Thursday, January 31, 2013

Making Life Good

Do what you like
Like what you do

is on the back side of my Life Is Good mug. On the front side it simply says Life Is Good. And life is indeed good pretty much most of the time. At least, it has been and is for me.

Last summer a young friend spent the day with me in my office at Holy Nativity. He called it “Father Tom Camp,” and it was no doubt pretty dull for him at age 13. Nothing special was planned. It was a work day for me, planning Sunday worship, drafting the bulletin, reading the lectionary lessons to get my brain focused on sermon thoughts. He worked too. Cleared out junk that’s not used anymore, straightened up both my bookcases, made things neat and tidy. We went to Bayou Joe’s for lunch. Asked what he wanted to do in life he said, “Something I like. I’m not sure, but something I like.” That’s a good start.

At age 13 I knew what I wanted to do in life. Be an Episcopal priest like some seven or eight in the Weller family before me. But my sophomore year in college, deciding I would not like that, changed my major from pre-theology to business administration. Sticking with it in spite of not liking it, upon graduation with a BSBA, I went into the Navy. Officer Candidate School, then a specialty school, then a destroyer. 

The destroyer was so much fun I decided, “I like this, this is what I'll do” 

and switched from naval reserve to regular Navy. 

In another ship a dozen years later, our first evening at sea enroute to WestPac for a nine month deployment in the Vietnam War and having left Linda, Malinda and a weeping Joe back home in San Diego, I decided “I do not like this. I do not like this worth a dee.” It was my moment of decision to retire as soon as possible.

Do what you like
Like what you do

After Navy life and four years or so of a business of my own that I did like except that it had me away from home 75 or 80 percent of each year, I started theological seminary. Seminary was more fun than the BSBA from Florida, the MBA from the Univ of Michigan, and the Naval War College. My first church was more fun than that first destroyer, 

and life has only gotten better and better. This is what I like.

Do what you like
Like what you do

I’m there.

Life is Good.
Tom in +Time

USS CORRY (DD 817) refueling at sea
Trinity Episcopal Church, Apalachicola, Florida
Pajama Sunday at Holy Nativity Episcopal Church, Panama City, Florida

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in
heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of
your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through
Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the
Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The Book of Common Prayer has marvelous prayers new and old, many of them dating back centuries. According to Hatchett (Commentary on the American Prayer Book, page 171) this prayer for next Sunday dates back through all previous editions of our prayerbook into the pre-Reformation Sarum rite, back to the Gregorian Sacramentary traditionally identified with Pope Gregory, sixth century. Before the current prayerbook, it was the collect for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany and read as Cranmer had it,
ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who dost govern all things in heaven and earth; Mercifully hear the supplications of thy people, and grant us thy peace all the days of our life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Hatchett says the current prayerbook restores the original wording of the ancient collect as found in the Gregorian, removing Cranmer's phrase “all the days of our life.”
Depending on how we view the peace of God, we surely might prefer the original version to Cranmer’s, which could be seen as praying for lifelong torment, considering that our theology is that the way of the Cross is the way of life. William Alexander Percy makes this subtly clear in his poem that is number 661 in our hymnal:  

They cast their nets in Galilee
Just off the hills of brown
Such happy simple fisherfolk
Before the Lord came down

Contented peaceful fishermen
Before they ever knew
The peace of God That fill'd their hearts 
Brimful and broke them too.

Young John who trimmed the flapping sail,
Homeless, in Patmos died.
Peter, who hauled the teeming net,
Head-down was crucified.

The peace of God, it is no peace,
But strife closed in the sod,
Yet, brothers, pray for but one thing -
The marvelous peace of God.

