Monday, September 17, 2012

The Promise I Made as a Boy

I got to head down to Tennessee this weekend to celebrate my Grandaddy's ninetieth birthday (he actually turns 90 on Wednesday, but we celebrated early).  I've written before about my relationship with him and how much I really want to spend as much time as I can with him from now on out.  Needless to say, it was pretty great getting to celebrate his very long life with him again... even if it was a little bittersweet due to the loss of my Granny in late July.

After we celebrated Grandaddy's party at McEwen's "Stagecoach" restaurant we drove up the road to Erin, TN where we visited my (great) Uncle Howard Patterson in the nursing home to celebrate his ninetieth birthday as well.  Uncle Howard is my Granny's brother, and he has always been my favorite uncle because he's long had such a gigantic personality.  He has always been so loud and unpredictable in his remarks, surprisingly funny, but always kind and charming.  He killed hogs and raised beagles.  I think he's the quintessential small-town Tennessean.  In recent years, however, he's had more than his fair-share of health difficulties.  He has long since lost the ability to care for himself and is now confined to a wheelchair.  He has very few memories left, and cannot recall names and faces of close friends and family that he's known for decades.  Fortunately, however, God has still left him with his loud, unpredictable, joyful, cut-up personality.  As my dad likes to say, "He doesn't have his memory, but he's still Uncle Howard."

Uncle Howard, aka "Water Dog"
It was nice to be able to get the (aging) family together to celebrate with cake and presents with him.  But I must confess that simply being in that nursing home both saddened me and scared me.  All through the hallways and the bingo hall, elderly and disabled folks rolled around in their motorized wheelchairs.  A sweet but bewildered older woman rolled up to our party area and wanted to know if her glasses had arrived yet.  The bathrooms could only be entered with a very precise key code.  No one could enter or exit the building unless the attendant first unlocked the door.  The whole time we were there, a haunting rendition of Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe" looped endlessly on the single stanza: "I got you to hold my hand, I got you to understand" out of one of the rooms; I couldn't help but recognize the cruel and eery irony in that.

I have respect for anyone who chooses to work and serve in a nursing home for the love of the people.  And I know that Uncle Howard is often visited by family, but I wondered just how many of those other folks had family or friends to come see them often... if at all. 

Years ago, when I was very young and probably still in middle school, Mom made me promise that if something tragic every happened to her and Dad, that I would do everything I could to make sure that Granny and Grandaddy never ended up in a nursing home.  It was a terrifying notion for a kid as young as myself to even fathom.  But this weekend, I understood why my Mom was so insistent that I make her that promise.  I've always felt that somehow my grandparents were uniquely my responsibility to protect and care for.  Even when I went off to college and seminary, I returned home during the summers and spent most of my time over at their house, mostly relaxing and goofing off, but also being ready to do whatever they asked of me.  They raised me almost as much as my parents did, and spending time with them in their last years was the very least that I could do. 

In the end, Mom was the one who really made the sacrifice to care for Granny in her last days.  Throughout all the months that Granny resided in hospitals, rehab centers, and hospices, I don't think Mom ever went home to sleep in her own bed except for very rare occasions.  Granny ultimately died in her own home, not fully conscious of the fact that she was surrounded by family, but she nonetheless died quietly and (so I am told) with a smile on her face. 

Even though God didn't call me to make that particular sacrifice, I still feel responsible for Grandaddy.  He was the first one I visited when I drove in from Louisville.  I had planned to eat with him, and then head back home to Camden.  But Grandaddy said he'd rather me stay with him instead.  I had no regrets honoring that request.  It was my birthday present to him; one that I'll try to repackage as much as I possibly can.
May 2005
May 2012

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Expecting God to Do Something Great

This past Sunday marked the 9th anniversary of my pastor Brian Croft at Auburndale Baptist Church.  During last Wednesday night's business meeting, he shared a couple of simple reflections that he had learned during his time as pastor.  He recently posted them on his blog.

Both points he noted are good and very emotional subjects for folks like me who have known Brian over the years, but his second point resonated deeply with me:  "The Way God's Blessing Often Flows Out of Sorrow."  In every church, there will be painful losses.  Whenever members leave a church, there ought to be sadness to see them go, even when it is for good reasons like job or ministry opportunities. Some losses come about through controversy as members either leave the church in bitterness or receive the stern hand of church discipline.  Many of these losses, however, will come through the death of members... and some of them tragically so.

