I Failed Coloring

Colossians 3:23-25

In 1986, Robert Fulgham wrote a clever little book, All I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten.  He expounds simple life lessons from Kindergarten rules:

1. Share everything.
2. Play fair.
3. Don’t hit people.
4. Put thngs back where you found them.
5. CLEAN UP YOUR OWN MESS.

I learned nothing in kindergarten.  Actually, I never attended kindergarten. It wasn’t required as part of public school, and most were private affairs, much like a day-care. I went for one day and told my parents, “No thanks.” I already knew how to do what they were doing. They were probably relieved, since they would have had to pay tuition out-of-pocket.

Off and on through my academic career, I struggled. It’s not that I’m a slow learner; I’m actually very bright and a quick study, and that was the problem. Once I had mastered a concept, I got bored and was ready to move on to bigger challenges. In kindergarten they were counting, learning their colors, and working puzzles. I could do all that. I wanted to learn to read, and that happened in first grade.

Bypassing the kindergarten experience, I did my “need to know” learning in first grade, and what a tutelage I had.  The first grade teacher at Balmorhea Elementary School was Mrs. Pox, a stout German frau whose personality matched her name, short, to-the-point, no-nonsense. She spoke, we obeyed.

sunflower

One day, we were instructed to color a sunflower for art.  The white paper with a bold, black, detailed outline of a large sunflower was distributed.  The instructions were clear. Outline the petals in black and color them yellow. Outline the seeds in black and color them brown.  Outline the stem and leaves in black and color them green. I have already mentioned my distaste for redundancy. I looked at the outline of the sunflower, and I could see no rationale for outlining all those seeds (there must have been over a  hundred) and all those petals, not to mention the leaves and stem. It was already outlined bold black! I hastily scribbled some yellow, some brown, and some green, and I laid it on Mrs. Pox’s desk, ready to move on. In previous exercises, I had already proven my ability to fully color within the lines.

As you might expect, I got the paper back with a big red “F.” I had to stay after school and re-color a brand new one. I was frustrated, humiliated, and agitated. The lessons I learned in first grade that day were simple.

  1. The hardest person to teach is someone who already knows.
  2. Details matter just as much as the big picture.
  3. Resist the “good enough” impulses.
  4. Complete seemingly meaningless tasks with as much fervor as important ones.
  5. Mrs. Pox is not one to be trifled with.
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Published in: on August 8, 2017 at 3:20 pm  Comments (1)  

Itchy Feet? Shake the Dust off!

Matthew 10:14

Moving…again. I remember a conversation I once had with a parishioner who happened to be a high school coach.  He said, “Being a preacher is a lot like being a coach. If you’re good, you move on. If you’re not good, you move on.”  We both had a laugh about the precarious nature of tenure in the two professions.

In some Christian denominations, the congregation has no say in who their shepherd is. The denominational leaders appoint priests and pastors, based on their understanding of the needs of the congregation as compared to the strengths of a particular minister.  In others, there is a sort of confab between the local congregation and the upper administration, an agreement between the two. In Baptist churches, the autonomy of the local church is a prized and protected distinctive.  The local church votes on pastors. They vote them in, and they vote them out. A wise pastor will sense when his leadership is no longer effective. Given some time, he will seek another flock who is more open to his leadership style.  Occasionally, though, a minister will be caught off guard by a called business meeting.  It is an ironic occasion, as many inactive church members suddenly appear in the sanctuary for the first time in years. The old adage is “they wheel them in from the nursing home” in order to ensure the pastor they welcomed three years ago will now be sent packing.

I know of two such occasions in my father’s ministry. In one instance, he was ousted of a church in deep East Texas because he invited a black man to attend services. Word of his offense got around, and he was met in the parking lot by deacons with shotguns. “Ain’t no #@%$ n—–r comin’ in this church!” He let them know, in no uncertain terms and in their own vernacular, that if his friend couldn’t come, he couldn’t stay. On another occasion, I really don’t fully know what happened. On a Wednesday night, we had prayer meeting. Immediately afterward, the deacon chair announced a business meeting. My father must have had advance warning. He immediately took out his key ring and started removing the keys to the building. “I’ll save you the trouble” he said.  He then excused his family from the room, instructing us to wait at the parsonage. An hour later he returned, placed a baseball bat by the front door, and said, “They had better not come in here.”

