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.

mother-picture

Advertisements

Daddy’s Advice: “Let it be!”

Maybe you’ve heard the story of the man whose neighbor saw him come home every day from a hard day at work and stop in his yard before entering the house and would hold his hands out and run them up and down on the leaves of a certain tree. Then the man would go inside. One day the neighbor asked the man why he went up to that tree every day. The man told him about his anxieties and difficulties at work and about how much he loved his family. He didn’t want to take his troubles into his home and bother his family so he picked a tree that he called his “Trouble Tree” where he would leave his problems. He said it always amazed him how few troubles were on that tree the next morning. We all need a way to let go of our troubles.

My Dad had a particular way of dealing with his troubles. He had a way of saying, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff,” but it wasn’t in church-appropriate words. I have told Cindy for years that I want the saying on my tombstone. She has refused, of course, due to the quote’s edginess. I have suggested getting it translated into Hebrew, Greek, or Gaelic, but no dice. I can’t even let you know what it is, but, suffice it to say, it means, in essence, “Try not to worry.” I’ve thought a lot about Daddy in my post-Annual Conference processing and discernment. Our imminent celebration of Father’s Day has him on my mind, too.

The way that I have most heard his advice intoned during the last few days has come from an unlikely source, and one I’m pretty sure he would dislike: The Beatles. Driving around in my car since last week and listening to my favorite playlist, Paul McCartney’s song “Let It Be” has been my “go-to” song. I never really gave much thought to what the lyrics meant. Over the years I think I guessed that the words, “Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, let it be…,” was some reference to the Virgin Mary, and I thought that “Let it be” was a prayer-like phrase with a connotation of “que sera, sera,” i.e.; “whatever will be, will be.” The notion that whatever happens is going to happen as if God pre-planned disasters, shootings and calamities is malarkey. It doesn’t leave room for human choice and the sheer evil that occurs.

After really listening to the song in the context of some of my personal anxiety and discernment about the future, it hit me! This is my Dad’s saying in different words! “Let it be,” means “leave it alone,” not “let it happen.” Give it to God, walk away, don’t keep fretting and dwelling on the “what-if’s” of life. Let it be! It’s not about accepting things the way they are as if there’s no way to change things. It’s about not getting so worked up that you can’t think or hear straight.

Actually that’s what Paul McCartney says about the song’s origin. He was at a low point in his life, and was sensing that the Beatle’s weren’t going to make it much longer as a band. His childhood anchor was his mother who died when he was fourteen. When he wrote the song he was at the point that her face was beginning to fade from his memory and he desperately needed her, just like I still need my Dad.

So in the midst of despair, McCartney’s mother came to him, and her name was Mary. He described what happened, “So in this dream twelve years later, my mother appeared, and there was her face, completely clear, particularly her eyes, and she said to me very gently, very reassuringly: ‘Let it be.’ It was lovely. I woke up with a great feeling. It was really like she had visited me at this very difficult point in my life and gave me this message: Be gentle, don’t fight things, just try and go with the flow and it will all work out. So, being a musician, I went right over to the piano and started writing a song: ‘When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me’… Mary was my mother’s name… ‘Speaking words of wisdom, let it be. There will be an answer, let it be.’ It didn’t take long. I wrote the main body of it in one go, and then the subsequent verses developed from there: ‘When all the broken-hearted people living in the world agree, there will be an answer, let it be.’”

So, as I discern and we all try to figure out the senseless tragedies of life as in all the broken-hearted people in Charleston, SC, we leave alone that which we cannot know, and do something about what we do know to find or create solace, justice, and hope. We don’t just shut down and give into a tragic and fatalistic cosmic plan. My way of letting things be is to go to God in prayer, embrace solitude in tiny and large moments, and trust that God always is present.He doesn’t cause pain, but has entered our pain through the wounded Christ to redeem it. Therefore, instead of Mother Mary coming to me and whispering words of wisdom, it’s Jesus standing up on the storm-tossed boat and rebuking the wind and waves and saying, “Peace, be still!” I’ll wait for His answer and trust His tremendous love for all of God’s children. On this tumultuous ride that we call life, don’t work yourself into worse thinking and reactions: Let it be.

