Della.

From Della to Mr. Gore, July 2007…

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If you had told me two weeks ago that my first outing with Baby Shepherd would be to Ms. Della’s funeral, I wouldn’t have believed it.

But such is the nature is death…

if we knew when it was coming, we would spend every waking moment in bedside vigils, hanging onto the ankles of those we knew would soon be departing.

As it was, they were so habitual and ordinary, I don’t even remember my last words to Della.

I know we were probably standing either in the dimly-lit church sanctuary or in the fellowship hall, where we crossed paths Sunday morning after Sunday morning after Sunday morning, for as long as I can remember.

I would have told her how beautiful she looked.

(She always looked beautiful).

She would have asked how I was feeling and might have exclaimed over how much Betsie has grown or how handsome Gideon looked in his dress clothes or how Rebekah’s hair is getting so long.

(She always took time to notice the kids and ask how I was doing).

We probably hugged, and I am positive that I felt happy on the inside just to see her for that brief moment before we moved on to our respective Sunday School classes.

(Della always made me happy).

But whatever greetings we swapped during our last meeting on this earth, one thing is certain: I had no idea they would be my last to a woman who meant so much more to me than a passing hug, and who I admired for so much more than her physical beauty.

If I had known…

I would have cradled her beautiful face in my hands and told her that she was dearly loved…

I would have thanked her for consistently exhibiting to me those Christian fruits that are most admirable in a woman of God…

I would have asked her to tell me all of her funny stories one last time so I could write them down for safekeeping…

I would have recorded her speaking voice so I could listen to her rich and indescribable tone anytime I wanted…

I would have asked if I could come over and learn how to make her to-die-for homemade rolls…

I would have told her that, during the toughest days we’ve had in the ministry, her unswerving faithfulness, gentle guidance and genuine words of encouragement helped keep us going…

I would have hugged her tighter, I would have memorized the lines of her face, and I would have sat beside her at worship…

I would have asked her to wait just one more week, so she could hold my new baby…

And I would have promised her that I would miss her every Sunday and at every women’s fellowship and everytime I drove past her tidy, yellow house for the rest of my life.

Della was not a relative of mine, and if it were not for our like faith, we never would have known each other…

but when the grace of God reached down and plucked her from the road that leads to destruction to place her on the path to life, and then did the same for me years later, all of that changed; by the world’s standards she wasn’t my grandmother or my great aunt or even a distant cousin — she was just a “little old lady” who went to the same church as me.

But my redeemed heart knows better…

she was my sister. My mother. A vibrant, intrinsic part of my family.

And though I know we will spend forever in the same place, my humanity weeps bitter tears at the thought of saying goodbye.

Tears that bring to mind a day, half a decade ago, when Mr. Gore and I were discussing our future and weighing the pros and cons of him applying to be senior pastor at the church I had grown up in; to say that things at the time were messy and complicated would be an understatement. And although my husband was inexperienced and fresh out of seminary, he was a brilliant man with accolades and references galore; he could most likely have found work anywhere…

but “anywhere” wasn’t the story God had written for us. He wanted us here, and He tuned our hearts and our passion to stay, no matter how difficult the road ahead seemed to be.

The church was in turmoil, the budget was limited, and due to an unfortunate church split five years prior, well over half of the remaining membership was over the age of 65. There was one baby in the nursery and he was ours…

But it didn’t matter. We were in love.

“I just can’t leave them…” Mr. Gore said, with conviction. “I want to be their pastor. I want to walk them through the rest of their life. I want to preach their funerals…”

My heart agreed, most vehemently.

But here we are so many years later, and my, those funerals are hard…

Each lifelong friend who leaves us for “Beulah Land” leaves a huge vacancy in our hearts, not to be filled until we meet once more in our forever home; God has only caused our love and tenderness for them to multiply, and while our initial dream of walking these dear saints through life has come true, it carries with it a pain that we couldn’t have imagined…

The day before Della’s funeral, Mr. Gore went to her viewing at the funeral home. Finding himself very much alone with the body our friend left behind, he sat and wept. Della had ministered to him in ways no one else ever saw, giving him godly advice, sending him encouraging notes and cards, praying for him

much like our sister Thelma and our brother Richard, the world might not have known the tiny little lady in the little yellow house, but she mattered, and her role in the Kingdom was vital and beautifully performed.

Since the day we pursued this ministry, God has been so faithful to us and to our church. The division we inherited has flown the coop. Old wounds are being healed. Our membership, though smaller, continues to grow purer and purer. Love abounds. And while our budget is still limited, God has met every single need.

If the thought ever crossed my mind that we would be giving something up to “lay down our lives” for a church that was tiny and troubled and, frankly, not-the-coolest, five years with Della (and so many like her) has proven me stupid…

we have gained the world, drinking in priceless wisdom and encouragement from some of God’s very best, and learning what it means to be the body of Christ.

We grieve over the precious and important member we lost this September…

even as we thank God for the gift of knowing her at all.

~

Della, holding Baby Rebekah at our women’s fellowship in 2009

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Want to know more about Della and the sweet people in our church? Read one of my favorite posts: The Early Birds

A Non-defensive Defense of Halloween

I understand it would be folly to answer every disagreement that finds you on the internet…

In such a public – yet somewhat anonymous – forum, it is so easy to start lengthy, and sometimes passionately spirited, discussions that would probably never see the light of day in our real, face-to-face lives. Once we dip our toe into the realm of internet discourse, we then can feel the need to try to counter every argument and answer every question and defend every stance, an occupation that could keep us busy from sun-up to sun-down…and what do we really gain from such banter? Perhaps our vehement responses and well-stated arguments might shape and mold the opinion of another reader, but more likely than not, those who agree with us will say “yeah! what she said!!” and those who disagree will skim right past our argument so they can post their own.