On both occasions, we packed up to move – without really knowing where – and he stood outside the U-Haul truck and stamped his feet, shaking off the dust. “It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city” (or for that church).  There are certainly mean preachers in the ministry, but there are also mean churches. One church leader berated my father for having the audacity to wear red socks in the pulpit. In my own ministry, I was called to task for not wearing a jacket on Sunday night, although I was wearing a tie. It seems the jacket without a tie was more appropriate. I have endured being yelled at in a meeting. (I had neglected to obtain a photo of the evangelistic team coming in for a revival meeting.)

Moving-Day-3_0

As a child, I never really minded moving. It meant a new town and a new adventure and, hopefully, new friends. I am older now, and moving is not as appealing.  They say, “three moves equals one fire.” Something important always gets broken.  Not too long ago, I realized I have now lived in the same house for seven years.  That’s a record. The ministry can be ruthless when a disagreement with the church board means losing not only your job, but your home, as well.  Whether moving is a result of a forced resignation or a better situation, that background in my life gave me itchy feet. After a few years, something in me said it was time to start looking.  That’s not always healthy, though, and I must confess that my congregations were mostly very congenial and sad to say good-bye when we left.  A couple of them have a tiny pile of dust somewhere in the parking lot.

Jesus’ instruction to those he sent out was plain.  Don’t spend a lot of energy where you know you’re not welcome. If your message is falling on deaf ears, move on. If you are not welcome, there are no heavenly brownie points for simply making your own life more miserable for another year.

I think I may have one more move left in me. I have often fantasized about a small beach cottage. At Christmas time there is a commercial showing just such a home. You hear someone whistling “Oh Christmas Tree,” then a palm tree lights up with Christmas lights. That serene setting appeals to me.  Maybe when I retire.

Published in: on August 2, 2017 at 9:54 am  Leave a Comment  

Glass Houses and Fishbowls

I Peter 2:9

pe-cu-li-ar: (adj.) strange or odd; unusual

From birth, a PK (preacher’s kid) is different.  Just as the parent is set aside for a singular purpose, the PK is included in the unique situation.  Living in the parsonage is often likened to living in a fishbowl.  Your life is transparent to anyone and everyone.  This tends to create a situation in which the child, early on, begins to develop strategies to be just like everyone else, normal. It’s an uphill battle.  Once your peers are informed of your heritage, it begins.

stand-by-me

PKs are especially prone to peer-pressure and bullying. Recently, I was telling a friend about my formative years. Somewhere around sixth grade, I spent most afternoons wondering who would try to beat me up that day.  I wanted nothing more than to simply be “one of they guys;” I just wanted to fit in. In those efforts, I usually went overboard trying to prove my normality.  I was an easy target for peer pressure.  I remember the neighborhood fellas daring me to throw a rock through the window of the vacant house, just to prove I wasn’t a “goody-two-shoes.” (I won’t recount the story here, but Google the term. It was originally a tale designed to motivate children to live a virtuous life.) I bent down, picked up a stone of adequate size, and threw it straight and true. CRASH! As schoolboys do, they all scattered, and left me staring at the results of my vandalism.

I ran home and hid in my bedroom.  I sheepishly moved around the house, waiting to see if I had gone undiscovered. The rest of the afternoon went by, and it was finally bath-time to get ready for bed. I had escaped.  There I was, naked in the tub and counting my toes, when my father walked in. “Come here.” I was naked in more ways than one. He didn’t even let me dress. He wrapped a towel around me and led me to the front door. The stranger there turned out to be the owner of the rent-house under renovation. I wondered what that sticker on the window meant. It meant they were brand new windows.  I had never seen this man before. How in the world did he know I was the culprit? There wasn’t even a line-up with the other boys, just me.  There went my allowance for the month.

I had not only embarrassed myself, but also my father. He was serious about the way his children’s actions reflected on his ministry.  At one point a year or so later, he was especially irritated at my grades in school.  I brought home three Cs.  Have I mentioned I am a “junior?” He was Arthur Wesley Wellborn Sr. I was Arthur Wesley Wellborn Jr. After one lick of the belt for each C on the report card, he sternly asserted, “Boy, that’s my name you’re carrying around in this world, but you’re acting like a jack-ass.  If you keep this up, I’ll take you to the courthouse and change your name to Jack Ass.”  I believed him. The next report card was nothing lower than an A. He put his arm around my shoulder, and told me he was proud. He then pulled out a brand new pocket-knife as a reward.

