A Christmas Gift From My Mother

Christmas 1978 was memorable, and not for all the right reasons. Cindy and I were in seminary in Boston. We wouldn’t be able to come home for the holidays, but I wanted to spread some cheer, especially to my Mother. She was always keen on doing unselfish things for others. She had a huge heart and was generous to a fault. She didn’t like much fanfare or thanks. She was kind to the core. Plus she was gifted in making crafts which provided a never-ending source of “pretties,” as she called them, to give to people.

One Christmas I recall her melting paraffin and pouring countless quart milk cartoons full of wax to make candles. She painted. She crocheted all sorts of things. At Christmas 1978 she decided to make a gift for President Jimmy Carter’s 11 year old daughter, Amy. Since President Carter had been a peanut farmer from Plains, Georgia, Mother decided to crochet what she called a “peanut doll” for Amy’s Christmas present. From what she described to me on the phone, it was an elaborately painted peanut with all the features exquisitely done with a full blown costume including a purse and shoes.

She also described the derision that my brother Carlee and my Father heaped on her. They said things like, “She probably won’t even get the doll. The Secret Service will confiscate it.” “You’re wasting all your time on something, and you’ll never even get a thank-you note.” She told me all of their comments, and I decided right then and there to do something about it. Cindy and I might not be able to come home for Christmas, but I could certainly stand up for my Mom. I wanted to silence her critics!

The next Friday I called. My brother answered and I put on a fake voice, “This is James McCabe calling from the White House. I want to express to Mrs. McClendon the gratitude of President and Mrs. Carter for the gift sent to their daughter, Amy.” Before I could say anything else from my script, my brother interrupted, “I’m sorry. She’s not here, but if you will call back in 15 minutes she will be here.” I said, “Certainly. I’ll call back.”

I didn’t think about my Mother’s usual Friday hair appointment at Sara’s in Edgefield. Anyway, I found out what my brother did. He went into town, burst into the all-female domain, blurted out that a phone call from the White House had been received, and that they were calling back in a few minutes. Mother was rushed out with her hair half-completed and whisked home.

I made the call with just the right amount of delay. Mother answered the phone and I went into my spiel: “This is James McCabe, White House Chief of Staff, and I just wanted to convey the President’s thanks for the lovely Christmas gift to his daughter.” I went on a little further and then gave her time to respond. She said, “Thank you so much for calling. I didn’t expect this at all. I just wanted to let Amy know that I was thinking about her and wanted to wish her a Merry Christmas.” She said some other formal sounding pleasantries, ever the Southern Lady in genuine appreciation for the call.

You could smell and hear the honeysuckle dripping. I couldn’t hold back any longer so I semi-yelled, “Mama, it’s me, Tim! I wanted to show up Daddy and Carlee for making fun of you….” She interrupted me, as if I hadn’t said anything or revealed my true identity, and said, “Once again, Mr. McCabe, thank you for your call. My husband and son are standing right here and are so pleased that the White House has called. Have a Merry Christmas and give my best to the President and Mrs. Carter, and, of course, to Amy. Goodbye.”

As I learned later, my brother drove her back into town whereupon she was greeted at Sara’s like a regal queen. No doubt they had heard about my Dad and brother’s mocking of her crocheted Christmas gift to Amy Carter. She told them about the call and got back under the dryer. By afternoon she had been contacted by what we affectionately called the “Edgefield Astonisher.” A front-page article the next week was titled, “White House Phone Call.”

Mother called me and said in no uncertain terms that I should never, ever, ever do anything like that again. My Dad and brother never learned the truth. Mother went to her grave never spilling the beans. I’ve wondered ever since what the moral of this Christmas story is. I think I’ve got it now. Mother always did things for others without ever wanting any thanks. She would have been happy even if she never got a thank-you note from the White House, which she did, by the way, the very next week. I was the one who wanted thanks as I blurted out my name to her on the phone. It was my way of saying, “I’m the one you ought to thank for defending you.”