We might want to be careful what we pray for lest we precisely get it. And not only what we pray, but what we sing. Percy’s phrase “strife closed in the sod” may seem romantically poetic when we sing blithely through it on a Sunday morning. But he says that God’s peace is strife, struggle, even anguish; and he says it’s not over until the last spadeful of sod is shoveled onto your grave. 
The peace of the Lord be always with you.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


January temperature varies from day to day, year to year. Three years ago we had bitter cold, but 2013 has been so nice that we’ve had the upstairs porch door open most nights. When coolish, one or two clicks makes perfect the full length heating pad under the sheet. We like sleeping with the door open, but if there’s a breeze coming off the Gulf we open it just six or eight inches, with a weight stopping it from swinging wider. My hope is that this early spring will stretch through May, even into June.
Maybe my brother or sister remember, but I don’t recall my father saying how Mom and Pop heated this house in the nineteen-teens when he was a boy here. My aunt EG said that winters they hung a tarpaulin round the staircase to keep the heat downstairs. There must have been some pretty cold nights in Alfred’s room, where Linda and I sleep now. My father liked floor furnaces, and in the 1960s he had a large one installed between the living room and dining room. It was effective for heating the entire house upstairs and down; but dangerous for little children to be around, and after my father died my mother and I had it disconnected and covered over. 
Central heat and air conditioning has been installed in increments over the years, such that there are ridiculously four separate systems. With four HVAC compressors and a generator lined up beside the house, the Calhoun Avenue side looks like an industrial zone. Doesn’t bother me much, if it ever does maybe I’ll put a fence to screen it. Life Is Good when the weather is so lovely, as now, that none of that machinery is running.
Preaching this coming Sunday. Probably something about God. Suggestions are always welcome, right up until the processional hymn starts.
For early breakfast, a can of sardines. Generated early dawn research on the best tasting sardines. The online expert likes Portuguese sardines in olive oil. Portugal and Spain. Angelo Parodi, Matiz Gallego, Idamar, Gonsalves, Da Morgada, Albo. Priced Matiz Gallego on just now: $10.21. A case? No, a can. The original cheapskate, Bubba will stick to domestic; if they’re nasty, as domestic in water usually are, I add extra virgin olive oil or mustard.  

Monday, January 28, 2013

Epiphanic Meander

OK, here’s the first reading for next Sunday, February 3rd.      

Jeremiah 1:4-10 (KJV)

4 ... the word of the Lord הָיָה came unto me, saying, 5 Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.
6 Then said I, Ah, Lord God! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child.
7 But the Lord said unto me, Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. 8 Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord.
9 Then the Lord put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the Lord said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth. 10 See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant.
The famous call of Jeremiah, it’s a great bit of Scripture that might make any of us ponder whether perhaps our own vocation was so early that we were born to a certain destiny. Speaking for myself, there was a sense of inexorableness to it from very early memory. And escaping my sophomore year at university turned out to have been like Jonah avoiding Nineveh: didn’t work. Finally beginning theological seminary on my forty-fifth birthday, I was the oldest member of the class and the only Episcopalian at the Lutheran seminary on the ridge of the Battle of Gettysburg looking down on the scene of Pickett's Charge.

Sometimes the psalm that the lectionary framers selected as our liturgical response to the Old Testament lesson works, sometimes it doesn’t. This one, introductory verses of Psalm 71, works beautifully. 

71  In te, Domine, speravi

In you, O LORD, have I taken refuge; *
    let me never be ashamed.

In your righteousness, deliver me and set me free; *
    incline your ear to me and save me.

Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe; *
    you are my crag and my stronghold.

Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked, *
    from of the clutches of the evildoer and the oppressor.

For you are my hope, O LORD God, *
    my confidence since I was young.

I have been sustained by you ever since I was born;
from my mother's womb you have been my strength; *
    my praise shall be always of you.

At least they weren’t pointed, ugly and poignant about it. The appointed portion is only six verses of the psalm. They might well have gone on with it a few more verses, ground it in, and really have ticked me off. 

Do not cast me off in my old age; *
    forsake me not when my strength fails.