These days are a little different. It’s not just preacher’s kids who are under scrutiny.  There is literally nothing hidden. Digital technology assures that. We all live in fish bowls.  Our actions are open and permanently recorded for everyone to see. Everything comes to light at some point.  In many ways, I still feel different, peculiar, odd. In many ways, I still want nothing more than to feel “normal,” whatever that means. It does give me comfort, however, to know that God’s people are different by design. We are different for a reason. As Christians, it is Christ’s name we carry through the world.  We are set apart in that world, and if “normal” means clinging to the darkness rather than proclaiming the light, maybe being peculiar isn’t such a bad thing.

Published in: on July 27, 2017 at 11:15 am  Leave a Comment  

Hot Daawgs; Getcher Hot Dogs!

Mark 7:19

I am told that today, July 19, is National Hot Dog Day.  We Americans do love adding yet another reason to celebrate.  Today, we celebrate that wonderfully horrible food that stands for everything we are as a nation. The hot dog’s glorious mixture of meats represents the blending of cultures, where beef, poultry, and pork co-exist in a harmonious state.  The resourcefulness of our forefathers is echoed in the use of each and every part of the animal. The simplicity of preparation makes a cook out of anyone. That most American of foods, today, we salute you.

Oscar Mayer

Wieners were a staple at our house when I was growing up, along with tube steak (bologna). Although we never missed a meal, we were often unsure of where our next meal would come from.  Beans and cornbread, bologna, and wieners were the substance of our sustenance. Sometimes they were dressed up with cheese and stuck in a slice of bread. Other times, they were simply naked.  Strangely enough, bologna was the only one of those entrees I lost a taste for.  Somewhere around sixth grade, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I still love beans and cornbread, and I still love hot dogs.

I’ve only gotten sick from food twice in my life; both events involved hot dogs.  The first time was on a family vacation.  I’ve already told you about our trips to Medina, Texas. Often, there were other pastors and their families at the same facility, enjoying much needed respite. One year, I think I was eight years old, the whole lot of us had a cookout. I waited my turn in line, then I scarfed down my first dog. I returned for a second…and a third…a fourth. In all, I consumed eight hot dogs that night.  Needless to say, later that night, I let the dogs loose. (Now you know the answer. I let the dogs loose.)

The second event took place my junior year in college.  On the last day of finals, I finished my exams at around 3:30 pm.  I had an eight hour drive ahead of me, so my brother (who was a freshman at the same school) and I decided to take in a movie, get a night’s rest, then drive home the next morning when we were fresh.  We went to the local cinema and watched Arnold Schwartzenegger in Conan the Barbarian.  I had a jumbo dog at 9:15 pm.  At 2:30 am, the jumbo dog had me.

Many folks would have given up on the lowly dog, after just one of those episodes. Not me. I have been loyal to the dogs, and they have been loyal to me.  I have often entertained the idea of having a hot dog cart as a retirement job.  A well-placed hot dog cart – near a park or river or lake or downtown offices – can net the owner a pretty nice cash reserve. There is low overhead, low maintenance, and simplicity of process.  You can’t lose.

In our health-conscious society, the wiener has taken a lot of criticism lately.  To that, I simply respond, “Jesus declared all foods clean.”  Sounds impossible?  Well, if he can declare clean anyone who comes to him, no matter what they have done…no matter what… can’t he just as easily use a hot dog for that most Baptist of prayers, “And bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies.”

Published in: on July 19, 2017 at 10:44 am  Leave a Comment  

Christian Cursing

James 3:10

I’ve already introduced you to Tom Greenhill, my best friend for the four years we lived in Balmorhea, Texas.  Tom’s dad, the Methodist pastor, had several children. I can’t remember now if there were four or five Greenhills, but I know there were more Greenhills than Wellborns.  It seems one of them may have been allergic to cow’s milk because I remember they kept goats.  It was the goats and the Greenhills that introduced me to cursing.

First, you should know we were not allowed to curse. That was one of the “big” sins. Not only that, we were not allowed to use by-words.  A by-word is a word you use to get by without actually cursing.  Therefore, you have words such as “shoot” and “darn.” My father’s approach was curse-words (and by-words) showed ignorance and disrespect.  If you can’t express your thoughts and feelings in legitimate verbiage, it shows you have a limited vocabulary and need further education.  My dad was consistent, too. I never remember him uttering profanity, even when he hit his thumb with a hammer. He would simply grit his teeth and grunt.

