Archive for the ‘Death’ category

Sermon Feedback…Unplanned!

August 14, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   August 14, 2019

                              

I spoke to the Simla Saints last Sunday. Simla, Colorado is a sleepy-eyed town of a few hundred folk about 45 minutes east of Colorado Springs. First Baptist Church of Simla is composed of about 20 good natured souls of various ages between 1 and 92 (although the married 92 year olds moved to be with their daughter in a different town too far away). 

They are a congregation that enjoys laughter, potlucks, and after-service cookies.

And most of the time I enjoy being with them. Last Sunday was enjoyable…and then they started asking questions about the sermon!

I spoke about Mary and Martha after the death of their brother, Lazarus. Both sisters made the same statement to Jesus, but I suggested that their different personalities might have  caused their statements to have different meanings to Jesus. I talked about Martha’s attention to detail and getting the work done, and Mary’s interest in sitting and listening to Jesus.

They were with me! We traveled the sermon journey together, punctuated with laughter and an occasional nodding of the head (with eyes still open).

And then we went to talking about prayer concerns…kinda’!

After a couple of prayer concerns were mentioned one of the women said, “I’ve got a question.” She was looking at me. “It says that Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters a couple of times. So why did he wait to go to Bethany?”

“Well, I think he…ahhh…well….ahhh…”

A “Martha” speaks up. “And Pastor Bill, if Martha didn’t do the work how was it going to get done? Fixing a dinner for a group was a lot of work. They didn’t have microwaves back in those days.” I nodded my head in agreement, hoping that she had put a period on the end of her point.

“Good point!”

From the right side of the sanctuary…”And Mary didn’t seem to be that concerned about how the food was going to get on the table. Seems a little irresponsible to me!”

I begin to come to Mary’s defense. “But Mary was focused on Jesus. It seems that she was often sitting at the feet of Jesus.”

Back at me! “And expecting her sister to do all the work!”

“Well…ahhh…I….ahhh….”

“And Lazarus is just sitting there, also. He’s not helping.”

“Well, he did just rise from the dead,” I suggest.

“…and isn’t doing anything! He’s had a four day nap, for crying out loud!”

“Well…ahhh…”

“I’ve got another question,” said the woman who had initiated this unplanned sermon feedback session. “Does Martha believe Jesus can change things, even though her brother has already died?”

“That’s a great question!” 

When a pastor is at a loss as to how to answer a question, affirming the greatness of an asked question is a good go-to.

Back to the “Martha”. “I think Martha gets a bad rap here and Mary seems to be exalted.”

“Great point!”

The unplanned sermon feedback session goes for another five minutes. It’s filled with me saying profound things like, “Well” and “Ahhh” and “Hmmm”.

And then, thankfully, we get back to the clarity of prayer concerns, where there is no debate. The congregation has enjoyed the unplanned. I have a hunch they enjoyed how they made me stammer and look clueless most of all. Maybe next time I’ll ask for the prayer concerns to be mentioned BEFORE the sermon.

The Pain in Laughter

August 10, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     August 10, 2019

                                      

Last week I wrote about the tragic loss of a father of five (“Answering the Why”, August 4; WordsfromWW.com) in a road accident. The family was in the midst of a move from our city to another community. It was a new beginning, new challenges and opportunities, new friends to make and schools to attend…and then in a few seconds everything changed. My blog post focused on the “why” questions of life that we strive to answer and yet we can find no answer.

Yesterday I attended the funeral of the father. During the course of the service there was pain and there was laughter…and there was laughter, acting like a blanket, bringing some warmth to cover the chill of the deep, deep pain.

The laughter was healing. It drew the gathering into the story, the person. It swung like a grapevine from the heartache of loss to the loss of opportunities to the emptiness of Dad’s chair at the table.

Every chuckle about a past encounter or a humorous saying was tempered with the realization that it would never occur again. And yet the laughter was ointment for the aches of the journey.

I’ve thought a lot about this tragedy in the past week. In the midst of the accident details there’s a sense of injustice and a rising amount of anger. The laughter helps simmer the unrest that has been planted in people’s souls.

My mom’s last few years were filled with the afflictions that Parkinson’s Disease can bring. The loss of mobility and the devastating effect on her ability to speak. My sister and I recently retold “Mom stories”. It’s been five years since she passed and, although we remember the pain, we shared the stories of who she was, experiences we shared and conversations we had…and we laughed. The humor brought her back to us. We could see her sitting in her chair, watching “Dancing With The Stars” and working her crossword puzzle. We remembered how she would use her “Baptist Mom Guilt” on us to make us do things we didn’t want to. 