I was right to defend her, but I was wrong to have wanted her thanks. It made the whole ruse about me more than about her. Well, my lesson was that Mama didn’t need defending nor did she require thanks. I wish that I was more like her every day. We don’t give gifts for the thanks we receive. God sure didn’t when he gave us Jesus, the best Christmas gift of all.

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Gaudete Sunday!!!

This coming third Sunday in Advent is known for its unusual pink candle and is often referred to as Gaudete Sunday. “Gaudete” is a word from which we derive our word, “gaudy.” While I think of something that’s gaudy as tacky, Gaudete Sunday reminds me of something truly profound – the deeper meaning of joy, hence the pink candle. The day takes its name from the Latin for “Rejoice” which is the first word of Gaudete Sunday’s introit in Latin: “Gaudete in Domino semper…” It comes from Philippians 4:4-6: “Rejoice in the Lord always…” and it comes at a perfect time for me. With two weeks to go before Christmas it is easy for me to panic about gift-giving and go overboard in trying to make sure that everything this Christmas is perfect and everyone’s measure of joy exceeds expectations.

But joy isn’t an extrinsic purchase! It’s the difference between joy and happiness. I can’t even explain it with a worthy analogy, but I think I know the difference. The closest I can come in explaining what I mean is that being happy represents a second-rate emotion dependent on external circumstances while joy is a first-rate intrinsic sense of extreme well-being regardless of surroundings. As someone put it, “Joy is not the absence of suffering; it is the presence of God.” Isn’t this the real meaning of our celebrations? We wait for the Lord’s advent with joyous expectation by commemorating the first and anticipating the second! So, whether well fed or hungry, employed or unemployed, laid aside or ranked with whomever – joy is a gift of God independent of pomp and circumstance.

This will be a tough year for some to try to manufacture happiness. Some may be like me who have faked our way through the tough financial times of the last few years. I have kept up a good appearance, determined that Christmas would not suffer. I have been one of those who has been, in the vernacular, “been robbing Peter to pay Paul,” to live as if the Great Recession didn’t occur. I’m ashamed to admit that in the last few years I hit my pension plan, insurance cash values, and maxed out credit cards to create a façade of normalcy in the midst of stress and less. Now the truth hurts and there is no safety net left. It will be a lean Christmas in things, but not in joy or love.

Cindy and I went to a famous Scottish restaurant to celebrate our 37th wedding anniversary the other night and purchased our celebratory gift while we were there. The name of the restaurant is “McAlister’s” headquartered in Oxford, Mississippi, and famous for their sweet tea and sandwiches all around the South. Frankly, even this sandwich shop is a little too pricey for our budget right now, but we splurged. We spent $20 or less sharing sandwiches and the price included a $4.95 gift to hang on the Christmas tree. It’s a reminder of this year – a year without much fanfare, but large on joy. We purchased a McAlister’s ornament for our tree – a miniature plastic cup with “McAlister’s Deli” emblazoned on the side with fake ice and lemon in what I suppose is fake tea. Hey, it might be the real stuff.

I am reminded that the real stuff of Advent and Christmas is joy – not the absence of gifts, and not even the absence of any sign that Narcie’s brain tumor has grown. Joy is sensing the intimate presence of God, the underlying awareness that comes from worshipping a loving grace-filled God – the incarnate Word become flesh in Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. Joy is the imperceptible inner glow that rises from the core of faith and gives hope and light to every cell of our being. This joy is often seen most clearly from a vantage point not of this world.

Seeing the big picture reminds me of traipsing off to Atlanta with my two older brothers as a small child. I have a few memories of the experience, one of which was that I had more money than the two of them put together. I think that’s how I got invited! Older brother Carlee rented a motel room for two as he and Ralph pushed me down into the floorboard of the car so the manager wouldn’t notice. I vividly recall middle brother Ralph throwing me into the pool to teach me how to sink or swim. Even as I recall all of the assorted tidbits of the trip, a sly smile creeps to my face. Now that’s joy. When all around you is crud or despair, think about the bigger picture – the memories and persons that make your heart grow strangely warm. If I picture Enoch, Evy, and Kaela who are our precious grandchildren, wow, does my heart sing!