 

Back to the Greenhills. We all know cute and funny goats are, forgetting that Jesus always, always used goats in negative terminology and metaphor.  I remember one day at the Greehill home seeing the oldest daughter experience some displeasing event and spitting out a quick and venemous, “dammit!”  I had never heard the word before, but there was something mature and adventuresome about the way she said it.  She was older and pretty, and I kind of liked the way she said it.

goat lick

It was a week or two later when Tom and I were in their back yard playing with the goats.  One of the goats bit me, so I spat out a quick and grown-up, “dammit!” Everything and everyone around me froze.  All the Greenhills stared at me.  All the neighbors stared at me.  God stared at me.  Scripture rightly asserts, what you have said in secret will be shouted from the housetops.  I ran home, but the news of my vulgarity beat me there. I humbly accepted my sentence of a spanking, a mouth-washing, and a lecture.  To this day I think it was unfair that the very Greenhill daughter who taught me the word was the same one who reported my use of it to my parents.  At age six, in one day, I learned the dangers of loose-lips and worldly women.

Years later, when I was attempting to learn golf (preachers love golf, so I tried to fit in) I again found the need for self-expression of negative emotion.  This time I invented “Christian cursing.”  In retrospect, it was truly another fashion of by-words, but sometimes you just need a good interjection.  Teeing off into the sand-trap, I invented words like “flibberjibbit” and “snagdabbit.”  Shortly after that, a movie called “A Christmas Story” stole my approach.  I still laugh when I watch that movie and the dad spews his modified D-words and F-words.

What’s the point?  My dad taught me that cursing is actually cursing.  In biblical times, placing a blessing on someone – wishing them well – had an antithesis, cursing. Damnation is a bad thing, and “damn you” wishes that bad on the other person.  Cursing spews sewage on everyone who hears it.  I’m not the speech police, but I still wax bold when someone is flaunting their ignorance of the language by slinging their curses on everyone within earshot.  My spouse often worried when I reminded some young buck, giving a stern look, “I have my wife and children here. Please watch your language. I won’t ask you again.”  I’ve never had to ask twice.  They know it’s inappropriate, and they immediately apologize.

There was a popular country song recently about a father who hears his toddler son spout a curse word. He asks where the son heard language like that.  The son replies, “I learned it from you, Dad! I want to be like you!”

Published in: on July 10, 2017 at 10:00 am  Comments (2)  

Oh, the People You’ll Meet

norman1

I culminated my last post with an observation that motorcycles open doors to meeting people you would not otherwise encounter.  This past week, as my buddy Terry and I were riding through the Texas Hill country, that proved true.

Just southeast of Kerrville lies the tiny town of Medina, where my family would vacation in my childhood years.  Terry and I stopped at the general store for a soft drink and a snack.  As we were stretching our legs, an old gent pulled into the parking lot and approached us with a broad grin.  Terry struck up a conversation about his veteran’s cap, and the two of them began swapping military memories.

Norman Rigsby is a survivor of World War II, specifically D-Day.  I remember travelling to Normandy and Omaha beaches in France a few years back.  Over 160,000 soldiers stormed the beaches, and over 9,000 were killed or wounded in a single day.  Norman survived.  Later in the war, he was twice wounded.  When he could no longer serve as an infantryman, they assigned him to motorcade duties on a 1946 Harley Davidson.  His grin grew even bigger when he pulled from his shirt pocket a picture of him on his Harley.  He had the honor of escorting General George Patton’s entourage.

I found my eyes getting watery as Norman told of lying in a medic tent with an empty body bag waiting beside his cot, since they didn’t expect him to survive. He did survive, though, and I am privileged to have met him.  At a spry 92 years of age, he shared his philosophy of long life (which I choose not to share here for reasons of my own – sorry). He, and others like him, are the reason they are called “The Great Generation.”

I also think of my father, who served in the Air Force during the Korean Conflict. That word, “conflict,” certainly waters things down, doesn’t it? It wasn’t a conflict; it was a war.  My father worked in the K9 corps, as an MP guarding an ammo dump in Okinawa. He never talked much about it, saying it was a dark time in his life.  He did, however, use his veteran status as an opportunity to reach out to other veterans.