We could envision the times when she would grab on to Dad and say her classic line of romance to him: “Kiss me, slobber lips! I can swim!” We would pretend we were grossed out by the dining room affection, but it really caused us to chuckle…and still does.

There is pain in life and laughter in the pain. It is not an escape from the grief, but rather footwear for the journey. The steps begin with the uncertainty of a tightrope and gradually gain a steadiness as we balance our mourning with the memories.

Our souls cry out. Our laughter helps us to keep going.

Answering the Why

August 4, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        August 4, 2019

                                       

A friend of mine lost her husband two days ago in a traffic accident. He was 45 and they are the parents of five children, the youngest two adopted as a result of their mission experiences in Africa.

They were in the midst of a move from Colorado Springs to another community about 30 minutes away when the accident happened. In other words, they had just uprooted from where they had lived for a long time to relocate to a place that is strange and new.

And I keep asking the question that has no suitable answer: Why would God allow someone so vital to so many other lives to be taken? 

It’s a question that gets rephrased and asked in numerous ways. We don’t understand tragedies. We cringe at the appearance of heartache, not just in our lives but also the lives of others. 

It’s convenient to theologize the pain with the unhelpful statement, “Who can understand the ways of God?” That’s about as useful as burlap toilet paper! (Sorry for the visual!)

There’s also a tendency to philosophize the wounds by talking about the side effects of a world that is highly developed and complex. Once again, that does not help. 

But we’re a society of answers, people that believe any question has a valid solution. We struggle with the idea that some questions don’t have agreeable answers.

My life is littered with unanswerable “whys”. Why did my mom have to suffer with Parkinson’s in the last few years of her life, a form of the disease that caused her to lose the functioning of her arms and legs, and effected her ability to speak?

Why did my friend and mentor, Ben Dickerson, have a heart attack and pass away at the age of 65 when he had no apparent signs of heart problems? That question still haunts me 11 years later.

Why did a gunman open fire in an El Paso shopping mall yesterday, killing 20 people? 

Why do bad things happen to good people? 

There is an unsettledness in my spirit this morning as I consider the numbing grief that my friend is experiencing. Two days ago the family of seven moved boxes into their new home, and now life has become uncertain and grey.

The lack of answers means I can’t let it go. It tumbles over and over again in my thoughts. Perhaps that’s part of the unsatisfying answer. My sense of caring about the pain in another is an indication of the sacredness of relationships, the importance of coming alongside those who are wounded.

It’s not THE answer, but at least it begins to lead me down the path to a hope-filled understanding.

The Grandparents’ Farm

July 19, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       July 19, 2019

 

I have great memories of spending summer weeks at my Mamaw and Papaw Helton’s farm In Staffordsville, Kentucky. Staffordsville was not a town, but more like a post office with a store next to it. Since no one knows where Staffordsville is I’ll say that it’s close to Oil Springs. 

I’m sure that clears things up for you.

The Helton farm had front porch swings, another back porch swing, a smoke house, coal house, chicken coop, pig pen…and a creek that ran between them, a barn with a hay loft, well water that we’d lower a bucket down into for a drink that was cold and sweet-tasting, trails up into the woods, countless barn cats, gardens and pastures, and fresh air and farm smells.

It was a kid’s playground. There was no need to have anything that had the sole purpose of entertaining children. We made our own entertainment, mimicking the livestock and pretending the porch swing was an airplane about to take off. 

Mamaw Helton cooked a breakfast every morning that Cracker Barrel tries to recreate: fried eggs, bacon, sausage, homemade biscuits right out of the oven, potatoes, and fried apples. My Papaw would drink buttermilk…yuck!

But things change!

            Mamaw passed away first and Papaw remarried “the widow lady from down the road.” Several years later he and the “widow lady” passed as well and the farm was sold to someone who didn’t have the same appreciation for its memories, traditions, and importance in our lives. 

Last week my sister, brother-in-law, and I were traveling back from having lunch with my brother and his family in Frankfort, Kentucky. Our plan was to travel back to southern Ohio by a route that would allow us to stop at the cemetery where my parents have been laid to rest. My Mamaw and Papaw are buried there, also, as are several other relatives. The cemetery is close to the Helton farm, so our plan was to do a drive-by. 

However, we missed the turn that would take us past the Staffordsville post office and then the farm. My sister looked at me and asked if we should backtrack to find it and I said no.

