When the Best Seat is the Worst Seat

Guest post by Jeff Caudill, Executive Pastor at Cofer’s Chapel.

 

Best seat available. When purchasing seats to the theater, a sporting event, etc. we often are given the option to choose the best seat available. We want to be up close. We want to have the best view of the movie. We want to see the actors and hear the dialogue. We hope to get close to the action. (None of these apply to being at church, but that is a subject for another time.)

However, no one wants the front seat at a funeral. If you are in the front seat at a funeral, it typically means you are closest relationally to the person who has died. I recently sat in that seat. My dad fell down the stairs at home. He never recovered from his injuries. On July 6, 2018 he made his transition from this life to the next and is now in the presence of Jesus.

Sitting in that seat you have the best view of the deceased in the casket. You can see and hear the soloist best. From that seat, you can see the emotion of the speaker very clearly. Everyone who attends the funeral shares condolences with those seated in the front seat.

My mom sat in that seat throughout the visitation and funeral for my Dad. I sat next to her along with my siblings for the funeral. While sitting there and in the days since I have made some observations:

1. You are never really prepared to sit in that seat.

It is still like a nightmare hoping to wake up from. I was not ready for my Dad to go. His eternity in heaven was/is secure. He left us a tremendous heritage. We will live in those truths from now on. But, I was not ready for him to go. A few months prior to his accident he had sent me information about his life insurance, pension, etc. I barely looked at it. I barely looked at it, that is, until the day he passed. I guess my point is life is precious and fragile. We know this but sitting in that seat reminded me of this very fact. This is a reminder to us all. Keep eternity in view and enjoy the life and family God has given you here and now.

 

2. People seated in the front seat at a funeral can handle more than they may think.

I would never have guessed we would have had to endure what we did following my Dad’s accident. We had long days and nights in the hospital. We had to discuss things and make decisions no family should have to discuss or decide. We had to do things while caring for Dad once he came home, under hospice care, I would not wish anyone would have to do for a family member. The physical and emotional stress of it all was deeply draining. We were only able to handle it with God’s help. He helped us do things and have conversations we would not have been able to do on our own. As a believer, when you sit in that seat, He sits there with you.

 

3. Those seated in the front seat at a funeral can grow closer to each other.

This was true for us. Some families fight and have major issues during times of loss. Our family did none of those things. We worked together as we made our way through difficult decisions, funeral planning, going through Dad’s things, etc. I know our Christian faith played a major role in us getting along and coming together in the most difficult of times. Family is so important. Love your family now and allow God to bring you even closer through difficult times. Don’t allow your own selfishness or bitterness to make an already difficult situation worse.

 

4. Your family, friends, and church are such a tremendous support and help to those who sit in that front seat.

The prayers along with the tangible gifts of money, gift cards, and food were invaluable. God sustained us through the prayers of His people. I witnessed this to be true! He also used family and friends to meet our needs during those difficult days. I was and am still amazed at everything people did and provided for us. Allow God to use you to help hurting people. Be proactive. You might be amazed at what $20 or a Kroger gift card will do to help someone in a difficult time during the death of a loved one.

 

5. The ones seated in that front seat hear many kind words about the one who passed.

So many people came by to tell us what a great man Dad was. People talked about how he impacted their lives. They mentioned his godly life, his teaching of the Word, the heritage he left behind, his love for God, His church, the Word, and his support of the pastor. We were so proud to hear all those things. We knew them all to be true. He, however, did not always feel his life made an impact. Like anything, we can take this too far, but I think it is important to also let people know they are making an impact while they are alive. Go ahead and provide genuine compliments when they are deserved. Let people know how much they have impacted your life. Even to those who may struggle to receive compliments, give them anyway. Everyone needs to know their lives and ministries matter. Sure, we should not do what we do for the “applause of men.” However, knowing you made a difference is such an encouragement.


I want the best available seat at an event. I love sitting close to the action. However, I hope it is a long time before I have to sit in the front seat at a funeral again. Sooner or later it happens to us all. We need God’s help in those extreme times. He was there for our family. He wants to be there for yours as well.

 

 

 




Yes, Actually, Marriage Did Solve My Loneliness

Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.” She said, “May your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast. [1 Samuel 1:17-18]

 

Since I was a week away from my 36th birthday when I got married, I frequently read and received advice about singleness and how to deal with it. People told me not to expect marriage to solve issues I had, about everything from lust to loneliness. It is fair to say that marriage has not solved many of my problems but instead has, as you may expect, taught me how selfish and proud I can be.

Yet I cannot deny that as badly as I struggled emotionally with loneliness the last few years before marriage, that this particular struggle was completely eradicated.

The issues I had didn’t happen in a vacuum. It wasn’t like I began to consciously think that because I was in my mid-30s that I should be married already. Or that this led me to feel discouraged. Until I was 32, in fact, I was quite content being single and felt no pressure within or from without from people that loved me to get married. Yet I eventually began to experience trials in this area that were beyond my control and at times I did not respond well. And slowly but surely I began to suffer significantly enough with depression and anxiety that for a short time I was actually on a medication called Lexapro. These experiences were the foundation for a theology I’ve developed on waiting on God, and how brutally truthful I am willing to be about it.

But marriage changed all of this. My feelings were revolutionized. I have no longer struggled with depression or anxiety even a little bit. To me, it was like the moment in Return of the King when Gollum and the One Ring fall into fires of the volcano in Mount Doom. The first time I read those books, it felt like nearly the whole story was consumed in darkness until that moment and then light flooded the pages. The long dark night was finally over. That is what marriage has been like to me. Loneliness was a villain that has been destroyed forever.

There is much about marriage that I love and much that brings joy. And I cannot deny that because I was older when I got married and because I fell so deeply into an abyss before Kayla, that I value the companionship the most. I love it that I have someone to come home to at night. I love it that my wife knows all of my inside jokes and quotes and says them before I can when she knows I’m about to. I love that someone is there to take care of me when I’m sick, and honestly I love even more that I get to take care of someone when they are sick. I love it that when I preach, there is someone I can find in the audience that I can make eye contact with that understands and loves me like no other and makes me feel calm.

For those who have been victims in marriage–be it abuse or abandonment or something similar–or who are still waiting on it, it is not my aim to discourage. We at REO have written to those circumstances many times. I also do not want to disingenuously paint a picture of what marriage is like. It can be frustrating at times. It can expose the deepest flaws of your soul that you do not want to know about or confront. But if the two people are quick to forgive, as we both have been so far, then the conflict can produce deeper intimacy. And it can be completely overwhelmed most of the time by the joys of companionship.