My friend, Terry, also saw combat duty.  He served three tours in Iraq in the recent wars, Desert storm and Iraqi Freedom.  He knows first-hand the mental and emotional impact of duck-and-cover during artillery fire and the grueling grief of seeing fallen comrades.

These men, I consider true heroes.  To a man, they say the same: “I was just doing my job.” Their job was to give up their freedom and safety to protect ours.  They did that job for woefully little pay and under horrendous conditions.  They don’t usually care to discuss it much in-depth, except with other veterans.  They don’t brag. These men, in my opinion, come the closest to identifying with the mission and sacrifice of Christ, who gave up all position and power to sacrifice himself in our behalf and for our benefit.

This Independence Day, if you encounter a veteran, thank that person.  Honor the service and sacrifice, whatever your political leanings.  Your right to disagree, your freedom to debate how wrong or right those wars (or any wars) may be, your right was purchased by these men and women.  Norman, Terry, and all others, my hat is off to you today.

norman2

Published in: on July 3, 2017 at 9:55 am  Leave a Comment  

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

CB 450

I am currently packing up my bike for a week-long outing with a buddy of mine.  Consequently, I thought an appropriate follow-up to the bicycle story might be to explain my love of motorcycles, so I borrowed the title of Robert Pirsig’s best-seller.  Even the customized bicycle was meant to reflect a motorcycle. That was the point of the handlebars, the seat, the cards in the spokes.  At age seven, I was making progress toward my ultimate goal.

About a year later, we moved to a new town, and I met a friend who had a mini-bike.  It was a short little frame powered by a lawn-mower engine. You had to pull a rope to start it, then you could hop on and ride around at a nice little clip.  I asked my parents if we might be able to get one.  My father said we couldn’t afford it, and my mother said absolutely not.  In fact, she said, “When you are 18, you can do what you want. Until then, you cannot have one.”  At age 16 John Terrell, who lived on a farm, would invite me over, and I could use one of their small bikes, a Yamaha 80. On the first day, I rounded a curve too fast and slid under a barbed-wire fence, slicing my right calf open. I still have the scar, and I still had the fever.

When I turned 18, I reminded my mother of her words and promptly secured a Kawasaki 125 enduro (street/dirt) bike that was a true fixer-upper.  That was the first of a long line of bikes I have thoroughly enjoyed.  There’s nothing like a couple of hours with the wind in your face to get your head straight.  As bikers say, “It’s cheaper than therapy.”

The thing I could never figure out was the reaction I got from parishioners.  A preacher on a motorcycle? What? Why?  I guess films like Easy Rider created a certain persona about motorcycle riders that good church-going folks felt was incompatible with the ministry.  In fact, at my first full-time church staff position, I rode my motorcycle to the office one sunny summer day.  I thought it might be a great way to open doors for youth ministry.  It was an avocado green, Honda CB 450, that had been chopped (the front forks cut and re-welded at a much sharper angle and extended). Well, the leaders of the church had a different opinion and strongly requested (demanded?) I not ride it to the church.  They didn’t want their youth led into delinquency and suggested I sell it; I didn’t.

Even though, through the years, my bikes got progressively larger, more comfortable, and more suited to touring, I still got the question: a preacher on a motorcycle? The most spiritual answer I can give is, I like it. Some people paint, some people have animals, some collect stamps, I ride my motorcycle. And what about bad company?  I have encountered many truly rough folks as our motorcycle paths cross.  It has always created a sort of mutual ground from which to establish relationships.  There’s a sort of unspoken brotherhood with bikers.  Maybe is the shared danger of dodging cars driven by the short-sighted and distracted. Anyhow, that’s what Jesus did. He looked for mutual ground to establish relationships.  With him, it was always about relationships.  He didn’t go out of his way to manipulate circumstances; he simply did what he was going to do anyway, and looked for the opportunity that presented itself as he crossed paths with someone else.

This next week, I will no doubt make new friends, at least I hope I do.  My buddy (a retired Pentecostal pastor and army chaplain) will accompany me in some much needed recreation and relaxation.  Look out, world: TWO preachers on motorcycles.

Bluebonnet

Published in: on June 26, 2017 at 10:50 am  Comments (1)  

My First Bicycle

my bike before

Girl’s bicycle

Psalm 37:24  (Loosely applied)

My first bicycle was a girl’s bicycle.  In 1967, that was not cool.  Most pastors like my dad were paid a marginal salary, so things like bicycles and large toys were lower on the priority list than things like groceries and gas.  As a result, my first bicycle was a hand-me-down, like many of my clothes. My sister had it first, and it wasn’t new when she got it. My parent’s got it at a garage sale, and those were very important enterprises for families like ours.  At any rate, the bike was handed down to me when she outgrew it.