That is why I choose to keep private any comments on my blog that might lead to controversy, or long, drawn-out discussions that really wouldn’t benefit many, and would most likely draw me away from the real people in my life as I sit at my computer desk to wait for responses to come in so that I might counter-respond. The very thought of such a life gives me the shivers; I’m here to celebrate life, not engage in word-fights with people I can’t see. And besides…word fights would totally clash with my soft, floral background.

That said, I received a simple comment to my last Halloween post, and I wanted to respond to it. If you go looking for it, you’ll not find it, for I never approved it and made it public; it was not mean-spirited at all, but I knew the minute I read it that it would have led to a long and unnecessary discussion. However, it did trigger a memory for me of a blog post I once considered writing and had kind of forgotten about, and hopefully, the post that ensues might answer some questions some of you might have had about me…and better yet, it might encourage some of you who feel conflicted about the holiday I speak so often and so fondly of: today, dear friends, I’d like to share with you why Mrs. Gore, the wife of a Southern Baptist preacher, so joyfully celebrates Halloween.

So the comment I received yesterday was nothing more than a gentle suggestion that I should look up Halloween and what it truly means – but it was rather loaded, for I knew exactly what the commenter was saying (without really saying so)…that Halloween is a dark holiday with evil origins and that Christians should not celebrate such a holiday. I am quite positive that the commenter meant no ill will in this recommendation, and only means to help me, and I appreciate that very much. However, this is a subject that I’ve given much consideration to over the years, and I’ve got to tell you, in all humility, I feel great freedom in our personal decision to partake in the innocent fun that is Halloween.

And here’s why. Regardless of the origins of Halloween (and those origins are foggy, indeed), there is simply nothing pagan about what our family does on this Fall holiday. We dress up in fun costumes and we have an absolute blast. We thank the Lord for our chili and caramel apples and fun-size candy bars, just as we thank Him for every meal we partake of. We strive to glorify Him as we traipse through the streets of our town, knocking on the doors of our church members, many of whom are also dressed up in fun costumes, just as we strive to glorify Him on every other day of the year. In other words, we might be enjoying Halloween, but we are still, by the grace of God, living a gospel-centered life. Halloween neither detracts nor adds to that, unless you consider how fully this day draws us together as a family. In that light…Halloween actually adds to our gospel-centered life, silly as that may sound, and is one of the highlight days of our year, every year.

But I know this has been a very tricky subject for Christians over the years. Many of us don’t really know what to do with Halloween.

Should we do away with it altogether?

Should we celebrate, but keep that information on the down-low lest an another church member find out about it?

Or my personal favorite, how about we celebrate Halloween, but call it a “Fall Festival”…then we can have a party at the church, and we can still dress up, we can even throw evangelism into the mix, and…everyone is happy and no one feels guilty or condemned.

The opinions are obviously varied, even among the most devout and theological.

And so, in my truly humble opinion, what Halloween and all the trimmings comes down to is just another of those instances of Christian conviction. There are matters of Biblical truth that we must be unwavering on, no matter what our culture says, or even our own deceptive hearts. But then there are other (secondary) matters that we must pray over and examine, honestly seeking the direction and peace of God and the wisdom and authority of our local pastor and congregation. The conclusions we are led to in these secondary matters become convictions that are very personal and are often unique to our different situations and settings, and sometimes even change as we grow in our faith. And I think a lot of subjects fit in this second category – Halloween, Santa Claus, certain TV shows and movies, clothing, music, dancing, card-playing, pool halls, Harry Potter, Disney…just to name a few.

And, sadly, a lot of times, we mistake these convictions as universal truths, and pretty soon, we’ve taken something personal and perhaps Spirit-led and created an extra-Biblical standard that all Christians must live under or meet our unsolicited disapproval. And, what scares me the most about this is, if we’re not careful, our good intentions can tear up the Kingdom and the unity of the church as we become warriors for our pet causes, trampling over the unifying blood of Christ in our haste to have the entire Church – and the world, even – share our opinion.

So…is this blog post a defense for Halloween? Not really. I’m not that in love with Halloween, that I would defend it to my grave, and am even open to the thought that God might change my convictions about it someday (but please no, God!).

But I try to be pretty serious about the verse that states the following: The world will know we are disciples of Jesus if we have love for one another (John 13:35).

Therefore, I think the most important thing we can do on Halloween – and every day of the year – is strive for unity and grace and love, to the point that we go out of our way to submit to our God-ordained authority (remember, your pastor has been commanded to watch over your soul and you have been commanded to make this easy for him) as well as our brothers and sisters in the faith, and show, by our actions and our attitudes, that we esteem each other even more than we do our own lives. I don’t know what that will make October 31st look like for you, but I definitely thing it is worth mulling over.

And if you are like our family…you might get to the end of all that examination and decide, quite happily and confidently, that Halloween is alright by you, at least for now, and that, at the end of your holiday, love and peace and unity reigns. Because, after all, isn’t that what Halloween is all about?…

Wait…that’s Christmas.

So…what I guess I’m trying to say is, let’s live every day – including Halloween – like its Christmas.

Merry Christmas, dear readers! And Happy Halloween/Plain-old-October-31st/Fall Festival/Reformation Day…

~

As mentioned above, I will see and welcome all comments, but reserve the right to only publish those that are edifying and that will not lead to further debate, therefore causing my readers distress or the temptation to watch drama unfold on the internet. Thanks for understanding!

Mr. Titsworth

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.