And now that I am old and gray-headed, O God, do not forsake me, *
    till I make known your strength to this generation
    and your power to all who are to come.

At verse 6 the Jeremiah reading has what to me seems like an odd lack of accuracy between the Hebrew and the English translation. But enough this morning; it's the season of epiphanies and I’m content to realize why I’m some goofy priest instead of an admiral, and to be as grouchy as Jonah was when God caused his shade plant to wilt.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Egg Casserole

My first effort this morning was to meditate on the gospel for today, in which Jesus, in the synagogue at Nazareth, reads aloud from Isaiah, then comments, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." Our reading ends there, but Luke carries it farther into an ugly confrontation between Jesus and the men in the synagogue; with Luke opening his agenda that Jesus was one with the prophets of old, rejected by his people right from the start, beginning in Nazareth. It is a gospel in which that rejection is carried over into Luke's book of the Acts of the Apostles, such that the gospel is finally offered to the Gentiles, who unlike Jesus own people will accept him as God's anointed one.     

Linda is making egg casseroles for this morning’s parish breakfast, hosted by the staff. My task is to avoid cheating and eating some early here at home. 

Eight o’clock Eucharist then breakfast and annual parish meeting, therefore we will not have adult Sunday School today. Annual parish meeting, then ten-thirty Eucharist. Don’t tell Linda, who though not on staff is doing my share of cooking, this looks like an easy day for me. 

One of the many joys of this my final parish ministry is being in charge of nothing, but enjoying a retirement of helping out if, as, and when needed. Nobody’s assistant thank you very much, my title is associate, which means whatever we intend it to mean from time to time. Not unlike Humpty Dumpty telling Alice, “When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.” 

So, what does an associate do? Whatever.

Everyone should be so blessed in retirement.

Failing my original posting intent, yesterday's funeral homily is posted instead: The Greatest Morning In History.

Which is to say, "keep scrolling down."

Pax and amen.


The Geatest Morning in History

The Greatest Morning in History

Funeral meditation for Janet Davis Dowling
Saturday, January 26, 2013, eleven o’clock in the morning
The Reverend Tom Weller, 
Holy Nativity Episcopal Church, Panama City, Florida
Scripture: John 20:1-16. Music: “I Come to the Garden Alone”

You may be seated.

Just over a hundred years ago, in 1912, telling about writing his hymn In the Garden, C. Austin Miles wrote, “I read the story of the greatest morning in history -- ‘The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene very early, while it was yet dark, unto the sepulcher --’ Instantly, completely, (writes Miles) there unfolded in my mind the scenes of the garden of Joseph of Arimathea. 

“Out of the mists of the garden comes a form -- a woman -- halting, hesitating, tearful, seeking, turning from side to side in bewildered amazement.

“Falteringly, bearing grief in every accent, with tear-dimmed eyes, she whispers, ‘If thou hast borne him hence’… 

“He speaks, and the sound of His voice is so sweet the birds hush their singing. Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ Just one word from his lips, and forgotten the heartaches, forgotten the long dreary hours….all the past blotted out in the presence of the Living Present and Eternal Future.”

+++   +++   +++

Wherever, whatever you may be in life, clerk, scientist, physician, teacher, loved, lover, business executive -- you may be a carpenter, an electrician, a Naval officer like me, a soldier, a mother, a plumber, or one who pours concrete. But this is not our day, this is not your day or my day; this is a day, this is a morning for beautiful things, a morning for love, and art, and poets and gardeners, for musicians and for Jesus. And this is Janet’s day, Janet who in a long, wonderful, very private conversation with me one evening a few weeks ago sang and hummed a bit of Austin Miles’ hymn with me, I Come to the Garden Alone, and told me how she had grown up in Brundidge, Alabama loving the Lord as she put it, and singing his songs. Janet and I prayed to the Lord that night, a long rambling prayer of love and thanksgiving and joy, and there were tears and a bit of laughing in our prayer, and God laughing and crying with us. It was a prayer of thanksgiving for all that life is, for the Lord’s breathing into us the breath of life, for all that Janet’s life was for her and all the love that she knew in life in God’s garden, growing up in Brundidge with her parents, and she talked in prayer about her father, and about life and love with George, and with her children and grandchildren, and the joy and blessing of five great-grandchildren. 

