Wave on Wave

10123DB3-7F63-46D9-8C06-B9EE892CAF74Family members got a text yesterday from my Aunt Karen.  It read: “Robert is under hospice care and going down rapidly! Will stay in touch! I love you!!”

Karen is my dad’s younger sister and actually held me in her arms before my dad did.  Karen worked at Lindley Memorial Hospital in Duncan, Oklahoma, and was with my mom when I arrived, two weeks early, on February 18, 1960.  Daddy was in Springfield, Missouri, preaching in revival services and caught the first train available back home.  In addition to my parents, some of my earliest familial bonds were with Karen.

This morning I got a text from my brother, Jeffrey. It said: “Robert passed about an hour ago.  Funeral arrangements are pending.”

In 1965, I walked down the aisle at Bethany Calvary Church of the Nazarene with Nona Powers at Robert and Karen’s wedding.  It took a while for me to understand that being a “mini bride and groom” was purely symbolic, but for a few weeks I thought Nona and I had gotten married, too.

Karen had graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Bethany Nazarene College (now Southern Nazarene University) and was working for the phone company.  Robert had taken a few classes at BNC but was working at the Conoco station on 23rd and they lived in some tiny apartments on Asbury.  Jeffrey and I liked the apartment a lot, mainly because Robert and Karen had a TV and we didn’t and on Saturday mornings we could watch cartoons there!

It wasn’t too long after they got married that the lure of the Southern Pacific Railroad became strong enough that Robert and Karen moved back to his hometown of Houston.

The Thompsons were a railroad family.  Frank and Azalea, Robert’s parents, lived on Pineshade for decades and although Frank was a highly educated man, he loved the railroad and his sons followed in his footsteps.  Houston seemed a world away from Oklahoma City back then and I remember my Grandad and Memaw Johnson feeling a sense of loss when their daughter moved away from them.

For several years Jeffrey and I would take a summer trip on the train from OKC to Houston with Adaline, (Sweet Adaline) a lady who lived with my grandparents. We always looked forward to the new adventures those journeys brought us.  Our first trips to Astroworld, the Astrodome, Galveston and the Gulf of Mexico happened on those trips.  And Jeffrey and I learned to swim in the pool at their apartment complex in the summer of 1968.

I say we learned to swim, but actually it was I who learned to swim that summer.  Mostly, Jeffrey learned to hold on to the wall and pretend that he knew how to swim.  I wasn’t a great swimmer as an eight year old, but I had at least conquered my fear of the water, which came in handy that fall.

October of 1968 is significant in my mind for two reasons.  While on a family outing for a few days at Western Hills State Lodge in Oklahoma, I watched a couple of games of the World Series and decided that I liked the St. Louis Cardinals more than the Detroit Tigers, thus beginning an undying allegiance to the “Birds on the Bat.”

The other reason I remember that trip was that Jeffrey and I were in the pool and he lost his grip on the wall and started going under.

I’m not sure where Daddy was but Mother, who did not swim, was with us and took notice of Jeffrey’s sudden struggle to get back above water.  I heard her cries and instinctively grabbed a gulp of air and went down and pulled him back up and felt like a big boy hero for at least the rest of the day. But it wouldn’t be wrong to say that Robert was the hero, too.

Robert and Karen had three beautiful children and we cousins have drifted in and out of each other’s lives at different times.  They are each incredible people and I hope we get together more often in years to come. Distance may make the heart grow fonder but it can also make it hard to be together in the same room.

Life takes unexpected twists and turns and sometimes it’s hard to know how things will turn out.  For example, Robert and Karen loved their children without question, and I know they had love for each other, but sometimes even that isn’t enough to save a marriage.  And so, after 29 years, Robert and Karen went their separate ways to an extent.

Karen is one of the most amazingly energetic people I’ve ever known who still loves the fast lanes of Houston-area real estate.  Robert was content with the solitude of a engineer’s cab on a rail system that had only one lane.  Both found love in new life partners and our family circle grew even wider as a result.

