The Journey From 36 to 63

b86b37a33a5544e8d823e5af1984dbbeIf 36 is old, how much older is 63?   A dyslexic would find this to be a challenging question, and it was one that has set my mind to thinking.

On the 18th day of this month, I’ll be 63.  It dawned on me a couple of weeks ago that 63 is the dyslexic version of 36—my dad’s age when he was fatally injured while working in the oil patch.

That was 1965 and this is 2016.  In 1965, I thought 36 was old.  Now that I’m 63, I realize how young Dad was when his life was snuffed out by an explosion. I began to reminisce about this while I was meditating on the first verse of Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd, and I shall not want.”

To be honest, for the first third of my life, I wanted nothing to do with the Shepherd.  I was a black sheep who lived in a perimeter outside of the Shepherd’s fold.  I thought I didn’t need Him and was just fine without Him, but that all changed in 1972—I got real close to seeing Dad again.

As the ambulance rushed me to the ER, the scream of the sirens was muffled by the power of  the dark shadows of Death  as they began to close in on me.  I guess the Shepherd was just getting my attention.  He had to overwhelm with the darkness before I could be over-joyed by the light of His presence, and it was a life-changing experience.

Several years ago my Dad’s older brother was succumbing to the ravages of cancer, and I visited him almost daily.  Kenneth would drift in and out from being very lucid to a state that was both mysterious and delirious.

As Kenneth was crossing back and forth between the boundaries of heaven and earth, he’d see his loved ones, and say: “Well there’s Mom and Dad.”  When he drifted back into the reality of his room for a few minutes, we’d discuss what he’d just seen.

One time Kenneth drifted away and as he walked the streets of gold, his face lit up with a smile, and he said: “Look at that!  There’s Eddie.”

Since Kenneth had just seen my dad, I asked him for a favor: “Kenneth, when you cross over and get to heaven, tell Dad ‘Hello,’ for me.  I haven’t seen him for a long time, and I still miss him.”

Kenneth barely had time to honor my request before he began to drift away again.  This time was different; he became calmer than I’d seen him for weeks, and he said, “Well there’s Clara Mae,” and he was ready to die.

Clara Mae was his wife who had died a few years earlier.  Along with her, Kenneth had also found his parents, his brother, and his wife, but most importantly the Shepherd had found him.

Jesus has been a good Shepherd to me.  He once said that He came to “seek and to save the lost.”  I’m glad He kept pursuing me and that I finally heard the Shepherd’s invitation to join Him.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:28-30 ~The Message

Cousins Afar

berylYesterday I said goodbye to Beryl Frye Lacy.  You may have not known Beryl unless you knew one of her children; knew her as Nurse Lacy from Dr. Shield’s office; or, knew her through First Christian Church where she attended.  Beryl was a good wife to her husband Earl, a good mother to her three children, Gene, Sandee, and Greg, and a devoted, grandmother, aunt, and volunteer at the hospital.

When I spoke to Beryl, I called her Auntie.  She was mom’s sister-in-law and a big part of my life. She was something else; she was a source of confusion whenever I tried to make sense of my family lineage.

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This isn’t a good picture of Dick and Don. They rarely look this good.

When I was a kid, the Lacy family reunions would include Don and Dick.  I was always perplexed when I tried to decipher how we were or were not related.

Beryl was my aunt and she was also an aunt to Don and Dick.  To muddy the waters a bit more, Don and Dick had an Uncle Wally.  Wally was neither a Lacy nor a Seymour, but he was my mom’s cousin and Beryl’s brother-in-law’s brother.

Since Beryl was a Frye and Mom was a Pugh/Lacy, the only other possible link was Mom and Wally were linked through Mom’s Pugh side; but, there were always too few Pughs to find clues to the riddle of Don and Dick.

While family history can be confusing, it can also be reassuring.  The Psalms remind us that just as “An earthly father expresses love for his children; it is no different with our heavenly Father who shows His love for those who revere Him (Psalm 103:13).”

And, after reading Paul’s letter to the Christians at Rome, I guess it’s possible we’re cousins together in Christ and joint-heirs with Him:  “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him (8:17).”

Bless you Auntie, I’ll see you again some day in Heaven, and then you can explain this riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.

What I Should Have Said

whisperOn my drive back from the cemetery at St. John, I thought of something I wish I would have said:  “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches.” This simple statement from Proverbs 22:1 offers a profound description of Roger Taylor.

When I spoke at Roger’s funeral yesterday, it was easy to think of good things to say about this extraordinary example of humanity.  Decent, kind, and generous, are three words that offer an honest estimation of the genuine life Roger lived as a husband, a father, and a Christian.

