After 26 years, my final week in New Orleans

“Hitherto the Lord hath been our help” (I Samuel 7:12).

We’ve come this far by faith; I can almost see the lights of home from here.

Meanwhile, we who are in this body do groan (2 Corinthians 5:2).

This morning I thought, “I’m going to miss this neighborhood.  I’m going to miss my early morning walks down these wide, empty streets.”

Today was the last Thursday I’ll be doing this.  The movers come on Tuesday.

I don’t actually live in New Orleans proper.  River Ridge–my home since May 1994–is a western suburb, an unincorporated barnacle on the underbelly of metro N.O. I pastored First Baptist Church of Kenner, across the street from the airport, from 1990 into 2004 before becoming director of missions for the SBC churches.  Since 2009, my retirement ministry has kept me running.  Meanwhile, I have continued living in this house and worshiping at the same church.  Now, that is all about to change.  Margaret, my wife of 52+ years, died in January 2015. Twelve months later my son Neil moved his family to Mobile to be closer to his job.  In February of this year, I met Bertha.  The widow of a seminary classmate of mine was teaching English in a community college just outside Jackson, MS. Within a day or two, we both knew that “this” was the Lord’s doing.  We’ve chosen a house in metro Jackson MS (the northern suburb of Ridgeland) and as I sell here, I’m buying that one.

I’m moving to Jackson in a few days.

You would think the Johnny Cash/June Carter song “I’m going to Jackson” would be playing in my head these days.  It isn’t.  For reasons known only to shrinks among us, I’m hearing Marie Osmond singing “Meet me in Montana.” Go figure.

So, what do you do the last week in your house?   Today is Thursday. Saturday, I drive to Birmingham and preach for Community Baptist Church in Maylene before returning Sunday night.  The movers arrive on Tuesday. I move into the Ridgeland house on Friday.

Change is hard; it feels like loss.

During the Great Depression, longshoreman philosopher Eric Hoffer was picking string beans alongside migrant workers in California.  One day the bossman announced that the next morning everyone would be trucked to a field some miles away where they would be picking peas.  Hoffer lay awake that night wondering if he could pick peas.  Out of this came the genesis of his book “The Ordeal of Change.”

I’m so ready to be gone from here. And yet, it’s hard to leave everything familiar–the house, the neighborhood, certain close friends, my favorite stores and eateries.  But it’s time.

I’ve continued to shed tears as I go through drawers and closets and old boxes.  Some things I’ve saved, some I’ve given to family, and a lot I’ve thrown away. The last–discarding photos and mementos from over a half century–was incredibly hard.  To ease the pain, I say to myself, “This served its purpose.  It made us happy at the time. But we’re through with it now.”

I’ve decluttered this house so much that I could now move in a pickup truck.

I understand the way seniors in church become attached to the familiar and resist change.  But change is life.  To hold onto yesterday is impossible and unwise.  I’m struck by how many things we’re told in Scripture the Lord makes new.  In Christ we are a new creation, with a new heart, indwelt by the new wine of the Holy Spirit, singing a new song.  And so forth.

From all I know of how the Lord works, He’s preparing to do something new in my life.  He has made it plain that Bertha is a part of that.  What specifically He has in store, only He knows and He’s not telling. We will walk by faith into the future trusting Him.

Still to do before the truck arrives…

Some things around here I’m packing myself.  I went through my comic book collection last week and sorted them out, then packed securely in two large plastic tubs, the kind with secure lids on them. And I’ve packed my rock collection–fossils from my childhood (which Dad brought me out of the coal mines), arrowheads (found on the Alabama farm), and rocks from the Holy Land (one from the Jordan River, a pottery shard from Jacob’s Well, a rock picked up on the road outside Emaus, etc).  A dinosaur bone or two, other fossils I find intriguing, two tomahawks my brother and I found on the farm when I was 15, and a lot of rocks I either found or bought just because “they’re so pretty, don’t you think?”   I say I’m not attached to things, but this is the exception.

I’ve started the process of calling utility companies.  And sending out change of address notices. And I continue deciding to give things to Goodwill.  Fortunately, their donation center is within a mile of my house.  I must have dropped off donations twenty times this year so far.

What am I forgetting? Why am I anxious?

