I just reread my 2018 Newsletter for this website and discovered that it was written in April of last year and the one from the prior year was also written in the month of April. So, I am a natural born procrastinator. Since I am writing this 2019 version in February, I must have repented at least a little. For whatever reason, I thought of the newsletter this morning and decided to write.
Actually, I think I know the reason it came to mind. One of my spiritual daughters, Michaela Iiames, along with her friend, Paula Chu, spent the night with us last night. John and Michaela’s son, AJ, just lost his young wife to cancer after four years of marriage. Emily was only 26 but left us anyway, her gain and our loss. Michaela and Paula had flown from their homes in North Carolina to California to drive AJ’s car and dog back in advance of his move to be closer to his family. Our reminiscing took us back to the late 1980’s in Boston and helped us fill in many blanks of precious memories from that point forward. It was a special night. Michaela reminded me that I had become “Dad” to her when her father was dying many years ago. Being a surrogate dad (or grandad) is my favorite role in life these days, so it was a very special night.
As I reread my 2018 version of the newsletter, my gratitude was stirred as I thought back through so many good experiences. I already know that this current newsletter is not going to recount nearly as many positive events. 2019 was one of the hardest years of my long life, the details of which I will share with you. But thankfully, those challenges forced me to start 2020 off with a spiritual retreat that helped me immensely. Although I was wrestling with God at the end of the year and questioning why some of the challenges had to occur, I am now thanking him for pushing me to the edge emotionally and spiritually. Once again, our loving (but unsentimental) Father did his thing in my life and led me to a victorious surrender. No pain, no gain; much pain, much gain. It is the way of the cross and that way leads back to God and his peace that surpasses understanding (Philippians 4:7).
We spent New Year’s Day on the road as we drove to Houston for our niece’s wedding the next day. Adrienne and Chad met as fellow teachers in the Houston, Texas area and tied the knot in a beautiful ceremony. We traveled back the same day of the wedding, driving in an intense rainstorm almost the whole way. Our son and his family were riding with us, and because Joy gets carsick easily, she rode in the front seat and kept me awake! We had a wonderful and wonderfully long conversation. Chad and Adrienne just completed their first year as husband and wife and are doing very well in their young marriage. They both fit quite naturally into each other’s extended families.
Our Dallas/Fort Worth church January kick-off weekend was enriched by having Mark and Nadine Templer as our guest speakers. They did a great job and being around them reminds us of what tremendous work they have done and are doing with HOPE Worldwide in serving the poor and needy. I traveled to Tulsa the following weekend to help with a similar kick-off for our sister church there. I stayed with Vince and Ro Pierce, who lead the church there, and barely restrained myself from kidnapping their little son, Kevin. That young man guy is delightfully entertaining and amazingly unique for a child his age. That was a very fun weekend and an encouraging way to start off the year!
I spoke the next weekend for the small group in Tyler, Texas, which is in the early stages of a church planting. Theresa’s brother, Curt Clemens, and his wife, Janet, live in the area and are heading up this effort. It’s always fun to be with them, for they are both characters! While we were at our little place (we call it the camp) near the lake in East Texas, Dave, Peggy and Scott Malutinok stopped by for a night en route to their temporary home to San Diego. Dave had taken on a new role with HOPE and they needed to spend six months there to get fully acclimated in the home base of the organization. The Malutinoks have been special friends for decades now, so any time with them is a treasured time.
February was one of those really challenging months since it was a surgery month for me. I did manage to work in a teaching weekend with the Knoxville, Tennessee church before the surgery, but that was about the only bright spot in an otherwise tough month. I’ve had two surgeries since moving back to Texas five years ago and have another scheduled for next month. As anyone over sixty can tell you, getting old ain’t for sissies. The partial knee replacement I had eventually worked out, but right after the surgery, the wound started bleeding even before I left the day surgery location. Before the first night was over, I had bled enough to soak up a three-layer wrapping of Ace bandages. I honestly thought I might bleed to death during the night, but obviously (and thankfully) didn’t! The rest of the month was filled with much very painful physical therapy.
In mid-March, we made a trip to San Diego to visit the Malutinoks and drove up to the Orange County area for one night to visit friends there. Bruce and Robin Williams hosted a dinner at their place, where we were joined by Mary Mains and Mike and Melanie Wooten. These were among our best friends during the two-year stint we spent living in that area (2013-2014). Kevin Mains was sorely missed at that table, most by his dear wife, but by all of us who knew him well. He as an amazing man, taken from us way too early from our human perspectives. But it was good to be with Mary and the others. Then it was back home for more of that wonderful physical therapy!
During the last days of March, the Southwest Elders’ Conference was held in Dallas. Theresa and I were asked to be guest speakers, although we haven’t served as an elder and wife for some years. The attendance was truly impressive, with couples attending from many places in the US and from several foreign nations. We were a part of the beginning of this conference when it was just designed just for the SW part of the US. However, from the earliest gatherings, people attended from other areas and this expansion has just kept occurring. The two main planning couples, dear friends of ours, were Bill and Sally Hooper of Dallas, and John and Nancy Mannel of Kansas City. Everyone seemed to thoroughly enjoy the few days we spent together. It was a good way to conclude the first quarter of the year.