It is my testimony to you this morning that in our very private conversation and prayer that night, Janet renewed her faith, and we prayed that she might claim the Church’s hope of eternal life with those she loves, and did love, and loves still and forever. 

God’s promises are rich and wonderful and, passing Janet's thoughts through me to you, If you have not claimed those promises through the baptismal covenant of accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, maybe this is your morning after all, maybe you will let this be your morning in the garden while the Savior is here with us as we commend Janet to God’s eternity for the ages of ages. This is your invitation to grace, the amazing grace of God.

The greatest morning in history.

Austin Miles is right. The birds are singing, and the flowers are fresh and fragrant, and the Lord Jesus comes, and all is hushed in holy reverence. And this is the greatest morning in history.

Let us pray.


Saturday, January 26, 2013

'59 eyebrow Chevy

’59 eyebrow Chevy

Always a fool for GM cars, most of the 65 or 70 cars I have owned have been General Motors products.

Dates from early when my parents had Chevrolet cars, then 1948 when my father was shopping for a new car and my mother and I desperately wanted a 1948 Buick Super sedan from Nelson Chev-Buick. 

My father ended up buying a 1948 Dodge sedan from Karl Wiselogel, W&W Motors. Eight years later, my senior year at UFla, my parents gave it to me (in retrospect, probably in defense against the shaky 1947 Buick Special sedan that a friend and I had bought for $75 our junior year). Linda and I shared the Dodge that 1956-57 school year in Gainesville and then it was our first married-life car for honeymoon adventures in Rhode Island when I first went into the Navy. 

In spite of my GM lust, our first brand new car was a Ford because our friend Joe Parrott was working at Cook Ford.

Then living in Apalachicola many years later we were a Ford Family of Fine Cars again because the Ford dealer co-owners were parishioners and then when they sold out and retired I made friends with Richard, new owner of the Ford store. 

In our fourteen years in Apalachicola I bought a dozen or so new and used cars from the Ford dealership that was there. 

Anyway, a lifelong GM fan. Yesterday’s email brought a delightful package from Norm, Navy friend from forty years ago.

It has some 22 images of billboards that he said GM has put up in the Detroit area, advertising Chevrolet. 

There are various models, some of which I’ll share starting this morning.

At the top, that’s a 1959 Chevrolet taillight, which some derided as “eyebrows,” but it was a popular car. 

We didn’t own one because at the time we had a new 1959 Opel Rekord, our only orange car in 55 years of marriage.

Today if you buy a Chevy Impala, it’s a four door sedan, period

But the ’59 Chevy was available in quite a variety of body styles and series. One popular model was the El Camino, a pickup body on a sedan chassis. 

Top of the line was the Impala hardtop sedan, a body style with a flat top and slightly overhanging rear roofline, that Chevy shared that year (and 1960) with Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick and Cadillac. The term "hardtop" meant that there was no pillar/post between the front and back door. 

In the Impala series GM offered sedans, convertible, station wagon. Strung through my blog post this morning are only 1959 Chevy images. Not to show prejudice, but red is my favorite color car.
Don’t know what it went for, but the white ’59 four-door hardtop with the fender skirts and continental kit was up for auction on Mecum, which folks like me enjoy watching on latenight TV.

