Our church family has many widows.
They bravely continue on in this world without their other halves, learning to work, to eat, to sleep, to relax, and to attend church alone where once there was a man beside them, some for many, many years.
They learn new skills that their husbands probably took care of, keeping their properties and their cars maintained, handling all of their finances, and filling in the gaping holes that their deceased beloveds left behind.
And in the midst of those many widows stands one widower…
His wife departed much too long ago, and in this great, big world without the love of his life, Mr. Titsworth learned to continue on.
Where I’m sure his wife used to handle most of the correspondence, Mr. Titsworth faithfully picked up, and everytime a special occasion arises, there, in the midst of the effiminently wrapped presents and gift bags is a single envelope from him, filled with a generous gift of cash. He lets the greeting cards do the talking and signs his name beneath the printed words, but the sentiment behind his kind gestures loudly proclaims “You are important to me.” I have received such a card on many occasions: high school graduation, my wedding day, the birth of Gideon, the birth of Rebekah, the birth of Betsie, Pastor Appreciation Day, Christmas…there is always a card from Mr. Titsworth.
Likewise, at all of our church potlucks and luncheons, where rows and rows of bubbling casseroles and beautiful salads line the table, there is one signature loaf of bread next to the utensils, faithfully purchased and delivered by Mr. Titsworth – his name stands out on our call list for funeral luncheons, the lone man in a long list of females. But he never, ever forgets, and that simple but faithful loaf of bread is a sweet reminder of who he is and what he contributes to our church family.
But on a sad Thursday in July, at a 12:00 funeral luncheon, that loaf of bread was very noticeably missing.
And the following Sunday, with heavy hearts, we “did church” for the first time without this man who was bound to our congregation like a grandfather, departed from his usual pew, and from this fleeting life, until we will meet again in glory.
Late on the Wednesday night before his funeral, as I sat alone in our home office and rehearsed the solo I would be singing at his service, tears filled my eyes as the weight of what we had lost…
If you’ve been a visitor to Mrs. Gore’s Diary for very long, you know what the senior adults in our church mean to both Mr. Gore and me. We came home from Kentucky with this group of people in mind, a small congregation left behind numerous times in a church that had gone through hell and then some for over a decade. We love them with as everlasting a love as sinful humans can possible contain, and I’ll never forget that day many years ago, when Mr. Gore and I were trying to decide whether or not it would be worth it to “take on” such a wounded church, my husband said these words: “I just can’t imagine someone who doesn’t know them doing their funerals. I want to walk them through their last years…”
I could not have possibly agreed more. This was the church I had been born to and a part of my entire life. It was where Mr. Gore and I met. Our hearts were here, no matter where we went. In other words, this was our family...
Since he first accepted the call to become senior pastor at this church 4 years ago, however, we have been exceedingly blessed, and God graciously allowed us truly beautiful and peaceful years with the seniors citizens we adore. Their overall health has been wonderful, and the deaths have been few.
Then we unexpectedly lost Thelma.
And now, a few months later, Mr. Titsworth.
As I continued to attempt rehearsing my song on that Wednesday night – stopping to weep, trying again, stopping to sob, trying again – I thought of him…
His sweet cards.
His loaf of bread.
And a couple of stories I’ll never forget…
Mr. Gore and I were engaged to be married. He proposed in December 2004, and our wedding date was set for June 11, 2005. When he returned after Christmas break to Kentucky for another semester of seminary, I got to work planning the wedding of my dreams, and one of the biggest parts of that dream was to involve my sweet church family every step of the way. Thus was birthed the “Great Plate Search of 2005”. Giving me the microphone one Wednesday night, our pastor at the time allowed me to share what I needed help with: finding as many vintage floral-patterened plates as I could find. All the wedding books said that a bride needed to plan on about half of her invites attending the wedding, and with a wedding guest list of 400, we needed at least 200 plates. “Ready…set…go!” I announced to my little church family before our prayer meeting was adjourned for the night.
They were happy to help. I had ladies pulling boxes of antique plates out of their attics, some on loan, some for keeps, I had ladies calling me from junk stores or antique shops to announce a good price or a lovely pattern, and everytime we were at church, we were discussing plates, plates, and more plates.
