Confessions of a Maid of Honor

On May 6, 2023, celebrations were sprouting all over the globe for the beginning of festival season and King Charles III’s coronation, but my attention was focused on one backyard in Castle Hayne, NC and to a promise 20 years in the making.

Andrea and I have been best friends longer than either of us kept record. She’s been the one I could cry to over relationships, family, and work issues. She’s been the writer that gets my writer issues too. We’ve been there for each other through everything, so it just made sense to plan to be there for each others’ big day.

Andrea and I at her wedding, May 6, 2023.

May 6th, Andrea Barilla became Andrea Lawing with me at her side as Maid of Honor (MOH). When it came my time to give a speech, this is what I told the couple:

Good evening, everyone.
Andrea and I have been best friends for about 20 years since college and looked forward to this day. As her maid of honor, I would like to share a few words to celebrate.
We’ve all heard that love is patient and kind. We’ve also heard that it keeps no record of wrongs or boasts. That’s scriptural from 1 Corinthians 13. But I think it all boils down to love being a choice–a choice we make over and over again, day after day, time after time, in the good and the bad. Love is a commitment not a feeling. Over the years, I have watched Andrea and Justin make that choice. It hasn’t always been pretty, but it has been faithful. Today, that became a forever commitment, and I couldn’t be more happy for you.
May you walk forward together, hand in hand, in a partnership with no barriers,
May you find hope, happiness, and fulfillment in each other, and
May the future God has for you be better than your wildest dreams.

Through the wedding, I loved all the MOH extras like making sure her dress was always perfect and her hair and veil in place or packing out her car and decorating it with the best man. There were moments when going alone could be sad, but those extra duties filled the void of my sadness and amplified how much this special couple really meant to me.

Suspended in that love for them now, I treasure messages from the bride in a new way…a way that wonders how our friendship will change and grow as new responsibilities come our way. Part of me fears being left behind and out of step as I am not in the same stage of married life with them.

5 Things That Going Through A Big Wedding With My Bestie Has Taught Me:

  • Be a sponge for her exhaustion when she needs it, and don’t hold all that complaining against her. Weddings bring out the worst in all of us sometimes.
  • Don’t get offended when she doesn’t take your ideas to heart. It is her day not yours.
  • Be there to remind her why she said yes in the first place and hold her feet to the fire of that conviction not her last minute fears and wedding jitters.
  • Have your own safe place to vent about wedding stress; don’t add to the bride’s already mounting list.
  • If you can help make the vision happen, take as much off her plate as possible especially the night before and day of the wedding. Try to make the wedding day her zen moment of prep and not more stressing any undone details.

I wish I could say that I did all five of those things with perfection, but the truth is that I learned them more on the exit down the aisle than on the way to it. We had our moments of bucking heads and the bride had to be a listening ear for me sometimes too. I also wasn’t able to be there to help till the day before the wedding. Looking back now, I wish I had done more.

May sharing this experience help you be the best MOH you can be when your time comes and also help you truly appreciate the love that has been poured into your life and pours into it still.


Art of Hope: Where Dreams Come True in Wallace, NC

Art of Hope galleries and framing shops in Wallace and Clinton, NC are evidence of an impossible dream that came true for artist, Hope G. Smith. In the art business for 18 years, Hope has over 1000 paintings, two Art of Hope galleries, and work on display around the world. 

Hope grew up as an artist in a family of creatives and entrepreneurs. Though they have been helpful for her development as an artist and businesswoman, Hope was not encouraged to see art as a viable career early on. She pursued teaching for a more steady income but found herself writing her own business plan after just three years of teaching. In January 2004, she opened a studio out of her home and began the journey of entrepreneurship. “I taught private lessons, made my own art, and did custom framing,” Hope says. “I took on any job possible, and it just grew from there.” In the beginning, Hope went to shows, expos, and all sorts of events to get her work seen. She also kept expenses low by working from home. “Until you get on your feet,” she says, “working from home cuts the overhead.” 

With no formal business training of her own, Hope surrounded herself with a strong support system.