Tom in +Time and still loving GM

Thanks for stirring the memories, Norm!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Mutter, mutter, grumble and grouse

Mutter mutter grumble and grouse

... faith is of things hoped for a confidence, of matters not seen a conviction ... by faith we understand the ages to have been prepared by a saying of God ... (Hebrews 11:1,3 YLT)

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. ... Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God ... (Hebrews 11:1,3 KJV)

"Faith is believing what you know damned well ain't so" -- Mark Twain

It should be pretty clear to anyone with good sense (excusing militant Islamists and the XnRt) that faith is not about certitude but about one’s willingness to go along and let it be. Let what be? Whatever. Whether it’s religious boilerplate -- which is to say the Nicene Creed -- or trust in the world around us including friends and loved ones, and the weather channel, and confidence that shortly the sky will lighten and the sun rise. 

Someone said “faith is belief,” which is fair enough if one has sense enough to see, perceive, understand, realize, that belief is not the same as certainty.

The Christian faith is something about God is whoever* said “Let there be” and it was so; God is whoever spoke to Moses from the burning bush; God is whoever led Israel out of Egypt; God is whoever Jesus called Abba; God is whoever raised Jesus from the dead and, because we believe those things, loving God and loving neighbor. We do not know those things as certainty, but believing the testimony of the ages as recorded in the Bible, we decide to let them be our Truth. I am thus a Christian, a member of the Christian church and accept as Truth the Christian faith with its life obligations of loving God and neighbor as we promise in the Baptismal Creed.   

As a naval officer I was an official U.S. Government contracting officer in one capacity or other off and on for twenty years. To every contract we always attached something we called “boilerplate,” which is all the binding details that are identical and the same from contract to contract. We always knew what was in the boilerplate, but we didn’t feel we had to go through and read the boilerplate every time we signed the contract. In the same vein, it beats me why the rubrics require us to stand and read the boilerplate every time we have a church service. 

I believe it even though I realize that “just because I believe it, that don’t make it so,” but again, I don’t feel the need to stand and read the boilerplate every time we assemble in ecclesia. I “have faith” -- just let it be. 

On the other hand, I do enjoy singing the song, “We believe in God Almighty, maker of all things that be,” which has been set to very singable music. 
Enough of my Friday dawn nonsense.


* i.e., in theological terms, "whoever or whatever"

Thursday, January 24, 2013

I'm Alive!

“I’m alive!”

Two years ago this moment I finished showering with germicidal soap, dressed warmly against the bitter Cleveland winter, got on the shuttle with loved ones and friends, reported in at the main desk, was called, said goodbyes, and went through the door to my prep room.

"Take off everything but your birthday suit," ordered the aide. "Shall I keep my birthday suit on?" I asked her with a futile jab at predawn humor. "Take off everything but your birthday suit," she repeated. A nurse came in. "We have chaplains here, would you like to see a minister before going for surgery?" she asked. I said, "No thank you, my priest is here with me." "Aren't you from Florida?" she asked. Yes. "You're from Florida and your priest is here with you?" Yes!

Prepped, blessed with oil, and whisked away on a gurney, I was lying there in an immense corridor watching as huge machines were wheeled into my operating room and through the numerous other operating room doors lining the hall. 

In my hand was clutched my bottle of nitroglycerin pills just in case. It was a long wait, maybe an hour or more, and the hall was chilly, but I was snug and warm under piles of heated blankets. Other patients were rolled in and parked outside their operating room doors. A physician came, introduced himself as my anesthesiologist, and gave me something intravenously, he said to relax against anxiety. However, I was not anxious in the least, but peacerully excited, because having been given two to five months to live over three months earlier, and now run out of time, this was my one chance. 

The enormous doors to my OR slid open and someone rolled me inside, parked my gurney up against the operating table, and helped me slide over onto the table. I had anticipated that it would be freezing cold stainless steel, but it was warm. My operating team of doctors, nurses and others were huddled on the other side of the room in conference, and my surgeon, the chief of cardiothoracic surgery at the Clinic and possibly the best heart surgeon in the world at this the highest rated heart institute in the world, came over and welcomed me. I told him I was holding my nitroglycerin pill bottle. The anesthesiologist started something flowing in my IV. 