Over these last couple of years I have been amazed at how Kristal, Shane, and Angel and their families have loved on Robert, even as he was slipping away.  Equally amazing to me is the way the Karen and Steve have, too.  Redemption is a God-given gift that is always appropriate and always available when we’re willing to be a part of it.

As a part of my work today, I find myself with some free time, sitting in a hotel room on the Gulf of Mexico in Orange Beach, Alabama.  I’m watching the gentle lapping of waves on the sandy white shore.  And I’m thinking about the day Robert and Karen and Jeffrey and I went to Galveston.  I remember how Robert could float on top of the water as easily as he would lie on the couch when he got home from a run on the rails.  He would float almost out of sight, enough so that I worried he might never come back.

Texan Pat Green had a great hit on country radio almost 15 years ago and I was always struck by the story line.  “You came upon me wave on wave, you’re the reason I’m still here…”  The song’s talking about a guy and girl, but I think maybe God speaks through words like that.

A railroad track determines where the train will go and maybe the engineer doesn’t have to pay a lot of attention, but I can see this lyric coming to life as Robert sat in that cab:

Mile on Mile [seems like] no direction
We’re all playing the same game
We’re all looking for redemption
Just afraid to say the name
So caught up now in pretending
What we’re seeking is the truth
I’m just looking for a happy ending
All I’m looking for is You

Robert rode the waves of the Gulf as easily as he rode the rails of the train.  And this morning, he relaxed and floated “wave on wave” all the way to shores of sweet deliverance from the bonds of this earth.  Maybe Jesus was there cooking breakfast when Robert showed up and that makes me smile!

 

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Lord Help Us!

Orange Beach Sunrise

Lord, we thank you for another day that has been given to us by your grace.

I pray, Lord, that the grace which you have extended to us will encourage us to be further extensions of that grace to others.

Help us, as residents and leaders within this amazing place, to extend grace to persons who at times may seem ungrateful for, or unaware of, the privileges that so many of us have been given.

Help us to extend grace to persons who either by their own hand or, through no fault of their own, find themselves in a place of great hurt or great pain.

Help us to extend grace to people who seem different enough to us that they cause us to feel afraid of, or antagonistic toward, without even really knowing them.

Help us to extend grace to those with whom we disagree, even when we’re pretty sure we’re right about whatever it is we’re disagreeing.

Finally, Lord, give us grace to lend our human hands to whomever we can, whenever we can, by whatever means we can, and in so doing honor the grace we’ve been given by your almighty hand.

AMEN.

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Remembering

 

Anniversaries are interesting. For most, they are joyous. For many, they are painful. Regardless the emotions they evoke, anniversaries are reminders.

September 11, 2001, will always and forever be remembered, at least in most Americans’ minds, as a day when everything changed. Alan Jackson put it like this in his song, “Where were you when the world stopped turning?”

It changed us in a way that still causes us to often look at a particular group of people with suspicion, if not actual fear and hatred. Vicious attacks and our memory of them are a combination that breeds contempt and it takes a lot to overcome it.

For those who continue to grieve personal loss from that fateful day in 2001, my heart is filled with sympathy. I pray that God’s healing grace continues to flow to you in gentle and reassuring waves.

September 11, 2010, is a date we remember in our family for completely different reasons. In the late afternoon of an unusually warm and humid day in Alabama our middle son, Brian, married Ashley Foster. Suddenly and sweetly September 11 could also be remembered as a day when love, not hate, ruled the day.

Brian had asked his younger brother, Austin, to be his best man. In the history of best man speeches, Austin’s will go down as one of the best I ever heard.

Comedian that he is, Austin opened by saying (this is a paraphrase based on my memory), “When Brian told me they were getting married on September 11, I said ‘For real? You know what happened on September 11 a few years ago, right? Are you serious?’”