Summer Road/Boat Trips and Avoiding Snake Bites

My mother was an adventurer and my father liked safety. Today is going to be an adventure. My brother, Ralph, his grandsons and I, plus a couple of others, are going to canoe down the Little Saluda River and beware any snakes that might drop off a tree limb into the boat. Why are we doing this: adventure! There is something about taking risks and reaping rewards.

As I said, Mother was adventuresome. She went camping with us. We had impromptu road trips. She led us on odysseys beyond the beaten path. I miss her, but today my brother and I are going to get to remember her and use her as a compass. I wish we did that more often. Our lives would be richer for it, and immeasurably more fun!

Mother was someone who loved well and we were the primary recipients. She proved her great capacity for love time and time again from legally adopting a mentally handicapped man whose family had deserted him to being more than patient with my Dad and the rest of our crew. One of my biggest tests of her love came from an adventure that occurred about this same time of year nearly 45 years ago. At the mere age of 13 a friend of mine and I decided to take our own little road trip.

I didn’t have a driver’s license but Mother had been teaching me how to drive by letting me drive with her at my side on dirt roads near our house. So I guess I could say my running away was all her fault, but I know the limits of rationalization. It was my fault! You know it, and I know it!

Mother was at work and Daddy was busy, too, so “Red” Rainsford and I decided to take off. We went outside and got into the 1967 Chevrolet that I had been given as a hand-me-down to fix up and with no license between us we decided to travel the eighteen miles from Edgefield to Saluda, SC.

Thinking that wasn’t adventure enough, we decided to go a little further and ended up in Newberry, SC. There we made a fateful turn. As I recall, when we passed over Interstate 26 we sort of looked at each other time and said at the same, “Let’s find out where the interstate ends!” We got on the interstate and off we went!

In about an hour we were near Spartanburg, SC and I was starting to feel a twinge of guilt. I tried to call home and let Mother know what I was doing. No one answered. In a last ditch effort to assuage my guilt I called my Aunt Florence and asked her to tell Mother that “Red” and I were fine and would be back in a couple of days. “We’re going camping,” I said. I hung up too quickly to get any sage advice.

We kept traveling up the interstate and it got dark. By this time we were somewhere between a plan to keep driving or take a slight detour and spend the night at Chimney Rock State Park above Lake Lure, NC. Our minds were actually made up by the interstate itself. You may not remember the days when I-26 ended just below “Saluda Grade” between Tryon and Rutherfordton, NC, but it did. Our hopes for finding the end of the interstate were set back, but I had fond memories of a camping trip with the same said brother that I’m heading off with today. We had stayed at a roadside campground near Chimney Rock for a week when I was around 8. I even hoped I might be able to recognize the same campground.

We barreled through Rutherfordton, no license at all and not much sense to obey the speed limit. Thankfully we weren’t pulled over. We made it to Chimney Rock on Highway 64 with its dizzying curves. Despite the dark of night I indeed recognized the campground and though no one was awake to charge us any money or run us off, we pulled in and parked the car.

In my false bravado I told “Red” that he could sleep on the back seat of the car while I took the ground outside. It got cold! The mountain air was so chilly even in the dead of summer that I actually started the car so the exhaust would warm up the ground and the muffler. Avoiding the carbon monoxide fumes and turning off the car I drifted off into a fitful sleep wedged under the car as closely as I could. Pretty soon I was completely awake and I am sure that you know what woke me: my conscience!

I kept thinking about my poor mother. She would be worried sick and I could hear Daddy’s ire about her teaching me how to drive and telling her that I shouldn’t have had her old car in the first place. I went through all the conversations including calls to the Highway Patrol in my mind.