It takes a larger view of life. One of the best things that I remember about Carlee, Ralph, and I going to Atlanta was going to Grant Zoo. The animals were cool, but what most impressed me was the Cyclorama of the Battle of Atlanta painted in 1892 by Friedrich Wilhelm Heine and August Lohr. Cycloramas literally go full circle as they tell a story, and they use diorama effects around the painting’s base to give it a more three-dimensional feel, inviting viewers into the scene and “experience” the event depicted. Most cycloramas were created in the late 19th century before the advent of motion pictures which were the cause of their demise. But, however dated, the Atlanta Cyclorama was instrumental in forming my love of history, and it made a little boy see that “playing army” with plastic soldiers was a horrible farce when faced with the brutality of war set before my very eyes in the life-like scenes of the cyclorama.

It was eye-opening and cycloramas have a message for me this on this coming Gaudete Sunday. I read that cyclorama artists stood on platforms in the middle of the actual terrain of their histroic scenes while they conceived their paintings. This gave them a bird’s-eye view so they could be as accurate as possible in their work.

This speaks volumes to me. To reclaim Advent joy as the one of the most sublime gifts of Christ I have to climb out of the mire and take a higher and wider view of life. It isn’t pie-in-the-sky or unrealistic. It isn’t purchased at a mall and put on a charge card. Joy is that warm smile that is sheer gift. It rises in the throat, warms the heart, and though unexplainable it is as tangible as a tear. You can’t make it, purchase it, or fake it. It’s a gift from the God who says, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy, eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David. (Isaiah 55:1-3)” That’s music to my ears and brings real joy to my heart!

Birthday-Eve, Wesley, and Existentialism

Existentialism has been defined as, “the philosophical and cultural movement which holds that the starting point of philosophical thinking must be the experiences of the individual.” I’m no Existentialist, as defined, but as a good Wesleyan I do believe that our philosophical and theological experiences must be evidenced in personal experience. There must be an eighteen-inch connection between our hearts and our heads. We are not “head-trip” Christians devoid of real world real-time experience with God. We are the people of empirically sensed “strangely warmed” hearts.

Tomorrow, October 23, is my 57th birthday, and that fact has me pondering my existence and calling. Life has never been a bed of roses for me, and it isn’t now. The events of this summer with losing in the episcopal election were daunting, yet I am fine. My back isn’t what it used to be as I have started the Christmas sprint in pottery making for all of the Columbia District Clergy, everyone in the UM Center, the Cabinet, and, of course, myriad family members. Conducting Charge Conferences back-to-back-to-back has been wonderful but exhausting, especially as I’m pondering potential pastoral moves as I discern the sense of those gathered for these important meetings. As Cabinet Secretary I have been busy creating and updating every piece of information to be used by all the District Superintendents in the appointment process and S/PPRC training. Heck, I’m tired from just dealing with the secular election process. There have been times where I have thought about doing harm to my telephone if I receive one more robo-call.

I am sure that many of you are going through much worse and your faith has been tested in far more serious ways, but on this birthday-eve I’m reflecting on my particular and peculiar life. My Mother was 40 and my Daddy was 41 when I was born. Mother wasn’t even sure she was pregnant, and didn’t go to the doctor until a month before my arrival. As a teenager who stressed out my older parents, I unfortunately overheard them upon occasion discussing my very existence. Several times I heard Daddy say to my Mother, “You didn’t want him,” and my mother replied, “If I didn’t want him, I wouldn’t have had him.” On one hand hearing this affirmed that I was a deliberate choice, but on the other hand the very discussion of my being born did not add to my sense of worth. Gosh, to keep my two much older brothers from doing me physical harm, my parents allowed them the privilege of naming me. Carlee wisely gave me the name “William,” after my Mother’s father. Ralph, on the other hand, gave me the name “Timothy,” after the name of the bear in the Dick and Jane books. I guess it could have been worse with something like “Puff” or “Spot.”

