Finding Life After Loss and Grief

Finding Life After Loss and Grief

Almost every day my life crosses with someone who is living with some form of loss. One day I am standing in a driveway talking to a man who is slowly watching Alzheimer’s claim his wife one memory at a time. Another day I am visiting a woman in a nursing home with  the same disease that has advanced so far with her that she has lost all cognitive ability to recognize me, carry on a meaningful conversation, or even acknowledge my presence. I have listened to people that have lost their jobs, prayed with people that have lost their health, heard stories of the emotional trauma of miscarried babies, and shared the anger of those whose children have been wounded and violated by others. Not long ago I was preparing messages from the Sermon on the Mount.  When I came to the passage about divorce I thought about the many friends I have who have gone through the loss of relationships because of their divorces, not just from their spouses, but of other family and friends because the promises of a long life together came to an unexpected end. Eight times this past year I have gone to the graveside with members of my church.  Life on this earth ended for their loved ones.  No longer could they reach out and hold that person, talk to her, ask for advice, sit quietly and be comforted by his presence, or be frustrated because they could not agree or get along.   Let’s be honest.  Not everything about a loved one is missed. However, any person or anything of value that...
Mia, Irma, and the Butterfly

Mia, Irma, and the Butterfly

I was playing outside with Mia, my 18-month-old granddaughter, a few weeks ago when a butterfly decided to join the party. At first, it just circled, to Mia’s delight. Then, it decided to land, not more than a foot from Mia’s hand. While the butterfly was harmless, Mia was not sure that her visitor had friendly intentions. She hid behind me in delightful fear. The butterfly took wing, and Mia was again in awe and filled with joy. The butterfly came back for another visit. Mia watched but kept her distance until it flew away again. Mia and l enjoy looking out the back window of the house at our butterfly bush. The window provides a safe distance from these strange winged creatures that Mia is beginning to warm up to. She hasn’t graduated to three-syllable words yet, but her pointing and garbled gibberish communicates that she knows when one of our winged friends has come for a visit to our favorite bush. After we experienced wind gusts of 60 miles per hour as Hurricane Irma, then a tropical storm, moved through Georgia, we had three houses on our street with tree damage. The butterfly bush had a few broken limbs but maintained most of its blooms. The day after the storm, Mia was back at the window looking for butterflies. Before long, one appeared. It made me wonder, where did a creature that weighs only about a half-gram take refuge in such a storm? The resiliency of the butterfly is seen in the people of the U.S. and all of the other nations impacted by Hurricanes Harvey and...
The Most Difficult Part of This Job

The Most Difficult Part of This Job

Less than two hours after landing in Monrovia, Liberia, a land that had been devastated by civil war, I stood in the pulpit of Second Providence Baptist Church in 1995 to preach a sermon. As I looked into the faces of people that had waited three hours for us to arrive, I saw the tired, worn faces of people traumatized by war and famine.  They were also hungry for words of hope.  What words could I say that would make a difference in their lives? I took a deep breath. I opened my Bible and I began to preach.  But for the first time in my ministry I asked myself, “Do I really believe what I am about to tell these people?” I forged ahead believing that the word of God transcends cultures and every human situation. After all, oppressed people wrote much of the Old Testament during times of the exile. The Apostle Paul wrote many of his letters from prison and John wrote The Revelation while exiled to the Island of Patmos.  If so much of God’s word was birthed out of oppression, it could certainly speak to oppressed people. I had just come from two of the most difficult days as a pastor. I had spent those days with members of my church who had lost three loved ones in a house fire. As the news trickled in about the tragedy, it was discovered that the fire was not an accident. The man had shot his daughter, shot his wife, set the house on fire, and then shot himself. The members of Second Providence Baptist had...
Recognizing Those Behind the Scenes

Recognizing Those Behind the Scenes

Every year the Jefferson City Schools begin the year by inviting the community to a breakfast, which is followed by a gathering in the Performing Arts Center.  The community joins the faculty, administration, and the school board, in a pep rally of sorts. Dr. John Jackson, the longest serving superintendent in Georgia, reminds every one of the ingredients needed for the kind of success that places the Jefferson City Schools in many of the top academic categories in the state.  Chairman of the Board, Ronnie Hopkins, introduces his chosen speaker for the year who brings the pep talk or words of inspiration to teachers as well as the community about the importance of educating our students. This year, as in other years, members of the drama department were on the schedule to perform.  The scene to be performed was from the play, “Hairspray.” “Hairspray” is a musical that features rhythm and blues from the 1960’s and the story line is laced with social issues concurrent with that era. The community breakfast served as the perfect backdrop to show off the drama talent of our high school students.  The curtain went up.  The set was revealed.  The lighting was warm and inviting.  The actors walked out on stage.  And there was silence.  And more silence.  Then the silence became uncomfortable. Finally, one of the actors said, “Does anyone know any jokes?”  The audience laughed, but not with much volume.  A little later the spotlights dimmed.  The actors stepped off stage.  The curtain lowered.  Apologies were made. A lot of disappointment was felt by all. We were disappointed for the students...
There is No Greater Love: A Memorial Day Tribute

There is No Greater Love: A Memorial Day Tribute

Memorial Day is a day to honor men and women who went into battle but did not survive. With their lives, they paid the ultimate price. The late U.S. Army General Norman Schwarzkopf once said, “It doesn’t take a hero to order men into battle. It takes a hero to be one of those men who goes into battle.” I cannot imagine the feeling of going into a battle knowing you may not live to see the sunrise. Some at different times have had a fatal premonition of pending death, but most go to battle with the attitude of another late U.S. Army general, George Patton, who said that the goal was to make the enemy pay the ultimate price. Even so, only those who live in denial ever sling a rifle over their shoulder and step into enemy territory without some fear of death. Even with all the training soldiers have, until the bullets start flying, no one knows what soldiers are made of until they are battle tested. Napoleon Bonaparte said, “Valor is a gift. Those having it never know for sure whether they have it till the test comes. And those having it never know for sure if they will have it when the next test comes.” You cannot bankroll valor. You can’t put it in a holding tank and call it forth on demand. You can’t categorically say what you will or will not do in all situations of war. However, people of valor are usually people of character, people with a moral compass, people with a sense of what’s right and what’s wrong. They...
Looking for Tom

Looking for Tom

Turkey Season.  Opening Morning.  Temperature 56 degrees.  Overcast.   The alarm went off at 4:00 A.M., three hours before sunrise. My son John and I got our gear together and we ate breakfast on the go.  We drove to a Wildlife Management Area (WMA) “destination top secret.”  Once arriving we had to sign in at a WMA checkpoint.  Then we drove to our spot, hoping to beat other hunters that might have had the area picked out.  The small field we wanted to hunt was up the mountain about a mile away from where we parked. As we walked up the mountain I was reminded that I was walking with a Marine.  His days in the Marine Corps made simple hikes like this seem like a walk in the park.  He opened up a huge lead on me within the first minute and several times I had to run to close the gap.  A few times he had mercy on me and stopped and waited for his old man.   I was breathing hard by the time we got to the top of the mountain. We timed our journey perfectly as the daylight was just breaking. The small opening in the woods matched up perfectly with the aerial view on John’s Google Maps.  John put his decoys in the field and we set up on the west side of the field about thirty yards apart from each other. As light began to break, John began to make circle motions over his slate, making some soft, “yelp, yelp, yelps.”  When there was enough light to see the decoys, I took my hat...