Archive for the ‘Death’ category

Life and Death, And Life In Death

April 14, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     April 14, 2019

                   

Yesterday I participated in a memorial service for a gentleman and a gentle man named Jim Newsome. I had been his pastor for the last three years or so of my final pastorate. Back in November I posted a writing about the last visit Carol and I had with him and his wife, Pat. He knew he only had a few days to live and in the only time I ever saw him exhibit impatience he said to his wife, “Okay! I’m ready to go, but when’s it going to happen?” Five days after we sat by his bed he passed on into Glory.

The gathering to remember him was punctuated with stories and laughter, a book of tales and experiences. During the service someone made the statement, “Death ends a life, not a relationship.”

I have found the truth and the meaning in those words in recent years. Each  morning I brush my hair with my dad’s hairbrush and I think of him, a year now since he passed on. Every time I fire up our grill to cook some hamburgers I can smell the sizzling aroma of the burgers he would cook. They were the best hamburgers I’ve ever tasted! Mine are tasteless in comparison, and I’m okay with that! Dad was the grill master. I’m simply a guy who stands by a grill.

My mom has been gone for five years now, but every time I see the crossword puzzle in the daily newspaper I think about her. My dad, brother, and I could be having an in-depth discussion about present-day terrorism and the role of a democracy in fighting it and my mom would suddenly break into the conversation with…”Laurence, what’s a three letter word for fish-and-chips fish?” 

Both of my parents are gone, but they’re still alive each day.

Each of us lives and each of us dies. The sweetness of this world is the relationship we still experience with the one who has passed away. Death ends a life, not a relationship. 

At Jim’s reception following the service a 10 minute video was showed of his portrayal of The Lone Ranger, an act he did for various groups and gatherings for 19 years. Suddenly, he was back with us, back when he had more hair, but still it was him! Each time I see The Lone Ranger I think of him.

We often see death as the final brushstroke, finishing the work. It’s suspicious looking, mysterious, and characterized as cold and somber. And yet it’s communicated as gloriously better, awe-inspiring, and pain-free. 

The memories of the departed stay with us. They continue to live and bless us. 

And the person of faith lives on even if he dies. The last words I spoke to Jim were, “If I don’t see you again, Jim, I’ll see you on the other side!” 

And he looked at me, gave me half a wink, and said, “Plan on it!”

The Following of Influencers

April 7, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  April 7, 2019

                              

More than 24 million people follow Huda Kattan on Instagram, and she has 2.2 million subscribers on YouTube. Ever since Kim Kardashian wore a series of false eyelashes that Kattan has created, her cosmetics products have attracted a crowd. 

She is one of the new breed of social media marketing people called “influencers.” An influencer does just that! Influences the opinions and decisions of other people who follow them.

Some influencers are compensated by companies whose products they promote. For example, if an influencer takes a selfie of himself eating an Egg McMuffin he may be compensated in some way by McDonald’s.

Why? Because his followers model their behavior after him. Egg McMuffins may go up a hundred thousand in sales the day after he posts a picture of him biting into one.

It is why athletic footwear companies pay top-level athletes boatloads of money to wear their brand. What did Air Jordan mean before it became the name of a Nike shoe? Suddenly millions of athletes began lacing up Air Jordans because of Michael Jordan and the subtle idea that they would be skying through the air like him. 

Influence is not new term. Kids have been told to stay away from so-and-so because he’s a bad influence. In other words, when a young boy hung around with him he was prone to making stupid decisions. Parents, of course, would also talk about who might be a good influence on their child! 

Coming from a long career as a church pastor, I always felt the tension in people’s lives over who and what influences them the most. There were those who were passionate about Jesus, sought the leading…the influencing, if you will…of the Holy Spirit, and the whisper of God. And then there were those who fluctuated- on fire for the Lord one week and as ho-hum as generic peanut butter the next. Finally, there were those who it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out were not being influenced by Jesus much at all. 

These days it seems that Sunday church attendance fluctuates according to what time the Denver Bronco’s game kicks off, or how nice the weather is outside, or other Sunday commitments like youth soccer, baseball, volleyball, basketball, or lacrosse.

In other words, “church” has decreasing influence on people’s lives. Each year in the United States between 6,000 and 10,000 churches now close. They’ve become irrelevant in the eyes of much of the populace. Like Amazon has made the locally-owned book store a memory of the past, change has caused many of our places of worship to close up shop.

And yet there’s hope!

Just as people are influenced by the images of Huda Kattan fake eyelashes, the symbols and images of the Christian faith are still strong influencers. The Cross of Christ will always be powerful and meaningful. The image of an empty tomb conveys the possibilities of life in the midst of darkness and death. A broken piece of bread continues to influence me to ponder and think about my identity in Christ.

