Goodbye 2014

When I was in the first grade my mother decided she must do her part for the war effort so she took a job in a bomb factory about 25 miles from our home, this meant that she had to leave for work before I left for school, since my sisters also had to leave before I did it became their job to make sure I was up dressed and ready to leave for school when the big hand reached the number 4, I didn’t know anything about time but I knew that I had to leave when that big hand reached the 4, so I would walk around the stove in the dining room watching the clock waiting for the hand to hit 4. I didn’t know much about time but I knew to leave when the big hand hit 4, I was a bit like the old fellow who had the chiming grandfather clock and one night his clock went crazy and instead of striking 12 times at midnight it struck 13 times, in great fright he woke his wife and said get up wife it is later that it has ever been.
Well I have discovered that as the time of 2014 counts its way toward the end it is later than it has ever been, I never dreamed I would get this old, never thought that I would know and see the face of death, I expected it to come as a surprise, maybe while I served in the Navy, maybe on the highway, never like a visitor knocking on my door. But time is like that; live long enough and it will introduce you to old age, hurts, aches, pain, and yes fears. Not a fear of death, but a fear of doing that which you have never done before and for which you cannot practice. I am certain that I am prepared but also certain that in so many ways I am not ready, but there is the other side of time, I have time that I never dreamed I would have to preach, study, enjoy, even to take a nap in the middle of a ballgame, to watch my children, their families, see their dreams come true and to watch the kids grow up, root for them, to pray for them to share, if just in moments in their dreams and hopes.
Time to enjoy my friends, to sometimes hold their hands and weep with them the tears of goodbye, to always remember them and share in their love for me and my love for them. To visit all the places in Byrdstown, to speak to people, talk with people, rejoice with people, time can be very good. So goodbye 2014 and welcome 2015, I plan to live you to the fullest. Ivan

Published in: on December 30, 2014 at 10:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

My Old Coat

I wish there were some wonderful place called the Land of Beginning Again where all my mistakes and all my heartache like a dirty old coat could be left at the gate and never put on again. If I have said that once I have said it a thousand times it is a corruption of a poem written by E. Lutzer, his is much better, but my altered version says what my heart says. I know that there is such a place, for some it will be the manger at Bethlehem, others will see it in the gentle words of Jesus, many at the foot of the cross, and still others at that moment when they turned loose of their life and allowed Christ to mark their journey by His map. For me it was a Thursday night in February of 1947 when from the third row from the front on the left side at Calvary Baptist Church, corner of Lexington and Tomlin, in Jackson, Tennessee, that I stepped down the isle of our church gave my hand to Dr. Walter Warmouth and my heart to Jesus. So life does begin at Calvary, and that started from the heart of God by way of the stable of Bethlehem. I have made a lot of mistakes since that Thursday in 1947, failed, and dropped the ball, use what pleases you to make a negative, but that night God took the heart of a nine year old boy from 246 South Lindsey Street, opened its door and stepped inside. I am sure He wanted to leave a thousand times and more but He did not and He will not; for from the cross He had told me to bring all my mistakes and all my heartache to Him and I could leave them there and like a worn out coat, dirty and ragged never put it on again. Christmas is a wonderful time for me to say one more time, Thank you Lord for the Land of Beginning Again, thank you for taking my old coat and placing around my unworthy body the Glorious coat of your Son, Jesus.

Published in: on December 29, 2014 at 10:05 pm  Comments (2)  

