Posted tagged ‘comfort’

Speaking Hope In the Christmas Shadow

December 26, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               December 26, 2017

                                  

Yesterday our three grandkids ran around our house like sugar-hyped squirrels, excited about the wrapped presents that they would soon tear into. It was a great day of brisket chili, chilled shrimp, homemade Chex mix, and pie. The bounty of food items on the kitchen island was simply dressing for the family time, laughter, and the playing out of various family traditions.

Yesterday was a feast in the midst of a time when Carol and I have encountered several families in the midst of emotional famine. This Advent Season seems to have been more about speaking hope to various folks in the shadow of Christmas.

On Friday I had attended the funeral of Ray Lutz, a fifty year football and basketball official who was one of my officiating mentors. At 77 he had passed away suddenly. Funerals close to Christmas have a sadness to them regardless of how old the departed is.

On Saturday the wife of my friend, Mark Miller, went into the hospital…and is still there…with some serious health complications. Crystal, the mother of four, spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day laying in a hospital bed, a time that had always been spent gathered around the family Christmas tree and dinner table. There is something deeply discouraging for a mom having to be monitored by ward nurses on Christmas Day instead of being the monitor of the family festivities at home.

And then on Sunday afternoon Carol and I went across the street to our neighbor’s house to express our condolences. Their eighteen year old grandson, a young man I had watched grow up, played basketball in our driveway with, and had coached in middle school football, was murdered a few weeks ago. We hadn’t heard about it until a former neighbor told us. We sat and talked to the grieving grandparents whose hearts were broken. To go through Christmas with the absence of one of the young ones is a journey walked with heavy emotional boots. We could not understand the depth of their grief, but we could sit at their kitchen table and listen to their hearts.

And finally to talk to my dad later on that same day and offer him encouragement. Just a few days released from his latest hospital stay, he has slowed down a good bit and now has to make choices about what he has the energy to do and not to do. Each day he is a gift to us, but each day is also a struggle  for him layered with uncertainty. I’m so thankful for my sister who watches over him since I live four states away.

Ray Lutz’s funeral was a community sharing of hope. The hundreds of folks to attended brought hope and encouragement to the family. The laughter caused by the staring of stories was like a soothing ointment to the wounds of loss.

With Mark and Crystal Miller I was simply a presence that symbolized hope in the midst of confused despair. With our neighbors Carol and I assured them of our prayers and support. It was an assurance to them that we will walk alongside them as they take each day ahead.

With my dad I simply spoke hope to him about his grandkids and great grandkids. That things are good with them. It provided some laughter in his soul as he pondered the stories of their lives.

Christmas sometimes is all glitter and lights; and sometimes it’s simply a word of hope that we suddenly realize is the greatest gift we could ever give!

Getting Comfortable With Disappointment

April 4, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                      April 4, 2017

                                

Recently I interviewed for a head coaching position at a high school in our area. They were looking to hire someone for the Girl’s Varsity Basketball team. In talking to the athletic director of the school I’ve coached at for the past four years, three of which were as the Girl’s JV coach, he thought I was a perfect fit for the position. In fact, the school’s chief administrator had called him to talk about me.

The interview was okay, but it felt a bit impersonal, kind of like the two people interviewing me were just going through the process.  A week later I received an email thanking me for interviewing, but they were not moving me on in the process. I was disappointed, mainly because it DID look like a situation that I would have been a good fit for.

It was the fourth varsity coaching position I’ve interviewed for in the past few years, and I’m 0 for 4! One of the four I probably wasn’t ready for…and they are on their third coach since that took place four years ago, but the other three I thought I would have fit well into.

I can look at that recent disappointment and pout like a two year old, or go into a personal cocoon for a while…or I can get comfortable with it!

I remember when I was pastoring in Michigan, and pastoring at a church that was wonderful to my family and me, that a search committee showed up in church one Sunday. About a month later Carol and I went and met with the committee in the suburban Detroit community they were located. The interview went well, and one of the committee members even said, probably to the horror of the chairperson, “Why do we even have to interview the other person? This is our guy right here!” We left there thinking that we’d be relocating in a couple of months…and then a couple of weeks later we got the call that they had chosen the other candidate. Once again we were disappointed, but I chose to look at the upside…that we were still a part of a great church family where I ended up pastoring for 15 years.

Disappointment is a part of the life journey for each one of us, but sometimes disappointment clouds over the blessings of where we are in the present. In terms of my coaching I’m still blessed to coach three different middle school teams- one football and two basketball. One of those school basketball teams I’ve now coached for 16 years!