Now hear me out, I knew that was loved and appreciated, but I also often felt like a literal afterthought. One of the first serious books that ever helped me name this inner struggle between worth and worthlessness was Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage. As a fifth-grader it came at a pivotal time in my life. Compounding existing issues concerning my self-worth was the fact that in the third grade I had encephalitis, an extremely dangerous illness. Statisticians say that 50% of its sufferers die and 80% have permanent brain damage. Whether the latter is true or not about me is up to you, but it did put me behind in school. Unfortunately I was also one of the youngest in my class with a birthday less than a week from the next grade’s cut-off. My current hearing loss is also a direct result of this awful illness.

As a youth, to compound things, either due to encephalitis or not, I also had a difficult time saying a “th” sound and earned the ignominious nickname of “Fim” in place of “Tim” because of it. I do know that much of my memory before the age of eight is simply blocked out due to the high fever that I had. If it weren’t for my dear Aunt Florence tutoring me in the fifth grade I would never have caught up in school. She also re-taught me how to tell time and tie my shoes, abilities evidently erased by my illness. There were plenty of deficiencies I ingeniously compensated for until her tutoring. However, before you begin to think that I wasn’t all that bright to begin with, some of you might need to be reminded of my Magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa credentials. Sometimes we overdo in life to prove to others why we should have been born or continue to exist.

But, it was The Red Badge of Courage that first helped me turn the corner inside my own head about my unique personhood. The book’s hero, Henry Fleming, was an anti-hero of sorts, a boy too young to have to face war and maiming. Henry Fleming was real. I could identify with him. He went through the stages of being scared, a deserting coward, cocksure in false bravado, gutsy under fire, and, in the end, he became a wise veteran who knew that the golden sunlight of peace was a better goal than a red badge of combat. He had earned his stripes, in a very real sense. As for me, I still run the gamut of all these stages. At least Henry Fleming remains a model of someone who survived tenuous times of doubt and fear and made it, despite all of his emotional and physical scars.

The biggest redemptive moment in my life occurred when I fully gave my life to Christ as a sophomore in high school. At that precipitous hinge-point of adolescence, between defining moments of either being cool or vilified, I heard and felt the Gospel. I recognized for the first time that God had always been with me, and had set me apart for joyful obedience. Beyond my feeble attempts to articulate it, I experienced a real relationship with Jesus that has sustained me ever since.

So here I am on my birthday-eve, thankful for the faithfulness of God through thick and thin, lean and abundant years, and all the vicissitudes of life. I can wake up in praise more than fear because God is God and that hope inspires another day of service from this inadequate, but more-than-conquering servant. Like Henry Fleming in The Red Badge of Courage, I will head back onto the field of warring emotions and hope that it is valor more than duty that calls me, and the Gospel of Christ’s grace more than a desperate endeavor to justify my own existence that inspires me. I will, through Christ, wear the red badge of courage.

Heroes!

Who are your heroes? I can think of the aunt who re-taught me how to tie my shoes and tell time after I had encephalitis as an eight year old. I can think of my Mother and Daddy, my brothers, and so many more who have been my mentors along the way. Today I especially recall my oldest brother who died on his 70th birthday, August 15, two years ago. I think of my courageous daughter, Narcie, a United Methodist Campus Minister who had surgery for a brain tumor in June 2010. I stand amazed at her poise and passion. She is one of my heroes to be sure! My wife, Cindy, an Elementary Guidance Counselor, is a hero to so many. Gratitude goes to all Educators starting another school year.  You are tremendous heroes! The Olympics have shown us so many heroes, too. Some have been athletes. A lot more have been coaches and family members who have paid for gymnastic or swimming lessons since their children were just beyond being toddlers.

