Archive for July 2018

When You Journey Together For 39 Years

July 29, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        July 29, 2018

                          

It was a hot day in Clarendon Hills, Illinois when Carol and I stood at the front of Community Presbyterian Church and said our wedding vows to one another. It was July 28, 1979 and the baby of the Wolfe family was marrying the middle child of the Faletti clan. I had graduated form Northern Baptist Theological Seminary less than two months before that, began a ministry position at First Baptist Church in Davison, Michigan, and was entering a new phase of my life that could optimistically be entitled “New Discoveries”, but more accurately be called “Clueless!”

We said our vows to one another and headed down the aisle towards the exit. When a bride and groom leave a wedding ceremony they never know what they’re headed into. No, I’m not referring to the reception and honeymoon. I’m talking about the journey of walking into life together. The starry eyes of saying “I do!” soon enter the planned and unplanned happenings of a shared life. 

39 years later Carol and I have said goodbye to each one of our parents, my dad being the final one to depart this past February. We’ve had one dog and five cats. In order of their stays with us there has been Eusebius (C.B), our only experiment into the canine world, Tickles (who lived to be 20 and a 1/2), Prince Charming Kisses, Duke, Katie Katie Cocoa Puffs, and Princess Maliboo (Boo). Our daughters always named the cats, in case you’re wondering!

We’ve lived in two apartments and four houses in the 39 years. We still remember the couple that lived in the apartment beside us the first few months of marriage. They were rather loud as they engaged in their romantic activity. Carol and I thought that maybe there was something wrong with us since we didn’t make noises that sounded like someone was in pain.  We soon got over it!

The journey took us to three different hospital delivery rooms to experience the incredible blessings of God upon us of three children. The birth of our  child, Kecia Corin, involved a Code Blue as she had swallowed some fluid. I stood beside Carol’s bed in the delivery room holding her hand and praying as they worked on our first-born just a few feet to the left. To hear that first scream trumpeting from her lungs was an answer to prayer and reason for praise.

We’ve lost friends that have gone on to Glory, walked the final days of life with several of them, and cried the tears of heartache. We’ve also said goodbye to so many people because of relocation from one place of ministry to the next. The toughest part of ministry is leaving, knowing that the people whose lives have been intertwined with yours for so long will no longer be those that you walk with. We moved from the certainty of what was to the uncertainty of what is to come. 

Carol and I have journeyed together for so long that we know the story that is about to be shared by one of us without even a clue as to what is about to be said. We know our tendencies and our bad habits- my desire for Starbucks coffee in the morning and her Diet Coke from Kum and Go, with a few ounces of regular Coke mixed into it; my snore and her punch in my side; her desire for something sweet while I like something salty. 

When we exited that church sanctuary 39 years ago we didn’t know the valleys we would have to cross or the exhilaration of the mountains we climbed. We weren’t thinking about 39 years when we galloped down the aisle. I wasn’t thinking about much at all except what was to come later on that night! 

It has been 39 years where we’ve trusted in the Lord, but, quite frankly, at other times we haven’t trusted in the Lord. The grace of God has been a dominant part of our journey.

And we love each other more today than every before. Thank you, Lord!

Hearing My Papaw Helton Again After 30 Years

July 27, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            July 27, 2018

                    

I only knew one of my grandfathers. The other, my dad’s dad, died in a mining accident in the southeast corner of Kentucky long before I was even a possibility. 

My Papaw Helton, however, was distinctive in personality, the governor of his family’s domain, and the source of various opinions that were mostly anchored to common sense…mostly!

My sister made me a DVD copy of an interview Papaw Helton had done with my cousin, Matthew Helton, back in 1989. Papaw was 89 at the time of the interview and lived another couple of years. He had been born on the eastern Kentucky farm in 1898 where he lived almost his entire life. In fact, the front sitting room where he was delivered was also the same room where each of his six children were born. Knowing my Mama Helton she went to the chicken coop and killed a chicken for a celebration dinner a few hours after delivering. No epidurals were used in Oil Springs, Kentucky back in those days, although there was probably a bottle of bourbon whiskey somewhere close…for medicinal purposes!

