Thursday, March 17, 2022

Autumn's Wedding

Autumn's "Giving Tree" wedding cake 

Autumn was adamant.  "I want to get married on St. Patrick's Day." As far as I know, Irish genes don't run through our family, and to top it off, the holiday was inconveniently falling on a Tuesday. But she loves the day and it was her dream, her choice. Most of us, her immediate family, were living in New York. We'd not only have to get all of us to Alabama, there was the matter of finding a place to stay once we got there. As it turned out, the timing could not have been more perfect, our renters having just moved out and on to another state. Our house was sitting empty and we could stay there.  But there was still the small detail of furniture. 
But my super-organized daughter had already thought of that. "I've got it all figured out mom. All we need is a table and some chairs, and I can borrow air mattresses for the bedrooms.  There's a fridge and a stove so you won't have to eat out the whole time."  Several days later, arriving weary after our thousand mile trek south, we found air mattresses in each of the bedrooms, adequate furniture to keep us comfortable for a few days and enough food in the pantry to take care of a few meals during our stay. Yes, she had indeed thought of everything. 

When we left Alabama to pastor in another state,  Autumn was halfway through her college career at Auburn University. After graduation she stayed in Alabama, far from family. So when Jimmie  asked her to be his wife, she had no mom or sisters close by to help take on some of the responsibilities. From the search for the perfect wedding gown to the selection of bouquets and boutonnieres, she was pretty much on her own.  
Autumn is a lover of books and trees, so it seemed only fitting that she combine the two. She selected a favorite, "The Giving Tree" and went to work. From the invitations to the design of the cake, along with the hand-painted dishes, centerpieces and favors, she planned and constructed every detail of her wedding to fit her theme. 

She and Jimmie booked the venue, sprawling grounds featuring a lovely old bed and breakfast with lush gardens for the outdoor ceremony and a large, graceful pavilion for the reception. It was perfect for the intimate ceremony and reception she desired.  The guest list was not extensive, made up only of hers and Jimmie's immediate families and very closest of friends. 

The day dawned beautifully, perfectly. The ceremony would begin late in the afternoon, the wedding party gathering a few hours earlier for dress and pictures. Again Autumn had thought of everything, including hungry kids. There were finger foods laid out for the taking. 

Valor, the ring bearer, sampling the finger foods 

If I needed to select one word that best describes that day, I think I would choose joyful. Starting with Moose the dog sporting his tux, the groomsmen in their converse, and the little people drawing oohs and ahs from those in attendance, there was pure delight in every moment. Finally, there was the setting itself, Autumn standing by her groom with her father officiating, a majestic tree behind them, as if it grew there just for this occasion. Just for her.  

Little person Elley
Looking sharp in their suits and converse shoes

Moose decked out for the occasion 


The perfect setting

And then there was the laughter. Autumn had picked out a favorite song, asked her sister to sing while the keyboard and violin accompanied her. The wind stirred up just as Fawn began, the gusts teasing, persisting in turning the pages of music sitting on the keyboard. "You've Got a Friend in Me," was as much laughter as song, and somehow, it felt right.  

The song was as full of laughter as it was music  

In fact, the whole day felt right. Autumn had planned and prepared so well, that every part of it was easy to enjoy.  I watched my radiant daughter relishing every moment, so deserved after months of getting ready for this day, most of it on her own. She laughed and joyed in the celebration of marriage to this man she wanted to spend her life with. 

Look, I made mama happy cry
Joyful Autumn


Today Autumn and Jimmie are celebrating their seventh anniversary. They've already had some wonderful adventures and continue to live them.  They also have a precocious little girl named Archer, a beautiful and unexpected blessing. 

There will always be challenges, they've already faced a few. But something tells me they'll be just fine, finding joy and laughter in the journey. 

Happy Anniversary Autumn and Jimmie. Much love, Mom.

Photographs taken by Stephen Poff

Thursday, October 21, 2021

The Touch

I had just left my car to walk the short distance to the food store when she saw me. Our eyes met, she smiled and I smiled back.  It was just what she needed I suppose to give her the courage to ask, "Do you have five dollars?" I was taken back a bit. "What do you need it for?" I asked. There was no awkwardness, no hesitation on her part. "I need cigarettes. I'm addicted to them." And after the slightest pause she added, "I'm just being honest." I looked at her wistfully, regretfully. I might have shaken my head just slightly as if to say, "Food, maybe yes. Cigarettes? No, don't think so." And I turned towards the shopping cart rack.

"Give her the five dollars." It wasn't audible, but I heard it nonetheless. "Give her the money and tell her about me." I turned back, opening my wallet as I walked towards her, thumbing through until I found a five. "I want you to know that Jesus Christ is the center of my life," I told her as I handed her the bill. And then I asked her name and if I might pray for her." She nodded. "That would be nice." I laid my hand on her arm, and calling her by name, had a conversation with God. I don't remember all I said, but looking back, I don't think that was the most important part of this story anyways.