He said a couple of other funny things with a nod to his older brothers. And then he looked at Brian and Ashley and said, “We’ll always know about the attacks on September 11, 2001 and where we were as we watched buildings crumble and fall. But because of what’s happening here today, we can also remember this date for something else.”

Austin closed with something to the effect of, “Hate can bring buildings to rubble on the ground, but true love is different. True love like we see in Brian and Ashley tells us that nothing can tear love down no matter what comes its way!”

So, today’s a day of remembering.

For few million people in Florida, September 11, 2017, will be the day they woke up and knew that although things looked bad, they’ll know it could have been even worse.

For thousands of family members, they’ll remember this day in 2001 and the loved ones they lost and the first responders who lost their own lives trying to save others. They’ll remember that although time doesn’t actually heal all wounds, time does bring the perspective that life is still available to them and should be lived with purpose.

For our family, we’ll remember that Brian and Ashley stood before God and the rest of us and said they’d love each other with a “for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others, till death do us part,” kind of love that even terror cannot tear down.

Love is a curious thing. It’s more a choice than an emotion, but the choice to love brings a kind of sentiment that will stand the test of time.

Whatever you’re remembering today, choose to love those dearest to you with all your heart. If you’re feeling adventurous, choose to have a heart of love for others as well.

Finally, never forget that the God who created you is for you and with you and is deeply interested in redeeming all the days, whether filled with joy or pain, of your life. Remembering this is as important as anything you will ever remember.

 

What Makes Your Heart Sing?

Remember The Troggs’ 1966 hit song echoing, “Wild thing, you make my heart sing.  You make everything groovy?”

Of course, you’d either need to have been born no later than the early 60s or be a particularly involved oldies fan to know what I’m talking about.  I hadn’t even thought of the song in a long time until last Friday.

The Rev. Dr. Sandra Randleman, associate pastor at Nashville First Presbyterian, spoke at the weekly Kiwanis Club of Nashville luncheon and she encouraged members to ponder some personal questions.  Among them, I was particularly struck by these:

  • What makes your heart sing?
  • What makes you lose track of time?
  • How might your gifts intersect with the world’s needs?

I scribbled notes down on a sheet of paper I had stuck in my coat pocket.  I suspect I’ll be thinking about the things I heard for some time to come.

Funny thing about coat pockets, at least for me.  They become reservoirs of notes I take in the inspiration of a given moment.  I often forget that I put these handwritten reminders of things people say only to rediscover them months later.

For example, last Wednesday I threw on a jacket made of material generally appropriate only in warmer times of the year.  With temperatures approaching the 80s, I slipped it on as I left the house not knowing of the blessing I’d find later in the date.  On an offering envelope taken from the pew rack at Millbrook (AL) Church of the Nazarene last summer I found one of those reservoirs of refreshment in my pocket.

I heard two good messages that day at a funeral of one of the kindest ladies you could have known.  That offering envelope was covered in notes I had taken while listening to Phil Fuller eulogize his mother, Nina.  Later, Nina Fuller’s close friend, Nina Gunter, delivered a prior to beautiful message of comfort for family and friends.

I had known Roy and Nina Fuller for many years.  They had a sweet and encouraging presence about them in the few times we had personally interacted.  But Phil grew up in their house.  He knew them in a way only a son could and the things he said about his mother could serve as a blueprint for how we might achieve world peace, or at least enjoy better relationships.

Whether with bombs fired from ships and planes, from our own mouths, or from our computer and smart phone keyboards, the world in which we now find ourselves is full of pain and danger.  As much as I wish I could solve the geo-political issues of our day, most days I feel downright helpless.  The incessant human suffering displayed around the globe and sometimes across the street just seems to much to bear.

I think the reason the world stays so torn up is because we forget that maybe there’s something in our pocket we forgot was there.  It just might help us if we found it.