I need to first explain to millennial readers the difference between a girl’s bike and a boy’s bike.  On a boy’s bike, there is a bar that runs from the top of the handlebar yoke to the top of the seat bracket.  On a girl’s bike, the bar drops down from the handlebars to just above the pedals.  As an inquisitive boy, I never quite figured that out. In fact, I could imagine anatomical reasons why that was not a good idea.  Later, I realized that the bar dropping on a girl’s bike was based in a culture of days gone by.  Most young people rode bicycles for transportation, from their childhood into their twenties.  At that time, however, it was unseemly for a young lady to be in public wearing pants. They wore shin-length skirts.  Since a boy’s bicycle had that bar, it was cumbersome and risque for a young lady to swing her leg over the seat to mount the bike, like one might mount a horse.  Therefore, the bar was lowered, so she could step through the middle and simply sit on the seat as her skirt rested on the bar.

Now that you have the history and rationale for the unique designs of the respective two-wheelers, you must know I was more motivated to have transportation than I was by bowing to peer-pressure.  I had a plan.  To compensate for the missing top bar, I decided I would have my own garage sale, after which the proceeds would fund a customization of the bike.  Fortunately, it was already red, my favorite color. I would customize the handlebars, the seat, and the wheels.

First, I removed the wide touring handlebars. I purchased “spider” handlebars, that rise sharply, then drop down, like a chopper motorcycle.  Next, I removed the old saddle-style seat and installed a long “banana” seat. (You can ride two, if a girl agrees to sit behind you.)  Finally, I removed the wheels, but that is where things got sticky.  I had spent all my money on the handlebars and seat and had none left for the wheels.  I really wanted whitewall tires.  With no alternative, I reluctantly replaced the wheels.  Something happened that would become a regular occurrence in my mechanical endeavors. I had a part leftover, but I couldn’t figure out where it belonged.  Everything seemed to work, though, so I dismissed any concern. The final step was to attach playing cards to the spokes with clothes pins.  That way the wheels made a nice rat-a-tat-tat, as I rode down the street.

Once the customization was complete, I rode, and rode, loud and proud on my Huffy….Davidson.  And what was I proud of?  My very economical, self-customized bicycle and my new found skill of riding a wheelie, front wheel in the air, blowing in the breeze.  I could ride a wheelie for three blocks!  One day, as I was riding one of my world famous wheelies, the front wheel dropped off the fork and rolled down the street in front of me. At that moment, there were two realizations that almost simultaneously struck me.  1. I now knew where that leftover part went.  2. In that moment, I knew gravity would win at some point, and I was suddenly GLAD my bicycle was a girl’s bike.

boys bike

Boy’s bicycle

Published in: on June 21, 2017 at 2:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Valley…The Shadow

Kimberly

Kimberly

Psalm 23

It has been almost a year since I last contributed to this project.  For the most part, I simply haven’t had the emotional energy.  Caring for my wife in her declining health was sapping all strength.  Others would try to encourage me, assuring me it would help process what I was going through, but I did not want to process.  I simply needed to survive and dedicate every ounce of emotional resource to her.  We had been walking through the valley, in the shadow.

Death casts a long shadow. Each day, every day, it was there with us.  As the tumors in her lungs continued to spread and grow, and her stamina continued to wane, Death’s shadow grew.  We weren’t afraid, not really.  As believers we knew the final outcome would be victory, but it was still a valley, and there was still that shadow.   I was continually reminded of Paul’s observation, “We carry about in our bodies the death of Christ.”

In the valley and in the shadow, there were moments of respite. The Psalmist said God prepares a table in the presence of the enemy, and that he did.  For over a year, my wife’s school and church friends brought food, lots and lots of food.  Other than my intentional routine of Saturday breakfast, we cooked very little.  Not only was there food, but our cup ran over.  In all, friends contributed somewhere around $20,000 toward her medical care. Others came and cleaned our house.  Still others came to baby-sit when she became too weak to care for our grandchildren, as our daughters went to work. Church and school friends pitched in to help plan and carry out our son’s wedding rehearsal dinner. Other friends came to simply sit and visit, as this cheered and encouraged her. All this took place in the valley, in the shadow.