But the main reason I am writing this is that when people write things like “Don’t expect marriage to solve [fill in the blank with whatever],” that often they are correct. But sometimes I do believe we make blanket statements in Christianity that can have exceptions. Yes, I believe my identity should be in Christ and not primarily in my marriage. Yes, I believe that Paul taught we can be content no matter the circumstances. But then I read the story of Hannah in 1 Samuel and how raw and passionate her grief was while childless, and how the news of having a child transformed her emotional state. And I wonder if sometimes God didn’t give us the narrative in the Bible to remind us that the more doctrinal sections have exceptions at times. Real life is not always so black and white. I don’t know if I could have been content the last few years of my life before marriage. But I know I’m content now that I am married.

Absolute truth is real. The resurrection of Jesus Christ means I do not have to stay dead after I die. Sex outside of marriage is immoral. Those are absolute. Yet in our social media world of articles that begin with things like “5 reasons you should…” and “Don’t expect this to happen when you …” I advocate for more nuanced advice. Oftentimes I have read articles and discovered they are based on preferences and experiences and some Bible verses that may or may not be absolute in their applications. I am not telling you that marriage solves loneliness. It may not for you. It did for me. And based on Hannah’s story and God himself declaring it is not good for man to be alone (save the exceptions given by Jesus in places like Matthew 19:12) and other Scriptures, I have zero issue testifying to it.

 

But as always, REO opens the floor to our readers for discussion and comments. Please feel free to do so below.

 




Go Big in the Little Things

A few years ago (nearly eight to be specific) I wrote about cereal on my personal blog. At that time, my boys and I ate a lot of cereal. We still do – them more than me. You can read that story here.

My middle son still eats cereal every day. He gets up in the morning, fixes a bowl of cereal, sits down on the couch, turns on the television (WKRN – Channel 2 – in Nashville), and gets caught up on the morning news, the weather, and the traffic. He is 13 and 75 all at the same time. He also eats a bowl of cereal most evenings as well, after we have finished supper. And occasionally, he gets a bowl for his afternoon snack. He eats a lot of cereal.

My oldest son eats just as much, if not more, simply because he just eats more in general than his younger brother. Between the two of them, plus whatever the rest of us in the family eat, we go through 6 or 7 boxes of cereal a week, give or take a box or two. And if you read the article I linked to above, you understand that is okay and part of the plan. My goal as a child was to have a pantry full of cereal boxes. Seinfeld levels of cereal boxes.

My dream has been realized for sure. I have passed along this dream to my children and I hope they pass it along to theirs in the future.

But this isn’t about cereal – as awesome as it is. I don’t think it would be in anyone’s best interest for me to write another article about cereal. (We have a Top Ten Cereal List already published on REO. Read it here.) No, cereal is not the point.

I am the one that handles grocery shopping for my family. My wife and I used to do it together but she doesn’t enjoy it and I was willing to take on that responsibility. One of my great joys in life is to come home with the groceries and see my sons’ reactions when they help unload all that food. Before they unpack anything else, they find the cereal. They are desperate to find out what cereal I brought home. Especially the middle one. I can make or break his day depending on my cereal selection. If I do well, he is bubbly and dancing and smiling. If I do poorly, he gets quiet and mopey. Because of this, though he is learning to not allow minor things like this to affect his emotions, I do my best to bring home at least a few kinds of cereal that I know he will enjoy. I do this because I love him and I enjoy seeing him happy. I realize it’s a little thing, but I believe if we try hard in the little things, over time, they become building blocks for the big things.

My wife loves McDonald’s Coke. She is a woman of virtually no vices, but she has a weakness for a cold Coca-Cola from McD’s. (Their mix is the best around.) If I am on my game as a husband, I will remember to stop by a McDonald’s on my way home and pick up a Coke for her. As with the cereal and my kids, this is not a big deal. In fact, it’s such a tiny thing that it would be easy to overlook. But I think overlooking these little things is a good way to take things for granted, and trust me, I overlook these little things way too often. It’s a learning experience for sure. But by doing the little things, it helps me be aware of and attentive to the bigger things.

There are a million ways you can go big in the little things. I buy gum at the grocery store every so often because I know how much my youngest son loves it. My wife rubs my head when we are watching TV together because she knows it relaxes me. These little things take many forms. It could be anything really. The important part is that you are paying attention. And that “paying attention” is appreciated and will not go unnoticed. The big things will take way more time and energy and focus on your part but if you have been doing the little things, you’ve built the foundation for the big things already. You’re ahead of the curve. None of this is to say that if you do the little things you will handle the big things well. I’m sure there are people who do all the little things but still mess up big time on the big things. (No pun intended.) Yet I am confident that if you don’t do the little things well, you probably aren’t knocking it out of the park on the big things either.

As silly as cereal, Coke, gum, and head rubs seem, if they are done out of love and genuine affection for others, then they are the least silly things you can do. In fact, overlooking them (and things like them) could be incredibly detrimental to your relationships. Do the little things. Get really good at them. It’s worth it.

 

So what are the little things you do for your loved ones? What are the little things they do for you? We would love to read about it in the comment section below. We are here to learn as much as anything else.

 




Five Things Our Mothers Taught Us

Mothers. None of us would be here if they weren’t around. Am I right or am I right? But our moms are so much more than just the person who brought us into the world. I don’t know about you, but there is a universe of knowledge I gleaned from my mom. For this Mother’s Day, the REO team wanted to honor our moms by relating five of the important lessons we learned from them.


Vickie Speer

When I was around 6 years old or so, I was at the supermarket with Mom, and we had finally made it to the checkout line. I asked her if I could get some Starburst candy, and she flat out said “No”…but I just couldn’t take that for an answer. When she wasn’t looking, I wedged the Starburst in between a few other items on the conveyor belt and hoped she wouldn’t notice.

My devious plans were foiled, but not before the cashier had already scanned the candy into the register. My mom held her up from her scanning, and the cashier asked if she should take it off and shelve it. For some reason, mom left it on the bill and bought it. And then, she didn’t let me have the candy. Oh man, it was so much worse knowing for weeks that the candy was in our possession, sitting alone up in the cupboard. The poor, lonely candy. The poor, deprived child.