April started off in a good/bad manner. Theresa was invited to share the same lesson in our home church region that she had taught the wives at the Elder Conference. That was the good part. Almost immediately afterwards, she started developing symptoms of pneumonia, an illness she has experienced six or seven times. It is one of the major hazards of her COPD condition. Thankfully, we have caught it early every time except for the first time back in Phoenix, that one having led to a week in the hospital. I spoke in our SW Region, led by Mark and Connie Mancini shortly after Theresa’s bout with pneumonia. Being with that part of the DFW church is always such a treat. As I said in last year’s newsletter, we just seem to “click” in a special way with that group (and the Mancini’s).
May was a full month and a challenging one. Preaching at the Tyler service again was the fun part. I then flew to Boston to spend several days visiting the Shaw family, as Wyndham’s health continued on its downward spiral. MSA (multiple systems atrophy) is one of the cruelest diseases possible, and to watch your best friend battle it is very difficult. That being said, watching that battle as a wife, son, daughter or grandchild has to be far worse. Faith shines brightest in the darkest hours, and the faith of the whole Shaw clan is evidence of that truth. On this trip, I stayed with Jim and Maureen McCartney, which was a blessing that helped me weather the challenges.
From Boston, I flew to Phoenix to meet Theresa there for a few days on family business. That trip was its own challenge, beginning with a snafu in the Boston airport that was unique. For the first and last time, I had booked a flight on Spirit Airlines. I was awaiting my flight back to Dallas, where I was going to spend a short night and then fly with Theresa the next day to Phoenix. While I was awaiting my flight, Spirit announced a delay of two hours. Not good, but as long as I could get back to Dallas in time to help Theresa get to the airport, all seemed doable. Next, the flight was cancelled without explanation. As I said, my first and last flight booked on that airline. Saving money isn’t everything and in this case, neither was losing money, however painful.
I started looking for flights to Dallas on other airlines. I found a late one on United that went first to Philadelphia and then to Dallas. So, I went to the gate for the flight and began working on my laptop. I heard an announcement about a gate change for a Philly flight, so I got up and moved to the other gate, which wasn’t that many gates away. All was good, I thought, as I continued working on my computer. The flight’s time was apparently delayed by 21 minutes, but that wasn’t a problem for my connecting flight in Philly. Finally, I made my way to the check-in, only to be informed by the attendant that my ticket was for another United flight to Philadelphia!
I ran back down to the other gate where I had started, just in time to be told that the flight had departed already. Two United flights to the same city within 21 minutes of each other. Wow! I didn’t catch the flight number in the announcement, so my normal perfectionist mode of “assume nothing” had failed me. My bad. After booking a very early morning flight directly to Phoenix and helping Theresa work out her own plan from Dallas, I spent a sleepless night in the Boston airport and more money than I ever wanted to figure out. I didn’t even try. From there, it was finally on to Phoenix for the few days there. Not a good memory, although a unique one, which is saying something all its own given the hundreds and hundreds of flights all over the world I have made. Learning patience and surrender is never a one-and-done deal!
May ended with a visit to our hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana to see Theresa’s older brother, Barney Clemens, who was nearing the end of his life. He died a few days later, on June 5th. He was the first of our siblings to die, ushering out one era and ushering in another. We remained there to serve the rest of the family in any way possible and to attend the memorial service. Theresa’s family is really close and this was a sad time we shared together. But everyone worked as a team and the experience had its positive moments to be sure. Due to the stress of it all, both Theresa and I came down with the flu a few days later, which lasted a couple of weeks, my first such illness in years. At the end of the month, I wrote a private article just for myself entitled, “A Prayer for Restored Sanity.” That gives you an idea of my spiritual and emotional condition at the time.
A few days before Barney died, my dear friend Michael Burns came to speak for the DFW church on the topic of race and cultural issues. He and I were able to grab a dinner together, which was such a treat for me. I’ve praised Michael many times already for his teaching and writing abilities, which are in my opinion, beyond unique. He did a great job in speaking, as he always does, being such a gifted teacher. I am currently reading in manuscript form what will become his latest book, one that grew out of a need he saw when teaching about these types of issues. The title is: “Crossing the Line: Politics, Allegiance and Kingdom.” He has asked me to read two of his previous books also as he was writing them in order to give my perspectives and input. In all three cases, I am left in awe of what I read. This newest work in progress will change your views of the kingdom of God in its relationship to the kingdoms of the world, I will promise you that – without question.
July began with a conference held in the Dallas area with those from our sister churches in Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma attending. Seeing dear old friends and making new ones in settings of extended fellowship is always good, very good. A couple of weeks later, Mike and Libby Rock, some of our closest friends, came to visit for two full weeks. They were in the midst of a life and ministry transition and we wanted to be a part of helping them negotiate it. We spent most of the time at our place near the lake in East Texas and I think it was time well spent. I ended the month preaching in my home church region, and all in all, July was a good month. The one before it and the one after it, not so much.
