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!

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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!

United Methodism is Dying for a Makeover!

I’ve got a couple of things whirling around in my brain today. August 15th is my late older brother’s 72nd birthday and tomorrow is the start of a new adventure. My middle brother, Ralph, and I, along with a cousin and a preacher buddy are going camping for 3 nights, 4 days. We’re going to canoe the New River that straddles North Carolina and Virginia. Ralph has had open-heart surgery, has a bad foot, and is a diabetic on insulin, plus he’s never been in a canoe and it’s been decades since he went camping. I told his wife to sneak up on us and video our shenanigans and she said, “Oh no! I don’t have to do that. I live with him!” He has been calling me pretty often wondering what to bring, what to wear, what to eat, will I have a tent for him and a sleeping bag. The list goes on. Hey, he just wants to know the lay of the land. Does he need to bring fancy clothes or a poncho? The poncho is a better choice. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in a fancy Manhattan restaurant or camping on the New River. What’s the proper attire or etiquette?

Proper etiquette nowadays fluctuates from person to person. There’s hardly a one-size-fits-all standard anymore. With blended families and other concerns, even the seating arrangement at weddings can be a maze of upset-the-fruit-basket. I’ve had some interesting weddings. There was the one when the bride’s veil caught on fire. Instead of snuffing out the candle in her side of the Unity Candle, she blew and her veil went right into the flame. Things went up in smoke, literally, before our very eyes. However, the little glitches that happen at weddings are no big deal really. Weddings are like that, and the couple’s love for one another completely overshadows the snafus. Things happen. Indecorum occurs when people are either intentionally insensitive to others, or they just don’t know the proper etiquette.

We do want to do things right, don’t we? I want to know if a party requires casual dress or formal attire. There’s nothing as awkwardly obvious as a minister decked out in formal clerical garb at a casual garden party. It puts a damper on the festivities to be sure, and telegraphs a not-so-subtle assessment of the affair. For the most part, we want to fit in rather than stand out. We applaud those who know the rules, have discriminating taste, and are connoisseurs of acceptable standards of decorum.

But what if you don’t know the rules? What do you do when you aren’t sure what to do and the latest edition of Amy Vanderbilt doesn’t cover your decorum dilemma? It makes sense to me to enjoy the party and go with the flow. Sometimes good etiquette has spoiled an otherwise fine time. We can have such discriminating taste that we end up eating alone. What a bad idea. Is it better to be right, or to be included? An even bigger question is whether or not we value being inclusive over discrimination.

Wouldn’t you rather have your long-lost friend show up at your party with dungarees and dirt than not be there at all? Maybe they didn’t hear about the party until the last-minute. Maybe they were helping someone in an emergency. Nevertheless, my guess is that you would rather see them than what they were wearing. That’s the nature of friendship. Friendship looks past the outer trimmings and values the friend.

Don’t get me wrong. I like rules. I wouldn’t be our Annual Conference’s Parliamentarian if I didn’t. I wouldn’t have taught the United Methodist Book of Discipline to seminary students at Emory if I was an antinomian. However, when worse comes to worse, and shove comes to shove, I say, “Let decorum move over if friendship is at stake.” Put another way, “It’s more important to do the right things than to do things right.” We need to beware dressed down Fridays and dressed up Sundays if we’re not in tune with what’s sensitive to people. Dress codes promote elitism as much as sexism promotes gender inequities, and racism falsely touts the inherent superiority of one group over another. Don’t let a buddy’s tee shirt attire cause you to bump him from the guest list. Jesus ate with all kinds of people and the ones who gave him the worst time weren’t the dressed-down but the dressed-up.

Our United Methodist motto is “Open Hearts, Open Minds, and Open Doors!” Some say it’s false advertising. Paragraph 4 of the UM constitution says it’s the real deal. Our Articles of religion and Confession of Faith declare pretty clearly that we all need Jesus so there’s no room for anybody to act holier-than-thou. Let’s open our arms to everyone and practice a Jesus-like reverse discrimination where the last is first, the lost sheep is found, and who cares if you have everything you need on a camping trip. The best part is who you’re with, not the equipment. Keep that in mind and that’s an etiquette that will never go out of style. The United Methodist Church is dying for a makeover. We have got to reach younger people, more diverse people, unchurched people. We better be in tune with who they are, or United Methodism will die as a church while it lives as a club.

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!”

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.

Ups and Downs/Downs and Ups

I’ve been up and I’ve been down lately. Some of you know that I was the nominee from South Carolina as a Bishop in the United Methodist Church. I wasn’t elected, but was second throughout the election – painful yet I’m better for the experience. The affirmation from laity and clergy from SC and across the church has been phenomenal. I appreciate everyone who helped. Folks have been saying that I should decide now to go through this gauntlet four years from now. Who knows? On a personal level, no way. However if it was true, and I think it was – that this was something I felt called to do on the day before the election, then it’s still true today or I was delusional to begin with. Thank God for friends and a wonderful family who have been faithful the whole way, and have reminded me of God’s consistent and gracious call.
 
To think about being a nominee again so quickly is about as appropriate as telling a couple who just experienced a miscarriage to move on because they can have other children. That’s not a comforting thought when it’s heard so soon after a loss. I’ll pray and keep seeking the Lord’s guidance. That’s the downer of the past ten days, and also the upper with the affirmation of God and so many good people.
 
The other up and down roller coaster has been leaving Lake Junaluska to travel immediately to Atlanta to teach at Emory. I teach “Theology in the Wesleyan Spirit” in the mornings to Course of Study students, and “UM Discipline and Polity” in the afternoons to M.Div. candidates. This has been great, and tiring in a good way. The students are co-learners with me, but I have been simply beat from the emotional stress of the past year.
Then I found out Thursday my middle brother Ralph needed emergency open-heart surgery, so I tore out of here yesterday and headed back to SC to see him. The surgery was a complete success. I have seen him three times in the past 24 hours, and he has already been moved to a room. I am so thankful.
 
Now I’m back in Atlanta to grade papers and ponder where God is in all of our ups and downs. God is present. God doesn’t cause bad things to happen, but does what God does best and that is to help us get through things, all by grace. That’s where I am right now and hope to stay.