I probably learned my lesson: No means no. At the very least, I haven’t forgotten it. Still, once enough time had passed, I snatched the candy out of the cupboard and asked Mom if I could have some, and she just hurriedly unwrapped it and let me eat it. I think she forgot about its significance. I ate it with the weight of shame upon me. How could something so sweet be simultaneously so bittersweet? Cast your pejorative gaze upon my childhood shenanigans and learn, O reader. A Starburst eaten with a clear conscience is worth 500 eaten in shame. (D.A. Speer)


Betty Lou Plunkett

When we were kids Mom told us that “Here at The Rock, we have two basic rules. The first rule is: obey all rules. Secondly: Do not write on the walls, as it takes a lot of work to erase writing off of the walls.” Just kidding. That’s Barney Fife. Though she kept decided discipline and order, Mom was definitely not a Barney Mom, constantly spouting off rules, regulations, and long rants of “wisdom.” Mom was not one to dole out a lot of such talk and sage quotable diatribes. Her wisdom was largely displayed through how she lived. Most of what I learned from her I learned by watching her live life and interact with those around her. And I learned so much. One of the ways she most impacted me was via her enduring innate joyfulness and contentment in all situations no matter how dark. Mom had been through a lot of heavy moments in her life: Months in the hospital as a child after accidentally drinking a glass of lye soap; months worth of hours spent in the hospital with me for various reasons; raising four kids; years of serving as a home missionary, foreign mission, and teacher; and finally lymphatic cancer. Yet, for as long as I knew her (since 1973) she always maintained her contented spirit. This is not to say she never got sad or anything like that. Yet even in sadness, there was always that feeling of joy radiating from her. No matter how dark situations got, she had a way of making it feel like matters weren’t that bad. This was even true with her final battle with cancer. Like Paul the Apostle, she had learned the secret of being content even in the darkest moment. That secret was their hope in Jesus. Her contentment and joy came to a head just minutes before she died. During those moments she expressed an almost rapturous joy in Jesus, and we who were present could almost see heaven itself. (Ben Plunkett)


Yvonne Cannon

I remember once my senior year in high school my best friends Wade and John came over one afternoon on a school day – I don’t recall why – but they ended up staying for dinner even though we hadn’t planned for them to do so. My mother cooked extra without even a second thought. Then, again without really planning it, they slept over. On a school night.

The reasons these things happened is because my mother created a home environment where people felt welcomed to treat it like it was theirs. My living room was often packed with our friends on weekend nights when we were teenagers. Some of our friends didn’t even knock when they came over. People of other races and ethnicities were welcomed into our home. My dad’s hunting buddies, Super Bowl parties, Seinfeld finale parties, Bible College visitors, church prayer times…our house was (and still is) constantly being used to host people. Even though our house was well kept, even when my mother worked full time, we worried far less about stains on the carpet and spills in the kitchen than we did about making sure everyone in Turbeville, SC knew there was a place where all were welcome. My dad is a great man, but my mother was the main reason this was so.

So of the million things I have learned from her, most of them from observation and not words, hospitality rises to the top. It takes humility and sacrifice to open up your home to so many people. It’s supremely inconvenient. I wish I could say I appreciated it back then, but I do now. It’s one of the most Jesus-like things about my mother’s life. And one I hope to emulate here in Chicago. (Gowdy Cannon)


Judy Lytle

There is nothing more empowering than hearing the words “you are good at…” It may even be more important for a parent to affirm the things their children do well than to correct their short-comings. As a teen, I more or less floated through life. I am not particularly athletic, musical, or creative. I was fairly shy and just starting to take an interest in academics. Some people can do well just about anything they attempt. Well, I had (have) very few skills. I just was. When I was in high school, my mother told me that I would make a good history teacher or perhaps a good chef. Studying history and cooking were two things I did well and loved doing. That conversation with my mother established the trajectory of my life. This morning I got up early to pray with 30 of my students before taking their AP United States History exam. I also baked them homemade cinnamon rolls. It has been 20 years since my mother said, “You are good at…” but I am living out the empowerment from that conversation nearly every day. (David Lytle)

 

My mom is the hardest worker I know. If there is a job to do, she does it. If there is a meal to make, a person to visit, a floor to tile, a room to paint, a class to teach… You get the point. Unfortunately, I did not inherit that impressive work ethic from my mother. In my defense, no one in the history of the world has a work ethic like my mother, but it would have been nice to get even 50% of the inner drive she possesses. Also in my defense, I do work very hard if it is for something I love. But my mom works hard period. Full stop. Love or no love, she jumps into every task as if it is the most important thing in the world. And while I don’t have that same character trait, I do have the best example anyone could ask for to push me, nudge me, and even unintentionally shame me a little into working harder on things that I don’t love that much. (Phill Lytle)




On Brotherhood, Inside Jokes and Built-In Best Friends For Life

Michael: What comes before anything? What have we always said is the most important thing?

George Michael: Breakfast.

Michael: Family.

George Michael: Family, right. I thought you meant of the things you eat.

 

Last Saturday night, as the clock struck 11:00 PM in Chicago, meaning it was midnight in South Carolina, I posted seemingly random lyrics of a 1990s Blackhawk song called “Postmarked Birmingham” to my brother Jeremy’s Facebook wall. The following morning, I texted him different lyrics from the same song. He was not confused by any of this, because it is sort of a tradition between us. The reason it wasn’t random is that the song, which is about a man who gets a letter from a woman who left him and he has no idea why she’s writing from Alabama, mentions the date April 22. So every year on that date, we share a childhood memory, a song we bonded over. And also of the CD that I desecrated by listening to before giving it to him as a Christmas gift. Which he will never let me live down.

I love inside jokes. I realize they are annoying if you’re on the outside so I try to keep them to a minimum in public. And while I share them with all sorts of people in my life, there is no doubt that the deepest versions I have are the ones that I share with those who were there every step of the way from the time I was old enough to have memories until the day I departed for college in Nashville: my four siblings.

Quite often when my brothers Jeremy, Ashley and I are texting, if two of us disagree about something, the third one will reply, “I’m with you fellas”. Because we have laughed together at O Brother Where Art Thou? several times together. (Sometimes there doesn’t have to be a disagreement and it just gets worked in the conversation anyway.) Similar are the phrases “Seven Bushes” and “No more questions” from My Cousin Vinny. And I’m pretty sure when each of us turned 33 years old, one of the other two was there to text, “Today…he is…33 years old!” from Three Amigos.