In all my years at Auburndale Baptist Church, I never knew such sadness as the stretch of days between November 30 and December 2 of 2011.  Our church lost three people dear to us in two unrelated automobile accidents hundreds of miles away.  In both instances, a vehicle from the opposite lane lost control and made a head-on collision with the specific vehicle containing the people precious to us.  After the first crash, I tried to rationalize it as a simple, occasional tragedy.  But after the second crash, the one which killed my dear friend, I could not accept the fact that it was a simple coincidence.  I felt as if I and my brothers and sisters and Auburndale had suffered a cruel blow ordained by God himself.  As I have confessed in a previous post, I had to deal with a little bit of my own anger toward God for not only allowing such tragedies to happen, but for seemingly being the direct cause of them.  I am thankful, however, that the grace of God in Christ proved sufficient for me and brought my heart to dependence upon him rather than resentment.

But I couldn't shake the feeling that God must have a great purpose in order to ordain such a terrible sequence of events.  The first thing I did after hearing of the loss of my friend was to take the time to call up various people throughout my life who have made a great impact on me (and who continue to be important to me) and simply let them know that I appreciate and care for them.

I have seen the seeds of long-term transformation in my own life since the events of last December.  I try not to ever take the important people in my life for granted or assume that they'll always be around for me.  When people I care about get sick or go through hard times, I do what I can to lift them up and encourage them in the Gospel.  Life is way too short as it is, and it can change from routine to tragedy in an instant.  I do not know what God specifically has in mind for my life, but I hope that I am able to honor the friendship I had with Stacy Ellison by working harder to strengthen the existing and future relationships in my own life.  And I hope God, in his kind and wise providence, will put the people in my life that I'll need to be more effective for Him and appreciate His goodness even more.

Therefore, in light of all losses that have occurred in my life since last December, I'm encouraged rather than discouraged.  I'm expecting God to do some great things.  And I hope I'll get to see them.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Late in the Game, but Still Making Memories

"Cherish every moment with the important people in your life as if it might be the last one, but go ahead and make future plans with them anyway." -[Something I thought up a few years ago]

This weekend I drove down to Tennessee to drive my soon-to-be ninety-year-old Grandaddy around Camden's 15th annual "30 Mile Yard Sale."  It's been an annual tradition for our family to set up sales in the garage while I take Grandaddy around town looking for dirt-cheap deals on rusty metal (among other things).  He uses a cane for precaution and for when his legs get tired, but he can get along fine without it.

This year, I was fully conscious of the fact that I probably won't get very many opportunities to continue this tradition in the future.  Grandaddy has had Parkinson's Disease for nearly a decade, but he still possesses enough strength to maintain a fairly normal life and is still able to do many of the same routine things he has done throughout his life.  The last two years, however, have taken its emotional toil on him on account of my Granny's long sickness and eventual death late in July.  Grandaddy lives alone in heartbreak, but he hasn't given up because he still treasures the time he gets to spend with the rest of our family.

My mother is the only child of Granny and Grandaddy's sixty-five-year marriage, and my sister and I are their only grandchildren.  Needless to say, they pretty much tried to spoil us at every opportunity (not so much in the early years, but considerably more-so since I went off to college in 2001).  I cherish every opportunity I have to make a few more memories with Grandaddy for as long as the Lord gives him health and life.

I told him at Granny's funeral that I want him to live as long as possible.  I suppose that was a somewhat selfish request on my part, but I just can't imagine life without a grandparent, and he's my last one left.  Even though he gets around well, I tried to stay close to him at the yard sales, because I was so worried he might trip on a tree root or slip in some loose dirt.  He almost tripped trying to go underneath a scaffold to avoid some rain, but he caught himself (the old man still probably thinks he's only 75 at times).  Nothing makes me feel old like watching out for the folks who raised me as if they themselves were large children.

After I graduated from college, I was frustrated that so much of my life routine still felt the same as it always did.  I wanted to move on with life.  But now life seems to be changing awfully fast.  I'm watching my elder relatives grow old, suffer, and die.  I've experienced the loss of some great friends, and a few more friends have had some close calls.  But I won't lose heart either.  I serve a God who isn't surprised by anything, and I worship a Savior who has identified himself with the most pitiful point of the human condition.  I don't fear the sorrowful days that surely await me in the future, but I just don't want them to happen anytime soon.  If there is one thing I've learned about relationships in recent years, it's that you really have to make the most of the time God has given you with the people you love the most.