We were there maybe two hours when I woke “Red” and said, “We’re going home.” “Red” hardly openly his eyes as I gunned our way down the road retracing our trip. We did end up outside Modoc near Edgefield at Lick Fork Lake where we spent a few hours of sleep. Later in the morning I sheepishly took “Red” home and headed to my house.

With her intuition Mother knew we did more than do underage driving to Lick Fork, but instead of reaming me out – she hugged me tighter than I could remember. She hadn’t told Daddy anything except that I was spending the night somewhere. In her grace I learned a lot about unconditional love and also not to do anything like it again. Her hug and tears made that very clear.

When she finally told Daddy years later what I had done, he still got upset! That made me even more grateful for Mother’s grace years before. She proved over and over again the truth of I Peter 4:8, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” I hope that works today in a canoe on the Little Saluda, between Israel and Hamas, border patrols and children, and any other situation that calls for more grace than guilt. Indeed, love covers over a multitude of sins! May it ever!

21540003

Stone Soup and a Stewardship Journey

Ah! The mysterious world of church finances can confound the best CPA. As a District Superintendent, I am the recipient of annual church budgets and myriad spreadsheets of audits and year-end reports. Some are presented via ACS (Automated Church Systems), Quicken/Quick Books, Church Books, homemade books, notebooks, or no books at all since they arrive handwritten. I have had to familiarize myself with all kinds of ways to look at figures and ascertain the bottom line of local churches.

Church finances are a sore topic for many church members and clergy. Some talk as if the whole matter is one of faith with no need of a budget or the usual month-long pledge campaign. “Campaign” is such an odd word since a financial plan for the church should not resemble anything like some concerted military action or a candidate’s political machine. My friend, Rev. Dr. Phil Schroeder of Emory, says that “Stewardship Journey” is more apropos when thinking of church finances, and he’s got a point! He asks the question: “Would your church like to wage another short-term campaign to raise money or go on an enjoyable stewardship journey together?”

I prefer adventure over overt or covert arm-twisting. As a matter of fact if the church lets its ministries speak for themselves then the money question becomes moot. It is a matter of faith and faithfulness! It’s like the parable of “Stone Soup” where everyone is hoarding their personal resources and starving until a stranger says he’s got a magic pot and stone that can turn plain water into a delicious meal. He lights a fire under the pot, drops the stone into the water, throws in salt and pepper and casually asks the townsfolk to have enough faith in his magic to share a carrot here, an onion there, a bit of meat, or a potato and before they know it everyone has given a little something until it adds up to a lot and feeds the whole village!

How wonderfully expressive this is of our United Methodist Connection, “Together We Can Do More!” Our Bishop, Jonathan Holston, has dared us to dream “God-sized dreams.” In our version of “Stone Soup” we are trying to collect a million new books to give to children K-5th grade. This whole adventure opens the door to churches that have able volunteers who can mentor these children. Local churches will engage their communities in practical and helpful ways. It will be marvelous if local churches and individuals will bring their books as ingredients for this recipe of success in South Carolina.

Yes, someone said this project is costly and it takes work, but I recollect that Jesus said something about taking up a cross, gave a parable about counting the cost, and offered Himself on a cross! I’m a bit reluctant to speak in mercantile terms, but we have to ask these two questions: “What business are we in?” and “How’s business?” The answers dictate that we have to spend money, time, volunteer hours and each of us add our personal ingredients from our meager storehouses so that the Gospel of Jesus Christ can nourish the whole world.

George Ade was a journalist and author at the turn of the Twentieth Century who with great turn-of-phrase poked semi-well-meaning fun at the counter-intuitive world of church, faith, and finance. Give a read to his Flannery O’Connnor-esque “Fable of the Good People Who Rallied to the Support of the Church:”

“A Congregation needed Money for repairing the Church, so the Women got together and decided to hold a Raspberry Festival. Sister Frisbie invited them to come and Carouse on her Front Lawn. Some 22 Members of the Flock flew out and brought a few Things to Wear, the Outlay for washable Finery running to about $8 per Head.