It’s not all TV and movies either. When we were very young, I once chased Jeremy through the house, angry at him. When we got to our bedroom he fell down so hard the whole house shook. He was completely still for a few seconds and I was terrified he was seriously hurt. Then he finally peeked at me and piped up, “I shook the whole house!” And I can still text him those words today and we laugh about it. On another occasion, Ashley and I were playing basketball with some friends and an older guy we knew, who was clearly out of shape, stepped on the court and said, “Let’s see if I can still get rim.” He clearly couldn’t and probably never could, which made the scene quite unintentionally funny. And so this quote has come up during basketball many times. And then there was the time in the 80s we were eating at our family’s favorite seafood buffet and another group got seated just after us. And one of the men boisterously and half-jokingly complained to the hostess, “We’re six miles from the buffet!” Except he said “buffet” the way it looks phonetically. That comes up every time we eat seafood even now.

My brother Tracy is ten years older than me and was in college by the time I was in third grade but we still share these moments. Over 20 years ago at the beach were staying in an oceanfront house. And an older lady was out sunbathing just in front, really close to us. As we stood there on the second-floor porch, Tracy dared me $5 to hit her with a tennis ball. I obviously declined. But later when the ball really did fall from the porch and I had to go down to get it, I threw it back up to Tracy and it hit the ledge of the porch, ricocheted back towards the ground and hit the woman, who for some reason got really mad about it. Tracy gave me the $5 and we still laugh about it in 2018.

My sister, Kim, is the only sister but we still have our inside jokes, too. Once, not long after she got married I was hanging out at her house. She needed some meat from her freezer, which was in a separate storage room off of the house. I went out to get it and there were wasps. Being terrified of them I reported back with no meat. Kim, who is also terrified of them, decided the situation called for desperate measures. We put on raincoats and hats and gloves–basically, we covered every part of our bodies–and armed ourselves with brooms and mops. And we successfully procured the meat. And Kim loves telling that story to this day.

Another time we were sharing a room at the National Free Will Baptist Convention with her husband Mark and their daughter Camille. Kim bought three 24-count bags of sugar donuts for the week. At the end of the week, they were all gone. Camille claimed to have eaten zero. Mark said he had about six. So that meant between Kim and I, we ate approximately 66 sugar donuts in four days. We agreed to assume we both ate 33 so no one had to take the blame for eating the most. And to this day, we can’t talk about sugar donuts without laughing.

All inside jokes are not funny, though. Some are extremely meaningful in a more serious way. A few years ago when I was home for Christmas, Jeremy introduced me to a song that was a “Stopped Me In My Tracks” song for him, as Phill wrote about for REO. He had me listen to it. And after hearing it, he and I made a vow that any time one of us hears “Colder Weather” by the Zac Brown Band, we will pray for the other one. We text each other that title every now and then to remind each other of our vow. Jeremy even eventually made the song his ring tone so he would pray for me often.

The picture from above is from the 2013 Outback Bowl when Jadaveon Clowney knocked the Michigan RB’s helmet off on a spectacular play that has been viewed millions of times on Youtube. The Gamecocks won the game on a Steve Spurrier drawn up and dialed up bomb with 11 second left. But neither of those plays were what made the day truly special. It was getting to share those moments with my brothers and my dad. I don’t remember it but after Clowney made the hit and forced the fumble, Ashley says that I said, “Who was that guy?!?” As if it was to say that it was so amazing I had to ask, even though I knew. Like responding to a superhero moment. It was a special time to relive over and over.

 

When I got married in 2015, Ashley gave one of the best men speeches and said our mother always told us when we were fighting as children that our siblings would be our best friends when we were adults. She was right. Boy, was she ever right. Because Kim, Tracy, Ashley and Jeremy absolutely know what I think of them. That no matter what happens, or how far from South Carolina I am, that, “I’m with you fellas”. They truly are my best friends for life.

 

 

 

 




Five Great TV Couples

To celebrate Valentine’s Day (a little early) we decided to shine the spotlight on a few of our favorite TV couples. However, we wanted our list to be a little different than a “best of.” It would be easy to write about some of the most well-known and loved couples in television history. Couples like the Huxtables from The Cosby Show. Or Ricky and Lucy from I love Lucy. Instead of that, we chose to focus on a few lesser known examples of good, strong, admirable TV marriages. We hope you enjoy our list and we hope you will add your two cents in the comment section below.


Wash and Zoe – Firefly

I’m not sure that there has ever been a TV couple so opposite that still completely adored each other. Zoe, the ultra-fit gun-toting, silent warrior woman and Wash a jovial, fun-loving, happy-go-lucky pilot. And yet their marriage is perfection nearly all of the time. If you have watched the show Firefly at all, you will know the very real passionate love that existed between the two. While they are fully committed to the crew—and Zoe is more loyal to the captain than anyone—it is still all about their marriage to them. Through all the intense activity they manage to maintain their little cocoon of eternal love and bliss. Their relationship didn’t start out that way, though. Not surprisingly, Wash’s manner rubbed Zoe the wrong way when they first meet in “Out of Gas.” During that encounter, she quickly determined she didn’t like him. How things changed. Most reading this have also seen Serenity, the Firefly movie that is a sequel to its epic one-season run. However, some readers may have inexplicably opted out. If that is the case, I will not spoil the specifics about how their life of bliss is finally torn about. But their love goes on and lives forever in our hearts through repeated viewings of the show. – Ben Plunkett


Eric and Tami Taylor – Friday Night Lights

Perhaps the best thing I can say about Eric and Tami Taylor is that they feel real. Friday Night Lights excelled at many things: It told poignant stories. It thrilled audiences. It created believable and fully realized characters. Yet the thing that brought many of us back was the Taylors. Coach Eric Taylor, a Texas high school football coach, poured his life into his team, his players, and his family. He was continuously required to make sacrifices with his time and energy. The great thing about it all was that he made those sacrifices with his wife Tami. They talked. They argued. They fought. But through it all, they loved each other. They compromised for each other. They took turns putting the other first so they could reach for their dreams. They did this all with genuine affection for one another, displaying love and respect all along the way. The Taylors built a family that reached well beyond the walls of their homes. They acted as parents to every player that came through the Dillon Panther program. This is all accomplished without grandiose plot lines or over-the-top dramatic conflicts. It is grounded and real. If that is not a beautiful and relatable picture of marriage, I don’t know what is. – Phill Lytle


Uncle Phil and Aunt Viv – The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