Don’t ever say that we don’t have any heroes anymore. In 1998, Captain Timothy Stackpole was severely injured while battling a fire. He was able to recover enough to return and resume his job as a firefighter. His only comment on getting back to work was, “It’s my calling.” Those words took on a whole new meaning when September 11, 2001 rolled around. Captain Timothy Stackpole died while trying to battle the blaze and save people in the World Trade Center. No wonder that immediately after the tragic events of September 11 retailers who sell Halloween costumes announced that the most popular outfits were those of firefighters and police officers. Continue to pray for one of my pastors, Rev. Steve McCormick and his family, whose only son, Major Joe McCormick, was killed in a C-130 plane crash fighting fires out west this summer. He leaves behind a bereaved wife, 3 young sons and a newborn daughter. Joe was a hero.

Remember the Oklahoma City bombing? Rebecca Needham Anderson, a nurse, heard the first 911 call and headed immediately to the devastated Murrah Federal Building so that she could aid the injured. Her husband, Fred, drove Rebecca to the scene of the disaster that morning of April 19, 1995. Shortly after arriving, Nurse Anderson was struck on the head by concrete falling from the collapsing building. She died five days later. Her heart, kidneys, eyes, and liver went to transplant recipients. Fred Anderson said, “She gave her life doing what she wanted to do, help people.”

Yes, we still have heroes to look up to. They are all around us, most unsung and unheralded, but still there. They are children who do the right things in the face of temptations to do otherwise. They are moms and dads who work hard as well as spend time and energy as parents and as caregivers for their own parents. Grandparents, teachers, coaches, and so many more are the everyday heroes that make our world so much better.

There was an important story that emerged from the Los Angeles riots some years ago. These were the same riots that made Rodney King a household name. A Hispanic man by the name of Fidel Lopez was trapped in the rioting. He was beaten within an inch of his life, battered by bottles and bats, punched in the face with angry fists, and kicked mercilessly, until an African-American minister, Bernie Newton, threw himself on top of him. Bernie Newton cried to the crowd, “If you kill this man, you’re going to have to kill me first.” When he finally out-shouted the rioters, he got Fidel into his car, and took him to the Daniel Freeman Hospital. Some time later, Rev. Newton raised $3000 from his own congregation to give to Fidel. That was the amount of money the rioters had stolen from him.

Later, Mr. Lopez asked Rev. Newton, “How can I begin to thank you? You saved my life. Why did you do what you did? Why did you risk your own life?” Bernie Newton answered, “Because I’m a Christian. Because I believe in sowing love not hate. Because I believe in healing and not hurting. Because I believe in Jesus the Prince of Peace and the Prince of love.”

This is the hope of the world – that there will be many people who will be heroes, doing great and small things to spread love where there is violence, hope where there’s despair. Jesus, the Hero of Heroes, is the model of heroic sacrifice, love, and passion. He is the greatest Hero. There are heroes all around us! There’s one inside you and I want to say, “Thanks!”

Easter Is Personal!

Death bothers me. Some deaths take an even greater toll than usual, as if there’s anything usual about death. I guess that I have seen somewhere around 600 people take their last breath, including my mother and father. Some people die easier than others. Thank God for Hospice. Nevertheless, a few deaths have bewildered me and turned time on its head. Some I saw die and with others I was there for the aftermath. Some deaths gut punch us in a very personal way. Every death diminshes humankind and the ripple effect pains us all in personal ways. Some hurt more than others though.

I think of Brittany Anne Gudger who I watched die in her mother’s arms at eighteen months. Dale Owen comes to mind who died in junior high when his four-wheeler hit a guy-wire connected to a telephone pole. He was one of the best left-handed pitchers I ever saw. His mom buried him with his pager so that she could call his number every day just to soothe her sorrow. I think about Wayne Threatte, a friend and former parishioner, who died too young as a 45 year-old. His last words to me were, “I’m going to be alright.” Well, I wasn’t even if Wayne was. Holly Alford’s death was a shock, too. She was 12 when she drowned in a freak accident when she and her mom hydroplaned into a ditch during a downpour. She was an only child. The list could go on and on. Death and grief care are perhaps a pastor’s heaviest burden. Parishioners rightfully become your family.