Mr. Frisbie got $9 worth of Chinese Lanterns and strung them around. He wanted to do the Thing up Brown so as to get a Puff in the Weekly. The Paper came out and said that the Frisbie Front Yard with its Myriad Twinkling Lights was a Veritable Fairy-Land. That kind of Notice is worth $9 of anybody’s Money.

Mr. Frisbie and three other Pillars of the Church devoted $7 worth of valuable Time to unloading Tables and Campstools.

The Women Folks ruined $14 worth of Complexion working in the hot Kitchen to make Angel Food and Fig Cake.

On the Night of the Raspberry Orgy the Public Trampled down $45 worth of Shrubbery.

When it came time to check up the Linen and Silverware it was found that $17 worth of Spoons with Blue Thread tied around them had been lost in the Shuffle.

The Drip from the Candles ruined $29 worth of Summer Suits and Percale Shirt-Waists.

Four Children gorged themselves and each was tied in a True Lover’s Knot with Cholera Morbus before another sunrise. The Doctor Bills footed up $18.

After clearing the Wreck, paying the Drayman and settling for Ice Cream and Berries, it was discovered that the Church was $6.80 to the good. So everybody said it was a Grand Success.”

George Ade said this was the Moral of the Story: “Anything to avoid dropping it in the basket.” Now, he might have been right but some can only give their volunteer time. In my mind it takes everyone’s effort in whatever way to make the church a thriving enterprise, business-allusion intended. As my Daddy often said, “You have got to spend money to make money.” Money comes in a lot of different forms and that’s a good thing. It just has to be spent if you want to make Stone Soup! Life is a Stewardship journey!

Ready for the Dance?

My Mother died in January 1993 and my Dad in July of 2000. Their funerals were genuine celebrations of life. My Dad’s was a particularly powerful testimony. Daddy had lost both legs at age 80. After Mother’s death, he couldn’t bear to be alone in that big house without her so he divided up their possessions, sold our home place and the Edgefield Pottery Museum and collection. He moved to Saluda to be near my middle brother and one of his businesses, but he would drive every Sunday back to Edgefield United Methodist Church, 36 miles round trip, on two artificial legs.

His last Sunday there was a good one. He drove himself home and that evening his kidneys shut down. He wound up in the hospital at Providence in Columbia and quickly went into a coma. He died 9 days later. In so many ways he was my hero. He overcame so many odds in life and was so colorful. His funeral was truly a “Service of Death and Resurrection” with the emphasis on resurrection. I was fine throughout it until we got to the last hymn, “Lord of the Dance.”

I could see past the mists of time into eternity and Daddy had his legs back and he and Mother were dancing. He was cutting a jig and Jesus was right there striking up the band! My dry eyes became a torrent of tears, not from sadness but joy! That funeral service was Easter to me! I can so easily hear the echo of those words now, “Dance then wherever you may be!”

I wonder where you and I will encounter Easter this week. In the throes of Holy Week we’re not there yet, are we? There will be times of abandonment, betrayal, passion, suffering, and care this week. In the midst of our present challenges I hear Jesus’ voice offering grace from the cross giving sympathetic solace to a dying thief who wants to be in Paradise and to His mother and beloved disciple who will find new purpose in caring for one another. The greatest measure of compassion was shown by Christ when he looked down on that company and said, “Father, Forgive them for they know not what they do.” I want to hear Jesus’ voice afresh this week.

Wherever we are in the dance steps of life, Jesus has gone before us – through every emotion, trial, temptation, and thanks to Good Friday through death to resurrection. This is the bedrock of our faith that sin and death can never conquer. Health challenges, family issues, financial stress, personal problems, and ethical dilemmas cannot separate us from Easter Hope: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death not life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present not the future, not any powers, neither height nor depth, not anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:37-39).”

