Archive for the ‘Death’ category

The Scent of Remembering

December 4, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          December 4, 2019

                                   

I had a dream the other night that, strange as it sounds, caused me to tear up. In the confusion of the moment perhaps it was as I awoke from the dream that the tears came, but, whatever the progression, it was an emotional moment.

The dream centered on those who have passed on. Some of the saints whose funerals I’ve officiated at— Charles Slusser, Rex Davis, Ralph Kothe, Jim Newsome, Ben Dickerson, Rita Morris, Phyllis Smith, Greg Davis— came back to my mind in the dream. 

And then my mom and dad. In the dream I could not discern whether my parents were still on this side of eternity or had crossed over. They seemed to be speaking to me as I sat in a church parlor talking to Charles Slusser’s son-in-law and daughter, Dieter and Tina. 

This morning I made the connection between the vividness of the dream and why I experienced it. On Thanksgiving Day our oldest daughter, Kecia, opened a container of my mom’s that had been handed down to her after my dad passed away almost two years ago. When she opened it she remarked on how the scent reminded her of my mom. Or, as Kecia refers to her, MaMaw Wolfe. She hovered over the container and inhaled several times.

My mom’s possessions—dishes, linens, clothes closet— had a distinctive scent that I can only describe as smelling like a combination of southern, cared for, and homey. Kecia closed the container after a couple of minutes in order to preserve the memory. MaMaw has been gone five years and the scent still blesses us.

I lingered over the container for a few seconds myself. Visions of family dinners and savory casserole dishes came back to me. The memory of my mom always greeting our kids with the words, “Give me some sugar!”, and then the giggling when Kecia brought her two sugar packets as we arrived on one visit.

The sweetness of those memories triggered the “deep into the night” emotions. I miss my parents, the Sunday night phone conversations with Dad, Mom’s questions that sought to find a five letter word for “fast” to fill in on her crossword puzzle, her pickiness and my dad’s patience. I miss their practices and their peculiarities.

It’s interesting how a scent from a container can bring the blessings of memories, and life back to those who have long since been lowered into the ground. 

The sense of smell comes out as a strong theme in scripture. Some of the sacrifices that the Jewish people offered God are described as being aromas pleasing to God. The Magi brought gifts to the newborn King, Jesus, and two of them had strong scents that communicated something about who Jesus is.

Kecia closed the container back up and put it away until the next time our family gathers at her house for a special event. When that takes place the scent of remembering will descend upon us again and we will experience the blessings of those who have been pleasing aromas in our journeys. 

When Your Older Brother Turns 70!

November 13, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    November 13, 2019

 

Today my brother, Charles Dewey Wolfe, turns the big ‘7-0”! I can’t quite get my mind around it! 70 was the age of our aunts and uncles. It seemed really old to us when we were growing up. The thing is…they were only like…50, but we just figured they were 70 like aunts and uncles are suppose to be.

And now Brother Charlie hits the tape as well! My brother is a Vietnam Vet, retired Associated Press news correspondent, former speechwriter for the Governor of Kentucky, and now an entertaining tour guide for the Woodford Reserve Bourbon Distillery outside of Frankfort, Kentucky.

He’s the opinionated sibling, much like our mom was, and, to his credit, much needed in the career path he chose. 

We only see each other once or twice a year since I’m in Colorado and he in Kentucky. We send each other birthday cards that cause each of us to laugh, and then we add snarky remarks on the inside card cover. When we’re able to get together, his sarcastic humor comes out in a dry and witty way that the slow of mind have a hard time catching up to.

My brother is a storyteller, the family historian in a way. Our aunts and uncles all stay alive in his retelling of the family folklore and saga. Charlie can go to the cemetery where many of the passed on reside and recount conversations and stories as we stare at someone’s grave marker.

I was the recipient of many of his hand-me-downs as I grew up…bicycle, all beaten and lacking shine, suit coats, bow ties, baseball glove, building blocks. His imprint was like a path that I followed. In Williamstown, West Virginia, his friends, who I thought were cool at the time, gave me the nickname “Carlos Pequeno”.

I was in his wedding and he was in mine. His oldest son is a month younger than our only son. He’s a staunch Democrat and I’m a wavering Republican. We both love history, and yet neither of us excelled in school. 

And now he’s…like our uncles! 70, and getting older! My birthday card to him this year suggested that he’s now cranky. I’m sure he will find a suitable come back for me next May when I hit 66!

