Thinking About Things These Muggy Days

Sunday morning on my drive downriver to Port Sulphur, as I often do, I phoned my mom for a brief chat before she heads to church. To my surprise, Dad answered the phone. I said, “What are you doing up? You sleep til noon!” He said, “I’m getting ready for church. I feel fine. I even have my hearing aids in!” Then he said, “Here’s your mom.”

I know how privileged I am being able to have this conversation with my parents at my age (66) and at theirs (almost 90 and 94). Some of us Alabamians treasure a television commercial the legendary football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant made at the U of A campus over 20 years ago for a phone company. He was telling how he makes all the Bama players call their mamas on Sunday afternoon. At the end of the commercial, thinking the camera was off, he added something that just popped into his mind. “I sure wish I could call mine.” That comment was so poignant, they left it in.

Believe me, I know I’m blessed. And I’m grateful.

Mom said, “Last night, Pop was trying on some new clothes, and I told him, ‘You look so good, you ought to wear that to church tomorrow morning.’ So he is.” She described what he was wearing. Keep in mind, he’s 94 years old and has a shock of white hair and a white mustache. “A black shirt with a black leather vest, and a red bow tie.” I laughed and she said, “And a gold watch chain hanging from the vest.” I said, “All he needs now is a straw hat.” She said, “He has one.”

Monday she said he didn’t wear the straw hat. One of his great-grandsons told Pop and Mom they were the best-looking couple at church.

I related this to a couple of friends, and one of them, our distinguished president emeritus of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Landrum Leavell, who also knows about shocks of white hair, said, “Your dad sounds like a dude!” Oh, he is that. Grandson Neil said, “All Pop needs with that outfit is a six-shooter and holster.”

They threw away the mold when they made him.

Talking to another dude the other day–Joe Williams, our FBI chaplain and NAMB counselor assigned to Katrinaland for an indefinite period–we were discussing the ministry fatigue that everyone down here is experiencing. Joe is leading daylong seminars for pastors and wives to help them combat that fatigue and showing them how to help their members through it. It’s not just the ministers; it’s everyone in this part of the world.

I said to Joe, “Over the years, I’ve given some thought to fatigue. You might be interested in this.” I drew it off on a post-it note and handed it to him for future reference.

We know what MINISTRY FATIGUE is: You’re tired from serving. And we know what COMPASSION FATIGUE is: You’re tired from caring. Everyone in this hurricane-ravaged part of the world is dealing with those on an everyday basis, and these are the targets for Joe and wife Linda Williams’ seminars.

But I’ve identified a couple of other kinds of fatigue. There is what I call CUMULATIVE FATIGUE. This kind just keeps on building up. You can walk away from it and take a vacation, but when you come back, it’s like it has been sitting there waiting on you. It’s still huge and heavy. You start to work again and immediately you’re tired and grow moreso by the moment.

Parents of dysfunctional adult children know this kind of fatigue. They can go a week without speaking to the needy offspring, but when the phone rings and it’s him/her, all the weariness of their past relationship comes crashing down. They cannot start afresh with each new conversation. The tiredness expands and becomes less tolerable with every new encounter.

The other kind I’ve identified is ANTICIPATORY FATIGUE. First thing in the morning, you look at all the things you have to do that day and it makes you tired. You’re exhausted in advance.

I recall one day in particular when very little was on my calendar for that day. Early that morning, someone dropped by the office and we dealt with a problem. The phone rang and a member needed me. I drove across town and ministered as pastors do, then ran a couple of needed errands on the way back. In the office, someone was waiting to see me, and then an old friend I hadn’t seen in years surprised me by popping in. Finally, I got word of an important meeting that night I needed to attend. To my surprise, that night when I got home about 9:30, I was still fresh and strong. Had I had known at the start of the day all the events and people I would be facing that day, the problems that would arise, and the giving I would be doing, I would have been tired before I started. Since I didn’t know in advance, I lived in the moment for each one and gave no thought to what was coming next. And ended the day in great shape.

That’s a wonderful lesson I sure wish I could learn. I said to a dentist friend once, “You have people scheduled in 15 minute increments throughout the entire day. I would go stark raving mad.” He on the other hand revels in it.

My mentor James Richardson, now enjoying Heaven, used to laugh about a preacher he knew who was always telling people how overworked and busy he was. James said, “And that was the laziest man on the planet!” After meeting him, James shied away from ever telling anyone he was busy or tired.

I may have overstated something the other day.

I was writing here about my exercise program and the walking I do each morning. And I pointed out that I’m never sick any more. Then, Sunday afternoon I came down with a sinus headache and evidently an infected sinus, and got no sleep at all that night. I stayed home Monday and Margaret medicated me. How, I wonder, can one have a stuffed up head and a drippy nose at the same time? I spent the day reading and sleeping and writing and reading and sleeping. Evidently, no one is immune to ailments from time to time.

Course, it may just be fatigue.

