Posted tagged ‘Christian journey’

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. 

The Closure of Pastoring

January 18, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     January 18, 2016

                                 

In our kitchen there is a cupboard door that just won’t stay latched! I get out my screwdriver, loosen the two screws, reposition the latching mechanism, tighten the screws, and shut the door. I leave the room under the illusion that I have fixed it. Two hours later, as I pass through the kitchen again, I see that the door has come unlatched again. When…I don’t know! It just did… sometime after I was sure it was closed nice and tight!

That image also defines the closure of pastoring. I preached my last sermon yesterday, was hugged and embraced at an afternoon reception, and now the cupboard has been closed.

Or has it? Similar to coming back to the kitchen a little later, pastoring is a very, very difficult thing to come to closure. The life you’ve lived for the past three and a half decades is weaved into the fabric of other people’s journeys. Like ripping a patch off of a pair of jeans, there is a mark left…perhaps a hole or a gap. A pastor is tossed between the waves of letting go and still caring so! There is the recognition that there must be a moving on, and yet the congregation you are leaving has been a vital part of your journey for as long as you can remember. The walking together has been so profound that the pastor now has a hard time remembering when certain events happened, when someone passed away, when that mission trip took place, or when someone’s serious surgery happened. It’s all a part of the story, like old episodes of M.A.S.H., that have been watched so often that the dialogue has been memorized. The journey of a pastor is the collection of stories of lives changed, grace realized, and reconciliation experienced.

And the cupboard door suddenly creaks as it slightly inches open.

How do you have closure as a pastor? I’m not sure you can. Loving a church is not like a faucet that suddenly gets turned off, or turned back on. Like the door, the depth of the relationships the pastor has had spring the latch and your heart is flooded with concern.

And I think that’s okay! A couple of weeks ago I walked into the kitchen and the cupboard door was wide open. I wasn’t expecting that and I ran right into it! When we allow the door of our ministry to remain wide open, as it was before we stepped aside, the potential for collisions is greatly increased. A pastor who refuses closure simply gets in the way, becomes a nuisance, or, at worst, a brick barrier that blocks a group of Christ-followers from continuing the journey.

I’ve given up on fixing the cupboard latch. It is what it is! And perhaps I’ll let it be as a reminder of who I am, closed but not shut!