CELEBRATING 75 YEARS AT SECOND BAPTIST CHURCH

On Oct 16, 2022 my brother and I were invited to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the church where we were raised and where our parents were long-time members.  When I called to tell them we were coming our friend Gene asked if we would say “a few words about Daddy” since he was such an icon in the church and his friends there, like the rest of us, still miss him terribly.  I felt I could get some really good information on Daddy’s impact on our family from letters we all sent him when he turned 90.  In part here are some excerpts from those letters and what we told the celebrating church:

“Gene asked if we could say a few words about Daddy.  Talking about Daddy is hard to do in a few words, but I have to start with Daddy AND Mama.  They were an inseparable team for about 72 years held together by love and their love for the Lord.  What you saw on Sunday morning were willing servants who faithfully executed just about every job in Second Baptist Church.  Most recently, I guess they were the church treasurers together, but their church resume is much deeper.  Daddy was a deacon for longer than I remember, Sunday School teacher, choir director, youth choir director; Mama played the piano and sang in the choir as long as I can remember.  I would venture a guess that when Daddy was called home last May he was likely the longest tenured member of the church- but that’s just a guess.

And what you saw each Sunday was the same as what you saw Monday through Saturday.  When Daddy turned 90 our family wrote him letters to express our love and appreciation for his influence on our lives.  The underlying theme of many of those letters was his selfless love, integrity and character:

          …selfless unconditional love for me and every other member of your family

          …it is hard to imagine one of you without the other…I have never seen either of you use a harsh word or act in any way which is unloving, unkind or inconsiderate- qualities many marriages do not have today.

          …integrity and character are unquestionable; he is kind and patient to everyone…He and Mama laid the foundation that has held firm through the euphoric highs and devastating lows of life…selfless love

          …we will always be influenced by the gifts of the Spirit that each and every one of us see in you and want to emulate: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness goodness, faithfulness gentleness and self-control.  I have never seen a more complete manifestation of the fruits of the Spirit than in Daddy.

          …you have set the bar high as an example of how we should treat others and love God.

 Our niece’s husband probably summed it up best when he said… as I see you turning 90, I am left with the strange feeling that I am the only one who has aged.  Because what strikes me most about you is not some singular indelible memory that towers above all others, but rather the steadfast consistency that, like a gentle breeze often goes unnoticed.  We have shared holidays and anniversaries, births and deaths, marriages and separations and all the life that happens in between.  And in each event you are the same: faithful, kind, patient.  The very definition of love.  You see it is absolutely true what Maya Angelou once said, ‘at the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you make them feel.’

And Daddy made sure we all felt special.”

IF I HAD KNOWN THEN…

If I had known then (specifically June 8, 1974) what I know now how would our lives have been different? Some things we know the answer to the question but some are unknown and will stay that way.

For instance, if I had known then what I know now would I still have wanted to marry you?  You’d better believe it, no doubt about it!  Our life together has been far beyond anything I could have ever imagined at twenty years old.  Brad Paisley’s song, “Then”, pretty well sums that up when he says “I thought I loved you then, but now you’re my whole life, now you’re my whole world; I just can’t believe the way I feel about you girl…. We’ve come so far since that day, and I thought I loved you then.”

If I had known then what I know now, how would it have changed our lives?  That’s the question we can’t answer.  But I would like to speculate some.  If I had known then what I know now, I’d like to think I would not have hurt you during our years together.  I’d like to think I would have realized the importance of our relationship and not do anything to diminish that.  I’d like to think that I would have learned sooner to communicate and talk instead of withdraw during times of stress or disagreement.  I’d like to think that I would have treasured you more, that I would have realized sooner that you are the queen of our house and treated you as royalty.  Experience teaches us so many things; unfortunately some lessons are learned through struggles and hardship.  But when you have been through the fires of marriage for 48 years as we have, you do learn things that you would have liked to have known when you started down that road.

Paisley’s song continues with “I can just see you with a baby on the way”. I have, twice; you were beautiful and delivered two beautiful daughters.  “I can just see you when your hair is turning gray”.  I have, although not much and you are still beautiful.

Paisley’s song concludes with “what I can’t see is how I’m ever gonna love you more…. but I’ve said that before” and I can’t add anything to that!