But again, Mr. Titsworth was going to fill in where his wife would have probably thrived. One evening after our Sunday night service, he walked up to me and said in his friendly (and almost bashful) manner, “I pulled up to a garage sale yesterday to see if they might have any plates for your wedding…”
A delighted smile spread across my face. I couldn’t believe he would do such a thing for me.
“They had some plates…a lot of plates…” he continued, shyly, “but…I wasn’t sure if it was what you were looking for or not, so…here. Take this.”
There was a $5 bill in his hand.
As I accepted it, my heart absolutely melted within me. It was one of the highlight moments of my wedding preparations, and I beamed at him as he continued, “Now you can pick out something you would like.”
Now, 7 years later, I can’t really remember who else donated plates to the Great Plate Search, but…I will never, ever forget this moment with Mr. Titsworth.
But then he was always quietly watching and looking for ways to show his love. Only two weeks before he unexpectedly fell ill, I was with Gideon and Rebekah in the sanctuary before church. Gideon had on his cowboy boots and hat, and was running around the room spinning his poor excuse of a lasso, comprised of brightly colored lengths of string that came with our Melissa and Doug lacing cards. He had tied them all together and looped them near the end, and I was forever being called upon to fix this hodgey-podgey construction. Seeing him, Mr. Titsworth chuckled and said, “We need to get that cowboy a real lasso!”
I agreed, but soon forgot all about our conversation…
Until a week later. Walking into Mr. Gore’s church office, I looked down and noticed a large and sturdy rope coiled up on the floor, next to a shiny belt buckle with a horse on it.
“What’s this?!” I exclaimed.
“Oh, Mr. Titsworth dropped that off for Gideon…” he explained.
I shook my head in disbelief at Mr. Titsworth’s thoughtfulness and generosity, and my heart constricted once more as I basked in the joy of being a part of the family of God, where such love is common, but deeply appreciated.
I had no idea as I pondered my blessings that day that I would never see Mr. Titsworth again. We had come down with colds the week he was in the hospital and had to stay away, and Mr. Gore’s Grandma unexpectedly passed away the next week, calling us out-of-state to attend her funeral. We returned home on a Saturday with every intention of visiting Mr. Titsworth on Monday…but it was too late.
As our church family gathered with Mr. Titsworth’s blood relatives on that Thursday morning in July, the sadness and disbelief in the building was tangible. Although our church body was scattered all about the sanctuary during his funeral service, our eyes would meet, and I knew that what I was feeling as I sat on the stage waiting for my solo was what all of my brothers and sisters were feeling – not mourning like those who had no hope, but still, undeniably sad, for every single one of us knew that a truly great man had departed from our fellowship; our joy that he was Home was tempered by the grief of knowing that we would be spending many years without this hero by our side.
After the funeral, before leaving for the graveside service, I walked my beloved friend, Kenneth (who has been featured on this blog many times), to his car. He had been commanded by his doctor to stay out of the summer heat, but couldn’t bear to miss Mr. Titsworth’s funeral. I was so worried about him, not just for his body, but for his soul…for every Sunday, he and Mr. Titsworth, in their Sunday School class of three, would sit and study the Word together, come rain or shine. “How are you doing?” I asked him as we walked slowly through the parking lot.
“That man was the best friend I ever had.” he simply replied.
It is no small thing to have brothers and sisters in the faith, who, though small and insignificant in the scope of history and a booming world population, are big in our lives. Through the most seemingly mundane and routine actions, God uses them to bolster our faith, to bind our hearts into one, to sharpen us and inspire us and encourage us…
and therefore, it is no small thing to lose them.
Part of my Sunday morning routine these days is to pull up into our parking spot, look to my left where his blue pickup truck always sat and feel that familiar sadness wash over me. I still can’t believe I won’t be worshipping with him again on this side of heaven. But I hope I never stop missing him. I hope I will always tell Gideon about the man who gave him his very first lasso. I hope I will never forget that sweet $5 bill…
But mostly, I hope that I will be as vital a part of our church family as he was and that, by living and moving and breathing, I will point the church and the world around me to Jesus Christ.
That’s exactly what Mr. Titsworth did.