Granted the influencers of the Christian faith are not fluff and cosmetic, which seem to attract a certain part of our population, but they are deeply significant and rooted in truth.

“Church World” has been rocked in recent times by scandals, pastors who have been worshipped more than Jesus himself, and identifying with the voice of politics as opposed to the politics of Jesus. There are a growing number of people who now identity the church as one of those “bad influences.”

Perhaps there will be a renewal on the horizon of some influences that will lead hurting people back to the source of hope and darkened minds back to the Light! If fake eyelashes can influence millions of people, could a new vision from God influence the multitudes of people whose eyes are weary from the search for something meaningful and enduring?

The Scarcity of Friends

March 15, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            March 15, 2019

                                     

“A true friend is one who overlooks your failures and tolerates your success!”  

                                                                    -Doug Larson

My dad passed away 13 months ago today. He was a great father, a person of great character, and a man of faith. He left this life four months short of his 90th birthday. Long life, lots of good memories, but he outlived his friends!

There’s something good about being “the last one breathing”, and yet, there’s significant downside as well. Not that 89 year olds should be carrying a casket, but Dad had none of his long-time friends still around. Bill Ball, Ralph Carrico, Jim Rollyson, Walt Doyle, Harold Brown…they had all moved on to Glory! Thankfully he had plenty of grandchildren, two sons, and a son-in-law who were able to hoist the casket from the hearse to the grave site. 

When Bill Ball passed away in the summer of 2017, it was also the finale of friendship for Pops. In the midst of the new reality- the absence of his friends- there was an unspoken sadness, a silent weeping in his spirit. It caused me to pause and reflect on what made these five men so valued to my dad. What causes friendship to grow deep roots?

And gloomy as it may seem, it caused me to consider who my pallbearers would be? Who are the people who will pick me up and set me down for the last time? I have plenty of people who are my family and relatives who would do it…I think!…but what about the others who will literally walk beside me for the final steps?

It’s a question that is revealing and, for some, disturbing. As a friend of mine once said, “I have many acquaintances, but few friends!” Those words said many years ago resonate with me more and more. I have, according to Facebook, a multitude of friends, but, in reality, almost all of them are simply acquaintances. A few of them could be said to be friends.

What differentiates between those two categories, friends and acquaintances? For me it’s the following:

1) A friend is someone who listens and is also willing for me to be a listener. It’s a two way street. Someone who only listens is simply a counselor. Someone who only talks is…annoying! There’s been times when one of my friends just needed me to have ears, and other times when he needed to be still and hear.

2) A friend is someone who holds the rope as you climb the rocks and pulls you up when you’ve descended to the depths. In other words, he applauds your accomplishments and helps you recover from the defeats.

3) A friend is someone you can call on at anytime and anywhere, never doubting in their willingness to rescue.

4) A friend is someone you can laugh with uncontrollably, as well as vehemently disagree with. Your friendship is not based on the two of you being like one another, but rather on a relationship that respects your differences.

5) A friend is someone who advises you to slow down, think and pray about it, before you do something stupid; and asks you “what in the world you’re waiting for” when the solution is as clear as your hand in front of your face!

6) A friend knows your weaknesses and temptations and sometimes has to slap you up the side of the head to wake you up to where you’re heading!

After going down my list the number of people who qualify to carry me to my final resting place gets whittled down, but I know that they are also the people who will grasp the handles with firmness and resolve. 

Senior Citizens Wants and Needs

March 13, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        March 13, 2019

                            

I’m 53 days away from turning 65. Someone recently said to me, “You’ll be getting those senior discounts then, right?” Actually, I’ve been getting some of those for a while…like since I turned 60! 

Yes, I’ve been getting 10% off at Golden Corral restaurant for a while. Like I really need to pay less to be more unhealthy and “blimp out”!

Years ago I learned there are wants and needs. Most everything we whine about needing is really a want and what we could care less about is usually a need.

As I approach Medicare eligible status I’m reminded of the things I need to do, eat, and stay away from, but my list of wants is expanding in unrealistic ways. So here’s my “senior wants” in so specific order.

  1) Senior Lane on the Interstate- Since the number of cars whizzing by me seems to be increasing at a much “faster” rate than the number of cars I’m able to pass, I’d like an age-appropriate lane on “I-25”! Listen! If the state can put an express lane through Denver that charges the driver money it should be able to designate a free lane for seniors who want to go slower. They could call it “the senior safe lane.” 

2) I’d like a voice at the supermarket self-serve lane that could guide me through the process for using those doggone digital coupons. Just a nice calm woman’s computerized voice that wouldn’t make me feel like an idiot as I’m trying to figure out all that scanning stuff! 