The Fresh Prince of Bel Air was a fascinating show when it aired and has only become more so since it ended. Will Smith is the loud but lovable, the cocky but contentious star. How this show completely altered his career by vaulting him into acting, without any formal training, is a true American success story. But for his real life named role to work, his aunt and uncle had to be good people. They had to have a strong marriage. Because they took him in, adding his troubled and working-class background to their upper-class family. And I loved watching them make sacrifices to accommodate Will, yet become crucial de facto parents who stood their ground to raise him right, which is no doubt difficult when you’re talking about a teenager. Their best scenes as a couple were during more serious episodes, as when Will and Carlton get unfairly arrested and they have to go to the police station to defend them. Uncle Phil and Aunt Viv were incredible in those moments and could bring the laughter, tears and applause at the same time. A switch in actress halfway through the series for Aunt Viv changed her demeanor some but it didn’t detract from this model marriage. – Gowdy Cannon


Hal and Lois – Malcolm in the Middle

The show is a bit preposterous. It is a loud, rough-around-the-edges sitcom following the lives of Malcolm, a boy genius, and his dysfunctional yet loving family. Lois is the overbearing, never wrong, say whatever is on her mind mother. Hal is the peculiar, probably crazy father. Their relationship doesn’t always make sense. He is clueless at times, though rarely does the show fall into the overdone cliché of the “dumb dad.” Lois is portrayed as possessing almost omniscient-like powers though the show doesn’t hide from her flaws. Lois is the glue that holds the family together. She is the problem solver – the one that fixes things when the boys or Hal completely screw up. Hal’s best character trait is that he loves Lois completely. He is devoted to her in ways that sometimes wanders into the uncomfortable. Yet that is one of the main reasons I am so drawn to it. It is rare that a husband is presented in such a love-struck manner – especially in a couple that has been together as long as Hal and Lois have when we first meet them. They are not perfect by any means, but their love is a passionate partnership and we could find much worse examples than them in popular culture. – Phill Lytle


Adam and Kristina Braverman – Parenthood

This show is such that my wife and I talked about the characters all the time as though they were real people. The title of the show tells you its main focus but for the Braverman clan, the ups and downs of marriage could not be separated out from child rearing. And one marriage rises above the rest for how exemplary it is, that of Adam and Kristina. Teenage rebellion, Aspergers, cancer, political campaigns, new babies…it didn’t matter what you threw at them, they would use it to make their relationship stronger.

By no means were they perfect and I appreciate when TV has raw moments of conflict that do not get handled well at first because just as in real life, it makes reconciliation a beautiful thing. For Adam and Kirstina, this was exceptional TV. I could list dozens of my favorite moments of theirs but I’ll limit it to two. One is at the end of Season 4 when Kristina is cancer free and they go to Hawaii, just the two of them with no kids. And the very last scene of the whole season is them running into the ocean together. So touching. It really was never just about parenthood. And second, when they discover that Hank, a more or less independently functioning adult, may have Aspergers just like Max, their conversation about it is crazy funny. They go back and forth with Adam being completely upbeat about the possibility of Max being similar one day and Kristina being skeptical because Hank definitely has issues. At one point they have this exchange:

A: He has a daughter!
K: But she doesn’t like him.
A: But she’s real!

To know Adam and his facial expression and voice inflection is to love that counter-response. I miss the Bravermans. – Gowdy Cannon

 

 




Five Parenting “Do’s”

Parenting is difficult, yet sometimes we make it much more difficult than it needs to be. I am not trying to minimize complex and challenging situations. I am blessed to have three very well-adjusted and compliant children. I realize that not everyone shares my experience. Yet the point still stands: we complicate and overthink things sometimes. There are a handful of common sense things parents should not do, as there are some things parents should strive to do. Here are five things I have noticed in my time parenting that have produced good results. Hopefully this will be a help to other parents out there. Some of these things, maybe all, will not be brand new to you, but sometimes a reminder is just as important.


1. Love them sacrificially.

As stated above, some of these “do’s” will seem obvious, but it’s in the little details that we lose sight of the big picture. All good parents love their children. All good parents sacrifice for their children. Not all good parents do those things as consistently as they probably should. I don’t. Sometimes we have to be willing to sacrifice our time, our wants, our needs to enable our children to live their fullest life. That doesn’t mean we cater to them and their every whim though. (More on that a little later.) It does mean that at times, to show our children how much we love them, we give up our television time to play a game with them. It means that we go to school plays to support them, we attend their sporting events, we find odd jobs to help pay for their mission trip. The list goes on and on. Good parents do those things. Our children need to see self-sacrificial love played out in front of them at home. It will leave life-long marks on them.

2. Instill a proper sense of self-worth.

This is the flip side to point one. We do our children no favors if we teach them, whether by words or by actions, that they are the most important people in the world. In this day and age, self-esteem is a big deal, and parents are encouraged and told to make their kids feel like the most special and unique little treasures in the whole wide world. Parents fill their days inventing new ways to make little Johnny happy. Ways to keep Janie fulfilled and content. We do that by taking them to every event, every party, every activity. We do that by giving them everything they could ever want or need. We do that by refusing to accept their failures and using them as teachable moments and instead we find someone else to blame for the times they come up short.

This is all garbage.

Our children should feel loved, always. Our children should feel protected, always. Our children should know their true worth, always. Their true worth comes from their Creator and the fact that they were fearfully and wonderfully made in His image. They are special, but not because the world revolves around them. They are special because the person the world does revolve around loves them and made them to be His unique image bearers on the earth.

3. Say no.

This is not new or novel or original, but that doesn’t make it any less important. Children want what they want and they want it right then. Sometimes, many times, giving them that thing they want is not in their best interest. Be an adult and learn how to say no. Now, some parenting experts advise against using negative words like “no”, instead opting for positive ways to redirect. I’m no parenting expert but in their life, once they leave your home, your children will be told no on an almost daily basis. It’s part of life. Training them for 18 plus years without ever saying no is a massive disservice to their formation. It’s okay to be the “bad guy” sometimes. You are their parent, not their friend.

4. Prepare them for failure.

Your child will not be great at everything. There will be areas of life where they struggle. It might be academic, or athletic, or even social. Don’t shield them from their failures. Don’t minimize them, hide them, or blame others. Let them own their shortcomings. Not in a mean or critical way, but in a way that lets them know that they are not perfect and there are just some things they cannot do. The Disney philosophy that teaches us that anyone can do anything as long as they believe is incomprehensibly stupid and borderline evil. We can’t all be NBA players. We can’t all be professional musicians. Teach your children to work hard, as hard as they can, but to understand that some things will be out of their reach. Some things are beyond their skill. And that is totally okay. It does not make them less than. It does not mean they are worthless. Help them find those things they are good at. Direct their energy towards areas where they are skilled. Challenge them to dream big. But let them fail. Let them learn that life is not always “fair.” Don’t handicap them with built in excuses about how the world is against them when things don’t go their way.