My only solace is the same solace that I offer to others: JESUS. Easter’s proclamation is the most profound news of all time. Jesus lives! Because He lives so do Brittany Anne Gudger, Dale Owen, Wayne Threatte, Holly Alford, Mr. Godwin, Mrs. Godwin, Suzanne Godwin, Karl Alexander, Bob Newsom, Etah Fields, Carlee McClendon, Mama, Daddy, and all the rest who have died in Christ. There’s not one soul in Christ left in the grave. How do I know this? Here’s the answer via a story that some claim is true: A man was standing in line at the bank when there was a commotion at the counter. A woman was distressed, exclaiming, “Where will I put my money?! I have all my money and my mortgage here!! What will happen to my mortgage?!” It turned out that she had misunderstood a small sign on the counter. The sign read, WE WILL BE CLOSED FOR GOOD FRIDAY. I guess Easter was not uppermost in her thoughts, because she thought that the bank was going to close “for good” that coming Friday.

Death’s depository of despair was closed on Good Friday. That day Christ took upon Himself all of the pain, sadness, heartache, and sin of the entire world. He endured crucifixion to conquer death. Death came into the world as a result of sin, “The wages of sin is death.” Jesus closed death’s bank on Good Friday because He had never sinned. Since He didn’t sin, death couldn’t hold Him. His resurrection on Easter is proof of His triumph and it is the proof that we can triumph, too, through faith in Him. When we believe Jesus died for our sins that means we also believe He rose for our lives.

No wonder worship for the first believers quickly changed from Saturday/Sabbath to Sunday. Since Jesus rose on a Sunday, the first day of the week would forever be a reenactment of Easter. This Sunday is the biggest reenactment of the year. If your faith needs a boost, your grief some solace, and your sins a white flag, then Easter is your day! The victory is won! Just as death is personal, so is Easter. I’m ready for a fresh experience of Easter! How about you?

Christmas: New Location, Same Love

Christmas will be very different this year. Yes, we will be spending less, and we have another first Christmas to enjoy with a new grandchild, but the biggest difference for me is because we won’t be celebrating at Cindy’s Mom and Dad’s house for the first time in 36 years. Last year was the grand finale. After her mother’s untimely death the house is now leased and all the heirlooms dispersed. The biggest legacy, I pray, will live on into the future – family. We will hopefully gather all the existing clan at our house and pray that everyone comes! Christmas is when we need each other the most, especially when there are empty chairs around the familial table.

Mine and Cindy’s first Christmas together was right after our wedding that occurred on December 20, 1975. After honeymooning in Gatlinburg and enjoying its perfect Christmas atmosphere including snowfall and St. Bernard puppies for sale, we went back to Cindy’s Nana’s house to celebrate the 25th with the extended family of Godwin’s and Burch’s. I was adopted by a wonderful family. Christmas with Cindy’s family has been made rich with memories of gift swapping, carols sung, games played, all-night barbeques, and tons of sweets. But, by far, the best thing about my in-law’s and extended family has been their gift of relationship. They exhibit love on a grand scale but without pretense. The gifts aren’t elegant or measured one against the other. The main gift that is passed from one to another is love.

This is key for me! I also dearly love my own biological family and have marvelous memories of Christmases past when we all gathered at our house, which, by the way, was also home to my grandparents. We cousins and kin celebrated on a huge scale. After all, December 25 was my grandparent’s anniversary, and my own parents were married on December 23. Nevertheless, with all of its hoopla, Christmas with my family of origin hasn’t compared with the reality of familial love that I’ve witnessed with Cindy’s relatives. No offense!