The encounter lasted no more than five minutes. I will probably never know what impression, if any, those few moments made. That she didn't have five dollars for cigarettes suggests there were probably more serious issues in her life. But as I finished praying, she suddenly reached out and hugged me. "Thank you," she said. "It felt good to be touched again."

I don't like cigarettes. I don't smoke, never have. At first I didn't say anything, I didn't have to. My face and body language said it all. But then I heard that Voice, putting me in check, asking me to set my personal bias aside. And because I listened, I believe her greater need was met.

By the way, this encounter happened early this past spring, the pandemic's influence lessening, but still holding some sway over our daily lives. Signs strongly encouraging mask wearing and social distancing still hung on store windows and doors. The past year had meant loneliness and isolation for many. Perhaps this woman had experienced much of the same.

I still don't know her story and most likely never will. But for those few moments, I hope she sensed it wasn't just my touch upon her arm that day. 

Friday, July 23, 2021

Larry's Ties

Larry wearing his favorite football tie
Larry loves his ties.  Except for our time in Honduras, he rarely stood in the pulpit without one.  With 40 plus years in ministry, he's accumulated quite an assortment, taking up a good section of his clothes closet.  

Just some of the ties hanging in Larry's closet

But with that, he's also given a fair share away.  During his final Father's Day Service as pastor, he presented to each man and boy in attendance a tie out of his collection.  He had spent the day before sorting through and pulling out 30 or 40 of varied colors and designs before passing them out the following morning.  One summer during kids' camp, he put a tie around the neck of each boy for dress-up night.  I happened to be there that evening and saw a row of boys, proudly sporting their neckwear, parading into the dining hall to the applause of the girls and and their counselors.   

Even in retirement he continues to wear his favorite accessory.  Last year when the churches were shut down, he dressed up each Sunday morning with a button-down shirt and matching tie before accompanying me, a member of the worship team, to an empty sanctuary for the livestream. Just for fun, I started posting pics of him and his selection of the week on social media and people have been "following" his ties ever since.  

Larry wore this "bug" tie the first week of shutdown. 
 It seemed appropriate 

We love thrift shops though we probably spend more time looking than we do buying.  Lately, however,  Larry has started searching out, well, you know what.  There's a place over on Memorial Highway that has theirs for a buck. You just have to work your way through a couple of big boxes filled with other random stuff to find them, but he doesn't mind.  It's the thrill of the hunt I guess.  


His latest find from the Good Will Store

Speaking of hunts, a surprise package arrived some months back from our friend Deb in New York.  There were some treats for Rudy the dog, a couple things for me, and for Larry, a bundle of  ties that fit perfectly with his likes and personality.  She enjoys searching out the hidden treasures of a thrift store as much as we do, but when I asked where she managed to find the one he picked out as his favorite, she responded with one word.  Amazon.  

Larry's favorite from friend Deb

I suppose most of us collect something or other. I have a collection of snowmen, but they stay stored in our attic most of the year. But Larry enjoys sharing his tie collection all year long, sporting a different one each week. And as you can see, the children and other friends and family are great about joining him from Sunday to Sunday as we take the shot. It makes for memories and fun.  
Seeing friend Mac for the
first time in 14 years.
       This was a happy moment to share!     

Kids from church joining Larry for a picture

Autumn getting in on the fun

Babies too! 
Granddaughters are always nice 

Last week a small package came to our mailbox addressed to Larry. Imagine his delight when he opened the mailer to find several ties in nice condition of various designs tucked inside. His sister Paulette operates a community clothes closet and decided to surprise him.  It was like Christmas in July.                        

This butterfly tie belonged to
our friend Billy Headley
 who is now with Jesus

I recently heard someone make the comment, "Who wears those things anymore?" Well, I know one guy who does.  Recently he had the privilege of wearing two that had belonged to some special friends, now deceased, given to him by their widows.  He was honored to do so.  

This one belonged to Jimmy Stanfield
who is also with Jesus. 
 His granddaughter is standing next to Larry. 

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

The Day We Saw the Moon (A Memory)

Mom never missed a space launch

My mom loved a good space launch, and I don't think she ever missed a one.  It was an exciting time during the 60's, with NASA moving full throttle towards the ultimate goal, to put a man on the moon.  I still see her in our living room, seated on the edge of the couch, leaning forward, eyes glued to that little black and white screen. From the countdown to the firing of the boosters and then the liftoff, her focus was on one thing only: that ship and those manning it.   