This Holy Week reminds us that Jesus is with us in whatever life deals us, and He wins! Dance then! Cut a jig wherever you may be!

Keep Calm and Carry On!

I saw a sign in front of a church that looked downright wrong to me. I’m sure they meant something else. It said, “Don’t let worry kill you, let the church help.” As a District Superintendent in the United Methodist Church I have experienced the unfortunate reality that sometimes the church can exacerbate worries more than help them. Church squabbles and differences of opinion distract too many Christians and turn them into worriers.

This is a season to be thankful, not worry! I am enjoying everyone’s “Thirty Days of Thankfulness” posts on Facebook. Each day’s renditions of gratitude for simple and profound gifts are inspiring. What a great thing to do. It reminds me of the refrain in my Mother’s favorite hymn, “Count your many blessings, name them one by one.”

What a great spiritual discipline, especially if you are a worrier. “Turn your worries into prayers!” is an often heard phrase in our house, and I’m the one who needs to hear it.  I come from a long line of worriers. My Dad worried himself and everybody around him so much that I once made him a perpetual calendar that used interchangeable complaints and ailments for daily use. I called it, “Papa Mac’s Ailment Calendar.” At the bottom, I emblazoned the phrase, “For God’s sake and Mother’s, you only get to complain about one thing per day!” After getting upset about it, he actually lightened up and started showing it to his buddies.

Worrying doesn’t help a thing, does it? Someone said it’s like sitting in a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but doesn’t get you anywhere. Jesus talked a lot about not worrying. The most familiar verses are Matthew 6:25-34, but I’m especially partial to Luke’s version of the same passage. Luke 12:22-34 is really neat. Verse 32 nails it: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the Kingdom.” What wonderful words of promise and a cure for worry!

I’ve heard from several well-meaning people that there are exactly 365 “Fear not’s” or “Do not be afraid’s” in the Bible, but what I add up with my concordances is about 70-something, even when trying different translations. Sure, it would have made a great devotional book to have one per day as a reversal of my Dad’s Ailment Calendar, but ONE is all we need anyway. If God says it one time then that pretty much covers it, right? However, there are lots of anti-worry passages, whether they have the exact wording or not. For instance, James 1:17 says: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” Isn’t it good to know that God is the unchanging source of all that is good! That’s a worry-killer!

What about Psalm 46? The whole psalm is great, but I cling to verse 10: “Be still, and know that I am God…” Sometimes I can forget that so quickly, and I end up worrying. I get panicky over little things like where my cars keys are, and big things like Narcie’s health. If only I can wait on God without worrying! Instead I run around and make more trouble for myself and others. Heck, the debit card that I thought was eaten by the ATM machine turned up this morning as I happened to reach behind my car seat. Of course, this was weeks after I had already been to the bank and applied for a new card and put a stop payment order on the old one. I know not freaking out and being still are better choices to make. If I can stop and pray, “Lord, please show me where ________ is, then in that simple little act God usually lets me know which way to turn. It worked last night when searching for my watch!

This reminds me of one of the traditions found in the Navy. You’ve probably seen ship’s officers “piped” on board by a Bosun or Boatswain. These sailors use a high-pitched pipe that is like a bugle on land and can carry a specific tune and message. Each “call” is meant to be heard over the din of sounds found on a typical naval vessel. When a disaster or emergency occurs on a ship the Boatswain uses a specific signal called, “The Still.” The signal basically means, “Stop what you’re doing. Pause. Get your bearings. Prepare to do the right thing.” To some it may seem like a waste of precious time, but it actually saves lives. It clears away the confusion of worry and panic, while helping everyone remember their training. In stillness we find clarity that steers us in the right direction. Wouldn’t this world be a better place if we chilled out more before we react poorly and say or do the wrong things?