Maybe the blueprint for world peace illustrated by the life of people like Nina Fuller that I found in my notes on that offering envelope isn’t so complicated after all.

Here are the main points of the blueprint I took from Phil’s words about his mom:

  • Like it says in Proverbs 31:25-26, “Strength and dignity are her clothing, And she smiles at the future. She opens her mouth in wisdom, And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” (NASB)
  • She seemed to say only encouraging words.
  • It was just natural for her to see the good in people.
  • Her eyes twinkled and her smiled gleamed, giving evidence of real joy.
  • She loved God, loved people, loved the church, loved her family and loved life.

So, yeah I know it’s entirely too simplistic to think we could solve all the world’s problems by emulating a sweet southern lady’s path to peace in her own life, but I guarantee you we’d all be better off if we lived that way.

I’m not suggesting that everyone has to think just alike.  In fact, I know we won’t.  But the human condition pretty much begins and ends with a preoccupation with self.  It’s why we need the saving presence of the Son of God who showed us how to lay down our lives in the most brutally beautiful way.

I am suggesting we could do better, with God’s help.  Sometimes I think we stay so torn up about things going on around the world we don’t do what we can right here at home.

And, I am suggesting that even if you can’t solve the global refugee crisis you might say a kind word to your server at the restaurant or your checker at Walmart or your colleague at work who drives you crazy.

Kindness is not overrated.  A lady named Nina lived a “fuller” life than most because she knew that better than most and I think it made her heart sing.

What makes your heart sing?

When the Unexpected Confirms the Hoped For

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Last night on the plane back from Tampa I had the unusual experience of boarding pass A8 on Southwest. This meant that only a handful of others would have their choice of seat ahead of me. 

As I got on, I almost took a window seat on the front row, but as I started to settle in I thought about the fact that my computer bag would have to be placed in the overhead bin and I like to keep the essential equipment handy. So, I moved back another six rows, in the opposite side, and took my window seat to watch the sunset as we flew.

A nice couple sat down, having just visited their daughter in Ft. Myers and taken in a couple of Spring Training games. Eddie had gone to see the Yankees earlier in the day and still had his NY hat and golf shirt on.

We didn’t talk much until the last 40 minutes of the flight but we made up for lost time. Turns out they have five grandkids; we have four. Two of their grandkids are “surrogate” members of the family – literally!

Their daughter signed on with an agency and ended up carrying twins for a wealthy but heartbroken couple in New York who decided after multiple miscarriages to seek another alternative.  So, Bethany contracted with an agency who put her in touch with this couple and now she’s best friends with the woman who couldn’t carry in her womb the babies she now carries in her arms. 

Well, next thing you know I’m crying tears of joy over their story because our story is quite similar. Our oldest son and his wife were married for seven years and wanted to have a child but there were some difficulties involved.  

Chad and Amy looked into adoption but there were challenges and so they started investigating surrogacy. They also started working extra jobs and saving money.

Enter the younger of our two nieces, Jana, and her best friend, Lareigh. We had known Lareigh since she was 12 or 13. If you’re a friend of someone in the Johnson family, you might as well be part of the whole family, so we always loved Lareigh. 

I won’t take time to fill in all the details here, (for the full story click here A Love So Deep) but Lareigh ended up volunteering to carry a child for Chad and Amy. There were contracts drawn and some financial compensation was a part of the deal. But on that day, May 29, 2014, when Reston Adams Johnson arrived the only transactional exchanges that occurred were those sealed in love.

It was simple and profound that day and remains so almost three years later.

As I told my new friends on the airplane, “this world has a lot of messed up problems but, every now and then, God shows up in an unexpected way and says I’m still here. And people still crave good relationships with other people.”

I don’t know if they needed to hear it as much as I needed to, but it was a cool moment.  Oh, and I wasn’t supposed to fly back until this morning but an unexpected change of plans got me on the flight last night and God let me know He knew where I was!