When you haven’t heard your Papaw’s voice for thirty years it’s causes a flood of emotions to rise up from the reservoir of memories. My Papaw was a proud and stoic “feller” (his pronunciation). He was suspicious of any new inventions that were meant to improve the quality of a person’s life. (I think I was ten years old when he and Mamaw decided to finally get indoor plumbing! Until then you battled the spiders in the outhouse, which caused you to “hold your water” a bit longer before seeking relief!) 

I remember the story of a salesman stopping by the farmhouse looking to sell a satellite dish…one of those huge ones that stuck out like a sore thumb! He explained what the dish could do, how many TV channels it could pick up, and all. Back in those days Mamaw and Papaw had a little TV that could pick up two stations, and one of them so fuzzy you weren’t sure if you were watching a baseball game or “The Price Is Right”!

The salesman thought he had a good prospective sale and then my Papaw asked him how much this “deesh” cost? 

“Mr. Helton, it’s only nineteen ninety-five!”

“Nineteen ninety-five?” He relayed that conversation to us with the comment, “Good Lord, son! He made it sound like a twenty dollar bill!” No sale was made and my grandparents continued to receive two television stations. They never ever saw Ed Sullivan with good complexion on TV!

On the DVD Matthew keeps peppering Papaw with questions about politics, life, his siblings, where he worked, who his favorite president was, his only plane ride ever, and the fearlessness of Matthew’s father, my Uncle George, on the trip they all took together by auto to California and back. 

“Your daddy wanted to stop at every place we came to on the way!” Papaw exclaims, not in an affirming way. “And he wanted to go to the top of Pike’s Peak. Lord God, there weren’t any guardrails along that road and I just about put my foot through the floorboard on the way down and wore out my britches! I said, Lord God, if you get me down from here I’ll never go up again!”

The sound of his voice is like eating comfort food. It’s satisfaction for the soul, a return to an earlier time that was uncomplicated and certain. With Papaw life wasn’t gray. Things were mostly black and white. Either you were or you weren’t…there wasn’t any “almost.” A person was either right or wrong, and, of course, what was right depended on my Papaw’s view of things. 

And I realize that who I am today still has his definite imprint upon it, and that’s a very good thing!

Rants, Raves, and Wonders

July 26, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        July 26, 2018

                                 

I’m not a complainer. I whine a little bit about the heat, overcooked beef, and wimpy water pressure in the shower, but other than that…and a few other things, I’m pretty mature and rational.

And so I let things simmer inside me…thoughts, rants, unanswerable questions, things that prick at me like when you find out that pinching in your butt was a wood splinter all along! (And then you start wondering “How did a wood splinter get inside my underwear?”)

My ranting and wondering this time around was ignited by recent experiences with American Airlines. In all of my checking in and gate experiences I never experienced a smile. In fact, I thought I had been transported back in time to the lunch room aides at Williamstown Elementary in Williamstown, West Virginia in 1961. They were ladies devoid of happiness and consumed with straight student lines as we walked towards our executions by way of the consumption of the worst mac and cheese ever created. 

Perhaps they had flunked out of flight attendant college and had been offered positions terrorizing passengers before they boarded…I don’t know! All I know is they looked like they had been sucking on lemons.

That was a rant!

On my first flight from Colorado Springs to Dallas (The first of three flights! It takes some doing to get to Huntington, West Virginia!) I was amused by the instructional video that was shown before we departed…you know, how to put your seat belt on and what to do if the plane crash lands in water. The video was well-done, but what plane were they on? There was like three feet of space between each row! And no one in that video had ever been through a buffet line! They were all slim and orderly and probably don’t even eat pie ever. On my last flight back last night my seat was next to a man who flowed over on my side because of his size. He was a nice guy, but he definitely had not been in cast as a passenger in the pre-flight safety video. This morning I’m leaning to the right out of habit!

That was a rant with a small wonder!

My brother and I went to church last Sunday at the Southern Baptist church we were raised in back in Winchester, Kentucky. One question! Why do so many churches, Southern Baptist and other flavors on the conservative side, only have females in staff positions that deal with children or hospitality? The church we revisited (The last time I had been there was when I was 8!) had four pastors for pastoral care, youth, worship, and teaching…and then one female name at the bottom of the list for children’s programs!

That was something I was wondering about, albeit a confused wondering! 

