When it rains, it pours

It’s been a tough week in the Buford household, over here northwest of Dallas in Flower Mound.

Not that things aren’t tough all over. Obviously, they are.

And believe me when I tell you I know how blessed we are that things aren’t worse under these surreal COVID-19 circumstances.

But allow me wallow in self pity for a moment.

My 85-year-old mother Eudella moved in with Marcy and I about two weeks ago.

Mom and I drove from Florida in her car, a U-Haul trailer in tow and her dog Tiger in the back seat.

Of course, this was all happening as schools, businesses and churches began closing down in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

That left us to deal with a displaced mother coming to grips with a new life and new circumstances, essentially without being able to leave the house.

Then there’s the dog. Or should I say dogs.

Tiger is actually very sweet and very well-behaved. It’s our dog Murphy who is the problem.

Murphy is not at all happy about sharing her house with this interloper.

We’re having to keep them separated while we desperately try to get them better acquainted – with the help of a trainer who, of course, can no longer come in the house.

One dog sleeps upstairs, the other downstairs. We feed them separately. We walk them separately.

It was on one of these walks when things really took a turn for the worse. We were coming back from walking Tiger on Thursday evening when Mom fell in the doorway and broke her hip.

She had surgery the next morning and remains in Medical City Lewisville, where of course we are not allowed to visit. She is moving to in-patient rehab today, and we expect her to remain there for a week to 10 days.

As one might expect, I texted the church staff with news about my mother’s fall when it happened.

I needed support and prayers, and the pastors and staff have been a rock of encouragement and support to me and my family from the day I began working at First United Methodist Garland.

My text began with “When it rains, it pours,” which brings me to the point of this long-winded tale.

One of the first responses, and one I will remember for the rest of my life, came from Pastor Caroline Noll, our Associate and Pastor for Children and Families.

I didn’t keep the exact words (should have), but the gist of it was this:

“I’ll be praying for an umbrella for you and your family.”

Never has a prayer touched me more deeply.

Pastor Caroline is a gifted servant of God, one I’m blessed to know and to work with in ministry.

And on this particular day, I believe her comforting words were a gift from God, delivered through her.

God speaks to all of us in many different ways. He asks only that we listen.

Especially in this time when the rain is falling, and we all need an umbrella.

Honoring my mother

Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

– Exodus 20:12

Indulge me, if you will, in a bit of selfish and personal reflection.

God has given me much for which to be thankful in my nearly 66 years on this earth. Nothing more so than my beautiful mother.

Mary Eudella Remscheid. She goes by Eudella, or Grandma Della to the grandkids.

A mere 20-years old when I was born, she was the oldest of three sisters. So my grandfather threatened to throw me out the window if I was a girl. Mom responded by having three boys!

Not quite 11 years after I was born, my dad was killed in an auto accident on an icy road one winter morning on the way to work, leaving my brave mother to raise three boys on her own.

And she did so fearlessly.

After Dad died, we moved from Haysville (a Wichita, Kansas suburb) to Pittsburg, Kansas to be near our grandparents and several aunts, uncles and cousins.

It wasn’t long after that when Mom, not wanting us to miss out on anything for lack of a father, did what most of our relatives told her was unthinkable. She embarked with her three boys on a road trip vacation to California and Disneyland.

We didn’t miss out. Then or any other time as we were growing up, thanks largely to the love and unselfishness of my mom. 

Now 85, Mom is preparing for another long road trip with me. In a couple of weeks, I’ll be flying to Florida and driving back with her as she comes to live with my wife Marcy and me.

Mom’s not quite as fearless or independent as she used to be. And she needs more help these days than she would ever care to admit.

As many who have been through the experience of caring for an older relative can no doubt attest, it will not be easy introducing another person – even a loved one – into our daily lives.

And she has a dog!

Tiger will be joining the Buford menagerie, which already features a dog and a cat. (I fear Murphy and Sophie will not be pleased.)

But Mom set a wonderful example of love and courage in addressing head on the challenge of raising three boys on her own. Can I do less in return in her time of need? 

Can I love and honor my mother as she loved and honored me? 

Marcy has certainly stepped up to the plate and accepted the challenge, which is significant since she’ll be the one spending the most time with Mom while I’m at work during the week. Her example of courage and love is no less great than Mom’s in raising my brothers and me.

I pray that I’m up to the task. That I can live up to their example.