Memories Are Troubling

He looked at all the food on the table and the tears would not leave. He listened as his nephew said the prayer and the tears still came. He excused himself walked out of the kitchen door into the back yard pulled his pipe out of his pocket, stopped a moment and lit it then walked to the edge of the yard and sit down on the bench he had put there when he had been a young man and tears never came.
He looked back toward the house; he had lived there for a long time, in fact, a life time. It was from that house that he had left for the Navy, flight school, and Vietnam. It was in that house that both of his parents had died while he was gone. They never knew that he was a ‘guest’ of the North Vietnam army. Those years had aged them, crushed them, and before the terror ended they were taken in a twist of events called an accident. He remember those five years of his own personal terror, the loss of faith, the regaining of faith and the desire to make it to the end, no matter how long that would take, he would make it to the end.
His sister had learned three weeks after their parent’s death that he was somewhere in a place called Hanoi, alive, and hopefully if all the diplomatic chess games worked with America and the enemy he would come home.
That had been forty years and more ago yet that first day seemed to him like only this morning. The house was empty then; his sister and her husband had kept it, repaired it, but left it vacant for the day he would return. He tried marriage but was terrible at it; He loved but never accepted the love of his wife. No children, no success he had just lived in the house worked at the simplest of jobs he could live with and made it one day to the next. For the rest of the world that war was long forgotten, the enemy now friends, and the pains of those five years not believed by most and considered deserved by some, but for him in the deep of his night he heard the silent sounds of that cell, smelled the filth of the place, and saw the hate of those who held him. He still felt the pain of bones unset and deep cuts untreated, to him the night never really ended, the prison was never left and he had yet to make it to the end. All that food on the table that his sister, her children and grandchildren had cooked was wonderful but for a moment he remembered the empty bowls that were shoved under his door and the hard dark bread placed in them that was to serve as the meal of the day.
Lt. Searcy Belton, USN, never left his prison, never made it to the end. The price he paid was not in years but in a lifetime. Unlike the story book tales that always end with ‘they lived happy ever after’ his book never ended. Somehow in some way we ask our Heavenly Father to heal his wounds when he greets him in glory. Ivan

Published in: on December 28, 2014 at 10:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

Christmas 1914

Christmas 1914

Dad seemed to remember the Christmas of 1914 rather well, maybe it was because all the talk of that year was the Great War in Europe, maybe it was his age, nine, and maybe it was something that even he did not fully understand. When he got up on that Christmas morning he found an orange, apple, three pecans, and a pair of socks under the tree marked with his name; his twin sister received a small doll, apple, she didn’t like oranges, three pecans and a pair of socks, his oldest sister received a pair of shoes and three pecans, his youngest brother a stick horse carved by his father, orange, apple and three pecans. He remembered with joy sitting with his father on the enclosed porch enjoying each bite of the apple and orange as his father sliced them with his pocket knife, and one by one he and his three siblings enjoyed the tales of his father as he share the memories of a Christmas now long gone. His mother prepared a hen with dumplings, green beans, put up in the summer, mashed potatoes, her thin skillet corn bread, and the best strawberry jelly anyone had ever tasted from her storage of glass jar food put away in the harvest months. They spent the day sharing, his dad read the story of the birth of Jesus and as darkness captured the day they all fell asleep in the peace, that they were well bless and so very fortunate to have so much.

Christmas 1914 would not recognize the Christmas of 2014, and yet few of us will sleep as well or understand as they that we are a very blessed people. Ivan

I hope for you and yours a beautiful Christ filled Christmas, for more than an apple, orange, and three pecans; I hope for you the love of a story, more than two thousand years old but as new as the dawn of our coming to see and know the Son.
Merry Christmas 1914

Published in: on December 23, 2014 at 9:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

Christmas at Point Loma

I had arrived in San Diego on Friday December 12, 1958. It was my first Christmas away from family and Jackson, Tennessee. The palm trees made into Christmas Trees did not impress this West Tennessee boy with his memories of cedar trees; they left something missing from Christmas. Since I was the new man on the duty roster I pulled Christmas duty on that Thursday of 1958 and sometime that weekend looking for something to do I made my way to The Point Loma National Cemetery. Standing there looking across that beautiful green bed with its white markers pointing to the sky I felt a sense of home. Looking back I am sure it was because of my love for those who had served our country. At Point Loma you look across the green grass of the hillside dotted with the white markers into the great blue of the Pacific Ocean. It is a beautiful sight and a great reminder of the price that so many have paid for our freedom. I had seen the lady and her young son of about seven but caught up in my own thoughts I did not notice them until the boy seeing me in my dress blues came running over to me and asked with great seriousness, Did you know my dad? Standing, not sure what to say his mother answered for me as she told the boy not to bother me and that I would not have known his father. I stooped down asked the child to show me his father’s grave and read with pride, Chief Petty Officer Dan Raymond Sharp, 1919 1952. I saluted his grave and putting my hat on his son saluted him as well. I left that beautiful and holy ground with tears that day but my heart was very proud and thankful for all those who made the day possible for me.