I have traveled this road over forty years ago, when my father died. Death comes to the parsonage, as it does every other home and family.  There is no distinction.  The familiarity of the road gave some comfort…no, not comfort…just familiarity.  I knew the destination.

Two weeks ago, the valley grew deeper and the shadow grew darker.  Her breath was shortened, labored, and her strength was failing.  She spent most of her last few days in the bed or the recliner.  Her thoughts were jumbled, and her emotions were frayed and raw.  Yet she enjoyed what there was left of life, a late-night (early morning) viewing of Camelot, as she sang each and every song from memory. She enjoyed a poached egg breakfast the next morning on the back porch, soaking in the cool breeze after a rain, and commented on the green grass and the tall corn just beyond the back fence.

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” We are never told how many days we have, but each day she would end by recounting one thing that happened and say, “Today was another perfect day.”

“I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” That night, after enjoying our movie and breakfast, she sat in the recliner and talked to the kids. She quipped, “Have I died and gone to heaven?”  Twelve hours later, she did.  After going to the emergency room for relief of a maddening headache and inability to breathe well, the doctor agreed to admit her to a hospice room.  A powerful cocktail of various drugs offered her the sleep that had eluded her for weeks.  She slept for six hours, as each breath was more labored and further from the last.  As I returned from a quick shower and bowl of cereal, I walked back into the room and mustered a cheery, “Hello!”  She took one more breath and was gone.

In all this, He walked with us. There were green pastures and still waters before the end, the trips to Europe, Niagra Falls, The Grand Tetons and Yellowstone. We lacked nothing. He restored us time and again.  Now, the valley is behind us and the shadow is gone. The future is a big, blank canvass, a new road, waiting to see where he leads next.

Published in: on June 13, 2017 at 12:54 pm  Comments (9)  

The Ordinances – Part II; Baptism

Matthew 28:19

As good and faithful, Bible believing Baptists, we did not have the seven sacraments; we had the two ordinances, baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  Preacher’s kids regularly practice both. In fact, any time we were near any body of water that was more than knee-deep, we baptized.  There weren’t any true converts waiting to have their sins washed away, but we practiced doing it anyway, just in case.  There must have been something in us that wanted to honor the somber nature of baptism yet have fun.  The solution was to dunk each other “in the name of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy!”  We dared not invoke the name of the Holy Trinity into potential blasphemy.

baptism

Living in west Texas means there are regular dust storms.  Regular dust storms means the baptistery must be cleaned before each and every service which included the joyful ordinance.  My father took special joy in sweeping, mopping, and rinsing the tank before baptism services. We could see it in his eyes as he labored.

On one occasion, we decided to help. In fact, we offered to do it for him.  After the communion fiasco, he was reluctant, but as any good father would, he offered us a second chance.  On Sunday afternoon, we gathered our broom, mop, and bucket to prepare for the task.  We swept and swept. Then, we liberally applied Tide detergent over the floor of the baptistery, so we could mop it.  I don’t remember exactly what happened next, but something distracted us, and we left the building.  My father, thinking we had finished, crawled under the platform to where the water valve was, and he turned it on.  It takes about 45 minutes for most baptisteries to fill up, so he then went home for a bit. (Wait for it).

When he came back to turn the water off, there was a four-foot-high mountain of suds on top of the water.  By that time, it was only a few minutes until the service was scheduled to start.  He scraped as much of the suds off the top as he could, but not nearly enough.  When the curtains opened to reveal him standing in the baptistery awaiting the candidate, gasps then snickers and giggles swept over the congregation.  He had forewarned the poor fellow, who took it all in stride with good humor. Never was a convert so thoroughly cleansed of his sins.

Through the years, there were many instances of baptizing a younger believer who loved to chance to be in the mini-pool. There was more than one occasion when the baptized was significantly taller and heavier than the baptizer. I usually just told those guys to sit down, as if on a chair then stand back up. You have to be careful to get their top-knot under the water, though.  One fellow was so large, he doused the back row of the choir when he went under. It was sort of like Shamu at Sea World.

No matter the circumstances, we Baptist are good dunkers. We were named for it, and we take special pleasure in doing it. “Buried with Christ in baptism, raised to walk in new life.”

Published in: on April 14, 2016 at 8:43 am  Leave a Comment