Happy Anniversary Babe

6/8/1974 – 6/8/2022

DADDY’S HOME

May 4, 2022

I’m sitting by my father’s bed as he slowly slips from this life into eternity.  He’s ready. He’s been ready.  If he’d had his way, he would have packed up, locked the door and left with Mama a year-and-a-half ago.  He survived without her, but you could tell something was missing in his life.  When he decided to move to an assisted living facility he was looking for people he could talk with and make some new friends.  He did that and while he wondered why he wasn’t taken I have to believe one reason was to touch some new lives that he had never met until he moved into the community.  Residents became close friends quickly and all of the care givers and staff noted what a “sweet man” he was.  Residents would stop me in the halls to ask “how’s your dad today”?

As his condition deteriorated he stayed in his apartment more and had his meals delivered instead of going to the cafeteria, prompting even more questions from friends about his condition.  When he was able, we’d go for a wheelchair ride and he would sometimes have a chance to joke around with some of his new friends.  It was easy for me to see that Daddy was “planted” in this assisted living community to be a ray of sunshine and hope to many people.

Now I sit by his side hearing him breathe, struggling to exit this world.  He is not responsive, just breathing.  We’ve been told that hearing is the last sense lost and that we should talk to him and assure him that we are all okay; that we don’t want to lose him but we don’t want to see him struggle this way and he can let go now. I think we’ve all had a run at sharing those thoughts with him, so now there’s nothing left to do but wait.  Wait for that last breath that will reunite him with the woman he loves and their Lord that bound them together.

May 6, 2022

Daddy is still struggling to cross over.  I don’t know if he has unfinished business or exactly what’s holding him here, but he’s fighting hard.  The elusive last breath came about 10:30 this evening.  Daddy is at peace; Daddy is at rest; Daddy is home.

May 8, 2022

The eve of the day I have dreaded for a long time; Daddy’s memorial service is tomorrow morning.  I dread it; have dreaded it for years.  But I’m also anxious to move on.  I know Daddy isn’t suffering anymore and I know he’s infinitely happy, but I know that I am going to miss him so badly and I can’t imagine how that is going to feel.

CARRY ON

It took me several years to realize the spiritual roots of two songs that the rock group Kansas released in the late 1970’s.  In fact, their two biggest hits both written by band member Kerry Livgren.  On both occasions, the band had completed rehearsals for recording an album and Livgren brought in these two songs that actually defined him as a songwriter and made the band a big hit.  Here’s the info on both songs from Wikepedia.  Also following each description are some Bible verses that support the song.

Carry On Wayward Son” is a song recorded by American rock band Kansas for their 1976 album Leftoverture: written by band member Kerry Livgren, the song became the band’s first Top 40 single, reaching No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the spring of 1977.[4]

 “Carry On Wayward Son” was written after the band had completed rehearsals. Livgren, who perceived the song as being “beamed down” to him en toto,[7] in 2004 stated: “It’s an autobiographical song. Parallel to my musical career I’ve always been on a spiritual sojourn, looking for truth and meaning. It was a song of self-encouragement. I was telling myself to keep on looking and I would find what I sought.”

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He Who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Hebrews 10: 23-24

Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3: 13-14

 “Dust in the Wind” is a song recorded by American progressive rock band Kansas and written by band member Kerry Livgren, first released on their 1977 album Point of Know Return.

The title of the song is a Bible reference, paraphrasing Ecclesiastes:[3]

I reflected on everything that is accomplished by man on earth, and I concluded: Everything he has accomplished is futile — like chasing the wind![4]

A meditation on mortality and the inevitability of death, the lyrical theme bears a striking resemblance to the well-known biblical passages Genesis 3:19 (“…for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”) and Ecclesiastes 3:20 (“All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return.”) 

Kerry Livgren devised what would be the guitar line for “Dust in the Wind” as a finger exercise for learning fingerpicking. His wife, Vicci, heard what he was doing, remarked that the melody was nice, and encouraged him to write lyrics for it.[5] Livgren was unsure whether his fellow band members would like it, since it was a departure from their signature style. After Kansas had rehearsed all the songs intended for the band’s recording sessions of June and July 1976, Livgren played “Dust in the Wind” for his bandmates, who after a moment’s “stunned silence” asked: “Kerry, where has this been?”[9][5] Kansas guitarist Rich Williams would recall that Livgren played his bandmates “a real rough recording of him playing [‘Dust in the Wind’] on an old reel to reel. [He] just kind of mumbl[ed] the lyrics, [but] even [hearing it] in that bare form…we said: ‘That’s our next single.'”[10]

[5]Livgren was born again July 25, 1979, and as of 1980 recorded primarily as a Christian rock artist.[8]

I think sometimes rock music gets a bad rap (pun intended).  I believe these two songs were given to Livgren during his search for meaning and his “spiritual sojourn” and made the way for his salvation experience in 1979.  And I think the songs have impacted many others including me as we press on toward the “prize”.