Ben Franklin once said that, “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.”  Roger lived a life of good deeds.  As I reflect on his many years as a member of First Christian, I remember his willingness to serve as a deacon, an elder, and the chairman of the board—always unassuming and never wanting to ruffle any feathers.

Because they would make Roger blush, I’m a little reluctant to close with the next line or two; however, they are so true, I shall.  D.L. Moody said, “If I take care of my character, my reputation will take care of itself.”  Roger has been a man of character, and he developed the reputation of being a man of “tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, and longsuffering (Colossians 3:12).”

A sterling reputation is better than striking it rich; a gracious spirit is better than money in the bank. The rich and the poor shake hands as equals—God made them both! A prudent person sees trouble coming and ducks; a simpleton walks in blindly and is clobbered. The payoff for meekness and Fear-of-God is plenty and honor and a satisfying life. ~ Proverbs 22:1-4 (The Message)

Lightening Bugs

firefly-by-jessica-lucia-cc10:30–that’s 4 1/2 hours from now.  That is the designated moment when I am scheduled to say a formal “goodbye” to Johnny Browning.

Words can be brutally forceful and full of strength, but in other instances they seem so inadequate.   Mark Twain said: “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightening and a lightening bug.”

When I gather with Johnny’s family today, “goodbye” is a lightening bug.  How do you say goodbye to a lifelong friend like him?

  • I honestly can’t remember a time when I did not know him
  • I went door to door as a kid and sold the TV Guide, and Johnny bought them
  • When my dad died, Johnny was one of the first people at the house to see if he could help my mother and her three young sons.
  • He let me live, rent free, in one of his houses for a couple of months.
  • He worked side by side with me for the 25 plus years I’ve been the pastor of FCC.

I have walked with Johnny in both times of sorrow and joy.  I have seen him bury a son, his wife, a daughter-in-law, and another son, and I’ve seen him fight cancer and there was never a time his faith wavered.

I think “thanks” is more appropriate than “goodbye.”  So, today, I give thanks to God for my memories of Johnny, and I thank Johnny for taking the time to make them.

A Tribute to Mom

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One year ago today, I walked into my mother’s room and said:  “Mom, today is your birthday.  Do you know how old you are?”  She thought for a moment and said:  “No Stan, I don’t think I do.”  “You’re 101,” I said.  My statement revived her spunky and independent spirit, and she informed me that, “I might not know how old I am, but I know I’m not 101!” 

Mom died about a month later form the ravages of Alzheimers. Since Mom today is her birthday, I’m re-posting this blog as a tribute to her. . .

Times were tough in 1930. The stock market crash in 1929 had knocked the economic wind out of the United States and left it gasping for survival. Some 1,350 banks would fail and close their doors. The newspaper headlines reported on financial failures as well as world leaders like Mussolini, Stalin, and Herbert Hoover.

This was a time in our nation’s history when the price of bread was 9 cents a loaf, gas was 10 cents a gallon, and a movie ticket was 35 cents.

On Friday, June 20th, about half way through 1930, Buzz Aldrin was born. At the time of his birth, the idea of space flight was just science fiction; however, Aldrin would join Neil Armstrong on the Apollo 11 mission in 1969; and, they would be the first two people to walk on the moon.

Buzz Aldrin wasn’t the only person born on June 20, 1930. A baby girl, who would never experience his fame and notoriety, was also born. Her family had little money but a lot of love. Her fragile world was shattered a few years later when her mother died. She quit school in the 8th grade because her dad needed her to help work the fields—the fields of a farm he would later be forced to sell.

As a young lady, she married, but heartache found her again. At the age of 35 she became a widow when her husband was killed on the job, and she was left with three young sons. A short time later she married again. Five children came with her new husband. His 5 and her 3 made for an interesting life that could be as harried as it was happy.

Then it happened again—one of their children died an untimely death. Her family would adjust to the loss and she and her husband would lean heavily on each other as they moved forward as a cohesive couple. The two of them retired, traveled, and grew old together.

When her second husband died, the truth was exposed: She was weaker than any of her family knew. Her cognitive skills were becoming cobwebs; Her sense of direction failed her; and, she was often lost.

On Monday of last week, my siblings and I had to stand toe-to-toe with the toughest woman we’ve ever known and break the news: “Mom, you can’t live by yourself any longer—we’re moving you into assisted living.”

Mom’s independent spirit has served her well for most of her life. She kept going and remained positive when she had every right to be negative and quit. It’s that same spirit that keeps saying: “I’m not staying here. I’m going home.” But with the next sentence, it’s very clear that Alzheimer’s has a befuddling grip on her once vibrant mind and spirit.