You need to know who you can trust to surround you. It should be a partnership where you help each other out–not just one benefitting from the other.

Hope G. Smith on business partnerships

Hope’s most important partnership is with her husband. He did the hard work of researching the business side of what she needed to do to make her dreams come true.

Two really are better than one if you let it be, but you have to work at it. It isn’t easy; it’s hard work.

Hope G. Smith about marriage

Hope’s artistic style has been described as whimsical, colorful, and loose. She tries to capture “the soul of the moment, not a photo-realistic portrayal of it”. Her art also incorporates Bible verses as an intentional attempt to be a positive light. “If we can be a light in whatever work we find ourselves in (mine is art), we should be one!”

Prints from selected originals are available for purchase within Art of Hope galleries and online. Some originals can be purchased as well as custom framing jobs at either location. Hope is also available for hire to do custom commissions and live wedding painting. 

Hope G. Smith is a founding member of the Downtown Wallace Merchant Association, and she is a strong advocate for the value of a healthy Chamber of Commerce.

The Chamber is what visitors look at when they come to a new area. When a Chamber is healthy, it goes to businesses and supports them, it sends customers to them, and it shops locally for its own needs before it looks elsewhere. Good leadership is a partnership with business, and we support each other.

Hope G. Smith on the importance of a Chamber of Commerce

The Downtown Merchant Association works with the Chamber of Commerce to support downtown businesses and bring activities there like the semi-annual Shop Hop in April. This ticketed event includes lunch, coffee, free merchandise, and discounts at 15-20 downtown shops in Wallace, NC. Downtown Wallace is a thriving place with businesses that have been in operation there for many years. When asked about why small-town America is thriving with culture today, Hope’s answer was sincere. “People are hungry for a small-town community. Covid has taught us all that we need each other; we need community.” 

Hope doesn’t take for granted that she has been blessed to be in business as an artist for 18 years. “The art business isn’t easy. Sometimes you overwork and have to be willing to put in the hours that nobody sees. When you are doing what God has called you to do,” she says, “you are doing that thing that fills your soul. The money will follow after that. It is much harder to do something you don’t love, so pursue your passion and don’t feel guilty for doing something you love. We need to be able to embrace people for what they are, not necessarily the 9-5 boxes we want to put them in.”

A lot of people, over the years, have told Hope that they are not creative, but Hope looks at creativity much different. “Creativity breeds creativity,” she says. “People do it all the time and don’t realize it. Creativity is an important part of how we nurture humanity. It is when we aren’t nurturing others that problems arise in society.”

When she is not out painting in the community, Hope G. Smith can be found in one of her two galleries: Art of Hope in Wallace or Clinton, NC. She is also available online at

Using Our Gifts: Sermon by Pastor Bill Adams

December 19, 2021, I had the privilege of hearing this sermon in person at the beautiful 175 year old Fifth Avenue United Methodist Church in Wilmington, NC.

This sermon is shared here with permission by the author: Pastor Bill Adams

Consider This…

Dr. Oswald Golter was a missionary to China more than 60 years ago.  After World War II he was asked to leave that country.  So his missionary society wired him a ticket and Dr. Golter made his way to India to catch a ship home to America.  While he was there he noticed that there were many Jews living in the area–in attics and sheds and barns.  They were there because India was one of the few countries in the world that welcomed the Jews following the War.  And Dr. Golter was excited to see them and went around and greeted them.

It was Christmastime and he said to them “Merry Christmas to you!”  And they said “We’re Jews.”  “Well, I know,” said Dr. Golter, “but Merry Christmas anyway.”  “I tell you,” they responded, “we’re Jews.  We don’t celebrate Christmas.”  “I know” he said, “but if you did, what would you want for Christmas?”  “Well if we did,” they replied, “then we probably would want some fine German pastries.”  So Dr. Golter cashed in his ticket home and found a shop that sold fine German pastries.  Then he bought up boxes and boxes of pastry.  He took it back to the barns and attics and sheds and handed it out to the Jews saying, “Merry Christmas to you.  Merry Christmas.”