Real Time

It's TimeThat I’ve been sort of dazzled by nice watches and cool sunglasses might not come as a surprise to many who have known me over the years.

But I’ve learned the hard way that the more I spend on such the more likely I am to lose or break them. Along the way I discovered that I can acquire a watch that looks a lot like timepieces that are much more expensive. The same can be said for sunglasses. I mean who hasn’t received an email, Twitter or Facebook link to cheap Ray Bans or Oakleys?

For most of the last 38 years, my life has been intertwined with the university (Trevecca Nazarene University) for which I work. In 1967, Trevecca’s alumni association president, Howard Wall, Jr., helped design a new college seal and incorporated the Latin phrase: Esse Quam Videri – To Be Rather Than To Seem.

I’ve used the phrase hundreds of times.  I’ve invoked it from time to time in talks to youth groups at retreats and summer camps.  I’ve even usurped its noble purpose to claim the high moral ground when comparing our university to others or why I think my church is doing things better than another.

To be rather than to seem.  It’s a brilliant and humble turn of a phrase.  Being is much more important that seeming. And this truth is speaking loudly into my life again.

So am I simply perpetuating a facade by wearing good looking watches that cost less than $20 or sunglasses that, if they were the real thing, would cost $150 or more rather than $24.99 plus shipping from somewhere in China?  Maybe so. Maybe not.

raybans-on-cards-hatFor me, things like watches and sunglasses are matters of taste and function.  I don’t hide from the fact that I’ve found a less expensive way to attain them. But when it comes to valuing others and certain institutions in which I am deeply invested, being real is a non-negotiable.

The work that I do at Trevecca with its students, alumni and church constituents, must be valued on a different level than watches and sunglasses.  My time with people and the lenses through which I view them must be real!

And I think you have the same need in your life regardless of where you live and work.

I’m not big on making New Years resolutions.  I am big on making commitments, on a daily basis, to treat people rightly and to confess that “God is God and I am not.”

However, in the spirit of a new calendar year, I will put myself on record as saying I’ve never had a greater desire to be real in my relationships with others and in my relationship with God.  To that end, I’m committing myself to more consistent prayer, Bible and devotional reading, and reflection on whether I’m being rather than seeming.

It’s time!

We Are Family

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The generational responsibility of legacy has never mattered more.  Our grandchildren have brought a whole new perspective in terms of the impact.

Social media and other blog-oriented news sources have been populated in recent days with the potential for family dust-ups at Thanksgiving gatherings regarding political issues.  It’s been interesting to me that writers on the subject are pre-supposing squabbles at best and all-out brawls at worst.

Not that anyone cares, but I’m suggesting that the family dinner table at Thanksgiving is the last place to talk about anything controversial.

The political landscape has been built around demonizing the other side, whichever the other side happens to be in your mind.  It’s been that way for decades, maybe centuries.  It’s important to be informed on issues and to speak up when one sees injustices and need for reform, but it’s folly to think that the Thanksgiving table is the place where such matters can be settled.

So, I’m calling for a moratorium on arguing about anything this week.  There may be serious situations that you and your loved ones need to address, but could it wait for a different day?

In 1979 the Pittsburg Pirates won the World Series.  They were an eclectic group of athletes who found a way to lay aside their individual preferences and pursuits to achieve a magical run through the season and then the playoffs.  Along the way they adopted a disco hit by Sister Sledge as their theme song.  “We Are Family” reverberated through the clubhouse at Pittsburg’s Three Rivers Stadium and even in the visiting team locker rooms at road games.

The Pirates wore some of the ugliest uniform combinations in MLB history but they played a beautiful brand of baseball.  And together, this “family” found their way to an epic experience of joy.

I’m praying that our family Thanksgiving gatherings can focus on the more positive aspects of our relationships.  Your family member may, in your mind, be absolutely wrong in how they see the world.  You may be absolutely right about the issue in question.  But will it really be worth it to win the argument while continuing to deepen the divide between you and your loved ones?