This reminds me of those British “Keep Calm and Carry On” T-shirts with a crown on top? Actually you’ve probably seen variations of them all over the place, especially on social media. In my googling I found out that the phrase was first used on posters and other items in 1939 at the start of WWII. It was a way to bolster the spirits of the British when things looked bleakest and there was the temptation to give up or give in to worry. I’m glad for its resurgence, but God’s been sending this message for a lot longer than 1939! Check out 2 Chronicles 20:1-22 for just a little proof. This passage is a testament to the “Keep Calm and Carry On” theme!

Whatever happens today – Pause and be still before God. Don’t let worry kill you. Keep Calm and Carry On!

keep-calm-carry-on

Our Family Wreath Includes You!

Years ago Cindy and I bought a framed pressed flower wreath composed of the tiniest of colorful blooms. It still hangs on our wall. Inside the wreath in dainty calligraphy were prophetic words that we have tried to honor through all the subsequent years: “Our family is a circle of strength and love, with every birth and every union, the circle grows, every joy shared adds more love, every crisis faced together, makes the circle stronger.”

There have been births and deaths, tragedies and triumphs, and we continue to praise the Living God who gives us the grace to endure together. If anything, it’s the together part that makes the journey easier. No wonder Jesus wanted his followers to be formed into a community of faith. The “two or more…” of the church represents the strength that we gain from bearing one another’s burdens. I can tell you this if you don’t have a community of faith, United Methodism’s connectionalism works! I want to say “Thank you!” to all of you who have been a part of our family sagas over the years. You have lightened the load. You have inspired us to live life with honesty and hope through Jesus.

The Christian faith is not an opiate for the masses as said Marx. Christianity is a very real source of hope. The world’s ways of coping with problems isn’t sufficient. Take a peek at the mostly inadequate methods espoused:

Sixteen Thoughts to Get You Through Almost Any Crisis

1. Indecision is the key to flexibility

2. You cannot tell which way the train went
by looking at the track.

3. There is absolutely no substitute for a genuine lack of preparation.

4. Happiness is merely the remission of pain.

5. Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.

6. The facts, although interesting, are irrelevant.

7. Someone who thinks logically is a nice
contrast to the real world.

8. Things are more like they are today than
they ever have been before.

9. Everything should be made as simple as
possible, but no simpler.

10. Friends may come and go, but enemies
accumulate.

11. If you can smile when things go wrong, you have someone in mind to blame.

12. One-seventh of your life is spent on Monday.

13. By the time you can make ends meet, they move the ends.

14. This is as bad as it can get, but don’t bet on it.

15. Never wrestle a pig; you both get dirty and the pig likes it.

16. The trouble with life is, you’re halfway through it before you realize it’s a “do-it
yourself” thing.

Although there may be some truth in a couple of these, all in all these clichés are absolutely no comparison to the hope that comes from Jesus Christ. John 10:10-11 says: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Yes, the source of evil and disease isn’t God but the thief. Jesus is the Good Shepherd that gave himself so that we poor sheep can have life to the full.

As a family we thank you for your prayers through the years. Some critical times were when we lost our fathers 5 weeks apart in two sudden deaths, and your support through the deaths of both of our mothers was unwavering. Your prayers and presence through my brother’s sudden death were comforting. Your wisdom and guidance through our youngest son Caleb’s journey have been appreciated as well.  You have been with us through the births of our grandchildren Enoch, Evy, and Kaela, too. Guess what: Josh and Karen are about to have another daughter within the month, so thanks ahead of time for prayers for them! The baby is going to be another little girl! My Dad often said that he would have traded all three of his sons for one daughter so Josh and Karen are doubly blessed!