Years later that story was told when Dr. Golter was being introduced to speak at a seminary gathering.  As he got up to the microphone a young seminarian stood up and said to Dr. Golter, “I can’t believe you did that.  Those people aren’t Christians.  They don’t even believe in Jesus Christ!”  Dr. Golter nodded his head and said, “I know.”  Then he added, “But I do.” (modified from a note by Rev. King Duncan) 

There’s a lesson in this for us as we go about our daily lives in an unbelieving world.  We are not to live as the rest of the world does – we’re to live as we are led by Christ, even when it seems like something that most people wouldn’t do

We’re different!  We’re children of God and we’re supposed to be different!

Consider This…

Nicholas was born of wealthy parents in 280 AD in a small town called Patara in Asia Minor.  He lost his parents early by an epidemic but not before they had instilled in him the gift of faith.  Then little Nicholas went to Myra and lived there a life full of sacrifice and love and the spirit of Jesus.
Nicholas became so Christlike that when the town needed a bishop he was elected.  He was imprisoned for his faith by Emperor Diocletian and released later by Emperor Constantine.

There have been many stories of his generosity and compassion: how he begged for food for the poor, and how he would give girls money so that they would have a dowry to get a husband.  The story most often repeated was about how he would put on a disguise and go out and give gifts to poor children.  He gave away everything he had.  And in the year 314, he died.  His body was later moved to Italy where his remains are to this day.
But the story of Nicholas has spread around the world.  There are more churches in the world named after St. Nicholas than any other person in all the history of the church.

People have done strange things to his memory.  The poet, Clement Moore, gave him a red nose and eight tiny reindeer.  Thomas Nast, the illustrator, made him big and fat and gave him a red suit trimmed by fur.  Others have given him names like Belsnickle, Kris Kringle, and Santa Claus.  But what’s important about him is that he had the mind of Christ. Because of his gentle selfless love, he touched the whole world.  And this same mind of Christ can be in us. (modified from a note by Rev. James S. Hewett)

As I pondered St. Nicholas’ life, it occurred to me that we really don’t follow in his footsteps.  By the world’s standards, we are wealthy.  And the people we give gifts to are wealthy.  This was not the ministry of Nicholas –he ministered to those who were poor and needy.  We each need to consider what we can do to make our gift giving more like that of St. Nicholas.           

Sermon: Using Our Gifts                                          

If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

John 13:32-35

We’ve all been thinking a lot about gifts lately, especially what gifts we’d like to get for the people we love.  Some of us may have been thinking about the gifts we’ll be getting.
We love gifts.  Some of us dream about getting a great gift in life – that’s why so many people play the lottery.  They want to invest little and get a lot.  They think, wouldn’t it be great if I won a million dollars?  What a gift that would be!  Well, maybe it would be great, but maybe not.  Not everyone has the same idea of great.  One person’s wish may be another’s person’s nightmare. 
Take, for example, the story of three men who were sailing together in the Pacific Ocean.  Their vessel was wrecked and they found themselves on an island.  They had plenty of food, but their existence was in every way different from what their lives had been in the past.The men were walking by the seashore one day after they had been there for some months and they found an old lantern.  One man picked it up, and as he rubbed it to clean it off, a genie popped out.  The genie said, “Well, since you have been good enough to release me, I will give each of you one wish.” 
The first man said, “Oh, that’s perfectly marvelous.  I’m a cattleman from Wyoming and I wish I were back on my ranch.”  Poof!  He was back on his ranch.
The second man said, “Well, I’m a stockbroker from New York, and I wish that I were back in Manhattan.”  Poof!  He was back in Manhattan with his papers, his telephones, his clients and his computers. 
The third fellow was somewhat more relaxed about life and actually enjoyed life there on the island.  He said, “Well, I am quite happy here.  I just wish my two friends were back.”  Poof!  Poof!  And so they were.  Everybody’s idea of a good thing isn’t the same! But wouldn’t we all like to have a little more money?  Don’t many Americans sit around thinking, “Wouldn’t it be great …if I won the lottery…if I had my dream house…if I was famous….?”  We know its true.  That’s why lotteries make so much money for the state.
But as Christians…as the people of God…what if instead of wishing for money or fame or success or more “things,” we would just wish with all our hearts and souls and minds and strength that we could love the Lord and our neighbor as ourselves?  A wish like that could change the world.