It was a sad “no”, filled with disappointment and lost laughter of the past. I had driven by it a year before and she had seen it several times. Each of us knew of its reverse renovation. That is, whoever lives there now isn’t concerned about curb appeal and cleanliness. It has slid down the slope towards trashed. The front porch swings are long gone. In fact, the yard and porch are so cluttered it’s hard to tell where the front wall of the house begins. Weeds have been welcomed and have taken over the chicken coop and pig pen. 

No longer does it give an appearance of being inviting. It resembles more a scene out of a Halloween horror movie.

And so we did not feel the need, dare I say, or have any desire to drive past what was significant in our past and see what it has transformed into being.

It’s one of the downsides of growing older that often gets forgotten. We focus on aging joints and more prescription bottles in the cabinet, what gives us constipation and heartburn. We have discussions on taxes and Social Security, doctor appointments and AARP. To see the deterioration of our childhood places wounds us deeply. There’s the grief of losing someone close to us, but there is also a different flavor of grief where we lose what we’ve known, the place that has helped shape who we have become.

Things change, often for the better, but sometimes they change in ways that couldn’t possibly be any worse.

Signs of Age and Age Distractions

July 6, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          July 6, 2019

                            

Every day one of our local TV stations has a paid 30 minute program where an auditorium full of smiling women listen to a presentation about beauty products and wonder creams. One of the products miraculously makes wrinkles disappear. 

We love to stay looking young…even when we aren’t really even close to be young. There are, however, certain signs of a person’s advancing age that can not be solved with facial creams and hair pieces.

For me, I am horrified by the bushels of hair that grow like weeds out of my ears and nostrils. I trim them, but they’re like dandelions; pull one and two more sprout up!  I can’t hide it. My dad didn’t have that problem. Of course, he had several rounds of radiation for skin cancers on his ears, so he had about half of his ear lobes missing.

Another sign of advancing age that is my giveaway happens when I sit down or stand up. The “moan and groan” audible sounds occur without fail. I’ll be kneeling in front of my basketball team’s bench and an intense battle is happening on the court. I go to stand up to argue a call and the first sound out of my mouth is “Ohhhh” in a pained core of way! The official sympathizes with my plight.

I’ll go to sit down in my seat on the plane and the same sound accompanies my connection with the seat. I don’t remember making those sounds ten years ago.

I know what you’re thinking. Not remembering things is also a sign! I may not remember, but I’m perceptive enough to figure out where you were going with that thought. 

You may be right, however, in your connecting memory with age. A couple of days ago I was talking to someone about the Big Red Machine of the mid-70’s. I can remember the potent lineup of that baseball team…Bench, Perez, Morgan, Concepcion…but I couldn’t remember the new password I chose two days ago for a certain web site. What’s up with that?

This may be too much information, but my morning trips to the bathroom are also a sign of my times. In fact…I’ve got to pause for a moment right here and…

I’m back! Last week I was playing basketball with some thirty-somethings and I did a cross-over dribble with the intent of heading to the basket. The young man guarding me, who is not that quick, easily blocked my way and then when I did a step-back to shoot he swatted my shot away. He’s maybe 5’11”! It was a sign that any illusions I might have had about still being quick were squashed and stomped upon. (To my credit, I did score on him a minute later with a left-handed half-hook shot! Boom, Baby!)

On the other side of the age indicator fence, I’ve learned how to fake it to make people think I’m kinda’ cool and young. Mainly, if the subject being talked about is totally foreign to me I’ve learned how to nod and make other facial expressions that cause me to look knowledgeable. For instance, I am totally clueless about Fortnite. My four year old granddaughter knows more about it and she’s never played or seen it! But I can make people think I am a Fortnite pro without saying a word. I just need to make faces that give a glimmer of intelligence. It’s an age distraction!

I’d better close now because it’s getting close to the time for another of my age signs…my afternoon nap! It’s what I look forward to shortly after I arise in the morning!

How Am I Still Alive?

June 26, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             June 26, 2019

                                

There are numerous reasons as to why I should no longer be alive. They mostly fall into two categories: 1) Stupid Acts and 2) The Times We Lived In. I suppose I could do a third category, kind of a hybrid…”The Times We Lived In and The Things We Didn’t Realize Were Stupid!”

You be the judge. For instance, when we were growing up, and before kids were strapped into seatbelts, we roamed the back section of our family car freely. There were always the siblings’ squawks about my brother, Charlie, touching my sister, Rena, or me. Being the oldest, Charlie felt he had the right to antagonize us. 