Thanks to Narcie, I can really understand my Dad’s sentiment about daughters. So today I want to thank you especially for your support through Narcie’s travails. It doesn’t seem like it’s been almost three years since her first surgery and diagnosis of an oligodendroglioma brain tumor, and here we go again. May 10, this coming Friday, she is scheduled for another brain surgery. Dr. William Friedman at Shands Medical Center at the University of Florida will be the surgeon. Pray for him and the whole team!

When Narcie got the appointment at UF for the Gator Wesley Director’s position, we had no clue that they had a medical school, much less a renowned tumor center, and Dr. Friedman is chair of the department! God’s providence is marvelous. Even when life’s storms have come our way, God has provided. God doesn’t cause the dilemmas, but God always provides a way out. I Corinthians 10:13 says: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so you can stand up under it.”

So thank you now for the prayers for Narcie, and please continue to lift her up. We will make it by the grace of God. We will continue to live in a posture of faith trusting in a good God who gave his only Son that we might have everlasting life. We will rejoice together and suffer together, and we will prevail together! Thank you for being a part of our family wreath,

tim

Spillers and Pillars

Caught in time is how I feel today and I would rather transcend it. Caught between now and Narcie’s brain surgery on May 10; caught between this job and the knowledge that a year from now we will be somewhere else; caught between weekends; caught between trips to Mt. Mitchell or the New River; caught between earth and heaven, caught between here and now & there and then; caught between the seen and the unseen – feeling caught. Caught like Australian singer Lenka between “enjoying the show” or “I want my money back.” Have you ever felt caught?

I sense the lingering memories of yesteryear, go through the motions of today, and pray for better tomorrows. There’s always hope, and, frankly, the good motto of South Carolina doesn’t do hope enough justice, “While I breathe, I hope.” Nope, hope is a forever thing, not just a breathing living thing. The Audacity of Hope, by then Senator Barack Obama is about embracing hope over cynicism – lots of luck with that in Washington. Yep, Hope is an audacious thing.

How did I claim hope this past weekend? I planted flowers, not vegetables. I did that a lot as a youth, too, but vegetables are “useful.” I wanted something better than useful to put an end to this prolonged semi-winter weather we’ve been having. To embrace spring I called upon the memories of a great Mom and Dad who taught me the names of flowers, how to lay out a plan, and visualize a seed into perfect bloom. I planted 2 large flower beds and two containers. Now that takes hope even when you have a picture on the seed packet.

Mother said a profound thing about flower gardens and arrangements, “You’ve got to have spillers and pillars.” You need the flowers that spill over, know no boundaries, and give big splashes of color. You also need to layer the bed by height, texture, and spread in order to create visual interest. You can’t just have all short plants. You’ve got to have pillars, too.

So, I’m looking at my list of spillers and pillars with a hopeful eye today: pinkish purple Ganges Primrose, pink and white Pentas, lime green Marguerite Sweet Potato Vines, Diamond Frost white Euphorbia, purple Angelonia, colorful wave supertunias like Royal Magenta, Blue Denim, Bermuda Beach, Picasso in Pink, Pretty Much Picasso, and basic but classy red, white, and purple wave petunia plants. I also added mini-petunias called Superbells in Blackberry Punch, Cherry Star, and basic red and white. I finished things off with a garnet Vinca called Pacifica Cranberry.

Use your imagination and try to glimpse the cranberry, purple, lime, pink, red, magenta, and Baby’s Breath-like white Euphorbia dancing together. You’d have to see the Pretty Much Picasso and Picasso in Pink to believe their “pop.” They’re mostly a cross between pink and fuchsia with purple throats and edged with lime green. They are like, “Wow!” The whole assortment is spillers and pillars. They give me hope, and that’s more than useful!

On this rainy Monday caught between “enjoying the show” and “I want my money back,” I’m choosing to enjoy the show! Through the audacity of hope and the promise of color-to-come through my spillers and pillars, life is a faith journey that calls us to be like flowers: bloom where we’re planted, let our joy spill over, and stand tall as a pillar for the outrageous possibility of a life in faith.

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!”