered that impossible.  


This is the part of the writing where you expect me to say “let’s make Mother’s Day every day”…nah not practical and I despise clich├ęs. I call my Mother twice a week or so and we laugh, we  disagree, we debate scripture, we update, we cross reference and we fix the world’s problems- all in about a half hour or so. No one makes any money off of our conversations. No receipt prints when we say “I love you” and hang up. Our chats do not make their way to some conglomerate’s profit and loss statement but those moments- those bonding moments- yeah that’s my Mother’s Day and I make it my business during each of our interactions to make my Mother’s day.


I’m driving down to Orangeburg on Friday. I’ll be at the home house that night, cook breakfast early Saturday morning then I’ll take my Mom wherever she wants to go and when we get there, we’ll do whatever she wants to do and on Sunday morning I’ll drive her to Fairview where she will give her 10th consecutive Mother’s Day address to the church that I’m privileged to Pastor. We will leave there, eat with some of the best people that I know in V-ville and place wreaths at her Mother’s grave in Greenville and her Grandmother’s grave in Simpsonville. We’ll head to Harbison Boulevard and get ice cream at Marble Slab, then drive back to Orangeburg, where I will pick my car up and head back to Northeast Columbia. Then next Wednesday I’ll call her…on Mother’s Day.


God’s Best Be With You Always,

Rev. Sterling J. Dowling

Monday, December 30, 2013

Talk is Cheap...A 2014 Resolution Alternative

Resolutions frighten me quite frankly because I don’t like to lie. I don’t like to lie at all- not to my associates or acquaintances, not to my creditors or co-workers…I decided some time ago that I would not lie to my wife, I would not lie to my family, I would not lie to my church and I would not lie to my friends…in fact I lost a friend in 2013 because he decided to lie to me...but that's another story for another time...
Resolutions frighten me because resolutions are formed within oneself. Resolutions are born in our minds, raised in our hearts and sooner or later, they explode out of our mouths and before we can catch them, they live on forever as our tweets and status updates. Resolutions frighten me because as much as I despise liars and the lying lies that they tell- as much as it bothers me to lie to others, it particularly pains and troubles me to know that when I break a New Year’s resolution, not only have I told a lie that could have been avoided but I have commited the cardinal sin of lying to myself.

This year however, I've decided to be vulnerable and publish my plan. This year,  I seek to harmonize my healthy fear of disappointing myself with my robust love of humanity. This year, my resolution is an initiative and an experiment tied together as one- this year I try to perform addition by subtraction. My resolution alternative this year is not necessarily to do anything- I want to continue to exercise, I want to eat clean(er), I want to take more time to smell the roses but this year I have decided to take a phrase out of my vocabulary:

“Is there anything I can do to help?”

You and I have faced tragedy and crisis in the past and we are most assured to face conflict and dilemma on tomorrow and tomorrow’s tomorrow. I have increasingly grown to view that above phrase as a copout…I see you crying, I see you struggling, I see you in pain and now when you’re at your weakest, most vulnerable state, I’m going to make you beg me for what you and I both know that you need…
That statement gives us plausible deniability. It allows us to say with a straight face that we asked them if we could do anything to help them and they didn’t respond. That statement keeps our money in our pocket, that statement keeps our prayers in our spirits, that statement keeps our flour, butter and sugar from being combined into comfort pound cake. It keeps gasoline in our vehicles and energy in our bodies and meat in our freezers.

Truth be told, I have never received a real answer to that statement when I asked it- folks always said- “We’re good for now” “We’ll let you know” or most often…”Just pray” and I always walked away feeling like I’ve failed those individuals and families to one degree or another so starting now, I will take their well-stated advice and I will pray. I will pray with faith. I will pray in faith. I will pray when I hear about the calamity, I will pray when I read about it in the paper, I will pray before I call or text or message them and when I see them, I will ask that same phrase but to a different person- I will ask the question to the God who already knows the answer- and whatever it is, I won’t ask them about it, I won’t lower their dignity by giving them another jab on their psyche, I will leave their pride in tact and I will just do it- sometimes it will mean that I will have to come out of pocket- sometimes I will have to light my grill- sometimes I will have to offer a ride- sometimes I will have to wake up out of my precious sleep- sometimes a hug will fix it- or a reassuring word of comfort- it means that I’ll have to go preach, go bury the dead, go join individuals in marriage without the expectation of an envelope- it means changing the world and representing Christ- one gift of love at a time.