Buzz Aldrin may have walked on the moon, but he stands in the shadow of my mother, Evelyn Lou Lacy–the girl who was also born June 20, 1930. She’s been a loving and loyal daughter, a faithful wife to two fortunate men, and a sometimes fearsome force who molded the life of her children.

Thanks for reading this tribute from a 62 year old orphan who misses his mother on her birthday.

Our Loss is Heaven’s Gain

Today is one of those days when memories flow through my mind like a river flowing through the narrows of limestone bluffs. I’ve run many such rivers in my canoe, and they, like my memories, are scenic and soothing.

This morning I awoke with memories of my dad and the times I spent with him. These are memories of baseball, wading creeks, hunting and fishing, and Sugar Loaf Hill, and Sallyards.

These memories are always present, but they are more fertile the first of November for two reasons: Prairie Chickens and Quail! This is because Dad started taking me hunting with him as soon as I could walk.

My dad enjoyed life—even though his was much too short. He taught me to love and respect everything Mother Nature has to offer; to play and enjoy the game of baseball; to hunt and fish; and to see the beauty of the Flint Hills—when your early years are spent in Sallyards, the Hills leave an indelible mark on your soul.

Whenever we lose something, our memories act as an anchor, and we often turn to them for a sense of comfort and normalcy. Such is the case with me this morning.

On Thursday of this week I stood at the bedside of a dying woman. Her life of 91 wonderful years was coming to a close. I quoted Psalm 23 to her, and I said: “Aunt Catherine, I’m happy for you. In a few minutes you’ll be with Jesus. Remember to tell my Dad hello for me. I haven’t seen him for a long time and I still miss him and still love him.”

Catherine Beedles has been the best aunt anyone could ever want. She loved her nieces and nephews like they were her own children. Most importantly though, she loved Jesus, had embraced the hope of the resurrection, and she had claimed Him as her Savior.

Over the last week, I’ve spent quite a bit of time with Aunt Catherine. We’ve reminisced and I’ve expressed my gratitude to her for all she has done for me. Every time I left, I left with a prayer and the words: “Aunt Catherine, I love you.”

As I think of this kind and caring woman, I think of Paul’s greeting to Timothy: “I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience as my ancestors did, when I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day. Remembering your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy, clearly recalling your sincere faith that first lived in your grandmother Lois, then in your mother Eunice, and that I am convinced is in you also (2 Timothy 2:3-5).”

Like my dad before me, I’ll be hunting this November morning with my son. I hope his future Novembers will be as full of memories as mine.

Crossing Over–A Deathbed Experience

heavenIs Heaven just a fictional place? Are you crazy to believe you might go there when you die? Is there any evidence that Heaven is for real?

Questions like these come to mind when you watch the movie To Heaven and Back. It is the story of the life and death experience of three year old Colton Burpo. This incident has strengthened the faith of believers and ruffled the feathers of skeptics. Apart from the Bible and the experience of Colton, how can you know if heaven is for real?

Even if I had never read a page in the Bible, I would believe in Heaven, and this isn’t wishful thinking—I believe because of an experience with an uncle.

In the last weeks of my Uncle Kenneth’s life, I was at his bedside almost daily. I was able to reminisce with my dad’s oldest brother, and saw him drift in and out and up and down through different levels of consciousness.

I remember one particular day when Kenneth had drifted out and was very restless, and then he became very calm, and said: “There’s Mom and Dad!” When his focus returned to the room, we spoke of his parents—my grandparents.

The restlessness returned, and I whispered, “What’s wrong Kenneth?” He said, “I can’t find Clara Mae (his wife).” Then he was gone again and his face soon lit up with a smile as he said, “Well there’s Eddie.” His eyes then focused on me and with a smile he said, “I saw Eddie—your dad.”

“Uncle Kenneth,” I said, “Do me a favor. When you cross on over to Heaven, tell Dad hi for me. I haven’t seen him since 1965, and I still miss him.” He smiled and drifted back out saying, “I’ll do that.”

Kenneth closed his eyes and became calmer than I had seen him for weeks. He took a deep breath and said, “There she is—there’s Clara Mae!” I stayed quietly by his bedside, not wanting to interrupt this wonderful reunion with his wife.

A few minutes later, my uncle returned to the room and we discussed what he had just seen. We prayed and I left a minute later. Not long after he found his wife, Kenneth died, and went to be with her, his parents, and my dad.

Is Heaven provable with hard science? Nope! Is it for real? I have no doubt that it is, and what I experienced with my Uncle Kenneth and multiple other people on their death beds is enough confirmation for me.

If you’ve never read the book or seen the movie detailing the experience of Colton Burpo, you can watch an interview here.