Disappointment can hit us like a prom date rejection, or we can look around at where our path may be redirected. Perhaps our wants are not what God needs! I can look at my latest coaching position rejection and believe that they made a mistake, but I’ve been able to release it and move on. And sometimes…sometimes…the flaws of the position aren’t able to be seen by our starry eyes until we get a distance away from it. That happened in regards to the Michigan church. Some things happened in the next few years in that congregation that were unsettling. In fact, I felt kind of sorry for the person they DID call to come there and be their pastor.

What trumpets in my soul is the fact that I follow a God who desires to bless my life, not shower me with hailstorms of disappointment. My ways are not his ways, and, like an open bag of Hershey’s chocolate bars, my wants are not what he knows I need!

Living For Sameness

June 28, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        June 28, 2016

                                   

I have my routines. I take a shower when I get up in the morning…every morning. A shower-less morning throws me for a loop. I function like a zombie in blue jeans. I can hardly even remember to put underwear on. (TMI!)

My life is sectioned into routines. Some of them are good and could even be classified as disciplines. Some are compulsive behaviors that make me think I’m just another Adrian Monk (from the TV series on USA Network Monk). Still other routines are simply things and actions that help me feel comfortable and in control.

In effect, I do a lot of living in sameness. My hamburger has to have tomato and onion on it. I drink a glass of soda whenever I have popcorn. I sleep with my personal blanket…otherwise known as my “blankie.” I sit in the same place whenever I watch television in our family room. I live in sameness. It reduces my stress level.

Sameness is okay…to a point!

A pastor friend of mine made a statement recently in describing a church. He said that the church was committed to living for sameness. I loved that statement because it describes a lot of congregations. On the other end of the spectrum are churches who are committed to constant change. They are hyperactive organizations that jump around like balloons that are released full of air but not tied shut. Both types of churches are committed to living for sameness- one to no change and the other to constant change.

Sameness, in some cases, becomes what we worship. I grew up believing that the Doxology was always sung after the offering was received. It was the cue for the ushers to bring the offering plates back to the front of the sanctuary. When I heard it sung one Sunday in a different point in the worship service I was caught off-guard. Did I sleep through the offering?

In my seminary days I worked for a year in a Presbyterian Church. The senior pastor, Dr. James P. Martin, was a great pastor and mentor. He taught me a multitude of things about ministry. But I had been raised Baptist all my life! I could see things only through a Baptist lens. When I questioned why the Presbyterians didn’t have a Sunday night service…”like we Baptists did!”…he gave me a great response that I’ll always remember. He said, “Well, Bill, what it takes Baptists two worship services to do we can do in one!”

Classic!

It helped me understand that things do not always have to be the same. Change can be a good thing. After all, the Christian faith is about transformation. A person, and a congregation, can’t be transformed and remain the same.

I’m not proficient in being sensitive to the leading of the Spirit. I’ve missed a ton of stop signs and Spirit whispers, but I also sense that if given a choice many congregations would choose to stay rooted to sameness instead of being led by the Spirit. Like my “blankie”, there is comfort and safeness in sameness.

What amazes me about the first church is that although they were rooted in Judaism they were transformed by the Gospel and led by the Spirit. They were changed, but anchored to the Change Agent.

My Blankie

June 30, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          June 30, 2014

 

                                             

 

There are some things that stay with you even though they don’t make sense. Kind of like that old TV that is sitting in the family room. It’s been a part of the family. You don’t just take a part of the family to the dump!

My “blankie” falls even more securely into this category. My blankie is my blanket. It’s been my blanket since…about August of 1979. I say “about” because I married my wife on July 28, 1979. She brought the blanket into the marriage relationship. It was hers. You know that saying, “What’s hers is his!”  I actually don’t know if that is a saying or not, but it should be.

Soon after July 28 “the blankie” transferred partial ownership to me. That means, it crept to my side of the bed at night.

There’s gold, and then there are those few things that are more valuable than gold. My “blankie” is threaded gold.

When we go on driving vacations I take it with me. I don’t take it places if I’s flying. I don’t trust the airlines that much.

I took it on a mission trip to British Columbia…three days drive away! I took it to Park City, Utah last summer.

I took it to camp where I was being the camp pastor. I needed some form of comfort in the midst of a multitude of middle school students, many whom were discovering that there was an opposite sex that could offer them a different kind of comfort.

I took it to Arizona and South Dakota. For thirty-five years it has just felt…right!

Now it is beginning to look pitiful, like the family dog that just lays around and whimpers. My blanket has a few holes in it, frayed ends, faded patterns, and stuffing that is settling in the same spot, like a middle-aged man whose body has decided to most gather around the waist and stomach.