5. Say you’re sorry.

This one is probably the most difficult of all. We mess up. We mess up at our jobs. We mess up at home. We mess up as parents. We need to model repentance with our children. When we screw up with our kids, tell them. Ask their forgiveness. Say you are sorry. This teaches them that we will never get to a point in our lives where we are above mistakes and failings, but it will also teach them that there is forgiveness and restoration if repentance is sought. Our children need to see our broken hearts. They need to see our acknowledgement of sin and failures. They need to have faith that we hold ourselves to the same standards we are holding them. If you have not done this before, it will be very difficult the first few times. Do it enough and it will feel completely natural. God will bless a home that is transparent and accountable.


Hopefully these five things are already a part of your parenting life. If not, I hope something in here will help you in your journey. Please share your comments and ideas below. I love to interact with other parents and learn ways to better myself as a father.




Love at First Sight

I originally wrote this about seven years ago. I meant it then and I mean it now. Usually, we try to not to publish content that is personal but without broader application. After looking over what I wrote years ago, I am struggling to find any lessons for a broader audience. This one is specifically intimate. Still, I hope people can find something in here to appreciate, apply, or discover.

“Why do I fall in love with every woman I see who shows me the least bit of attention?”

Joel Barrish, Jim Carrey’s character in the complicated and amazing film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, asks himself that very question sitting across the diner from Clementine, the colorful and delightfully free-spirited Kate Winslet. The very idea that you could fall in love like that is silly though, right? It is based on nothing but fleeting glimpses and unrealistic views of romance and love. It does not factor in compatibility, personality, or anything else of a more objective nature. He sees a woman that smiles back at him and he is smitten. Hard. I think many viewers simply wrote Joel and the rest of the film off after that. That’s too bad, because they missed a great movie. I didn’t write off Joel or the film. In fact, that line, heard very early in the film, hooked me. It intrigued me. To explain why this line had this effect on me will probably reveal more about myself than I really care to, but it is unavoidable.

I was hooked because I was Joel Barrish.

Years ago, as a single man, I did not date much. In fact, I only “dated” three women. (I use quotation marks, because I can barely classify two of those as dating relationships – we went out a few times.) Clearly, my dating game was not on point. I was, and still am, shy. If I saw a girl and she showed me any attention at all I could picture us dating. In my mental version of things, I was charming, funny, handsome, and pretty irresistible so the odds were high she would say yes. In real life, I would not even get past pleasantries. I just didn’t want to risk the rejection that might follow. I stayed safe and alone on the outside. All of that changed in the summer of 1996.

I was meeting a college friend for a Cardinals’ baseball game and for some reason still unknown to me, he wanted to meet at the stadium hours before the game started. Summers in St. Louis can get pretty hot, and it was not a comfortable experience, but it did give me the opportunity to meet his friends, one of whom was a beautiful, friendly, Missouri girl who gently forced her way into my heart and mind. It was then that I had my Joel Barrish moment. I didn’t fall in love with every woman I saw that showed me the least bit of attention, but I fell for her.

Hello, I love you. What is your name?

Before you roll your eyes, let me clarify. I didn’t love her in the fullest sense of the word. Love is not simply a romantic feeling, even though that is part of it. Love is a choice. It is a decision. But romance, attraction, chemistry, beliefs, and a myriad of other things play into what “love” ultimately becomes in a relationship. So, while I didn’t fully love her, I was smitten. Hard. I would even say that I loved her based on the limited information I had. I knew then and there that I wanted to spend every waking moment in her presence. I knew I wanted to find out everything I could about her. I knew she was so beautiful that it actually made it hard to think when I was around her. That is not hyperbole. I was basically a mute around her that first day because she radiated a beauty I could barely handle. I knew she was intelligent and funny, and she had really great taste to be a Cardinals’ fan. I knew she was a Christian and she was thinking about coming to Welch College (FWBBC), my college, in the fall. More than once that summer I prayed that God would make that possible.

We parted ways after the game. I thought about her constantly. Unfortunately, I was not the best company that afternoon at the ballpark. I did not feel well and I was frustrated with having to get to the stadium so early. Needless to say, I don’t think my dream girl thought about me much.

Remember when I mentioned dating only three women? Well, I was dating one of them when I went to that baseball game. I had just started going out with a girl that worked at the same grocery store where I was employed that summer. She was nice. She really liked me. We were into the same bands and we shared many similar interests. There was only one problem: I could not stop thinking about the girl I met at the baseball game. Immediately after my second date with the grocery store girl, I got home and had one of those pitiful, sentimental daydreams about my future wife – the baseball fan. (That is totally normal, right?) I had spent one afternoon in the same ballpark as her, and that was all it took. She had captured my eyes, my mind, and my heart.

A dream come true.

Shortly thereafter, I ended things with the grocery girl. I was returning to college in Tennessee and didn’t think it would be wise to try to keep things going since my heart wasn’t really into the relationship anyway. The day I arrived in Nashville is a blur. I remember very little about it and what I do remember is probably not that accurate, because what happened when we arrived at the college was like something out of a dream. My brother and I pulled in and there she was – my dream girl. She was on her way to the dorm. My heartbeat went into overdrive. Questions raced through my mind: Is she here as a student? Is she here to drop off friends? Does she even remember me? She saw us, stopped, waved, and said hi. She even remembered me! We talked for a few seconds, enough to find out that she was in fact enrolled as a student. Praise the Maker! We went our separate ways. She walked to her dorm room oblivious of what her presence had just done to that poor sap in the car. I, on the other hand, could not stop smiling. I promised myself right then and there that I was going to pursue her. In fact, I decided right then and there that, God willing, I would marry this girl. Ridiculous? Absolutely. Romantically hopeless? Certainly. Did I tell my friends and family about my newfound conviction? I am a hopeless romantic but I am not that crazy.

So, what was the end result of all of this? I finally asked her out and she said no. End of story.

Not really. I asked her out. We dated for a year. I truly fell in love with her.

Then she broke up with me. I was crushed. For one, it was a blow to my pride. Secondly, I truly loved her by that time. But most importantly, it rocked my world because I was absolutely convinced that we were going to spend to rest of our lives together. My early romantic dreams had solidified into complete certainty. I spent the next year in a haze. My grades plummeted. My attitude soured. I became cynical and bitter. That is, until I realized that it was out of my hands. If I was supposed to marry this girl, things would eventually work out. As soon as I came to that conclusion I was a much happier person. I was finally able to understand the breakup and moved on. Slowly she moved back into my life. First as a friend. Then gradually, as something more.