My dreams, I had my dreams ready. 

It would be spring 1953 just before I graduated from Bay High, and I was going to walk the beach from the jetties all the way out to the Wayside Park where Linda and I cooked a picnic breakfast and swam before I reported for work at Edgewater Gulf Beach Apartments that summer morning in 1954. After breakfast, we waded far out and a large shark got between us and the shore. 

It would be a Saturday morning, fall 1957 in New England, liberty call at OCS and, wearing my uniform, I was going to ride the Jamestown Ferry from Newport, Rhode island over to Jamestown where Linda would be waiting for me. From the ferry bow I would see her standing in the parking area beside our green 1948 Dodge, and we would have the weekend together. 

I was going to be in Robert Frost’s woods alone and take the road less traveled by, the road he wrote about and read to us during his stopover in Gainesville long ago. I was going to take the road he took. 

Life Is Good and you can plan your dreams, and I had them ready. 

None of that happened. There were no dreams, no dream. Only absence, oblivion. Struggling, fighting, feeling I was drowning as a tube was pulled up my throat, I opened my eyes and looked at Nicholas‘ beaming face. “I’m alive!” came out of my mouth.

There was no pain, not the least pain and I did not need or take any pain medication for the incision either that day or in the days to come. In the ICU a night or two, I had horrible dreams, not the dreams I had planned for my surgery, but horrible repetitive things like a tape going round and round, nightmare, Deutschland über Alles playing loud, interminably, loud, louder, loudest over and over, wake, realize it was nightmare, back to sleep, same nightmare, loud, louder, wake, realize, back to sleep, exchanging emails with Alfred at sea on the Annie & Jennie, music, schooner, over and over and couldn't stop them.  Someone called it “ICU psychosis.” OK, been there now. BTDT.

They took me from the ICU to a nice private room on a high floor with a picture window looking out toward Lake Erie, which was frozen over from Cleveland to Canada. My first morning in my room Linda glanced at the heart monitor, saw the racing heartbeat: fibrillation, and ran to the nurses' station. The room instantly filled with nurses and doctors including my surgeon, who said, “Better take him back to the Unit,” and away I was wheeled, leaving the room just as Tass walked in, and I saw the horrified, frightened look on her face. I wasn’t frightened, but thought, WTH, after all this I’m going to die anyway. The doctor said not to worry, thirty to forty percent of patients go into fibrillation after open heart surgery, we just have to get it under control, which included a tracheatomy-like slash for a medicine tube. Another night in the ICU, back to my room. But first take out the tube and sew my neck back together. Unfortunately the anesthetic did not work, so my neck was sewed up with needle and thread and the only pain of the entire adventure. Don’t try that at home.

Rayford and Eugenia left. Carolyn left. Steve left. Nick left. Tass left soon after my fibrillation and ICU revisit episode. Joe left. For Tass, we had a special recommended taxi driver pick her up and take her to the airport. A few days later when Linda and I left we’d requested the same taxi driver. He remembered Tass and said that she had seemed extremely upset. He said, “She must be her daddy’s baby.” I said, “She’s been her daddy’s baby for almost thirty-nine years.” He said, “Thirty-nine years? My God. I thought she was nineteen.” 

I’m alive writing my nonsense this morning because of people who know who you are. Competent medics in Panama City and Cleveland. Loved ones and friends, some of whom came to Cleveland, some of whom stayed home and supported here in Panama City including with love and prayer, Malinda and Kristen here looking after my mother. Pat had a prayer vigil in Trinity Church, Apalachicola while I was in surgery. June told me to quit thanking people, that everyone had been thanked enough, and they were all glad they were able to help; so I won’t name names. But nobody in the world can stop me from thanking Bill again for the plane ride and the friendship that I will cherish as long as I have a heartbeat. 

January 24th.

Azaleas are blooming. Red. Pink.

Even the fragrant pink has a few blossoms.