This morning a lady in front of me at Starbucks mentioned to Rhea, one of the baristas, that it seemed warm and humid in the place. I wanted to correct her, but I held back. I wanted to say “Honey, you don’t know what humidity is until you’ve been in Proctorville, Ohio, situated on the banks of the Ohio River, in late July. It’s so humid there I could squeeze juice out of my face!” 

I didn’t say that, however. I just looked at her and smiled.

One last thing! Why does Bob Evans sausage taste so good? I had sausage patties and sausage gravy yesterday on the way to the Huntington airport. Before I met another round of American Airlines employees with sour dispositions I wanted to leave Huntington with a good memory- breakfast at the restaurant where Dad and I would dine. Bob Evans is also the only restaurant I know of where I can get fried cornmeal mush! Yum, yum!

And that, my friends, is a rave!

The Large Changed To Small

July 24, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           July 24, 2018

                       

It’s happened numerous times it seems! I’ve revisited towns and places of my childhood and someone has found a way to shrink therm in size in the 55 years or so since I last was there.

I noticed it first back in Williamstown, West Virginia. The streets had been narrowed since I was a kid in fifth grade living there. I remember the main street that ran through town being like a four lane highway. It ran between the community park and the grocery. I’d find a couple of pop bottles to turn into the store. The store would give me three cents a bottle, which I would use to buy a PayDay or similar sugared-up product. I’d sprint across that street, heart racing, since I knew it was against my parent’s rules. 

In my revisit, however, the highway (in my mind) had been narrowed to where now it is barely wide enough for two compact cars to pass one another going in opposite directions.

And then my brother and I visited Central Baptist Church in Winchester, Kentucky- the church my family attended from the time I was an infant to the age of eight. We were in that sanctuary three times a week- Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday evening- but someone had shrunk it. A new sanctuary has been built that must seat a thousand or so. We navigated our way through the building that has been added onto a few times until we found the old sanctuary. It’s been repurposed and abused into a youth gathering room. (There’s something weird about that, by the way! Maybe because what once was has long since been changed into what now is!) I remember the old sanctuary being huge, but when we entered it what was once a large gathering place of God’s place on Sunday morning now seems more like a worship closet. 

After church we journeyed around town and stopped at the first two houses I remember living in. Back in the day they were mansions, huge homes where a good game of hide and seek could be played involving small people. BUT once again someone had zapped each one of them with a reducer gun and turned them into Polly Pockets residences!

The perspective of our youth often gets a vision test in our adult years. Our view has been changed. The far-sighted imagination of our childhood gets replaced by the near-sighted skepticism of our aged eyes. What was larger than life becomes the small reality.

There’s a sadness in this change. Perhaps it’s the discovery that what was our “world” as kids, and the specialness of those times, now looks insignificant in the present. When we take our kids and grandkids back to those sacred places there’s yawns and indifference. The mansion we remember now simply looks like a small two bedroom house on a street populated with other small two bedroom homes. 

In another generation they will experience the same thing with their kids!

However, whatever the reality now is the imprint of those times will remain massive upon us. Who I am today is a direct result of how large those days will always be!

Surrounded By Aunts, Uncles, and Parents

July 23, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            July 23, 2018

                               

Yesterday was a bit sobering. After attending my nephew’s wedding on Saturday in Frankfort, Kentucky I altered my route back to my sister’s house in southern Ohio to visit the cemetery where many of my relatives lie in slumbered peace.

This was my first visit to the well-maintained grounds a few miles outside of Paintsville, Kentucky since my dad was laid to rest there last February. It was the first time I had seen the grave marker with both of my parents’ names on it. 

I stood there in silence taking in the depth of their deaths. It reached down and caused an aching in my soul. I let it hurt for a few minutes, tearing up in the reality of what lay before me.

And then I spent some time in the midst of my aunts and uncles who reside, so to speak, in the same area. 

-My Uncle Bernie and Aunt Cynthia at the feet of my parents. My mom and Aunt Cynthia were always trying to outdo one another. It was sisterly competition that took in pie-baking, casserole-making, house decorating, hairstyling, child raising, and opinion-giving. They were like competitors in a game of “life checkers”. To have my mom laying with Aunt Cynthia under her feet would be considered, by my mom, as the final word on the situation. Uncle Bernie and my dad lay beside their wives once again not able to get a word in edgewise! When I think of cigars and pipes I think of my Uncle Bernie. As I stood there looking at his resting place I could hear his laugh which was unique and delightful. And I could almost taste my Aunt Cynthia’s raisin pie, the best there ever was…no matter what my mom said!