Another pop hit, “The Living Years,” has impacted me since it debuted in December of 1988.  It addresses the generational passages between a man, his father, and his son. The following lines offer a hopeful challenge.

So we open up a quarrel
Between the present and the past
We only sacrifice the future
It’s the bitterness that lasts

So don’t yield to the fortunes
You sometimes see as fate
It may have a new perspective
On a different date
And if you don’t give up, and don’t give in
You may just be okay!

May the grace of God be present as you gather around the family table in these days.  And may your words bring blessing on those whom you love and who love you.

 

 

My Heroes Have Always Been Teachers

 

Ride Em CowboyWaylon Jennings first recorded “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys” in 1976 and then Willie Nelson made it even more popular in 1980.  I always liked the song, but I’m not sure I could call myself a cowboy.

Come to think of it, I’ve had maybe two pairs of boots in my lifetime and I did ride horses in my younger days, but that’s about as close as I’ve come to being a cowboy much less a hero.  I do know, however, that I’ve had more than a few heroes of my own.

This morning I followed one of my heroes to their place of work. I’ve dropped in on her work many times over the last three decades. This hero is a teacher. This hero is my wife.

In some respects I guess Sarah was destined to be a teacher. Following in the footsteps of her educator father and possessing an innate ability to make learning fun, I’ve been amazed at Sarah’s day-after-day, year-after-year commitment to help a child blossom.

Teaching is hard work. It’s lesson plans and grading papers. It’s managing a room full of children who come from various backgrounds that are not left behind when they get to school. It’s managing a room full of children, each of whom needs care and love and attention.

But teaching is also a calling that can be immensely rewarding. Although I don’t think they’ll ever be paid on a scale commensurate with the investment they are making in the future of our world, teachers are almost always working for something more than the paycheck.

I saw that again today as Sarah welcomed her new fourth graders at DuPont Elementary. Nervous students were brought to the door by a parent or a grandparent where they were greeted by a real, live hero.

As I began to make my way toward the door, Sarah said, “This is Mr. Johnson. He’ll be out here to see us every now and then.”

Not all the students had yet arrived, but when I said I wanted to take a couple of photos, Sarah told the children to line up and “pose.”   She was already gathering her new classroom family together and it was a beautiful thing.

I do plan to be out there to see her class every now and then. Fortunately, for Sarah’s students, she’ll be there every day.

Sweet Adaline

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Adaline Meredith and two-year-old Michael at the SW Oklahoma Nazarene Campground in Anadarko, Oklahoma (circa 1962)



I can’t remember the first time I met Adaline Meredith.  But I also can’t remember a time that I didn’t know who she was, at least by name.  In truth, it was a long time before I knew her story.

Growing up in southwest Oklahoma, my parents were the quintessential couple in ministry.  My dad was the preacher/pastor and my mom was the sweet, supportive and piano-playing wife. They were a team.  And I learned early that the people in our church were family – almost as much as those who shared our name and bloodlines. Both of my parents’ parents were that same kind of couple.

My mom’s folks, J.T. and Helen Crawford, lived over a thousand miles away in places like Yakima, Washington and Reno, Nevada.  We stayed in touch with postcards and frequent conversations on reel-to-reel tapes that we’d mail back and forth.

My dad’s parents, W.T. and Helen Johnson, never lived more that a couple hours away, so we saw them a whole lot more.

Both sets of grandparents were ministry teams and I’m grateful for that heritage.

Although our family was fairly small by comparison, my brother and I grew up with an extended sense of family through our church connections.  Grandad Johnson was the district superintendent for SW Oklahoma for 29 years (actually 28 as he had all of western Oklahoma his first year as DS).  Since we were grandsons of the DS, Jeffrey and I grew up knowing where all the churches were and usually who pastored them.

For the first 15 or 16 years of my life, there were two places in Oklahoma, aside from where we lived, in which I found great comfort and intrigue.