A deeper view of love.

Seventeen years ago, I married my dream girl. She has given me the best years of my life. She has blessed me with love and acceptance. She has modeled grace, forgiveness, and spiritual maturity. She has given me three wonderful boys. My life has been richly blessed by having her in it. It is everything I dreamed of and more. My “love at first sight” has become a love of a lifetime.

It is her birthday today. The day we celebrate her life beginning. She will not want any attention, as she prefers to stay behind the scenes as much as possible, so I will end this with a simple “happy birthday.”

I love you Amy.




The Annual Super Awesome Film Festival: Making Wiser Movie Choices

I’ve said this before, but it is worth repeating: I love movies. In some ways, I am probably a little too in love with movies. Many jokes have been made at my expense at my single-minded obsession with The Lord of the Rings Movies. I’m not that compulsive with all movies, but I watch, think about, and discuss movies more than most people I know. It only seemed natural then, to share that love of movies with my kids.

I’ve watched movies or television shows with my boys since they were little. When they were young, we watched things they enjoyed and I had to sit patiently and long for the day when I could introduce them to the things I loved and enjoyed. I jumped the gun a few times though. I watched the Star Wars films with my middle son when he was too young to appreciate them. His older brother loved them, but it has taken him time to even tolerate them, all because he wasn’t ready. Similarly, I thought my oldest son was ready for The Lord of the Rings, but I was proven wrong when he completely freaked out over Bilbo trying to take the ring away from Frodo in Rivendell. For those that have seen the film, you know the scene I am referencing. Kindly, old Bilbo, fueled by his desire for the ring of power, transforms into a snarling, angry creature. It is a shocking moment and it caught my son completely by surprise. He had nightmares about that scene for a very long time afterwards. I felt like a complete failure for not recognizing how that scene, or other scenes, could potentially horrify him. It was after that traumatic event, I decided that I needed to do better. I needed to be more thoughtful about what we watched and when we watched.


It was around this time that one of my favorite film critics, Drew McWeeny, started writing a series called Film Nerd 2.0. While I didn’t always agree with what films he introduced to his boys, and I would have pretty strong reservations about endorsing the entirety of his approach, the specific, thought-out system he created appealed to me. I knew my version would look different, but he had inspired me to do this whole “watching movies with my kids” thing better.

The Super Awesome Film Festival was born

Five years ago, I kicked off our very first Annual Super Awesome Film Festival ©. We held the festival over the summer, when the boys had later bed times and our schedules were not as busy. For that first Festival, I chose four movies to watch over one weekend. At that time, my youngest son was only four years old, so he would only watch one of the films. I chose a couple films that were new to the older boys, one favorite that they wanted to see again, and one that my youngest had not seen but would hopefully enjoy. We made a big deal out of the whole thing – we bought popcorn and movie theater style candy. We had drinks aplenty. The entire event was a huge success and has since become an annual tradition.

The film selection has grown and expanded with each year. The following year, I even made a simple poster for the Festival.

Click to enlarge

That year, my youngest was able to watch two of the films in the lineup – Willow and Peter Pan. He enjoyed both of them and proclaimed them the best movies he had ever seen. He has since adjusted his rankings a bit. The older two fell in love with Remember the Titans in a way that I did not expect. I figured they would like it, but their level of passion for that film took me by surprise.

Each year I have attempted to introduce new types of films to the boys, not just the action/adventure films they love so much. As they get older and able to handle more difficult and complex storytelling, I will challenge them with lesser known gems or films way outside of their interests. Besides having a good time with my kids, I hope that the films we watch serve as a chance for discussion and inquiry. I still do my best to balance the festivals with plenty of fun and exciting stuff, but I don’t want to limit our viewing to only one style of film.

This year we are finally watching the Marvel Cinematic Universe films with my youngest son, who turned eight a few weeks ago. Almost all of his friends at school have seen these films – some starting back when they were three or four years old. I chose to wait, convinced that he would enjoy them but not truly appreciate them as much as he could at that young age. Plus, all of the films, while very clean, have content that is just too much for someone that young. The older boys are watching the Marvel films with us, so I will also select a couple of films to watch with just them that will keep them on their toes and engage a different part of their mind and heart. While the Annual Film Festival has been the primary example of my adjusted approach to movie watching with my kids, I now work through a similar process any time we watch something.


What we watch matters

As a Christian, I believe that what we consume – physically, mentally, or otherwise – affects us. I believe that as a father, it is my responsibility to develop discernment and wisdom in my children. Right now, I am their guardian and their protector. For the most part I can control what enters their eyes and ears. There are various approaches that I have seen for how to do this.

There is the avoidance approach – shielding our children’s eyes from anything and everything potentially dangerous. Building a wall around them so that the sin of the world cannot stain them. The problem with this approach is that sin has already stained them, regardless how much I protect and shield them. And this approach does nothing to help them make good, and Godly, decisions as they age. Instead, it leaves them vulnerable and weak; unable to process and examine the sound and fury the world will throw at them once they are away from the defenses built by their parents.

Then there is the full embrace approach – letting our children watch anything and everything because it’s “just a movie.” This approach goes hand-in-hand with the idea that we turn our brains off when we watch television or movies, simply because we need a way to unwind and relax. This approach exposes our children to content, ideas, and worldviews they are unable to process or examine. They are fed dangerous philosophies about life, religion, faith, morality, and a host of other important things. It’s akin to putting your eight-year-old behind the wheel of a car with no training or practice.

Finally, we have the “examine everything” approach. This approach does not hide from the ugly or the sinful, but uses wisdom and common sense to determine what and when we watch. It puts the onus on the parents to actually think about what they allow their children to watch. Taking it further, we should be on the look out for more than just curse words or dirty jokes. There are plenty of films aimed squarely at families and children that contain no cursing, no sex, and no offensive jokes, but are entirely bankrupt in the philosophy and worldview they present. This approach forces us to do some hard work on the front and back end. We can’t just watch a movie that contains problematic material, and leave it hanging in their minds with no further exploration on our part. As parents, and more importantly, as Christian parents, we are called to do much better.


Final thoughts – One size does not fit all

I don’t want this to seem like I am advocating for my way and only my way. I realize that every parent has a different perspective. That is one reason why I did not delve into checklists or comprehensive guides. What you do needs to work for you and your family. But–and I believe this as strongly as anything I have written–we have to take this seriously. Your approach might vary significantly from mine, but as long as you are approaching it with wisdom and thoughtfulness, I can’t really criticize. The key is that you are thinking about these things. You are engaging with your children and what they are being exposed to. As parents, we have to stop being lazy and complacent about the things our children consume. There is too much power in the things they are seeing, reading, and hearing for us to give anything but our best.