My old friend and former fellow elder in Boston, Bob Gempel, died suddenly on August 13. Experiencing the passing of two very significant people in my life in the space of two months took a toll on me emotionally. Other things happened in that month that were none too positive either, adding to the challenges. At that point, I wasn’t thinking much about the big picture of how God might have wanted to use those events in my life. I was pretty much just in survival mode. God wasn’t, and he was intent on helping me see the bigger picture, which I didn’t do until the end of the year, as noted in my introductory remarks at the beginning of this piece.
September was another demanding month for me. It began with a trip for Theresa and me to Boston for the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the beginning of the Boston church. The day prior, a second memorial service for Bob Gempel was held, which we attended. Our grandson, Bryce, flew in from his college location, San Antonio, and joined us for both of those events. He got to see the world in which we had lived for 16 years, a good life experience for him. He actually joined us in Boston for the opportunity to attend the first Patriots’ game of the season on that Sunday night, being a diehard Pats fan. But as a disciple, he loved the opportunity to be a part of the whole weekend’s activities. Seeing so many dear friends under such varied circumstances was emotionally draining and at times, somewhat overwhelming. We stayed with Valdur and Irene Koha, as we usually do, which always helps calm the storms and increase the blessings side of life.
I made a trip alone to California at the beginning of October to spend a few days meeting with the ministry staff of the Orange Country Region of the Los Angeles church. Bruce and Robin Williams are scheduled to retire in March of 2020, and the group wanted me to help with developing the best perspective regarding the leadership transition for the whole group. It was an intense few days of meetings, but I hope helpful. I was also able to preach on that Sunday. After 47 years of full-time ministry service, the Williams will be in retirement mode officially, but as disciples of Jesus, they will always be in serving mode. May God bless this part of their lives! Having been in that mode myself for some years now, it’s not a bad mode at all. The opportunities to use our training and experiences never disappear.
I preached three times in October for regional groups in Dallas, covering some basic biblical subjects that I am planning on developing into a short book within the next month. We will see if God approves that plan or not. I think it will be a good book to meet a continuing need to help disciples remain grounded in doctrinal fundamentals. In the midst of that very busy birthday month for Theresa and me (Theresa turned 76 on October 23 and I turned 77 four days later), came some very unwelcome interruptions.
In preparation for Peggy Malutinok visiting us, I went to our lake place to make sure everything was clean and in working order. Theresa and Peggy go there for several days each year for a spiritual retreat together. Just as I finished the last task of cleaning, suddenly water started pouring through the kitchen area ceiling. Great – a leaking roof! Within the hour, literally, as I had a builder in the area checking out the roof, he discovered active termites in the garage and a major water leak in the back yard. I’m saying to God (under my breath), “Really? On top of everything else, this?” I will spare you the details of what all of this led to for the next several weeks, but I should have tried much harder to get the big picture of what God was working to accomplish in my life. It took me the rest of the year to finally start thinking more spiritually and to begin seeing God’s hand in it all. Happy birthday month, Gordon!
I preached once in November and Theresa and I also spoke for the teen ministry in our local ministry region. Those times went well. Then the inevitable happened: my best friend of my whole life, Wyndham Shaw, passed into glory on November 21. His dear wife, Jeanie, had been staying in touch with us throughout his past several months, so his passing wasn’t unexpected. But it was hard, really hard. I wrote three fairly lengthy Facebook posts as a part of processing the loss. We traveled to Boston in early December to be with his physical and spiritual families and to be a part of the memorial service, a “Celebration of Life.” Jeanie used something else I wrote on the memorial program and I delivered the eulogy. Many others shared in the service and it was a time full of laughter and tears, sorrowing and rejoicing, introspection and inspiration.
I have a new book coming out very soon, entitled, “The Power of Relationships.” Two chapters are devoted to Wyndham and Jeanie, which include the FB articles, the memorial program article and the eulogy written out. As I said somewhere in the book, all that Wyndham was in life deserved to be stated and all that was stated deserved to be in print. I did my part of that, and Jeanie has her own book about Wyndham’s wisdom at the printer as well. She asked me to write the Foreword for her book, and I can tell you that the book is a veritable treasure chest of wisdom – from both Wyndham and Jeanie. It is destined to become a classic. Look for it!
Well, that about does it for 2019. Christmas and New Year’s with our son, Bryan, and his family was a welcome relief from the emotional toll of the six months prior. I don’t recall a year being as stressful and burdensome as last year was. I started off the new year at the lake by myself on a spiritual retreat. There I saw the hand of God come into full focus and my world turned rightside up once again. While I don’t believe for a moment that God caused all of the challenges in my life last year, I do believe that he had a very specific plan to use those things to help me grow spiritually. Unfortunately, I wasn’t looking for the answers nearly as quickly as I should have been. But God never lets up until he accomplishes in our lives what his plans are for us spiritually. Since that spiritual retreat, I have thanked God repeatedly for the challenges and pain of 2019. I will have more to say about that in next year’s newsletter. Stay tuned! And have a great year in 2020!