It was July 20, 1969.  We were traveling back home to New York after a few days of vacationing in Ohio. Still a good 30 minutes or so from home, my dad pulled the car into my Aunt Mary's and Uncle Glade's driveway, all seven of us hurriedly piling out, and plopping down in front of their television set just in time to see Neil Armstrong descend that ladder and plant his feet on the moon. The picture from outer space was more grainy than clear, nothing like this had ever been broadcast before. It was the moon after all. But over 600 million people around the world were watching, the largest television audience up to that time. It was one of the most significant moments of the 20th century, and still to this day I am grateful that my parents made sure we didn't miss it. 

This morning, fifty-two years to the day later, history was made once again. A crew of four civilians were  launched into space, initiating a space program for tourists. Mom would have loved it, sitting on the edge of her seat, watching the launch all these decades later in high definition. As for me, I thought it would be cool to see a bit of history. But mostly, it was just another way to remember her.       

Friday, October 30, 2020

Mary's Card

I wrote this a few years ago but never published it.  Until now.  This is the story of Mary, one of the faithful that I was privileged to know during our years in pastoral ministry.  Today I post this in honor of her.    

We drove to Corning yesterday to check in on Mary.  She was falling a lot, probably due to her failing  kidneys and dialysis three times a week. Now she is in a nursing home for rehabilitation.  Our visit was long overdue, she'd been there for several weeks and this was the first time we'd been over to see her.  But she didn't seem to hold it against us.  Not Mary.  Larry went in search of a couple chairs and she immediately started to talk, as if the words had been pent up for way too long and she couldn't wait to get them out.  So for the next hour or so as I plied her with questions, she did just that.  Talked.  And talked.    

A place like that can be lonely.  In the case of Mary, her husband and daughter are a good half hour away and neither drives.  Several days might go by before she's able to see them, and she misses her own place.  But still too weak to dress or bathe herself,  going home isn't an option.  Not yet anyways.

Mary has lived a simple life.  She and her husband rent a small duplex, filled with too many cats and a daughter who will never be able to live independently.  For years she rode the church van each Sunday morning and evening, teaching the preschool classes.  She was faithful, never missing, always there.  And then about a year and a half ago she stopped coming, simply too weak to make the ride over and back. 

Mary teaching one of her preschool classes

As simple as her life might seem,  Mary is actually quite intelligent and articulate.  She always had a book close at hand for the downtimes while working the information desk at St. Joseph's, one of the local hospitals, a job she had to discontinue when she became ill.  We also have a nice church library, and no one has taken greater advantage of its contents over the years than Mary.  She would probably have made a good teacher.  Come to think of it, she was.     

Mary opened the drawer of her tray table and pulled out an envelope.  "Bill and I just had our anniversary," she continued.  I nodded.  I'd seen it listed in the bulletin a couple of weeks earlier.  "Forty-two years.  We've been married 42 years.  I was in rehab that day, and I didn't know he was going to come."  She began to cry.  "He was here an hour before he even came and found me.  He didn't tell me he was coming."  She opened the envelope and drew out a greeting card.  "He brought me an anniversary card and he didn't even sign it.  He never signs his cards which annoys me." She was quiet for a moment as she slid the unsigned card back into the drawer.  "But he came.  He came."  And that was enough.  
A footnote: 
We would see Mary just a few more times before receiving word that she had died.  Her desire was to get back home.  She did.  She's Home.  


Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Coming Home

Our Alabama Home

It was January of 2010,  and we were experiencing our first New Year in Elmira, a small city on the Southern Tier of Upstate New York.  We'd been living in the South for the last 14 years, so it would be a big change for us, even though we'd both been raised in snow country. For the next ten years we would welcome in each New Year from our little parsonage on the corner of Charles and Federal Streets.  It was the first time in many years we'd lived in such close proximity to the church that Larry was pastoring,  and we loved the spontaneous visits and activities we could host in our home.

We had sensed almost from the moment we came to interview that this was the church for us.  It would be confirmed through a divine encounter Larry had a few days later that these were the people God had chosen for him to shepherd. To love.  And that's what he did.  We did.   

When I met and fell in love with a preacher boy, there was a sense in my spirit that this was what God had prepared for me all along.  I believed it was my calling, very much in the same way that Larry was called to be a pastor.   When the challenges were especially difficult, and we've had our share, I would remember that this was what we were created for.

The diagnosis was not unexpected but still difficult to hear.  Dementia.  We'd seen the signs.  Larry was having noticeable memory issues and finding it harder to keep track of all the responsibilities associated with being a pastor.  And though the illness was fairly early in its progression, we sensed that it was time to step away from full-time ministry and enter retirement. It was not an easy decision.  We loved our people, our community, our calling.  We would have been content to stay the course for much longer.  But we learned a long time ago that the journey often takes some unexpected turns. This just happened to be a big one.