Published in: on December 21, 2014 at 11:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

He Knows My Name

He Knows My Name
Billy came to live with us at the children’s home about December the eighth, as a seven year old he was really afraid that he would not receive any Christmas presents because Santa would not know where he had moved to and all of his gifts would be back at his house many miles away. The house parents had to call me each of the first three nights because Billy could not go to sleep; he was crying and afraid that he was going to be left out. Now of course I knew the truth and the truth was this was going to be the best and biggest Christmas Billy had ever had. I knew all of the gifts that were being purchased for him but no matter how hard I tried I could not get Billy to believe that it did not matter that he had moved.
I knew the manager of one of the radio stations in Franklin so I called him and asked if he could have the man who read the letters to Santa to call Billy’s first name and let him know that he knew that he had moved and his new address.
The next afternoon the family gathered around the radio to list to all the letters to Santa and about half way through the broadcast Santa said, Billy, I know who you are and hope you are listing, I know that you have moved to a new home in our community and I want you to be sure that I not only know your name but I also know your address. Did you hear me Billy, don’t worry I have you taken care of at your new address, just like I have, and he called the first names of the other children in the home. Billy began to shout, he knows my name, Santa knows my name, from that night on Billy slept in perfect peace.
I think a lot of us are like that about God we are not really sure that He knows us, but He has said in His Word that He does, and He does.

Published in: on December 18, 2014 at 11:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Panda Bear

I always wanted a panda bear; you know one of those black and white stuffed ones. Not much of a gift for a guy, but I still liked it but never did get one. Tried at the fair a couple of times but the best I could do was a broken china doll. Somewhere about the ninth or tenth grade I bought a panda bear and gave it to the girl I was ‘dating’ not sure what else to call it, we saw each other at school and church, about the total sum but I got her a panda bear for Christmas. Not much of a gift, but give me credit, it was something I wanted so it was a nice gift in my way of thinking. Years later, about 15 or so I met the girl’s mother in downtown Jackson, we talked a minute, caught up with the last several years, telling things that both families had been doing, in the course of the conversation she told me that ‘Shirley’ (Not the real name- to protect the innocent) was shopping in a store down the street and would be out in a minute and I could see her and meet her four year old daughter. Boy it had been a long time. Sure enough in just a few minutes she came walking out of the store, holding the hand of her daughter who was dragging a panda bear in her other hand as they walked toward me. We greeted each other, talked a minute about old times and she said remember this and held up the panda bear, now with a pink tummy. She explained that her daughter just loved the bear and had worn his tummy out dragging it everywhere she went so she had patched it with a piece of pink cloth. We hugged, I stooped down and told the young girl to take good care of the bear and was off to my own world as they headed to theirs. Not bad I thought, not bad, the old bear turned out to a real plus for someone. I wish half of my Christmas gifts could have been loved as much.

Published in: on December 17, 2014 at 11:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

Old One Tusk

I love the sounds, smells, scenes, and even the shopping of Christmas. God promised us a wonderful gift and He gave that gift of a savior to us and we celebrate that gift in this season of the year. When I was teaching school a small child gave me a gift wrapped in white paper and asked that I not open it until the class was gone. When I tore open the package I understood the reason, it was a one tusk missing elephant. It was not new, it had seen a lot of seasons but this child knew that I loved elephants and since her family had no money she had talked her mother into giving away a long used item from off their trinket shelf. I wrote the family a note and when we returned from the holidays that gift was on my desk sitting on top of a beautiful glass mounting. She gave me from her heart and I wanted her to understand that I had received it with all of my heart.
Needless to say old one tusk elephant mounted on the glass was the hit of our returning day to school. Everyone wanted to know what it cost, if it was expensive, and who had given it to me. I explained that it was very valuable because the person who gave it to me treasured it and that is what makes a gift expensive. I explained that it would not be polite to say who had given it and in time the questions stopped. But the child who gave it never stopped smiling and from that day on she was a great student always doing her best. A number of years later I was invited to be the graduation speaker at her High School graduation. I had a special box with sides of glass made for the ‘one tusk elephant’ and gave it to her after graduation. We simply hugged, smiled, and the last I heard she was a first grade teacher, married, with children, and a ‘one tusk elephant’ on her class room desk.