I am amazed at how many texts in Scripture deal with fatigue. Passages like Matthew 11:28 and Isaiah 40:30-31 come to mind. The Lord surely knows what it means to be tired. “Jesus, being wearied from his journey….” (John 4:6)

The Times-Picayune says with Ray Nagin and Mitch Landrieu in the run-off for mayor, the “crossover voters” will decide the outcome of the May 20 election. Here’s what that means. Nagin received two-thirds of the Black vote and Landrieu received 24% of it. Nagin received very little of the White vote, whereas Landrieu received about the same support from the White community as from the Black. This means that the Blacks still have their two candidates in the election, whereas most of the Whites are now looking for a candidate to support. Nagin either has to get more Blacks to the polls than came Saturday or draw lots of Whites to his support. Landrieu has to keep those who voted for him Saturday and pull in others, presumably, the Republicans whose two candidates lost.

Couple of quotes from the paper. “Never before in city history have a white candidate and a black candidate squared off and each received a ‘crossover’ vote of at least 20 percent.” “‘The basic vote that’s (still) out there is the white conservative, so you have to have two Democrats appeal to white conservatives to get the vote to put them in office,’ said Ed Renwick, director of Loyola University’s Institute of Politics, on WWL-TV on Sunday.”

Ron Forman, the third-runner in Saturday’s election, has publicly endorsed Landrieu, to no one’s surprise. One commentator said that since Forman’s support came from well-educated and well-heeled voters, they tend to think for themselves and his endorsement of Landrieu probably carries little weight.

On the one hand, the pros say that when an incumbent mayor has 62% voting for his opponents in the primary, he is in big trouble. On the other hand, Mayor Nagin has been counted out so often, the 38% he received seems to represent a major victory.

Monday’s paper ran three pages of listings of property to be demolished. The notices were in such fine print, one wonders if any homeowner will bother to read it and if they would count this as sufficient warning.

Former NYC mayor Rudy Giulani toured the devastated areas of the city Sunday and met with various groups. I have no idea what anyone expects to come from this, other than receiving his verbal support, which we welcome from anyone. He keeps getting mentioned as a possible presidential candidate in ’08.

Cleaning off my drawing table, I threw away stacks of old paper. And found this.

It’s an unmailed letter I wrote to my Dad 10 years ago. It’s handwritten and dated August 20, 1996. I have no memory of writing it, but expect it was at a time when he was in the hospital or just out of it and the whole family was thinking of giving him back to the Heavenly Father at any moment. So, as our family is wont to do, I started thinking of Dad and Heaven. Here’s the letter. Dad will be seeing it for the first time, too.

“Dear Pop,

“Early this morning I was just remembering…

“Back in the mid-fifties when Toby and I would plow Bunkum, we were a mile away from the house. But at noon you or Mom would step out the back door into the yard and ring that old bell on the post. Its gong could be heard for miles in every direction.

“Toby caught the sound too and knew what it meant. His long ears would jerk to attention and he was instantly ready to go home. Usually I needed to finish a few more rows before leaving–it might rain before we got back down here–but Toby had only one thought in mind: lunch. He would almost run as he pulled the plow in the homeward direction. But when I tried to turn him around for that last row or two, he fought the lines and strained against me. It was hard to get a straight furrow on the outward row. Then finally, I pulled the harness off, slapped him across the backside, and watched him run up that long hill. I had thought he was tired, but there was no evidence of it now.

“You had always taught us not to ride the animal out of the field after he has been pulling the plow all morning.

“By the time I had walked that dusty mile home, Toby had finished eating the nubbins in the trough and was rolling in the dust. We had rigged up an outside shower and the water had been warming all morning. I stripped out of the cutoffs I wore–and nothing else, if you recall–and took a quick rinse. Mom would not let us in the house without it.

“To put my feet under Mom’s table was the best experience. The vegetables were plentiful, homegrown, and gathered that morning. After eating my fill of peas and cornbread, white corn, okra, tomatoes, fried squash, and canteloupe, there was just room for some icebox pie or one of Mom’s fried apple pie turnovers. There was nothing like it.

“In an old English graveyard the epitaph on a tombstone reads:




“I like to think of Heaven that way. We put in a long day down here, and rush to plow a few more rows before leaving. The distant bell sounds. It’s not frightening. We’ve been anticipating it for some time now. It’s calling us home.

“We are not sad to leave. The work was hard and we are tired. We turn to make the short journey homeward, knowing that good things await up ahead.

“The dirt of this world will be washed from us, for “Nothing unclean enters there,” we are told. A banquet table will be spread for us. If there’s none of Mom’s pies on the table, you might wonder whether you’ve landed in the wrong place. You’re home. Mama and Papa will be there. Brothers and sisters. Cousins, uncles, and aunts. It’s the best place there is. Finally, you are home.

“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on, that they may rest from their labors, and their works do follow them.” (Revelation 14:13) “To be absent from the body is to be present at home.” (II Corinthians 5:8) “Come you blessed of the Father; inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 25:34) “I shall dwell in the House of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23:6) “In my Father’s House….” (John 14:1)

“I love you, Dad.”

(Toby was our mule, the slowest animal on earth; just right for a kid to plow with. Bunkum was a tiny creek that flowed through a 20 acre bottomland we farmed. Nubbins are small ears of corn. And no, we did not have an indoor bath. We had a drilled well and electric pump and indoor water, but no bath. So we rigged one up outside.)

Sometimes at home to this day, you’ll find a scrap of paper where Pop has jotted down a note or two. Somewhere around the top of it, he will have scribbled: “I been thinking.”

It runs in the family, Pop.