Margaret and I returned home from New Mexico Monday evening about suppertime after two of the smoothest flights on record. Julie and the three grand-kids met us at the airport with the kind of welcome every human on the planet should experience at least once. On the streets, I noticed gasoline had dropped by ten to twenty cents. Several stations were advertising $2.05 for regular, which I never expected to see again.
While we were out, elves came in and transformed our house. It’s mostly brick, but there’s plenty of wood trim which needed painting badly. It was a soft green, now it’s bright white and the front door a dark burgundy. These elves, known in life as my brother Ron of Birmingham and his terrific son-in-law J.P. Hollingsworth of Warrior, Alabama, had made repairs all over the house and replaced the fold-down attic door. They even painted the patio swing. It’s like a new house. Best of all, we did not have to endure any of the clutter. Our “helpers” arrived a few hours before we left last Monday and departed the following Saturday before our return Monday.
The weather was cool. The house is wonderful. Later that evening, the Saints blew the Atlanta Falcons away in the “brand new” Superdome. Gas is affordable again.
The grandchildren watched as I opened a week’s worth of mail. “Let’s see if anyone sent me any money,” I said. That drew them in closer. Money they know about. “Ah, here’s a check for…four hundred dollars.” They clamored, “Let me see,” and started reaching. To my amazement, below it was another for seven hundred. And another for three hundred. And more after that. This little windfall was actually refunds from our health insurer and I’d been expecting it. But it was sure nice to see.
Quite the welcome home. We may go out and come in again.
In New Mexico, I spoke at a pastors conference hosted by WordSearch, the computer software company serving ministers. These had to have been some of the nicest people on the planet. When old friends–such as Nashville’s Windy Rich–heard I was bound for Glorieta, the envy was palpable. Anyone who has ever spent a week at this incredible conference center has vivid memories of its mountains, wooded hillsides, cool air, worship services in the huge chapel, and lasting friendships formed.
While we were there, another conference was being held on the grounds at the same time. ARMM is a ministry of the Nazarene Church for their retirees. As I recall, it comes out to “Association of Retired Ministers and Missionaries.” In the large dining hall, we shared meals with veteran missionaries to Iran and American Samoa. I suggested tongue-in-cheek that they begin an organization called “Ladies Elegantly and Gladly Glorified,” which would give their denomination an ARMM and a LEGG.
The servers at Glorieta all seemed to be retirees from Texas and Oklahoma, and were surely were some of the sweetest-spirited people I’ve ever met. “We’re here until October,” one said. “When they hold the balloon festival in Albuquerque. We attend that, then head home.”
One of my favorite side-trips at Glorieta–located maybe 15 miles up Interstate 25 from Santa Fe–in addition to visiting the Plaza of Santa Fe itself, is Lamy, New Mexico. For a long time this was as close as the railroad came to the city. What used to be a saloon and hotel and then became a steakhouse for generations now serves as a museum of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe. “The Harvey Hotel was right over there where the little park is now,” said the guide. “It was torn down.” I’d been here before and had seen it all. I thought.
“Walk on down through the park,” the guide said, “and notice the Pullman car. A family lives in it now. But that was President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s car. The one in which he made his final whistlestop campaign.” They’ve built a deck on the back of it, adjoining the tiny platform where the presidential party would have stood, or in FDR’s case, sit. A terrific piece of history.
Friday morning, Margaret and I drove northward to Taos. We’d been through there 27 years ago when our children were small and we had borrowed a friend’s camper. I still had memories of the lovely village of artists and artisans. But maybe I should have left it in memory. Santa Fe was better, and nearly two hours nearer. Not to say a couple of thousand feet lower. The elevation of Santa Fe is 7,000–nearly a half mile higher than Denver–and Margaret had trouble with the thin air. She was proud to get back to sea level Monday night.
Best thing about Taos was the snow-capped mountains nearby and the cool air. When you’re from New Orleans, you will go to great lengths to breathe in fresh, cool air.
Monday night’s extravaganza in the Louisiana Superdome was really something. For months, a long banner flew on the side of the dome announcing that the grand re-opening would be Monday, September 25, when the Saints played the Falcons. In fact, Tuesday of last week, we were eating at Carrow’s in Santa Fe when I noticed the local paper had run a big feature about this event and what it meant to New Orleans. Except they had it occurring on Sunday. These days, columnists leave their phone numbers at the end of their articles, so I called the writer, Tommy as recall, and left word that the event would be Monday night. For all the world to see.
You could not afford to buy this kind of publicity. ESPN and media representatives from across the planet told the New Orleans story all over again, but this time with a positive slant. “We’re ready for company. We need tourists. Let’s get this city going again.” With the Dome sold out, there was no place to accommodate all the media people, so the New Orleans Arena next door was opened. They watched the proceedings on a giant screen. Which means I saw the game better than they did. Without distractions and with my fridge handy.
Tuesday morning’s Times-Picayune headline shouted, “WHAT A SHOW!” That about says it. If ever a crowd overdosed on adrenalin, the 70,000 in the Superdome must have come close. And yes, I watched every minute of the game myself. To our Georgia friends, let me point out: we love you, we love Georgia, and we love the Braves. But we hate the Falcons. I mean despise them. They have mauled us and bruised us and disappointed us so often, we could beat them handily twice a year for the next decade and would still not be over it.
Okay, football fans, we’ve seen what emotion can do in a football game. Next week, we’ll find out who the Saints really are and what they’re truly made of.
While we were out, Larry Kennedy died. This wonderful president of William Carey College in Hattiesburg just found out in the last year that he had ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease. We were friends of over forty years, going back to classes we shared in New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He pastored First Baptist Amory, Mississippi, while I was at nearby FBC Columbus. Over the years, we’ve mostly visited by long distance, especially at times of grief and loss. I can still recall being shown around his office in Amory–this would have been the mid-70s–and seeing how totally organized Larry was. All his sermons catalogued, and even the sermons of others in bound volumes and conveniently indexed. Not for a thousand dollars would I have told him how disorganized and hit-or-miss was my filing system. After pastoring FBC Laurel for many years, he became an executive at Carey and then was made president. He was one of the finest.
Another of the best and godliest men I know, Deacon Jim Henry of Kenner’s First Baptist Church, died last week of cancer and was buried Monday. Pastor Tony Merida changed his sermon to talk about him Sunday morning and called off Sunday night services so people could attend the wake. The next day a huge turnout filled the sanctuary. Jim called me two weeks ago and chatted like everything was fine. He was particularly pleased that the Lord was using his illness to get through to his beloved father. As I recall from our conversation, Jim’s dad is a strong-willed independent man who sees religion of any kind as weakness. Watching his son face death was shaking his ill-placed confidence, and seeing how Jim was facing it was bearing an incredible witness to the man. Jim’s perspective was so 20/20 that he felt it would be a small cost if this brought his father to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Heaven is getting fuller and richer all the time.
Tuesday morning, a minister from Katy, Texas, phoned to say his church had a sizeable amount of money they’d like to share with six of our local churches still in the rebuilding stage. I sent him an e-mail with information on several congregations that can use all the help they can get. His was a welcome call.
It’s Tuesday in New Orleans and God is good.