Published in: on December 16, 2014 at 11:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Heart of Paul – Christmas

Long, long ago; and I do mean long when I was teaching school we would have a special program on the last day before the Christmas holidays as well as a party for the children and as much as we discouraged it some of the children would give the teachers gifts. It was a very thoughtful jester and as teachers we down played it all we could and tried not to make too much to do about it for the feelings of those whose parents did not send gifts with them. I had known Paul, a seventh grader, for five years or more and knew that his family was one of the poorest in our community. They were good people, just left out of life and never able to catch up with others so it was no surprise when he came to me after the other children had left the room and said that his family was behind in their shopping and he would have my gift when we returned to school after the holidays. I hugged Paul assured him that it was not something for him to be worried about and wished him and his family a wonderful Christmas. A friend of mine and I got together and purchased gifts for Paul, his sister and brother as well as his parents and along with a large basket of food that our church had prepared we visited the family and delivered the gifts a few days before Christmas. I had been in their home a number of times, if you call standing in the door speaking with them, in their home, they were never comfortable with inviting me in so I was not surprised when the greeting was repeated as we delivered the gifts. They were very grateful and had too much to say about our sharing with them, I prayed standing in the door and we left. My friend said, I think Paul’s father will like the three pair of wool socks you got for him, I noticed he was barefooted on a cold day like this. I agreed and we took gifts to a couple of other places and called it a day. True to his word on the first day of school after the holidays there was the gift from Paul waiting on my desk. Wrapped in paper that had been used once before was a beautiful pair of wool socks, just like the three I had given his father. My heart was humbled as I hugged Paul and thanked him for the gift. I never knew if Paul’s parents knew about the gift to me or not and I was sure that Paul did not know where the socks had come from but it was not important, the value was not in the wool socks, but in the heart of Paul.


Published in: on December 15, 2014 at 11:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

Coming Home at Christmas

I met Bill Green when I visited my grandparents on Tucker Street in Dyersburg, TN. We enjoyed playing as young boys did in those days and I really liked Bill. He always seemed like a good kid and in our early years we spent a lot of my Dyersburg days with one another.
Sometime later just after Bill got out of high school his girlfriend told him that they were going to be parents. Now you have to understand the times in which we lived then, this was a big, I mean BIG no, no. Bill was broken, he thought about his parents and how they would be broken and humiliated by this news, he loved them and hated to see them go through the gossip, judgment, and other heart break that this would cause to the two people he loved the most. Sure he loved his girlfriend, at least he thought so, but at 18, what did he know?
Going by the pool hall that night he told a couple of his buddies, but instead of concern they just laughed at him and called him dad. He hit a couple of them and soon a fight broke out that left all of them bruised and bleeding. Bill headed for home, as he passed the downtown shoe store he saw his reflection in the window and knew that he could not go home looking like he did; so Bill made another bad choice he went to the IC railroad yard and caught the first North bound freight that slowed down enough for him to jump aboard.
Some almost three years later he left the store where he worked in Chicago, got on the L to go to the rooming house where he lived and heard someone say; Bill Green, is that you Bill? He turned to see a neighbor to his parents and admitted that the man was right, his name was Bill Green. “You need to go home boy, the man said, you really do need to go home Bill, your parents are worried to death about you.”
Bill caught the next train out of Chicago that went through Dyersburg and on that Christmas Eve walked from the station toward his parents’ home on Tucker Street. As he turned into the walk leading up to their porch he saw a baby crib on the porch and couldn’t imagine why it was there. When he knocked on the door his mother opened it and people all up and down Tucker heard her scream. His dad came running from the back of the house and he looked up from the entry to see his girlfriend brining a very small child down the steps from the upstairs.
When Bill told me this story years later at my uncle’s funeral he told how they had gotten married in Kentucky the next day and had added another child to their family. When his girlfriend’s parents had thrown her out of their house his parents had taken her in and cared and loved her for themselves and him. He said, “Ivan that was the longest train ride and walk in my life, but it turned out to be the best, for I learned that day what Grace is really about, my family lived their grace.” A little grace a Christmas, I think it goes well together.

Published in: on December 14, 2014 at 11:05 pm  Leave a Comment