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?

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Advent Signs

One of the signs of hope for me personally this Advent is that the South Carolina Delegation has endorsed me to be their Episcopal Nominee. Today is the day that their website for me, www.timmcclendon.org, is being launched. I am grateful for all of their hard work in doing this. This is a great reminder of Christ’s never-ending work in our lives, and one of the best Christmas gifts ever for me. Thank you to all!

This reminds me of a very significant Thanksgiving that we observed 3 years ago. We were at Cindy’s mother’s house and we feasted and reminisced about former days. As I was walking around in the yard before we left I noticed the stump of the old oak tree that had stood for centuries beside the house. After Hugo ripped up another of the ancient giants and ice storms decimated the rest, it seemed a good idea to cut down this hazard that was located precariously close to the house. All that had been left for several years was a huge stump.

I’m sure the transformation took place gradually, but that Saturday it was undeniably apparent. The old stump that had once looked weather beaten and forlorn was alive. It was sprouting new shoots, live branches of hope into the gray sky. They were at least four feet tall and climbing. The serendipity of the find gave me pause to think about life and its changes. We go through lifeless seasons of scarring and barrenness, and then Jesus’ power causes us to sprout again. Even when it seems like life is over, Jesus can resurrect us. There is no damage that Jesus can’t undo!

Another serendipitous occasion over that Thanksgiving holiday was the arrival at my mother-in-law’s of a cute little beagle. Mrs. Godwin had enjoyed her two cats, but she had sorely missed the Boykin spaniel that she and Mr. Godwin mutually adored. Bud was the dog that they loved so much. Bud enjoyed riding in the pickup with Mr. Godwin and lying down at Mrs. Godwin’s feet. He was so old he started to edge closer and closer to death’s door, but, because he was so much a reminder of Mr. Godwin’s life, Mrs. Godwin spared no expense in vet bills to keep Bud going, especially after Mr. Godwin’s untimely death. However, one day he just disappeared, either stolen or instinctually or purposely wandering off to die in order to spare Mrs. Godwin another grief.

Other dogs had come and gone before Bud: Brio, and Britt, to name a few. You probably noticed that all their names started with the letter “B.” So one’s imagination wouldn’t have to work overtime to figure out what new name this foundling beagle was granted: Barney. Mrs. Godwin, living by herself, had said repeatedly that she wanted another dog but she didn’t have the desire or physical stamina to train one for the house. Well, God does work in mysterious ways. Barney was already house-broken, had quite a menacing bark for a dog with his diminutive size, and quickly learned to use the “dog door” that Mr. Godwin installed some time before his death. Once again, when we least expected it, just like the old tree stump’s new shoots, new life enters our pain and gives us hope.

Advent season can be a similar experience for us frail time-bound human creatures. Last year our family didn’t even put up a Christmas tree because we were too overwhelmed by personal concerns in the aftermath of Mrs. Godwin’s sudden death and Narcie’s brain tumor. This year, determined to open our hearts to Jesus’ power to bring new life, we have put up our decorations weeks earlier than usual. Instead of retreating into worry, which is more my problem and not Cindy’s, Advent dares us to advance toward God’s in-breaking kingdom, whether it comes in the form of new shoots out of a seemingly dead stump, a new puppy, or a new website. May this Advent bring you inspired hope. Join me in looking for the signs!

Being in Sandwich Generation is Tough

Cindy’s mother, Dixie Godwin, has been in three different hospitals in as many days. She has osteoporosis and has broken her back again. The first time was 5 years ago when she was making up her bed. She was in a brace and rehab for months. This time it just happened, no warning, no reason. First she was in Williamsburg County Hospital; then tranferred to Roper Hospital in Charleston; then to East Cooper Hospital in Mt. Pleasant where her orthopedic doctors have privileges.

They still haven’t been able to do an MRI to ascertain the best course of action. The problem is multifaceted. Her heart is acting up. Her kidneys are functioning at about 15%. Her hemoglobin is extremely low, and her pain is terrible. Hopefully today or tomorrow they can do the MRI and do what needs to be done. They have told us to be ready for rehab decisions which means moving her away from her doctors to be with us or near us in Columbia.
 
It’s a tough situation. Ever since Mr. Godwin died suddenly with a heart attack it seems that her warranty on her body ran out. He was her Knight in Shining Armour. He had his first 5 bypasses done when he was 52, then 4 more at age 56. He made it to age 64, which for his family was a feat. His Dad died of a heart attack at age 43; mother of heart attack at age 52; brother of heart attack at age 39. Their heart history is terrible.
Mrs. Godwin or “Ganny” as the children have called her is a strong willed independent woman so this has literally altered her life. Please pray for her and us, especially Cindy, as we make decisions in her best interest. Life is a challenge and never easy, but thank God for mercies beyond our comprehension. Being a part of the “Sandwich Generation” isn’t easy when you are concerned about your children, even grandchildren, plus your parents. My Mother died in 1993 when I was 37. Daddy died in 2000, 2 months before Cindy’s Dad. Life is tough, but God is tougher.

What We Will Remember About Bush

>The Iraqi reporter who threw the shoes at President Bush over the weekend was a pretty good shot, and the President has better relexes than I thought. Whether we would like to have been the guy throwing the shoes or not, one has to say that the President acted with great aplomb to dodge the tosses and his reaction was one of grace and humor. I haven’t always been a fan of Bush, but he’s got chutzpah. As much as I disdain the awkward pompous way that he walks and the stumble-mumble of the way he talks, I have to remember that at heart he’s a decent man. I know this from the personal experience of my father-in-law, Guy Godwin.

Mr. Godwin, as we all called him out of deference to his years as a high school principal, was one of the most decent and faithful men I have ever known. He died 8 years ago at age 66 of a heart attack. He loved everyone regardless of their station in life, was forthright, a man of great convictions and few words. He exuded leadership. He attracted “lost boys” and mentored many of us into manhood.
He met George W. Bush when Bush was part-owner of the Texas Rangers. He was at the game with his long-time friend Gene Moore of Lake City, father of financier Darla Moore. They were sitting in the owner’s box, and I’m sure Mr. Godwin, would have preferred sitting off to the side observing the crowd where he could analyze the situation. He was good at sizing up people.
What he relayed to us about what had impressed him about George Bush was when one of Bush’s daughters, a teenager at the time, was sitting up front in Mr. Godwin’s assigned seat. Bush spoke to whichever one it was and said, “_____, Get up. That’s Mr. Godwin’s seat.” He didn’t have to do that. Mr. Godwin was content where he was, but it showed common concern and decency for Bush to make his daughter move. This simple act of courtesy stuck with Mr. Godwin, a man who tended to always vote for Democratic candidates. He measured Bush and found a man who wasn’t given to privilege and pecking orders, just a man who did what he thought was right.
As much as George Bush has chosen wrongly over his presidency, I’m glad that he chose correctly at Texas Stadium. He taught his daughter manners, and he exhibited the common touch. I hope to remember Bush in a better light than I’ve pondered his leadership. Clinton may have been the consummate politician, but Bush deserves a little respect for his fanfare for the common man, at least for my father-in-law. For that I’m grateful.