So, develop your own traditions. Hold your own film festival. Do a movie marathon. Do what works for you. I’ll be over at the Lytle house holding the Fifth Annual Super Awesome Film Festival. We’ll be eating popcorn and candy, watching Iron Man and Atticus Finch, and spending some time examining everything carefully and holding on to what is good.

 




REO Pays Tribute: Marie Lytle

On September 18, 2007 my mother, Marie Eula Buchanan Lytle was called home to Heaven at the age of 87. We had watched Alzheimer ravage her mind and body for eight years, and it was a sweet release to see her go.

Coming up on another Mother’s Day, this tribute is in memory of her, and in her honor. I owe much of the man I am today to her influence, teaching, and prayers.

I saw her kneel at the altar of the Swannanoa Free Will Baptist Church in the fall of 1961 during a powerful revival meeting that swept our church, where she wept as she repented and rededicated her life to Christ.  From that day forward, she was a changed woman.  We were in church every time the door was opened, and we were not permitted to miss. She prayed, she talked about the Lord to us kids, she walked with God. I saw her more than once on her knees in her room praying for her family.

I remember in January 1967 when the first Super Bowl was being played.  I begged to stay home and watch it that Sunday evening, but she was adamant in her refusal.  Never mind that it was the biggest game in history in the mind of a 16 year old boy.  We were going to church. You didn’t miss church for anything.

Much of Mother’s life and special influence revolves around music.  In my mind I can still see her standing at the kitchen sink and singing.  You have to understand this; she was not a good singer.  She never sang a special in church; didn’t even sing in the choir.  But her music and her heart, above all, touched the heart of God – and it touch me deeply.

.

The first song I can distinctly remember Mother singing was “You Are My Sunshine,” a very popular tune in the 1950s.  The first Christian song I recall was the lovely “How Beautiful Heaven Must Be.” I suppose that was around 1956 or 1957.

We read of a place that’s called Heaven
It’s made for the pure and the free
These truths in God’s word we are given
How beautiful Heaven must be.

How beautiful Heaven must be
Sweet home of the happy and free
Fair haven of rest for the weary
How beautiful Heaven must be

Mother loved to sing “Is Not This The Land of Beulah?” Number 27 in the old Baptist Hymnal.  She would sing it with strong emotion, especially the second verse.  It might have been her testimony:

I can see far down the mountain where I wandered weary years
Often hindered on my journey by the ghosts of doubts and fears
Broken vows and disappointments, thickly sprinkled on my way
But the Spirit led unerring to the land I hold today.

I have to believe that it was, at least in part, her love for that song that birthed the same love in me; it has been a favorite my whole life, nearly 60 years now. In fact, I don’t doubt for a moment that my love for music and song stems from my earliest recollections of how certain songs impacted her.  There was a time when I was about 10, and we had just moved to our new home in Swannanoa.  I had been saved that summer in Vacation Bible School, and after we moved – probably around October or November, I crossed the little branch by our house, walked out to the woods, and sat down on a fallen tree.  I started singing:

He never said I’d have silver or gold
Yet He has promised me riches untold
He never suffered a life without care
Yet He relieves every burden I bear.

Sin stained the cross with the blood of my Lord
Yet He permitted it without a word
Why, tell me why, He redeemed you and me?
Love is why you and I are free.

Life wasn’t easy for Mother.  She worked very hard at a local factory.  My dad did not follow Christ for many years; for ten years he did not darken the door of a church, and was very bitter and angry.  My parents argued frequently and there were attitudes and undercurrents in the home I never understood.  Yet for the most part, we had a happy childhood.

Mother didn’t drive, and so for several years until I got my driver’s license, we were dependent on folks in our church for rides to church on Sundays and Wednesdays, revival meetings, and special activities. Several families, including a couple of Mom’s best friends, were so good to come and pick us up, and there were four of us!  Through the years, we rarely missed a service.  Mother was determined that we be at God’s house, hearing the Word preached and taught, and singing His praises.  She loved the old hymns and she loved gospel music, and as a result, so did I.

My dad came to the Lord in 1971, and for the last decade of his life – he died in 1981 – he, too, was faithful to church.  By then, I had finished Bible College, gotten married, and began preparing for the mission field.  Judy and I, along with baby Michael, said goodby to my parents in Asheville, North Carolina as we boarded a plane to fly to Costa Rica to begin Spanish language school in August 1976.  Standing there as the flight was announced, and seeing Mother’s tears flow as she kept hugging Michael, Judy, and me is a powerful memory.  Also powerful is the memory of my parents and sister coming to Panama to visit us, and our pride and joy in introducing them to the country that had become our home.

After my dad passed away in 1981, Mother lived for 26 more years. Church attendance, ministry (especially to nursery age kids), and caring for family remained her heartbeat. As her mind began to deteriorate in the late 1990s, followed by full-blown Alzheimer’s in the early 2000s, life changed for her.  She always enjoyed music, though, up until the final couple of years.  My brother would go see her in the nursing home every day, and took a CD of praise and worship music for her to hear.  We gave her a Gaither Homecoming CD.

The final two years of her life, Mother was totally unresponsive.  She didn’t know us, she couldn’t speak, and her body was twisted and drawn up as she simply lay there on the nursing home bed. We had prayed many times that the Lord would take her home, yet we didn’t know it was imminent on September 15, 2007, the last time we saw her.  I was alone with her, speaking softly, and just watching her, when the idea occurred to me that I would sing to her.

Undoubtedly her favorite song, at least for the last 25 years of her life, was Squire Parson’s classic “Sweet Beulah Land.” Now I’m not a singer at all, and my best singing is done in the shower or in the car with no one else around.  But I began to sing:

I’m kind of homesick for a country
To which I’ve never been before
No sad goodbyes will there be spoken
And time won’t matter any more.

Beulah land, I’m longing for you
And some sweet day on thee I’ll stand
There my home will be eternal
Beulah land, sweet Beulah land

Would you believe it?  My mother, totally unresponsive for two years, lying in bed like a vegetable, began to respond to the song!  While I couldn’t understand the words she spoke – it was more like mumbling – it was evident it had touched her and that she was trying to sing along.  That was a precious moment.

Two days later my brother called to say that she was gone.

Happy Mother’s Day to my precious mother. Thank you for your godly influence.