To make more room in the back seat I’d sometimes lay down on that console under the back window, you know the area where the box of Kleenex would be set. It was nice and warm back there and on my family’s perilous road trips from Winchester to Paintsville, Kentucky, I’d take rear window naps. If, during one of the numerous curves in the road, my dad had collided with another vehicle I would have been a dead goose…a “flying through the front window” dead goose. 

Imagine if a law enforcement officer saw a kid laying in the back window nowadays as the Buick went down the road!

Yes, we gambled encounters with Death and came out without a road scratch.

And then there was the fog machine in Williamstown, West Virginia, that rumbled through town each evening in the summertime. Williamstown, being situated on the banks of the Ohio River, had its healthy share of mosquitoes that sought to take over the town. The fog machine pumped out some kind of pesticide fog to do battle with them. And what did we do as kids? We heard the fog machine coming and we’d run along behind it, inhaling the smoke and staying within the fog as long as we could. 

That couldn’t have been good for us!

We didn’t know that we shouldn’t have been doing those things, staying warm in the back window and breathing in toxins. We were just doing normal!

And then there was my personal encounters with stupidity! Like when I was experimenting with my brother’s chemistry set, mixed a couple of chemicals together, and decided to drink the mixture! I don’t know what it was I drank. I remember that it tasted bitter, like my mom’s perfume…not that I tasted her perfume, but I remember that being the thought that came into my mind. 

I was into experimenting. Like when I did an experiment with a facial tissue. I wanted to see how quickly it would burn, so I lit it with a match. 

Experiment Conclusion: A facial tissue will burn very quickly.

Teachable Moment: When setting a facial tissue on fire make sure you are a safe distance away from the kitchen curtains!

I was lucky enough to not set the whole house on fire, but unlucky enough to leave scorch marks on the curtains in the kitchen…right next to the table where we ate dinner. My parents were suspicious of the pile of books that suddenly had been stacked in front of the curtains that night. Busted!

And then there was the time I tried to light firecrackers in a pill bottle and put the cap on before it went off. The firecrackers I used were the next level up in potential danger, but I thought it would be cool to see want would happen. 

Well, what happened is that I was not quick enough to get the cap back on and it exploded in my hand. I can still remember the stinging sensation in my fingers and the ringing in my ears. Stupidity had made a special visit to me and exploded before leaving.

And I survived! 

When you think about it, it’s a miracle that any of us survived! We all did stupid things, stuffed ourselves (and still do) with processed food, and acted the fool! We thought “organic” had something to do with playing the church organ, Caster Oil was the cure for everything, and the more Coppertone you lathered on your skin to bake in the midst of a hot sunny summer afternoon the better. The browner we were the more awesome we thought we were!

How are we still alive? There’s only one reason, and that is so that we can tell the younger generations to not do the stupid things that we did!

 

I Wish I Would Have…

June 15, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          June 15, 2019

                                      

A friend of mine made a wise statement today as we waited together in the Calgary airport. His dad had died at the age of 62 after sustaining a brain injury in a fall. My friend, a month into his 65th year, says he does not want to live his life out of the whine that says “I wish I would have…”

This past week was the third mission work trip I’ve been on with him. He’s vey much about helping people by using the skills and knowledge he has gained over the years, and he has become passionate about that pursuit.

That is awesome! It’s also probably not the norm. My estimate is that there are more people who live with the outlook that says “I wish I would have…” than there are people who say “I’m blessed to be able to…” There’s more people who preside in the land of regrets than living their lives for a reason.

“I wish I would have budgeted better.”

“I wish I would have studied more when I was in school.”

“I wish I would have spent more time with my kids.”

“I wish I would have valued rest as much as I did my work.”

“I wish I would have thought about the consequences before I committed the stupidity.”

The list is long and torturous, the tears tragic and wet. Oh that there would be more people to understand why in the world they are here!

When you meet someone who comes to that understanding of purpose-filled and healthy living it impresses you. It makes you ponder what would happen if there was ever a whole village of people who lived with that outlook? 

Or even a whole block that adopted that mindset! Wouldn’t that be something? They’d probably send a national news team to cover it.

Or even a church that seeks to live out the gospel, however that may look, more than padding its stats and increasing its numbers.

Instead we’re pummeled with stories of regret and sadness that make us wonder what is wrong with people? 

Maybe this life of purpose, living for a reason, maybe it could just start…with me!