This morning I’m going to talk about the gift of love – it’s a gift that God gives to us and the gift we offer back to Him. 

Jesus was a gift of love to mankind.  God didn’t have to send Jesus.  He could have just let us go on killing and mistreating each other.  He could have just let mankind remain ignorant of his love for people.

But, because of God’s love, Jesus came to earth and he literally loved us until his death.  On the last night he was on earth, he washed the disciple’s feet, shared a meal with them and then taught them.
And one of his last teachings that night was about God’s love.  It is our scripture for this morning from John 13:32-35.

You know, out of his love for us, God gives each one of us talents and gifts.  The other day amid all of the Christmas music on the radio I heard Handel’s “Messiah.”  What a gift that music is for all time.
Handel was a gifted man.  He learned to play the harpsichord by age 7 and was composing music by age nine. His father opposed his gift of music – he wanted young George to become a lawyer. But when the dad went off to work, George’s mother made him practice.
George was obedient to his father, and he entered law school. But after his father died, he abandoned law. He kept true to his gift and became an organist at the Protestant Cathedral.  There his talent quickly began to blossom.
God definitely gave Handel a gift and thank heavens he chose to use it! Today, we still recognize Handel’s gifts and are blessed by his efforts.We also need to remember and recognize that God’s gift of talent to Handel was a gift of love to us. Just imaging how much poorer we’d be if he’d stuck with law.

Each person here this morning also has God-given gifts. They may not be a great as Handel’s but you have them. God makes each one of us unique.
But so often we fail to recognize our giftsWe have to discover them.  And once we do, we have to use them.  

History shows us that people who have achieved greatness using their gifts had to persevere.  Your gifts may not even be recognized until you’re gone. How many starving artists never achieved fame in their life times but are now considered to be great?

Robert Frost, one of the greatest poets, wrote poetry for twenty years without fame or success. He was 39 years old before he sold a single volume of poetry. Today his poems have been published in over twenty languages and he won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry four times.

When Enrico Caruso, the great Italian tenor, took his first voice lesson, the instructor thought he was hopeless.  He said his voice sounded like wind whistling through a window.  Today, he is recognized as perhaps the greatest tenor who ever lived.

So, if the world has failed to recognize your talents, you’re in good company.  When God gives us a gift, He doesn’t want us to just sit and admire it, he wants us to use it.

One of the ways we can be happy in life is to keep using the gifts God has given us.  If you have been gifted in music or math, you’ll probably never be happy driving a cab. If you have great hand-to-eye coordination and athletic skills, you probably won’t be satisfied with a desk job. In so many ways, our happiness depends on us using our gifts.

But what if we don’t use our gifts? Not only will we risk our happiness, the Kingdom of God will lose out on what we could have done. It will miss out on all the love and beauty we could have shared.

As Christians, it’s our job to love and to help other people. God loves us not because we are lovable, but because He is love. Nowhere in scripture does Jesus give us a pass on loving other people – any kind of people.  

Even though Judas was going to betray Jesus, Jesus loved him. Jesus even washed his feet.  He told us we’re to love our enemies. God wants all of us to use his gifts and love to change our world. God needs our gifts and love to help make his kingdom the reality we live in each day.  Because life in the Kingdom of God is not created by just a few people. God’s Kingdom is made up of all of His people.
Because God loves us God has given us gifts and it’s up to us to use them. We are each unique and we each have value. God didn’t craft you carefully for you to live casually. You’ve been wondrously made to do wondrous things!