Happy Birthday, Big Brother! Hope you have an awesome day!

Elvis Singing to a Hearing Aid Crowd

October 22, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                October 22, 2019

                          

It was an older crowd.

To say that is to really make an understatement. A converted movie theatre turned into a concert venue would be a metaphor for the scene. Those arriving for the concert could be described in the same way: Old folk who still value music. 

After all, it was Elvis they were coming to see! Well, actually it was Donny Edwards, an Elvis impersonator, coming to New Bruefels, Texas.

We sat in the balcony with our friends, Dave and Donna Volitis. Several attendees with canes filed in and plopped down in seats around us. I noticed that hearing aids were a popular accessory for these folk, decorating the backside of their ears like ear rings and piercings. 

“Elvis” appeared on stage and began his first set of his songs from the “Fifties”. The couple to my left sang the words with the King. They knew them by heart, although their bodies didn’t gyrate like the legend in white did on stage.

Every time Elvis moved his hips the woman sitting in front of me, who was cozying up to 80, giggled and slapped her knee in sheer delight.

And then the white hairs and “keenagers” started making their way towards the stage. Elvis would lean over in the midst of his song and receive a kiss on the cheek from each one of them. He did a lot of leaning during the performance and they did a lot of cheek smooching. 

The crowd swayed from time to time…from their sitting positions! 

He sang close to 30 songs during the evening, working up a good sweat and handing out a few scarfs with his perspiration on it. 

And then the crowd hobbled out, assured of feeling joint pain the next day as the adrenalin wore off. 

And it hit me! Most of the attendees had been teenagers when Elvis had burst on the scene. If only for a couple of hours, they were reliving their youth. Memories of “Return to Sender” and “Love Me Tender” still could be heard in their hearts. And, for a night in New Bruefels, the King lived!

In Honor of Marie

October 20, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      October 20, 2019

                                     

I first met Marie Lyons…kinda’…at a funeral home in Mason, Michigan, the Ball-Dunn Chapel. I was there for the visitation of Harold Bickert. Harold and his wife, Mildred, were elderly members of Lansing First Baptist Church, but years before they had lived in Mason and attended Mason First Baptist Church. 

I visited with Mildred and talked to her about the funeral service for Harold that would happen the next day. In an adjoining viewing room laid the body of Robert Lyons, Marie’s brother. Mildred knew I had been talking to the pastoral search committee of the Mason church, Marie’s church. She had me go into the viewing room and sign the guest book. The visitation had already concluded and no one was still present. I felt a little awkward, signing the guest book of a departed man I had never met, but Mildred was insistent. She WANTED me to be the next pastor of her former church, and Marie Lyons was on the search committee.

About two months later I became Marie’s pastor for the next fifteen years. She was a source of strength, gentle determination, wise counsel, a listener, and a respecter of everyone’s opinions no matter how opposite they might be from what she believed. She was African-American, in a town that was almost completely Caucasian. She never married, but took on  the responsibility of being the caregiver for her brother, Buddy, who had mental limitations and was also mute. She was a school teacher, loving her elementary students as they learned. 

Marie passed away this week at the age of 86. It is one of those deaths that causes you to weep and rejoice at the same time. A faithful follower of Christ, she looked forward to her march into glory. She did not fear death, but rather saw it as the transitional step into the presence and peace of the Lord. And yet, for her friends near and far, there is a rumbling cry in our spirits. She was so valued, and valued others so, that it hurts to know she has moved on to the place she looked forward to. Quite frankly, there just aren’t that many people around these days who have such strong character and are firmly anchored to the Rock that is Christ.

The last time I saw Marie was in 2015. I had traveled back to Mason to meet with my friend and financial advisor, David Leonard. While in Mason I met with our friend, Janet Smith, and Marie at an ice cream shop in Mason and we talked for about an hour. That was four years ago almost to the day. She was getting thinner as she was traveling through her early 80’s, but she still had that same kind voice that made you feel you were important.

  There are people who you’re around for a long time and they impact your life; and then there are those folk who you’re privileged to know for a season of life that leave their handprint upon you. Marie’s handprint has stayed with me for these past 20 years since we moved from Mason.

As the Mason community remembers and celebrated her life this coming week, I shed a sweetened tear. A saint has joined up with the saints. Like a Fodor’s travel guide, the words of scripture that Marie had memorized about what Glory is and how it looks are now being seen firsthand by this just-arrived friend of Jesus. 

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.