“Carry on my wayward son; there’ll be peace when you are done.”


BEAUTY FROM ASHES

I was out for a bike ride a couple of days ago listening to some music.  Pretty normal activities for me; but a song caught my attention.  In the aftermath of Carter’s death we kept praying, wishing and hoping for beauty from ashes.  And it occurred to me, “we’re there.”  We are now enjoying the fulfillment of those prayers, wishes and hopes and I am so thankful for that.  At times it didn’t feel like it would happen; it’s just another instance when our timing doesn’t necessarily align with God’s. 

A DIFFERENT MOTHERS’ DAY

For the first time in my life I can’t go see Mama on Mother’s Day or call her on the phone.  I’ve always had the opportunity to do one or the other, just to talk a bit and tell her I love her and I’m so thankful for the hard work she did to raise two rowdy boys into responsible men.  Being a good parent is hard work; but I think being a good mother is another step up the ladder.  It’s a delicate balance between love and discipline (which is really just love in a different wrapper), protecting and letting go and the wisdom, knowledge and experience to apply the right mix for each individual child.  I’ve seen expressions of love, exasperation, frustration, and disappointment on Mama’s face all stemming from my own behavior and the last three are still burned into my memory.  But mostly I think about her look of love (in spite of the circumstances), see her smile and hear her laughter.

Since Carter died I have tried to be more intentional about telling my family I love them and following that up with actions.  I think often about the lesson Carter left behind- take nothing for granted.  None of us have the promise of tomorrow so we must act today as if we will not have another chance to share our love.  So, on this special day if you still have your mother go see her; put your arms around her and tell her you love her, sit and talk with her for a while.  And if you can’t do that, at least call her, talk for a while and tell her you love her.  Thank her for putting up with you when you were a brat.  And if your relationship with your mother needs to be repaired, today is the day to make that happen.  It doesn’t matter whose fault it was (chances are pretty good you were both at fault).

So, make the drive or make the phone call.  I would love to have that opportunity one more time.  Happy Day to all of you Mothers and thank you for the job you do!

“IT’S NOT FAIR…”

We’ve all heard and perhaps said these words as we were growing up when we perceived some injustice toward us.  It’s a common phrase and has been around for a long time.  Even in sporting events, we hear it a lot.  In baseball, there are line and foul poles and if the ball goes beyond those line or outside the pole it’s not fair, or it is a foul ball and out of play.  Football has a clearly defined playing field and if the ball is caught out of bounds it is incomplete and the play is dead.  Or if someone jumps offside, it is a penalty and a dead play.  There are rules for everything we play or pretty much everything we do.  Breaking the rules can lead to a penalty in sports; breaking the rules in life can lead to serious injury or even death.

I watched a video a few days ago about a young man who, at the age of 23, took the life of a young woman.  He described in detail the events of the evening; he told how many drinks he’d had at the bar that evening and by his own admission was really drunk.  He assured his friends he was not going to drive, but when the party moved to another location the 28 year-old mother of two tossed him her car keys.  So he did drive and he hit a tree resulting in the death of the young lady who was not wearing a seat belt.  He served a prison sentence and was speaking to audiences about his experience trying to warn others of the dangers of breaking life’s rules and the sometimes catastrophic consequences.

At our weekly Bible study tonight we’re going to look at a case study in “it’s not fair”.  Jesus’ parable of the vineyard workers describes it.  A man hired workers for his vineyard early one morning; he hired others at lunchtime, still others at mid-afternoon and finally some when there was only about an hour left to work.  Yet when he paid everyone their wages, all were paid the same.  Those who were hired first said, “It’s not fair” and I can’t argue with their position.  They had worked all day in the heat and no doubt were exhausted.  Yet they were paid the same as those who only worked an hour.

The fact is life itself isn’t fair.  Even if we follow the rules, we will still have pain and heartache because we live in a fallen world.  But the best we can do is to follow the rules and try to minimize the trouble we will face.  Life is hard enough without intentionally doing stupid things.