-Uncle Junior (Dewey, Jr.) and Aunt Grethel are just a bit to my mom’s left. Aunt Grethel has been there for a while now, succumbing to illness before any of the other aunts and uncles. Uncle Junior didn’t join her until he had pinched my leg a few hundred more times, usually as I sat on my Papaw Helton’s front porch with the men of the family. Uncle Junior made me squirm. My leg even twitched as I now viewed his permanent residence! Now when I see his daughter Annette she intentionally tries to pinch my leg. I’m not sure if it’s to honor her dad’s memory or she just likes to see me squirm again…maybe both!

-Uncle Millard and Aunt Irene (“Rene”) are just a bit to my dad’s right. Millard was a barber. In fact, he kind of resembled Floyd the barber on “The Andy Griffith Show”. I remember he chewed tobacco for a while and kept a spittoon beside his recliner to the chagrin of Aunt Rene. They never had any children, but were guardian parents for my cousin Johnny Carroll for a couple of years or so when he was a toddler. Uncle Doc’s first wife had died and he needed help raising his young son. He couldn’t be a physician and a single parent at the same time. Aunt Rene became Johnny Carroll’s mom. I’ll always remember all the pictures she had throughout the house of the little boy who she mothered. Compassion defined her. Before she passed in 1996 to cancer she gave a check to each of her nieces and nephews and asked us to use the money to do something that we would enjoy. She wanted to be able to see us enjoy it while she was still alive. My family planned a trip to Disney World- air fare, park tickets, staying at The Beach and Yacht Club on the property- with the funds. Aunt Rene was as happy as we were. To this day my kids still remember how awesome that vacation was!

Overseeing this horizontal family gathering are my Papaw and Mamaw Helton. Mamaw was the first to find her place in this cemetery, passing away forty years ago in 1978. She’d be 119 if she was still alive! She could cook up a storm and fry up a chicken fresh, mainly because she had just killed it and plucked the feathers out by their barn. Papaw governed the gathered wisdom and opinions of the front porch uncles. Without a doubt he was the family patriarch in every since of the term. 

And now all of their daughters and one of their three sons are gathered around them. It is a family reunion of a different kind, and yet I can still hear their voices, complete with accents and emotions. 

Emotions define this moment for me, also. It’s okay though, because I’m standing in the midst of lives that were well lived, well thought of, and now eternally well.

Weddings and Funerals

July 22, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          July 22, 2018

                                     

 

I traveled back to Frankfort, Kentucky for our nephew’s wedding this weekend. Other than his crazed belief that God created Ohio State football, and all others are poor attempted copies of God’s perfect gift, Thomas Wolfe is a great young man. Thank God he married a woman who is a University of Kentucky follower. It had to be true love! Jessica was even able to get him to go to a Kentucky football game!

Gathering for their wedding celebration also allowed me to see a couple of my cousins. John, a retired surgeon, who I’ve always known as John Jerry, taught me how to play chess. His mom, my Aunt Cynthia, was the aunt who would always try to sugar me up with candy, pie, ice cream, and then inconspicuously place a folded up dollar bill in my hand before I left. My first understanding of the concept of inflation was related to Aunt Cynthia when the dollar bill suddenly changed to a folded up five dollar bill. Years later she was putting “Jackson’s” in my kids hands. 

Seeing John Jerry and his wife Debbie is a step back to a time in my life when the roots of family were going deeper into a soil rich in stories and traditions. How I view life now has the imprint of those days upon it. 

Matthew Helton was one of the few cousins I had who were younger than me. Since I was the tail end of our family there weren’t many afterthoughts following along behind me. Now a high school teacher, he’s a guy I wish I could be a student of. With a great voice and a depth of information, he is fascinating to be around, much like his father, my Uncle George. I missed his sister, Kelly (always Michelle to me!), who could not be at the wedding. She, also, is a fascinating person!