And so use the gifts God has given you.  Don’t worry about the particulars.  If you’ve built a wall around yourself, tear it down and become available to God.
Remember, God has given all of us the greatest gift – the gift of Himself through Jesus. He made Himself available to us because we cannot save ourselves.
Because He made Himself available, and because He made Himself an offering on our behalf, we have salvation.  Our sinful thoughts and acts are forgiven.
In thanks, we need to take our everyday, ordinary lives and place them before God as an offering.  We should serve God because we want to.  And when we do, we’re operating out of our strongest gift – our love.

Remember the story of the boy who offered his loaves and fishes.  They were offered as a gift to God and God multiplied them.  Five loaves and two fishes were multiplied to feed over 5,000 with leftovers to boot.
But that’s what God does with gifts that are being used; He multiplies them and does even greater things! 

God offered the gift of salvation to Charlie Soong in this very place.  Charlie Soong then carried that gift to China and used it to change the world for millions of people.  God multiplied his efforts!
No matter where we are in life, or what situation we’re in, we can contribute to God’s Kingdom.  God needs every gift in this room to be used to advance His Kingdom.
God needs you and me.  If we don’t open the gifts God gave to us out of love, things will not be changed.  Don’t leave His gift unopened.  It’s one of the most special gifts you’ve ever received.
So, this Christmas go ahead and open His gift, give thanks, and offer your own loaves and fishes up to heaven!  Give the gift of yourself to God.
Open the gifts He has given you and use them and just watch what God will do.  I think you will be amazed.

In the name of Jesus – who was, and lives, and is to come.  Amen.

For more inspiration, visit 5th Avenue United Methodist Church in person on Sundays at 10:30AM at 409 South Fifth Avenue, Wilmington, NC.

Uniquely R’s and The Gladstone: A Local Treasure Gives Culture to WCC Students

Just beyond the curtain door at the back of a little shop, there is a special place for art and history in downtown Goldsboro, NC called The Gladstone. Dark wood walls and a crystal chandelier hanging from an antique tiled ceiling give this place a Golden Age feel. An upright piano frequently plays classical music and artists that serve coffee, tea, and pastries often sing along there. Occasionally a visitor pops in with his/her instrument, sits in one of the tall wingback chairs, and belts out a series of folk tunes.

Making a place for artists and people to feel welcomed and inspired was part of the owner’s vision. Her welcoming heart is present in every creative display, quirky item selection, and ornate fixture. Uniquely R’s offers customers an opportunity to experience a richer culture than their own and buy things they couldn’t possibly find anywhere else. Guests are drawn in by the quaint, enchanting floral patio entrance. They are curious about what lies beyond the water fountain and tables. They come to support a local business, but they end up transported to another time and place. The Gladstone gives guests an opportunity to sit and soak in that different time and place; it is the pride of the shop, Uniquely R’s, and the heart of its owner, Ruth Glisson.

In such a place, I get big ideas.

As an English teacher, I always struggle with making British literature relevant to my students. They have a hard time grasping the concepts and language of classics like Austen and Shakespeare. They don’t understand Victorian customs and practices; all things British seem old and unnecessary to them. How could I make them see the beauty in a bygone era? How could I make them truly understand and love the classics they had to read? The answer: let them experience it.

My big idea: bring students to The Gladstone and let them experience a foreign culture firsthand. l mentioned the idea to Ruth Glisson, and she loved it. Many months later, a travelling show was set to come to Paramount Theatre and present “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged”. It was the perfect timing and opportunity to take my English 4 students out for a cultural experience. I wrote a grant to the Foundation of Wayne Community College, and got approved! I was never so proud as when I got to walk into Uniquely R’s and talk business with Ruth. The party we planned was special, but the end result exceeded my wildest imagination. On April, 16, 2016, nine students and myself were treated like royalty.

My students had just read Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” and Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”, so we made a high tea themed around Pride and Prejudice. We had custom menus and music from the movie version–which we had watched in class–of the book. Courses came out in shiny tiered trays as the host (me) gave the nod to move forward. Ruth explained the history of tea and tea parties during the Victorian era as well as the history behind each food choice in our course. We began with savories then sweets with three drink choices along the way.