3) I’d like the aroma coming out of Burger King as I’m driving by to mirror how ill I feel after eating at Burger King! Or maybe it should be reversed, I’m like how I feel after eating at Burger King to mirror how great the charcoaled aroma was as I drove by! 

4) I want Starbucks to offer Senior Coffee discounts, like McDonald’s does! Maybe a coffee club! They could call it Senior Stars! No hyperactive kids allowed! Free refills!

5) I want a designated Senior Nap Time each day. The funny thing…okay, the tragic thing is I usually have one. Just open a book, and two pages in I’m sleeping like a baby!

6) I want to slam dunk one last time! Okay, it would also be the first time! They keep saying that dreams can come true! Well, I’ve been dreaming about it for about 60 years or so!

7) Kinda’ connected to that, I want my wife Carol to talk to me in the morning before my knees do!

8) I want my tax return to get simpler sometime soon, as opposed to more complex! This year a tree had to be chopped down to cover all the forms and paperwork I filled out!

9) I want Millennials to recognize that the world revolves around me!

10) I want to have enough time to play golf!

11) I want Senior Popcorn rates at the movie theatre!

12) I want to understand things in the Bible that sound weird! I guess that’s not really a Senior thing, though!

13) I want the size of a seat on a plane to go up as my age goes up! Think of it as a reward for all the years of hard work, raising a family, and other incredible fetes! Hey! Maybe a Senior Section…close to the lavatories!

That’s it! Nothing too demanding or extreme…okay, maybe the slam dunk is, but I think everything else is as reasonable as a Washington legislative session! 

The End Of A Season

February 24, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                February 24, 2019

                                  

Our hope was to make it into March, but the final scoreboard tally cut those aspirations down. Tears exploded from the eyes of a few of the young men and others stood silently, unsure of the moment and what was to happen next.

Our high school team, The Classical Academy Titans, better known as TCA, had just lost our second round game to Greeley Central, 54-49. It was a battle, filled with moments of patient offense, great shooting, and clutch free throws. 

And then it was over! The excitement and adrenalin rush nosedived into a sudden landing. Monday’s practice plan was no longer relevant. The team’s one senior had just barely missed his last three point attempt that could have taken the game down to a one possession difference. He didn’t want to close the book on his high school basketball days, but an appointment to the Air Force Academy is in front of him.

In sports everyone loses…at one time or another! It’s harsh, and yet part of the maturing process. This team did it’s share of winning, 17 wins and 7 defeats for a team that only had two players returning with varsity experience. And yet, the last game, played before a great home crowd, will stand out in the minds of these boys.

The head coach- a man who was my son’s high school JV coach twenty years ago- broke down in tears in the locker room as he talked to his players. He had loved them, yelled at them, applauded them, gotten right in their faces, and embraced them at the end of each practice. 

The first games of the high school basketball season usually happen around December 1, with the last games in late February or early March, but high school basketball is really almost year-round. TCA will take the next six weeks off and then begin open gyms again in April. Then we usually take August off and get back into it once September rolls around. Our off-season will include strength and conditioning, summer camps and tournaments, and more individualized training from the coaches. In other words, it’s very demanding of time and energy. 

That makes the final defeat of the season that much more emotional. It signals the end of a journey whose goal has always been to end the season with a victory. Of course, only one team out of 68 in our 4A Class can accomplish that goal!

Today 12 boys and 4 coaches are grieving a little bit, and yet the coaches are proud of what those 12 boys became. The players replayed missed shots and lost opportunities in their minds as they tossed and turned in their beds last night. The coaches thought about all the games during the season that the team went in as the underdogs and came out as the winners.

Two weeks from today we’ll gather for our team banquet. The wounds from the last defeat will have scabbed over some and we’ll celebrate. There will be laughter and applause, hugs and hand shakes. And these boys will remember that they were a part of the best basketball team in the school’s 25 year history…until next year’s team breaks that record!

Well, Hi Son!

February 14, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          February 14, 2019

                                            

One year ago I hopped on a  few planes heading from Denver to Houston to Charlotte to Charleston, West Virginia. It was Valentine’s Day, but bittersweet in many ways. I had talked to my sister on Monday night, February 12, and she told me that Dad was probably in his final hours. I went online and bought a plane ticket that left very early on the 14th.

About five o’clock in the afternoon I entered his hospital room and stood by his bed. My sister said, “Dad, there’s someone special here to see you!”, and he opened his eyes and looked at me.

The words came out as a whisper, and yet they were the words he would always say to me when I would call him on Sunday evenings.

“Well, hi son!”

“Hi, Pops!”

