Friday, June 28, 2013

Jesus In a Coke Float

This is my column which was published in The Vestavia Voice on June 26, 2013. It was originally published in the "Faith & Values" Section of The Huntsville Times on May 9, 2008 - Steve West

When I was a child, my father served as pastor of a church in Fayette, Alabama. The church was right next door to our home. On the opposite side of us lived a woman I knew only as “Mrs. Eileen”.

I don’t remember a lot about life in Fayette because we moved away when I was four. But I do remember a few images: the large steps in front of the church, the playground, the kitchen and den of our home, and of course Mrs. Eileen. What I remember about her most is that she was always ready to invite me in for a Coke float. And I loved Coke floats. I have always had a lingering image in my mind of her gracious hospitality, with glass and spoon in hand.

Years later, I had the opportunity to go back to Fayette to preach as a guest in that church. I was curious about Mrs. Eileen and asked one of the church leaders what had become of her. He said she was still alive and lived in the nursing home. “Would you like to go see her?” I was delighted.

I’ll never forget this visit. He brought me to her room and told her there was somebody that wanted to see her. Her eyes turned to me with anticipation. I reached out my hand and said, “I’m sure you have no idea who I am, but my name is Stephen West.” She immediately threw her head back and exclaimed, “OH! I remember you! I used to hear you all the time, standing out in the carport crying at the top of your lungs.” She mimicked the sound of my wailing. “One day I just couldn’t stand it anymore, so I opened up my fridge and asked myself, ‘what can I give that boy to keep him quiet?’ And all I could find was some ice cream and a bottle of Coke!”

Until that moment I had no idea why she had been such a person of warm hospitality. She had shown me Jesus in a Coke float. There is something incarnational, something wonderfully mysterious about self-giving love in the name of Christ.

Most of us roam around in life, crying out in pain. The child in us is screaming, sometimes loudly, sometimes silently. We expect somebody to take the pain away but no person can, not really. But what we can do for others is share the love of Christ, who is “made known to us in the breaking of bread” (Luke 24:35b).

When we share the love of Jesus in a Coke float, a smile, or a gesture of care with somebody who is hurting, it makes all the difference.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Journey of One's Life

This weekend was quite a journey, bringing a taste of so many aspects of one’s life. Friday began with preparing for and attending to the funeral of the elderly mother of a dear member of our congregation. As I joined her daughters who grieved beautifully while celebrating a life well lived, I thought about how my life has been shaped and formed by grace and imagined how life might be when it draws to earthly completion.

I then got in the car to pick up a buddy from high school. We headed to our 30th high school reunion and reconnected with old friends. I took one last tour of my high school, knowing that it was about to be rebuilt and the building I know so well will become a municipal center.

On Saturday, I was back at work attending a Staff Parish Committee workshop on fostering healthy communication and conflict resolution, such an important ministry in any church’s life. I enjoyed the hospitality of those who provided lunch and the thoughtfulness of all the material.

Afterward, I did some yard work to get ready for Father’s Day. Then it was time to pick up my son, for Godspeed had arrived after a wonderful week in Missouri on their choir tour and mission trip.

On Sunday, two families told me they are planning to become members of the church. I had both the blessing of serving through worship leadership at 8:30 in sermon and song, and the blessing of being ministered to by our youth choir at the joint 10:45 service. We surprised our music director with a recognition on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of Godspeed.

After services, we headed to a delightful Father’s Day lunch with my Dad and my children. After some Sunday afternoon rest, it was time to take my family out for pizza to spend time with two old high school buddies again. We talked and talked of memories, of children, and of transitions in our lives.

I reflect on all this to say that so rarely, in one weekend, do we experience so many aspects of life. I found myself pausing to consider where God has been at work in it all … from death and grief, to memories of days gone by, to important vocational work of the present, to vital worship, to support for children, to love for families of origin, to wrapping the experiences up with a late night visit with old friends.

Do you ever have times when it all seems to come together? Life is a journey with many rhythms. I am reading Joan Chittister’s The Monastery of the Heart: An Invitation to a Meaningful Life in which she says “We are all seekers of the God who is here but invisible to the blind eye; who calls to us but is unheard by those who do not listen; who touches our lives wherever we are, but is unfelt by those whose ears are closed to the presence of God – who is everywhere, in everyone, at all times.”

Throughout all the rhythms of life, I hope we always remain seekers of God together.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

God Never Wastes a Hurt

Recently, on Memorial Day, I posted a picture of my Uncle Marvin Hamby on Facebook and honored his sacrifice for our country. Unfortunately, I never met him. My mother's brother was lost in World War II in October of 1942. He was serving in the navy on a tanker in the North Atlantic, supplying oil to the British. A German torpedo struck the tanker, and since there is a likelihood of explosion, my uncle and most of his crewmates jumped ship into the freezing water. Ironically, the ship did not explode but very few survived to tell the story.

My cousin Warren, who in his younger days resembled Uncle Marvin greatly, shared with me an inspirational family story that I had never heard. I share it with you in hopes that it helps us all see God at work in all things, even terrible things, if we keep our spiritual antennas up.

When my grandfather, Rev. C.P. Hamby, was a country preacher on Sand Mountain, he got a telegram saying Marvin was declared dead. It confirmed the family's greatest fears after having previously heard he was missing. It happened to be a Sunday morning when he got word, and Grandpa Hamby went on to the church he served. Before preaching, he shared with the congregation the terrible news he had just heard. He led the church in prayer, in which he asked God to forgive the enemies responsible for sinking Marvin's ship. He prayed that God would protect them so that their parents in Germany would not have to go through the great pain he was going through.

In the congregation was a young man named Jim Goodwin. He was inspired by the spirit of forgiveness Grandpa Hamby had, and this inspiration led to his decision to become a missionary. He told this story in worship one Sunday, knowing that my cousin Warren was in the congregation.

I have known Jim Goodwin and his brothers in ministry most of my life and his brother Bert did my mother's funeral. Jim became a missionary in Brazil and retired there to stay among the hundreds of people in that country that he led to Christ.

God can even use something as terrible as war, death, and tragedy for his purposes.

I do not believe that war is God's plan for humanity. However, I am also fond of saying "God never wastes a hurt." What is going on in your life that God might be using for good?