Sometimes when a wedding rehearsal is not going well, I will take the bride and groom aside and say calmly, “Whatever happens tomorrow in this ceremony, I promise you that one hour after we start, you will be married.” Ultimately, nothing else matters.

So I will get moved.  I will live at 203 Garden Cove, Ridgeland, Mississippi 39157.  I will find a new place to walk and shop and worship and will make new neighbors and new friends.

Living here, in this city and in this house, was right for the time, but that time has come and gone.  It’s now time to move on.  Eventually, the Father will say the time has come to “come home.”  I pray to be faithful to Him and His calling upon me every day until then.  I do so want to finish well.

I want to hear His “well done, good and faithful servant.”  That’s the only thing left on my bucket list.  But it’s as big as they come.






11 thoughts on “After 26 years, my final week in New Orleans

  1. My appreciated-brother,
    I pray God’s blessing and guidance on this new experience of yours! I’m sure the changes are challenging as you well described and I anticipate my own similar challenges in the future. Your steadfastness and committed heart will serve you well as you navigate new places, people and circumstances. Keep in touch as you have time and opportunity. I pray Christ might be more real in the days ahead.

  2. To my dear friend: I write to you from the perspective of being 13 years ahead of you. In so many ways our experience has been the same. And this is the bottom line: in many ways the best is yet to be. After 13 years in a second marriage I want to guarantee you that the second time around is as beautiful as the first when you get the wives like you and I have . Since we still have family in the Jackson area, I am going to look forward to having dinner with you and Bertha one day soon. My prayer is that the two of you will be as happy as Joan and I are. Have a great rest of your life. We look forward to sharing experiences soon.
    Red and Joan Michel

  3. One day when i was about as low as a person could be, i stopped by and asked to speak to you. You took the time and as you proclaim, “Your words have stood men on their feet”, your words did just that. Thank you so much for your faithfulness to the word. It has helped me in ways beyond measure on my path.
    Hope your site continues!!!

  4. I’m not sure what to say. I’ve always tied you with NOLA; perhaps because God used you in such a great way to guide ministers there. I wish you all the best. Keep striving for the prize in Christ Jesus, my friend, and you will most definitely complete your bucket list. Blessings!

  5. God bless!All is well!!Bertha is waiting.God will not leave you or fail you and Bertha!Be blessed and journey on…..Faithful Servant.Bettie & George Jeffords

  6. Thanks for being our pastor at First Baptist Kenner for a season in our life before Hurricane Katrina. You taught the word well and blessed me more than you will ever know on this earth. You then encouraged us at First Baptist Church Hammond with when our church was in transition in a memorable sermon.
    Praise the Lord for your words and your continued blessings to me and our daughter, Jessica Patterson Heddings, who lives in the Atlantic area. Please continue to “feed” us.♡♡♡
    Love you Brother Joe,
    Tommy, “Hank” Patterson & Jessica Heddings

  7. What a very moving article, Brother Joe! I know that God will bless you well in your move and your marriage! And, what a bucket list! I love it!
    Remembering you fondly,
    Terry Hinds Helton
    FBC Columbus when I was a MUW student

  8. We are so happy for you, Brother Joe. Bertha looks like a wonderful woman; I love her kind smile in the pictures you have shared. All the best to you both as you turn the final page in the chapter called “New Orleans” and start this new chapter.

  9. JOE, all you say about moving is “right on” for Juanita & I and helps me feel better about losing our 60 + years of living in Metairie.
    Please continue praying for us and for our prodigal son Alan, whom we haven’t for over a year, to come to Christ.
    It has been a genuine pleasure knowing you. Mat God continue to bless you in your new life.

    best regards and wishes

  10. Happy for you that God has always blessed your life, and is continuing to do so, with a lovely lady in your life, Bertha. Best Wishes for your new life together. God Bless You Always. I Love You. Your Daughter, Jinoke

  11. Hi Joe,
    I want to wish you and Bertha much happiness! Knowing you, the change won’t really be that hard. You will make friends quickly, find that new place to walk, will enjoy the new place God’s gives both of you to worship Him, and you will find yourself excited about the newness in your life! You will remember New Orleans with fondness, but you will move on with enthusiasm to see what God has in store for you in the days ahead! I wish you and your new bride many blessings.

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