Nothing else was said. His dinner tray was in front of him, but he had no appetite. My sister coaxed him into eating some of the butterscotch pudding and maybe a couple of bites of mashed potatoes, but he was in his final hours of a long steady life. He held my hand in those moments when my sister, Rena, slowly urged each spoonful into his mouth. 

My dad was 89, four months short of hitting the 9-0 mark! I was thankful that I had a few hours with him before he crossed over. Rena and I sat there and talked about this, that, and the other as he drifted in and out. 

St. Mary’s Hospital had become like a second home for him, kind of like a time share! His heart episodes and cancer treatments- mostly for skin cancers- had made him a “frequent flyer” of St. Mary’s. His grandson was now the supervisor of the floor Dad was a patient on. Dad knew doctors, nurses and radiation technicians and assistants. There was a sense of loss filtering through the hospital as word spread that he was close to passing on.

When you sit by your dad’s bed and realize his time is short a flood of thoughts and memories race through your mind. There’s the thoughts of when the funeral gathering will be…even though he hasn’t passed yet. There’s the “listing” in your  mind of who needs to be informed about it.

But then there’s the memories and pictures. For some reason the picture of Dad having his hand on the back of my bicycle as I learned how to ride it came to the front of my mind. I was the baby of the three kids. He already had taught two others to ride bikes…and they had survived the experience. I was in good hands, or would I say, my bike was held upright by a good hand!

Then there’s the memory of Dad teaching me how to drive our 1966 Chrysler Newport in the back parking lot of Ironton Junior High School. He was standing outside the car giving me directions. 

“Turn! Turn!”

And I did! I turned the steering wheel with such power and effort that the power steering fluid burst! I can still see his expression of frustration. He didn’t voice any expletives, but I’m sure he thought of a few!

And in the last year of his life while I was back visiting I had driven him to the eye specialist, and while we were there Rena called me to tell me that Dad was suppose to have gone to the Emergency Room the day before but he hadn’t told anyone. He had just celebrated his 89th birthday and didn’t want to spoil the festivities for the others…not, mind you, for himself! He knew a cake was coming to Wyngate, his senior adult apartment complex, and wanted it to happen for the residents.

As I’m driving him to St. Mary’s he says to me, “Bill, let’s stop at Wendy’s and get something to eat!” And so we pull into the Wendy’s about a mile from St. Mary’s and have a cheeseburger and fries before I deliver him to the ER. The next day he had surgery!

A year ago, as I held his hand, I realized that the strong hand on the back of bicycle was now too weak to hold a spoon and the man who modeled what being a father means was drawing near to his heavenly Father.

I think back to those few closing hours of his life and know that I have been very, very blessed!

Too Old, Too Young

January 16, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       January 16, 2019

                                      

I ventured to see my Physician’s Assistant this morning about my back muscle spasms. Two months ago when I saw P.A. Mark Smith for my annual physical he said I was doing well, looked healthy, and all my vital signs and blood tests were great!

And then he told me that I’m at an age where the impact sports and activities need to be lessened and it would be wise to switch to exercise activities like swimming, stationary bike, tiddilywinks, bridge, etc. (Okay! I paraphrased the last two!)

Last Wednesday I played early morning basketball at the YMCA, and by Thursday the spasms had arrived. Soooo….I saw Mark Smith again this morning. He looked at me and my chart. 

“So, Bill, you were playing basketball and now have muscle spasms in your lower back?” He gave me the parental look! 

“Yes, Mark!” I said, leaning towards repentance. 

He talked about treatment and then took on his fatherly expression, even though he’s the age of my son. “We talked about steering away from impact activities, didn’t we?”

“Yes!!!!”

“You need to work on your core strength, as opposed to activities where you’re doing a lot of twisting and turning. At your age there’s some things that are going to adversely affect you physically.”

In other words, someone who is getting daily advertisements in the mail about his approaching entry into Medicare may be too old to hoop it up! Back in college I could touch the rim! Now I’m being told I’m too old to touch a basketball! 

But I’m too young for other things, like senior water aerobics, bridge, and scrapbooking! I’m too old to hoop it up with the high school varsity, although I can dominate the freshmen and sophomores (I think!). I’m too old to run the Pike’s Peak Ascent anymore, but I’m too young to join a walking club. 

I’m a ‘tweener’! Too sophisticated for rotary dial telephones, but too dumb for my own smart phone! It’s an uncomfortable age because you realize that most of your life is now in the rearview mirror and the rest of your life has a degree of uncertainty about it.

Too old, too young! Been there, done that! And not sure I’m ready for that! I’m ready for the Icy Hot muscle ointment, but not quite ready to be covered up with a blanket!

Maybe I’ll start playing pickleball!