I've always considered myself pretty adaptable.  When the kids were young, we packed up and moved to Costa Rica and then on to Honduras.  That meant both a change of cultures and  language. We've lived in the country (on a dusty dirt road), small towns and cities of varied sizes. Moving was never easy, but I saw each change as a part of the journey already laid out for us.  And with the changes,  there was always the exciting prospect of discovery and adventure in new places with people that we would get to know and grow to love.

I have to be honest. I was not anticipating this next leg of the journey.  People would often congratulate us on the retirement that was fast approaching, the obligatory thing to do I suppose.  But I felt no sense of anticipation at the thought of leaving this life that had brought us such a sense of fulfillment and joy for the last forty-two years.   

It was in August, just over a year ago, that we stopped after a long day of several hundred miles and snapped a picture at the Alabama border, grateful that we had just a few more hours of travel.  The sentiments from that welcome sign, aptly borrowed from the southern rock group, Lynard Skynard, spoke more deeply than it had on our occasional visit back to the southland over the past 12 years.  That's because this time we were coming back to stay.  

When Larry resigned his position from the church in Alabama, we never anticipated living in this house again.   But after putting it on the market and trying to sell it on and off for seven years, we came to the conclusion that it simply wasn't to be.  When the time was right, this would be our home again.  Perhaps we should have known that this was God's plan all along.  This place, this house, for this time.   

When we first came to Alabama back in the summer of 1995, our first months were in a rental.  Less that a year later, we were living in a brand new house, our first ever, on an acre of land.  A contractor who attended the church offered to build a home for us at his cost. It was one of his last jobs.  Cancer took him within a year or so after we moved in.  And so here we are, living in a house built by someone, who in spite of his own need, provided for ours 25 years ago.  And God, knowing what our need would be down the road, chose to keep this place for us.  

Starting with the farmhouse turned parsonage on that dirt road in Pennsylvania, to the mission house in Honduras, and finally, on to that dear place on the corner of Charles and Federal in New York, all have been home to me. To us. But at this juncture in our lives, I am especially grateful for our Alabama home. We are taking each day as it comes with the challenges of dementia, and I am learning to be content in this season of my life.  And as for what comes next, there are no guarantees.  But for now, we are simply grateful.  

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Water from the Well

A free-flowing artisan well in Prattville, Alabama 
We stopped by one of the artisan wells here in Prattville a few days ago to fill our water jugs.  I met the nicest lady who had come to fill hers as well, and we chatted while Larry helped an elderly gentleman carry several full containers to his pickup.  This was not the first time we've met and visited with people at what appears to be one of the most popular spots in town.  Earlier this summer we met a group of women from a church in Montgomery loading various sized containers, anything that held water, into their van. It was obviously as much a social event for them as they gathered around the well, laughing and talking among themselves.

When we first moved to Alabama almost 25 years ago, I didn't think much about the artisan wells in the area.  We were living in a brand new house and I was perfectly content with the water pouring out of those shiny kitchen spigots.  Besides, my life was simply too busy to be hauling bottles of water into the house for what was at that time a family of six.      

Fast forward to Elmira, New York where we would spend our final years of pastoral ministry.  We were settling into the parsonage when a member showed up with a water cooler and plopped it down in our kitchen.  "As long as you're here, you help yourselves to as much water as you want from my store." he insisted.  One sip of that pure, spring water was enough to convince us that it was worth the few miles drive to John's business to keep us in supply, and for the next ten years that's all we drank at home.  When one has had a taste of the best, it's hard to be satisfied with anything else.

"Take the cooler with you,"  John insisted when Larry offered to return it as we packed up our household items. "That was a gift."  And a wonderful gift it had been, but out of his generosity I had moved beyond simple preference to dissatisfaction with anything but that pure,  unadulterated spring water.  And the other downside to all of this, we'd have to start buying what had been so generously given to us over the past ten years.

Not too many days later we pulled into our Alabama driveway, this time to stay.  The moving truck had already been emptied of our belongings, including the water cooler which now sat empty in the kitchen corner.  A couple days later, we were drinking what had come from one of those same wells that I had hardly taken notice of all those years earlier.  A couple of the guys who were helping us move in had taken our empty jugs and filled them with water that was still pouring out of the ground all these years later.  It cost us nothing, and it was good.  Very good.

Larry filling up one of our jugs 
Back to that elderly gentleman who Larry was helping a few days ago.  "Some friends visiting here from Chicago took as much water as they could fit in their vehicle back home with them," he said.   I thought of those women who travel from Montgomery to fill their bottles from the well.  And as I stood talking with my new acquaintance, we couldn't miss the deeper meaning in all of this.  She recalled Jesus meeting the woman at the well, a place where she opened her heart to the greatest need in her life, the Living Water.  I remember that all those years ago, I was satisfied with what came out of my tap. It was fine. That is, until I had a taste of something that was so much better.

Prattville--also known as "The Fountain City"