It's a beautiful day.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Psalm 19 (KJV)

1 The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.
2 Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge.
3 There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.
4 Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun,
5 Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race.
6 His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.

7 The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
8 The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.
9 The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
11 Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward.
12 Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults.
13 Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression.

14 Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.

Growing up we make assumptions, don’t we, including that everybody lives in the same home with the same parents and all the children, brothers and sisters, live in the same family together, experiencing the same life and everybody experiencing life the same way. When Gina was born I was two years and four months old; Walt was born eighteen months later. We all three arrived between September 1935 and July 1939, so except for a very few specific flashes such as my startling recall of my tonsillectomy when I was two years old, I have no memory of life before or without them, we were always a family. It never occurred to me that anyone was experiencing life other than as I experienced life in the family.

Looking back, there was always sibling tension of which I was largely oblivious, but coming my way. My brother and sister always seemed like a team and I was odd-one-out, which was the way it was and never a problem. In my childhood I don’t recall ever being jealous of my siblings, though in retrospect maybe there was reason for that, I always got my two pieces of fried chicken (the back with the “tickets”), I got my seat in the car, I was the one who got to sit up front with parents and listen to the conversation riding home from Pensacola many dark nights, ... Not only was I not jealous, but in fact all my growing up years I wanted, and begged for, another baby sister even if we had to adopt her. 

The closest I got was keeping first cousins, baby daughters of our mother’s sisters, often for weeks at a time starting when I was twelve and thirteen, and I got to be a primary caretaker, which I loved, and which no doubt brought about my adoration of little girls. Aside, a painful early memory in that regard is coming home from Bay High one afternoon to find my mother resting in her bed and at the foot of the bed a crib in which lay sleeping a tiny baby girl. I asked, “Is that Suellen?” (newest daughter of my mother’s sister Mildred). My mother said, “No, she’s ours.” My heart jumped, and with rising excitement I said, “Really?” And my mother said yes, she’s ours. As I rushed over to the crib my mother could see what she had done and said, no, it’s Suellen. It was an experience of incredibly sharp pain and disappointment edging on grief, that took me days to get through and over, and that, sadly, dulled my total trust somewhat. 

For anyone who has hung on this long, including myself, how did this post start and where is it going, and did the psalm evaporate or disappear in the dust? 

The psalm for this coming Sunday, one of the most beautiful (at least in KJV English), is one that my mother encouraged me to learn when I was growing up, and I memorized it and still have it as a treasure in my mind today. One morning nearly two years ago after mama had fallen at home for the last time and shattered bones and we had her first in hospital then at a rehab center nursing home for care, Gina and I happened to be visiting her at the same time. As we left, we stood outside the front door and talked for a long time. It was there, then, that I found out that we had not grown up in the same family with the same mother, that in fact we had not had “the same mother” at all. It had never occurred to me. Of the three of us, only I had been taught and encouraged to memorize Bible verses. When our father was away during World War II, I was the one that summer of 1944 who traveled with mama by train to Montgomery and Washington and New London, Connecticut to visit him while he was in officer training; and the stopover in Washington, DC to visit EG and all the sights and the national zoo, while they were left in Pensacola with grandparents. That while our father was away at sea during the war, I had somehow become in their view the father of the household instead of just the older brother, and treated as such, the one close to the mother; apparently not a good experience for my sister and brother. And there were other instances of different treatment that had never occurred to me, that I had never noticed, of which for nearly three-quarters of a century I had been, until that morning standing in the driveway in front of the nursing home where our mother was dying, unaware.

Psalm 19 isn’t ruined for me, but it stirs all that up this morning. Siblings, brothers and sisters, do not grow up in the same family with the same parents; our parents are different for each of us. It isn’t that we are different, the parent is different. And we, as parents are undoubtedly a different person for each of our children. That this is true is so subtle, but in retrospect so obvious. 

The psalm will never be the same for me.