THE PRESIDENT AND FIRST LADY

On February 22 our country’s first president was born 289 years ago and our family’s first lady was born 90 years ago.  Mama shared her birthday with President George Washington although they lived in different times and circumstances were vastly different.  Both performed their respective jobs with excellence and both have been recognized for the way they lived and the principles for which they stood.

I choose this day to remember what we had and not what we lost.  Our family was so blessed to have Mama as its matriarch.  She quietly led our family toward excellence, but when she felt it was necessary she would speak her mind and it was usually not a “beat around the bush” conversation.  She would say what she felt she needed to say directly and to the point; more times than not she was right on the money.  Maybe not every time, but I think her assessments and comments were well above average for being correct and her ability to sense something was not right was just uncanny.  I believe her walk with God gave her insight into sometimes hidden things in our family and she did a great job of listening for His guidance on when to speak and when to remain silent.

She and Daddy formed the strongest team I know to build a family and raise their children and it was based on their bond with each other and with God.  My brother and I learned some hard lessons; many times because we didn’t listen to Mama and Daddy’s advice and didn’t take advantage of their wisdom and lessons they had already learned.

Mama’s love for her family was intense and we all knew it.  Others found out about it quickly if she perceived an injustice toward someone in her family.  She was not confrontational unless someone mistreated her family, but she would spring into action if that happened.  She loved doing things for us, sometimes I think to her detriment.  She made sure that everyone had their favorite dish to eat at each family gathering, and as our family grew it became a big job to fix all of the dishes required.  She did it anyway and I never heard her complain about it.

I miss you terribly, Mama; but thank you for loving me when I didn’t deserve it and for all the memories you left with us. 

BIRTHDAY NUMBER FOUR

Thursday, Feb 4 will be the fourth anniversary of Carter’s birthday.  We’re planning a little celebration in his honor.  As is our custom, we will drop some flower blooms in a stream and have a meal with our daughter’s family (the nearby daughter).  I’ve spent some time the last few days reading some of this blog’s early posts and relived some of the trauma during the week of Carter’s death.  That wound is still very much present in our lives but reading it again really drove in how deeply we still hurt. 

The only way I know to describe it is to compare it to a deep cut on our body.  The cut will eventually form a scab to stop the bleeding but it is still sore and if you pick at the scab, it will start bleeding again which starts the healing process over again.  After enough time has passed the cut heals and leaves a scar and sometimes the scar even hurts; especially when you look at it and the memories of how it got there rise to the surface again. 

I’ve had a fresh look at this scar and felt the pain again.  I’ve been in the hospital room again both the NICU and the PICU; I’ve been in the meeting room again with the hospital staff and I’ve been in the room again when the ventilator was removed from Carter.  I’ve been to Clam Bayou when his ashes were scattered and I’ve seen the anguish on my daughter’s face again. 

But we will celebrate his birth Thursday, and we will give thanks for his short life and the time we had to spend with him.  He was truly a gift from God.

THANKSGIVING DAY GRATITUDE

Despite all the madness in our world right now and what I consider to be a rough November for us, I’m still thankful for so many things.  We are in the middle of selling our house and buying another one and there is a lot of chaos involved with getting prepared to pack and move our entire household.  Mama’s unexpected passing early this month still weighs on our mind and attitude.  Having Darby put down less than a week ago still hurts.  And hovering over all of us is the threat of Covid 19.  All of this together could certainly put a damper on Thanksgiving Day, but I refuse to let that happen.

Our immediate family (us, our kids and grandkids) are together in St Petersburg at our oldest daughter’s house.  Later we will gather around a huge table of food prepared by Joshua, the girls and Robin; they have already been cooking for two days.  Mama’s influence has already been felt on this Thanksgiving Day; Katie has made biscuits using Mama’s recipe and Rachel has made Mama’s “world famous” pecan pies.  But I’m truly thankful that we could all be together when there is so much anxiety about being together due to the virus.  And I’m thankful that my dad will spend the day with my brother’s family in Huntsville instead of sitting at home by himself. 

Despite the uneasiness in the world right now, we can find peace in our heart and soul by knowing that a loving trustworthy God is in control and is working all things for good for those who love Him.  Sometimes it takes a while to accept that but I think I’m there.  Happy Thanksgiving Day to all!