One was the SW Oklahoma district parsonage at 7313 S. Douglas on the south loop of what is now I-240 in Oklahoma City.  I acted out baseball games in the front yard while listening to Harry Caray and Jack Buck on KMOX radio describe the action of St. Louis Cardinals games.  I learned to drive on a Sears riding mower in the big back yard.    I also admit to occasionally trying to steal an eye toward the drive-in movie screen that was just a few hundred yards past that big back yard.

The other was on Hwy. 9 just outside Anadarko, Oklahoma.  Anadarko was home to Indian City, a tourist spot that highlighted the authentic experiences of seven American Indian tribes.  It was also home to the Nazarene Campground that Grandad and Memaw, my dad and my aunt Karen, and a host of volunteer pastors and laypeople helped build.  I loved going to Anadarko.

When you’re young and naive it’s just easier to accept things as they are. Questions are asked and simple answers are accepted.  And that was certainly the case with respect to why Adaline lived in the tiny bedroom at the back of Grandad and Memaw’s house on S. Douglas.  Memaw just said “Adaline needed a place to stay and we needed some help here around the house.”

Actually, Adaline had lived with my dad’s family for several years before I came along.  She was so much a part of the family that she showed up frequently in their pictures.  The picture I remember best in that regard was from my parents’ wedding at Shields Boulevard Church of the Nazarene in March of 1959.  The reason I remember it so well is that I would tell people that I was at the wedding “sitting right back there with Adaline.” It was several years before I understood the scientific explanation for why that could not have been true.

I won’t belabor this story with too many memories, but I do remember that Adaline must’ve had some special gift in the animal kingdom because she had both a parakeet in a cage and a Siamese cat in her room. When I finally discovered Looney Tunes cartoons on a Saturday morning it was very confusing to see Sylvester the cat always pursuing Tweety Bird.  How Adaline got Thai Sam (the cat) to co-exist with the parakeet is still a mystery.

One of the things that I do remember well was Adaline’s great love for children. For many years, maybe decades, Adaline was the nursery worker at Capitol Hill Church of the Nazarene.  She was a legendary figure there by the time she moved to Houston to live with Aunt Karen.

Full disclosure would also require that Adaline was not crazy about men.  I never really knew why until later.  When I found out what really brought Adaline into our family, a lot of things about her made sense.

Although Grandad Johnson’s ministry at the Nazarene church in Florence, Alabama was fairly short, the family has some really good memories of their time there. Among the people to whom they were able to minister was a very young and hurting Adaline Meredith.

Adaline with Talmadge and Karen

Adaline in Florence with my dad, Talmadge, and my aunt, Karen, circa 1944.

Her story, as I later learned, included abuse at the hands of a man that resulted in her becoming pregnant. She was forced by her family to give the child up for adoption and, in many ways, ostracized and cast aside.

My grandparents did what they could to help there in Florence. Shortly after they moved to Duncan, Oklahoma in 1945, Memaw and Grandad sent word to Adaline that she would be welcome in their home. That relationship lasted for over 30 years.

I didn’t know it then, but my family was instilling in me a sense that every person has a story. Sometimes the story is too painful to tell.  I certainly never heard from Adaline about her painful past.  I just knew she really loved Jeffrey and me and then Karen’s kids, Kristal, Shane, and Angel.  And I knew she loved the kids at Capitol Hill.  And I knew she loved the kids in the nursery at the Camp in Anadarko.

So, what’s the point in sharing all this?  I guess it’s just that until we know someone’s story, perhaps we ought to treat them with as much care and concern as possible.  It could be that there’s a “sweet Adaline” that just needs a chance to feel loved and accepted.

I thank God that Adaline was a part of our lives and the lives of so many other children throughout her years.  And somewhere I hope that the child to whom she gave birth found love and acceptance in a family that took a chance like Memaw and Grandad did.