Maybe part of the difference is that my parents were older when I was born, fortyish, and might have been too tired for a newcomer. They even let my two brothers have the honor of naming me, I surmise to help extend my life. My first name “William” was my maternal grandfather’s name. My middle name, “Timothy,” came from the bear in the “Dick and Jane” books. My brothers and I are eight years apart in age. When I was two, my oldest brother went off to college.  I really don’t remember living in the same house with him. He was a celebrated visitor. My middle brother was just becoming interesting when he got hooked on cars and girls. So I became another one of the independent agents of our household, fending for myself, except for the gracious tutelage of extended family and friends. The yo-yo between closeness and distance has been a family trait. My family has always been a three-ring circus with everyone going off in his or her own direction. Therefore, maybe it was the whole family’s penchant for doing your own thing that led me to give much of my Christmas holidays to selling fireworks in partnership with one of my uncles.

Therefore, learning to do family has occurred mostly after marriage for me, and I haven’t been the greatest student of the art. It is an art to be in relationship with other people. The eagerness to be with family and the Christmases we have shared is what makes Cindy’s family so dear to me. They haven’t just adopted me. There’s a host of others who have been included in their family, too. The inclusion of so many is what makes Christmas, or any other time with them, so special. Rather than a disjointed make-an-effort family system, theirs is as natural as breathing.

As much as I miss my deceased parents and oldest brother and desire to have closeness with my living McClendon kin, I made a choice a long time ago. I’ll always love my brothers and their families and my extended Jackson cousins from my mother’s side, but for all practical purposes I belong to another family now, my wife’s. I love them, and they have taught me how to love better. I just wanted to say, “Thanks and Merry Christmas – See you soon!”

A Womb with a View

>Well, I turned 53 yesterday, October 23. One of my 2 brothers (the one in the photo) called me as is our custom with each other and sang “Happy Birthday.” The same song was shared gleefully at my 2 charge conferences last night. My other brother called earlier in the week and sent a card. He is in a nursing home and has a tough time. My brothers are special to me. I love them and I know that they love me. We’re 8 years apart in age. I guess Mother and Daddy didn’t get a lot of consistent alone-time since Grandmother and Papa’s room was across the hall. I was 2 when my oldest brother left home for USC. I have no recollection of him ever living at home.

Nevertheless, with both parents deceased, I think about my brothers today and thank them for their love and care. They got to name me. They gave me the name William as my first name after my mother’s father, and my middle name Timothy came from the name of the bear in the “Dick and Jane” books. No joke! I guess they got naming rights from my parents so they wouldn’t kill me or because Mother and Daddy were just too worn out to do it themselves. Mother was 40 and Daddy 41 when I was born.
According to her, Daddy, and my brothers, she thought I was an ovarian cyst or early menopause for about 8 months. I guess I didn’t kick a lot. When my Dad was attempting to explain the “facts of life” to me as a early teenager he asked me a peculiar question: “Do you know that you’re a M.A.C.?” I replied, “Sure, I know that I’m a Mc-Clendon.” He responded, “No, I mean a M-A-C, Middle Age Carelessness. Do you understand what I mean?” Reluctantly I replied, “Sure.” That was his sex-talk for me. I guess he figured if I knew what he meant about my birth, the rest would be okay.
My brothers naming me and Daddy’s attempt at sex-ed has often come to mind over the years and made me wonder, “Did they want me?” “Was it a happy surprise?” I think so because they sure did love me. Mother said I kept her young. I do know this in terms of self-awareness: I have too often tried to live in such a way by working hard, pushing frenetically to somehow prove to my parents, even in death, that I mattered and should have been born.
I want to give that push-push-pushing up. It’s one of the reasons I love the mountains where I sit and ponder; I love pottery making because it’s slow and reflective; and I need my cave-time on Saturdays to feed my soul more than I do the rest of the week. I guess we all battle our demons and tapes about self-worth. The best news is that I know my wife loves me, my children, and grandson are glad I’m here, and a lot of other folks along the way. Even better is that God knew me in my mother’s womb even if she didn’t.