Weddings and funerals. The last time I saw John and Matthew (and Kelly and Annette!) was at my dad’s funeral back in February. The time before that may have been my mom’s funeral a few years before that. Living in Colorado, I didn’t make it back for the funerals of Uncle George, Aunt Cynthia, Uncle Bernie, Uncle Doc, or Uncle Junior. I know, however, that my brother and sister were there, often filling the role as chauffeur for my mom and dad. 

We come to a point in life when our own family way- our spouse, kids, and grandkids-  trails off from the old highway of our roots. It’s like what I’ll do this afternoon after I leave Frankfort. I’ll be traveling back to Paintsville, Kentucky to visit the cemetery where my parents have been laid to rest, as well as most of my aunts, uncles, and grandparents. BUT I won’t take the road that we would travel back in the 50’s and early 60’s from my birthplace city, Winchester, to Paintsville. That road would require an afternoon and Dramamine. There’s a new way that does not resemble my three-year old granddaughter’s attempt at drawing a camel. 

OR maybe I will go the old way! Why not? It will give me a lot of time to remember the old days! Although there is now a faster way to get there, it isn’t necessarily a BETTER way! 

Muttering and Complaining About Church

July 20, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            July 20, 2018

                         

My friend, Ed Stucky, recently preached a sermon on the “First Church Business Meeting.” Coincidentally, the small town small tiny congregation where the two of us speak and worship was scheduled to have a church business meeting that morning after the worship service. 

Ed used the text from Acts 6 that tells of the crisis that the first congregation in Jerusalem had to contend with: the taking care of a group of widows who were “different from the rest of us!” These widows were Jewish, but had come to Jerusalem from other cultures and regions. At some time and place they had become followers of Jesus. One of the repercussions of that was the loss of a care system that the Jewish synagogue provided to its widows. The Jews took care of their own. Now…what about the new Christian church? And these women weren’t even native born! They were transplants…immigrants, if you will!

And there’s a lot of them! 

And the group of immigrants that the widows are a part of are “murmuring and complaining” against the native Hebrews. That is, the newbies are complaining about the people who have always been there! Today we’d describe the native Hebrews in this story as the people who would say something along the lines of “This is OUR church!”

It is the fertile soil for a cultural battle. I can hear the excuses.

“We’ve only got so much food.” 

“We can only do so much.” 

“We’ve got to take care of our own first!”

“Y’all eat different kinds of food than we eat!”

“It’s not our responsibility!”

And so the Grecian Jewish Christians muttered and complained, and the Twelve said let’s figure out a solution to this problem! 

The process was quickly defined. 1) A meeting was called of all the disciples. 2) The problem was identified. 3) It was determined that what was happening went against the core values/beliefs of the church. That is, it needed to be solved, not neglected! 4) The solution was found, put into practice, and the way the church functioned was changed accordingly. 

Huh! How ‘bout that!

The thing is this first century crisis could have torn the church apart. Just imagine a new church plant today that has half of its attenders wanting to meet on Saturday night and half who are firmly anchored to Sunday morning. Or half the people who mutter and complain about having a woman as the lead pastor for the congregation and half who believe she is who God has called to be the leader, that gender has no bearing on God’s calling.

The disciples decided that the widows of the Grecian Jews had a legitimate complaint and took care of the matter. They didn’t let it fester. Shortly before this they had witnessed the “drop dead” experiences of Ananias and Sapphire. That was an awakening moment for the Jesus followers, just as the two deceivers crumpled to the ground. It was a moment when the church got serious about this Kingdom business.

Let’s be honest! There have been numerous churches in recent times that have exploded because of muttering and complaining attenders/members who don’t feel they are being heard; and there’s churches that have people rushing for the exits because of complainers who want it their way or the highway. 

We live in a culture of entitlement, and that has filtered- sometimes like a flash flood- into the church. Some followers of Jesus feel entitled, while others are prone to discount anyone who differs from them. 

We’re like a bunch of dysfunctional Baptists! Oh, wait! Dysfunctional is not a term that has to be used with Baptists these days. It’s now just implied!

And yet the first church was able to figure it out! Huh! How ‘bout that!

Oh, and by the way! Our church business meeting right after Ed’s message that Sunday was productive, punctuated with laughter, and…short!