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The students were encouraged to dress up for the occasion. While some were not able to do so, others dressed up in suits, dresses, and hats. Regardless of their dress, every person there sat a little bit taller and prouder that night. They felt special…treasured…loved.

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Much thanks to Uniquely R’s and the Foundation of Wayne Community College for making this experience possible.


Reliving Civil War History in Bentonville, NC

Near Newton Grove, NC, over 150 years ago, one of the largest battles of the Civil War took place. Acres of farmland were overtaken in gunfire and the home of the Harper family became a hospital for injured soldiers.


The Harpers were not your stereotypical Southern plantation family. They cared for the wounded on both sides of the war with equal charity. Many of the wounded that died were even buried in their personal family graveyard.


Why would a Southern slave-owning family show such compassion? The answer may be in the long history of their family line.
Generations of Harpers, before and after this particular family unit, were in the forefront of important historical events. There were Harpers in the Revolutionary War, Harpers on both sides of the Civil War, Harpers in industry and trade, Harpers in education, and Harpers in religion. One such famous Harper was a preacher set to do a revival in America when he went down with the R.M.S. Titanic. He went into the water preaching the gospel of Christ and did not give up till he finally froze to death. So I have to think there is something in the Harper line, some great Christian heritage, that taught them to be industrious, strong, and kind people.
The Harpers of the Harper house did own slaves, though, so they must have been bad people, right? Wrong. One of the biggest misunderstandings about slavery is that those who owned slaves were immediately bad because they were buying and controlling other people as property. It is equally assumed that all slave holders mistreated their slaves. What we are missing is the fact that slavery was a way of life back then. Slaves were necessary to do manual labor that machines had not yet been created for.  They were paid in room and board and, in places like the Harpers house, education. Where it would have been a cause for beating to read elsewhere, Harper slaves were taught to read. Instead of the shanties on other plantations, Harper slaves lived in their own modest cabins.


Most importantly, Harper slaves felt loved and valued by their masters. In letters to the Harper family after the war, slaves praised the Harpers for their kind treatment and shared fond memories of their time there. Though our modern minds cannot fathom any humanity in owning slaves, there are many things about the past that we cannot comprehend without living it.
Today, tourists can visit the Harper House free of charge year-round. There are also many activities to commemorate the anniversary of the Battle of Bentonville every year on the anniversary of the battle. The most exciting part of these activities is the reenactments of life and cannon fire during that time. It is an opportunity to relive history that you don’t want to miss.




For more information about the historical site and how you can go visit it, check out their website at:

Historical Downtown New Bern, NC

There is a place that I like to go to at the end of Highway 70 where time is frozen. It is a town once build by the Swiss, named for their beloved homeland, bearing its shield, and revealing its artistry in rooftops.


An old church surrounded by dogwood blossoms and Spanish moss remembers the times George Washington visited its doors.


Gravestones in its yard tell stories of valiant men, women, and children who died in a period of illness that swept the town.

Across from this, an old soda shop remembers when Pepsi Cola got invented there, and it still makes you floats with local ice cream and Pepsi at its bar.


Commercialization creeps in–that’s to be expected. There are Pepsi company products at the soda shop, tours of the old church, and dozens of shops along the streets. But none of this bothers me. I am just excited to see downtown New Bern, NC alive and thriving.

Take a drive a little further down these downtown streets, and you’ll reach the inlet. Anxiously moving cars rush across criss-crossing bridges over water.


Sailboats are often docked at fancy hotels along the water. A simple open park gives a patch of grass for paused reflection. A walkway around the grass leads to odd concrete steps into the water.


Walk in and get your toes wet. Feel the water lap around your ankles. Feed bread crumbs to the gulls circling around you. But don’t jump in for a swim. Though the waterway is wide open for wading and one could easily jump into the deeper water from there, you can’t trust the current–or anything living in the water–from there.

It isn’t hard to love the culture of downtown New Bern. Whether for water, history, or shopping, there’s something in this little spot for everyone. Enjoy!