The other thing that makes this unique…and weird, is that my grandmother made incredible quilts. Sixty years after the fact they are in almost-mint condition. They are warm and comfortable, memories for me of my Mamaw Helton who had “settler skills.” That means that she could have survived on the frontier is she wanted. Quilt-making was just one of her gifts. She could kill a chicken, clean it, and fry it up for dinner almost as fast as my Papaw could drive to the grocery and buy a chicken from the butcher. She kept the eastern Kentucky farm going that she and my Papaw owned.

I slept with those quilts as I was growing up. Somewhere along the line after July 28, 1979 I switched over to the “blankie.”

My wife sometimes thinks I love my blanket more than her. That’s not true! Although my blankie doesn’t kick me at night when I snore. She reminds me that the blanket was hers first, but I remind her that possession is nine-tenths of the law.

When I die I hope my blankie is still around. If so I want to it to be buried with me. I don’t want to have to worry about wearing a suit as I’m all laid out in the casket. When do I ever wear a suit while I’m laying down in this lifetime? My mom would never permit such a thing. I can hear her say, “It’s going to get all wrinkled!”

So just cover me with my blankie. Throw a tee shirt on me just in case chest hair is upsetting to some, but drape my tired perishing physique in my tired perishing blanket and let me rest in comfortable.

I know I’ll be walking the streets of gold in heaven, but if I get to nap in paradise I hope I can have my threadbare gold wrapped around me. It only makes sense. It fits…comfortably!…in my picture of perfection!

Speaking to Mom

September 7, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W                                               September 7, 2013

 

 

Most who are reading this know that my mom passed away on September 3. Her funeral was yesterday. After the service at Hall’s Funeral Home in Proctorville, Ohio, the family traveled about an hour and a half to Highland Memorial Gardens outside of Staffordsville, Kentucky for her graveside. I was asked to conduct the graveside service. Now, understand that I’ve conducted a lot of graveside services over the years, but this was different. This was for Mom, the one who changed my diapers and kept me in line. One doesn’t just read a scripture, recite a poem, and close in prayer at his mother’s cemetery plot. The following are my last words to Mom before her casket was lowered into the ground just to the foot of her parents’ graves, and also in the company of her sister Irene, and husband Milliard Vance, her brother Dewey Junior Helton (who I always thought  was actually named Junior…Uncle Junior!), and his wife Grethel, and Mom’s brother-in-law, Bernie Whitt. Her sister, Cynthia Whitt, age 91, is the last of the six children still living.

“Family plot” is an appropriate term for that section of the cemetery! And those of us who are still walking upright were gathered there with them.

Dear Mom,

    I know that you are in heaven now. As I thought about who you are- your personality, likes and dislikes- and who you have been, and I thought about where you are now, I started pondering what it is about heaven that impresses you…not that there is anything in heaven that is unimpressive!

     I know that you will be taken back by how immaculate everything is in Glory. Everything is perfectly placed. There is no hint of chaos. There isn’t a place in the whole expanse that “looks like a tornado hit it” (Your term used often to describe my bedroom!). 

      Everything is clean! Cleanliness is next to godliness…and now you know that it also describes the area next to God! The order of heaven has brought a smile to your face. If heaven has magazines they are neatly arranged. Good Housekeeping would figure prominently in the tidy mix.

      I know you will also be thrilled to discover that there is no death, mourning, crying, or pain there. The last few years have had their share of those things…from the passing of siblings and friends…to the pain of your illnesses. Dad and Rena often found that there was nothing they could do to comfort you, to make things so you would not hurt. They did not want you to be in pain, but there was a pained helplessness within them as they waited by your bedside. Heaven, as you have discovered, does not have a hospital ward…or doctor’s waiting rooms…or pills to take and health insurance forms to submit.

      In heaven I’m sure you are rejoicing with those who have gone before you. I know you’re experiencing a reunion of the saints. There’s been a separation that has now come back together. 

      Can you hear Aunt Rene’s laughter? 

      Do people still have Kentucky accents there, which, I know, Kentuckians have thought are pretty heavenly on this earth? 

       Is the aforementioned Uncle Junior still allowed to pinch the legs of unsuspecting little boys…like he would do to me while sitting in the swing together at Mamaw and Papaw Helton’s house? 

       Have you seen Papaw yet, and does he drink buttermilk in heaven? I always thought that buttermilk was disgusting, so I’m assuming he is having to go “buttermilk cold turkey” for the rest of eternity.

      And, Mom, you’re seeing the Lamb of God, Jesus, with the multitudes encircling him in praise and adoration of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Since I know you were always impressed with Easter Choir Cantatas, you must be standing there with your mouth wide open in awe of what you are now hearing and seeing. 

      We grieve your death, but we rejoice in your life, and now…new life. As the scripture says “…we live by faith, not by sight.”

      Because of our shared faith we know that someday we will be reunited with you, and for that we are thankful!