I believe that success in this initiative means that I will have to pray even more than I do now. Success means that I will have to be even more sensitive to the needs of others- I’ll have to listen more, observe more, feel more and respond more. If I really want to step my game up and be a better husband, son, sibling and Pastor then I will be diligent to allow nothing between my soul and the savior- I will keep my signal clear if I’m striving for better because if I’m spending too much time in my own mess and I call myself helping out with a $50 bill only to walk into a room full of hungry people, then the immediate need is still present and I have only helped my ego.

I heard the preacher say Saturday afternoon that we can make our mouth say anything that we want to but our actions speak louder than ourwords. Here’s to a renewed spirit to go forth and act out loud.

God’s Best Be With You Always,


Rev. Sterling J. Dowling

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas 2013: Getting There Is Half The Fun

I thought I was a people person…until the other Saturday. My wife and I had (another) late night/early morning endeavor last weekend. She accompanied me to my company’s Christmas party after we both worked on Friday and early Saturday morning, we journeyed to Clinton, SC so she could convene a meeting of the minister’s spouses organization that she serves as President of- three hours later we battled monsoon level rains down the interstate to arrive at the retail mecca of Columbia- Harbison Blvd. It was still raining so I dropped Erie at the door and God smiled on us with a parking spot merely steps away from the door. It took me about 45 steps inside the mall to remind me why I primarily shop online:

Leather jackets were bumping in to me left and right…

Stroller wheels nipped at my heels…

I had to slow down my normal stride and walking slow proved to be harder than I thought…

We went inside one store with aisles designed by the Twilight Zone -there was literally ONE WAY in and ONE WAY out…

Mr. Kiosk man blocked my path to offer to treat my ingrown toe nails (true story)

Oh, one more thing- NOTHING seemed to be on sale- tons of things were FOR sale but nothing was ON sale!

Erie and I walked around for 2 hours and the only thing we found was (sadly) a $20 item at a kiosk…and 8 nuggets from the eat more chikin people. The salt in the wound of a wasted day of shopping was the very real fact that it took us 100 minutes to get out of the parking lot!!! I had to put my car in park because my foot was falling asleep on the brake pedal- it honestly took us longer to leave the mall than it took to drive the 50 miles from Clinton to Columbia!

This is the backdrop that I took into Wednesday morning’s conversation with my big brother Steve. Mom briefly mentioned on Tuesday that she had no gift yet for Steve and she wanted some ideas of things to get him-so I began my inquest:

Me: Hey man, if you had $100 free and clear of any obligation and you were at a shopping center that had all of your favorite stores, what would you buy?

Steve: I dunno

Me: So name for me one thing that you want but have put off buying for one reason or another…

Steve: I can’t

Me: Look dude, Mom’s trying to pick out your Christmas present- what in the wide world of sports do you want?

Steve: I was trying to figure out why you were asking me those dumb questions- man I don’t want anything- I don’t need anything- all I really want is for the family to be together.

Walk-off homerun, 3-pointer at the buzzer, hole in one, he nailed it- and changed the game for me- I cannot put a price tag on how wonderful of a time we have when we’re all in the house together teasing each other, laughing at each other, lying on each other, embellishing stories, picking at Dad when he tries to use big words- I digress…

We’re going to present and open some gifts on Wednesday but my big brother as the guest writer of this blog wants me to tell you that you are the most valuable gift in whatever building that you may find yourself in. You are more precious than rubies. You are more valuable than anything that plugs into the wall or is operated by batteries. You are 200 (more or less) carats of awesome- you don’t fit in a solitaire, in a tennis bracelet or a pendant but you shine bright like a diamond.

Everyone likes to see the UPS truck pull up at their house or to open the mailbox and have a gift- it’s awesome to have a nicely wrapped box on your doorstep but you can spend good money- and satisfy the wants and desires of your loved ones but I declare your presence will be appreciated more than your presents.






Make those memories, take those pictures, record that video, and be sure to love hard- next Christmas is not promised to any of us.


God’s Best Be With You Always,


Rev. Sterling J. Dowling