Thursday, September 29, 2016

She Never Knew

Maybe there’s a reason why it’s good not to know our own future.  Most of us have to deal with things along the way that we’d assume we could never endure if we knew about them in advance.  And if we knew our future, who could live without a tempered joy and an unrelenting sense of dread?  We all know that into every life a little rain must fall, but to know the nature of the storm and the timing would be unbearable.  Who wouldn’t want to pull the covers over her head and refuse to get out of bed that day?

Enter Helen Cogswell Campbell—my grandmother.  On this day, September 29, in 1901. word got around Pittsburg, Kansas, that Samuel and Agnes Cogswell had a little baby girl named Helen.  Grandmother lived to be 91 years old, but had she known what life held for her, I wonder if she’d have taken a pass. 

She never knew her beloved husband, who went out on an early morning fishing trip/duck hunt with every intention of returning by 10:00 a.m. so he could take his family to church, would never come home again.  His gun accidentally went off as he was reaching for it in his boat, and he was killed on that October Sunday morning in Moore Haven, Florida, in 1933.  Grandmother was left with two daughters, 5 and 2.

She never knew that because of the Great Depression and her inability to provide for herself and her girls she would have to return to Branson, Missouri, and move in with her parents and siblings—a move born of necessity rather than desire.  It was an angry household with enough alcohol abuse to create a tense environment for everybody.

She never knew she would work several penny-ante jobs to try to provide on her family, finally getting on as the high school secretary where she was much loved by a couple of generations of students.

She never knew she would be the care-giver of her mother and her aunt in their old age.

She never knew my mother would leave my father and move herself and her three sons to Branson to live in my grandmother’s house.

She never knew she’d lose her much loved screened-in porch to convert it into a bedroom for her three grandsons.

She never knew she’d spend the next twelve years as the chief cook, bottle-washer, and laundry-maid for her daughter and grandsons.

She never knew her grandsons would tease her unmercifully, though she was a good sport about it all.

She never knew her other daughter and family (with four kids) would also move into her house for a season.  That’s eleven people in a small house with one bathroom.

She never knew my mother would move her into a nursing home when my grandmother needed more care than a working woman could provide.  (Though grandmother wasn’t one to complain, she hated living in that nursing home, and she lived there till she died.)

She never knew any of this was on the horizon or around the bend, but she negotiated it all like a champ.  And in doing so, she set a great example for all who knew her.

She never knew how much I would miss her all these years later.  I miss how she would tickle me and make me laugh (the only significant adult touch I remember from my childhood).  I miss her fried chicken, rice and gravy.  I miss walking with her to school when I was a kid (she never had a driver’s license).  I miss seeing her in choir at church.  I miss her humble, servant spirit and the rare times I heard her quietly pray out loud.  I miss that I didn’t appreciate her as I should have in the moments we shared.  She never knew my feelings on any of these things.

She never knew she would go to heaven.  She hoped she would, she thought she would, but she always struggled with a little doubt for reasons she never disclosed.  So I can only imagine how it must have been for her when she closed her eyes in death and opened them in heaven.  She made it.  I envision a sigh of relief and a big smile, the joy of seeing Jesus face to face, and reunion with beloved family and friends who preceded her in death.

Oh, and she never knew how much I appreciated her for her sacrificial kindness to our family in a very difficult time.  She never knew because I never told her.  But because she and I share a common faith in Jesus, she will know my gratitude when I see her again in heaven.

Maybe it’s a good thing we don’t know our own future—all the twists and turns, ups and downs, thrills and heartaches, joys and griefs.  Maybe that’s what keeps our faith stretching and growing in those seasons.  Maybe that’s what keeps our dependence on Jesus strong and sure.  And maybe all those struggles make heaven even sweeter when we get there.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Random Thoughts on Turning 60

Sixty years ago yesterday a baby took his first breath in the maternity ward of St. Vincent’s Infirmary in Little Rock.  That baby was me.  There were no Facebook posts and no videos of the event.  My dad was not allowed in the delivery room.  He was in the waiting room with other nervous fathers, smoking cigarettes, drinking stale coffee, and trying to stay calm.  He had no idea if I was going to be a boy a girl.  After what seemed like an eternity, the maternity nurse came in to say, “Congratulations, Mr. McCallum, you have a healthy, red-headed boy.  Do you have a name for him?”  And my daddy said, “We’re going to call him John Scott.”  So my dad went down the hall with a pocketful of dimes to plug the pay phone and call some folks who were on pins and needles just waiting for the news.

Wow!  Where has the time gone?  In the middle of hard seasons, tough times, and dark nights of the soul, time drags like a hundred pound bag of cement.  But when I look back, it’s been a blink.  And since 60, like any change of decade, is something of a milestone age, I spent a little time thinking about it.  Here are some random thoughts on turning 60. 

When I was a young man, I thought 60 seemed ancient.  Now that I’m 60, I discover that I was right.

In biblical numerology the number six represents man and imperfection.  60 might represent an imperfect man ten times over.  That would be me—and the older I get the more I realize it.

I’ve never had people make more about one of my birthdays than this 60th one.  Does that mean that they are surprised I made it, relieved that I made it, or felt the need to throw a party because at such an advanced age, it could me my last?

People under 60 like to tease me about it.  People over 60 look at me with a long face and shake their head.

Some people told me that 60 is the new 40.  As I recall, 40 wasn’t all that great either.

Others told me that 60 is no big deal because age is just a number.  True … but in terms of human lifespan, it’s a pretty big number.

Still others said, “You don’t look 60.”  Does that mean that when I finally look 60, I am going to have to hide my face lest I frighten children and small animals?

60 is the age where you are too tired to work all the time but too young to retire.

I’m going to have to live a lot longer if I want to shoot my age in golf.

When you make it to 60, you have a lot of blessings to count that helped you make it to that age. 

So I spent time early in the morning on my birthday counting those blessings—the mercy and salvation I have in Jesus at His great expense; His incredible patience with me in the ups and downs of a long Christian walk; numerous people who invested in me along the way and some who invest in me even now; churches that loved me and taught me a lot about grace and mercy; decent health; God carrying me through some pretty deep water during seasons in my life; a family that has always drawn me closer to God; a lot of answered prayers; a lot of unanswered prayers; friends that accept me as I am; and opportunities to invest in God’s kingdom work around the world.

That morning, as I was praying my gratitude to God, a Scripture and a hymn came to mind.  The Scripture—Psalm 103:1-5

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and all that is within me,
    bless his holy name!
 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits,
 who forgives all your iniquity,
    who heals all your diseases,
 who redeems your life from the pit,
    who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
 who satisfies you with good
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.

And the hymn—Amazing Grace, stanza 3:

Through many dangers, toils, and snares
I have already come.
‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

As of September 26, 2016, I’m 60 years closer to getting there.