And that God will bestow upon me courage and strength. The same courage and the strength he gave Mom 56 years ago. 

Remember your baptism

I was baptized in the Assembly of God Church. Don’t remember exactly when. Sometime in the mid ’60s.

It was a full immersion. At that age, probably 12 or 13, I’d never seen it done any other way.

The baptistry – or dunk tank as I suspect I called it at the time – was located behind the chancel. Two sliding doors opened to allow the congregation to witness the event.

I and maybe four of five others were dressed in t-shirts and bathing suits. We met with the minister in a room behind the chancel before the service.

At the appointed time we were ushered into the tank one at a time. I remember the water was cold, though not uncomfortably so.

I knelt. The minister held the back of my head and the small of my back as he lowered me backwards, dunking me under the water and quickly bringing me back up.

As he did so, he uttered words something like “I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

That was it. Then we had lunch, I think.

The whole thing didn’t mean that much to me at the time. It was something I was supposed to do. I did it. And everyone seemed quite happy about it.

By Giotto di Bondone - Giotto di Bondone, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=94619

It has taken on new meaning for me over the years. A meaning that comes into sharper focus tomorrow on Baptism of the Lord Sunday.

On this special Sunday, we commemorate the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by John the Baptist.

We do so by remembering our own baptism. Not so much the mechanics of it, but rather the meaning.

It symbolizes purification and renewal. The surrender of a sinful life in favor of a new life where those sins are forgiven.

It symbolizes Jesus’ death and resurrection. And our belief that we, too, are promised an everlasting life after death.

This is probably what qualifies as the greatly simplified view. Scholars and theologians more studied and well versed than I can spend hours on the subject.

But to me, it boils down to this.

It is a recognition and an acknowledgement that God loves me for who I am. Unconditionally. Despite who I am. Regardless of my warts. Regardless of my faults.

And all this, says the Introduction to the Baptismal Covenant of The United Methodist Church, “is God’s gift, offered to us without price.”

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Forever thankful

Give thanks to the Lord, our God and King, his love endures forever. 

This is the opening lyric of Michael W. Smith’s Forever, one of our ‘go to’ songs back when I sang with the praise band at St. Nicholas Episcopal in Flower Mound.

I sang the lead. The Michael W. Smith part. Not that I was ever mistaken for him, but that didn’t matter.

The band loved it. The congregation loved it. It’s upbeat. It has lots of energy. We sang it with passion. And the message – from Psalm 118 and 1 Chronicles 16:34 – is wonderful.

I’m reminded of this as I give thanks for the many blessings I enjoy. 

I’m thankful for another year of health and happiness. 

I’m thankful for my family. Especially for Marcy, my wife of 36 years.

And for my 85-years young mother Eudella, who with any luck will bless us with her world’s-best banana pudding when she visits this Christmas. 

I’m thankful for my church family at First United Methodist Garland. 

I’m thankful to be in ministry with Senior Pastor Valarie Englert and a dedicated, professional, passionate and spirit-filled church staff. 

And I’m especially thankful for a vocation that allows me to provide for my family while serving God’s kingdom. 

I’m thankful to live in a country where I’m free to worship as the Spirit moves me. To disagree with my friends and neighbors and still love them. And be loved by them.

I’m thankful for those working tirelessly on behalf of the less fortunate. In our city. In our country. On our borders. And around the world.

Most of all, I’m thankful for a God who loves me for who I am. And in spite of my faults.

Thankfully yours … 

Of memories and psalteries

I will sing a new song unto thee, O God: upon a psaltery and an instrument of ten strings will I sing praises unto thee. Psalm 144:9 (KJV) 

It’s been old home week for me of late. Old home weeks, actually.

It began on a somber note. A bittersweet weekend with aunts, cousins and old friends at my dear Aunt Gerry’s funeral July 27 in Pittsburg, Kansas.

A much happier occasion followed. Off I flew to Chiefland, Florida for a few day’s vacation and my mother’s 85th birthday celebration on August 21. 

Last weekend, it was a much shorter trip. An hour’s drive north to Denison to see my brother Chris, his wife Linda and their new home.

Yesterday I had lunch with a few old friends I haven’t seen in years – co-workers from my 22 years with Nortel Networks.

On Wednesday, my cousin Steve and I met for lunch. And for the hand-off of a gift for my wife Marcy – a psaltery. 

At various times Marcy has played the guitar, the dulcimer, the French horn and the recorder. She even jumped in on a washtub bass one Christmas Eve at First United Methodist Garland. Her real gift is playing and teaching the piano.

And now the psaltery – or psaltry (also a correct spelling) – has been added. 

A psaltery is “an ancient and medieval musical instrument like a dulcimer but played by plucking the strings with the fingers or a plectrum (pick).” (lexico.com/en/definition/psaltery

The psaltery is mentioned 17 times in various translations of the Bible, understandably in reference to playing and singing praises to God. (By the way, our pew Bibles – the New Revised Standard Version or NRSV – do not reference the psaltery, but rather the lyre.) 

The psaltery is, of course, related to the word “psalter,” which refers to the Book of Psalms, or “a copy of the Psalms, especially for liturgical use.” (lexico.com/en/definition/psalter)

Those of you who attend our 8:30 Service of Morning Prayer and Communion on Sunday mornings are familiar with the psalters we sing and recite each week from The United Methodist Hymnal

Tomorrow morning’s service is particularly Psalm-heavy (Psalter 756, Psalm 25:1-10; Psalm 121 and Psalm 139:1-18) as Senior Pastor Valarie Englert closes our “Holy Rhythms” worship series with “Night.”

I find this particularly comforting.

In times of sadness as well as times of joy and fond memories, I often turn to music to lift or capture my spirits. What better way to do so than praising our Lord and Savior with the psalters and the psalms.

I don’t yet know what Marcy will choose to play on her psaltery. But whether it be psalters, classical music or classical rock, I’ll enjoy it. They’ll all be reminders of God’s blessings and God’s grace. 

The better part

I don’t read as much as I should.

Not sure why that is. I read a lot as a kid. Won a prize in second grade for reading 100 books.

I used to inhale science fiction voraciously. Robert Heinlein. Isaac Asimov. Arthur C. Clarke.

Ray Bradbury. Fahrenheit 451. The Illustrated Man.

But I no longer read as much as I should.

Not sure why that is, but I have a few theories.

For one, I grew up in an age where color TV was just past the novelty stage. I loved it! And I spent much of my discretionary time in front of the TV rather than reading.

Which leads to another theory.

I’m something of an impatient person. (Cue the eye roll!) Hence I often prefer a two-hour movie to reading the book.

I’ve also come to realize as I get older that sitting or laying still and reading a book often puts me to sleep. Probably some sort of disorder I should get checked out.

Of course, I read the sports page.

And I have a stack of books at home purchased with every intention of reading them. It just seems I never get around to it. For whatever reason, I just don’t make time.

I did listen to an audio book once on a long car trip. Tom Clancy’s Red Rabbit. (I’m a big Clancy fan, too, by the way. The Hunt for Red October is one of my all-time favorite books. And movies.)

I may pick an audio book this morning as I head out on the road to Pittsburg, Kansas for my aunt’s funeral.

Which leads to another admission. I don’t read the Bible as much as I should.

One good thing about being the Director of Communications at First United Methodist Church Garland is that I’m more or less ‘forced’ to read at least two Bible passages each week – the scripture lesson and the message text for Sunday’s worship service.

I’m reminded of my aunt – Geraldine Buford – as I read Luke 10:38-42, the lesson preceding Senior Pastor Valarie Englert‘s message “Little Icons” this coming Sunday:

Now as they went on their way, [Jesus] entered a village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying.

But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to [Jesus] and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work myself? Tell her then to help me.”

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

In many ways the Martha in this story is me. Absorbed and engrossed in, preoccupied and distracted by the many things I have to do.

On the other hand my Aunt Gerry was the epitome of Mary.

She was not worried about or distracted by the things of this life. Her “one thing,” her focus on “the better part” – a deep, abiding love for Christ.

Like my Uncle Charles, who passed in 2013, Aunt Gerry was unequivocal, unwavering in her faith and her love for the Lord.

She never missed an opportunity to share the story of God’s grace with anyone who would listen, nor did she ever tire of sharing it.

Aunt Gerry and Uncle Charles loved to sing. They would strike up an old, traditional hymn at a moment’s notice.

And as my cousins, myself and many more family and friends whose lives she touched gather to celebrate her homegoing, we are secure in the knowledge that she and Uncle Charles are leading the heavenly choir.