Dear Lovers Lane Family,
Last Month, Tammy and I had the joy of our daughter, Emily’s, wedding, which was all we hoped it would be and more. Seeing my daughter for the first time in her wedding dress in our Sanctuary was one of the most joyous experiences of my life. Walking her down the aisle of the Shipp Chapel and joining her hand to Jonathan “JB” Bryant’s hand in marriage was amazingly surreal. We are so proud of them and count ourselves as most blessed by God who made us in the image of his love and sanctified the gift of marriage.
Behind the scenes for 20 months we have prayed and hoped against hope that my Mom, who battles Parkinson’s Disease daily as she has for nearly 30 years, could attend. Mom and Dad not only attended the wedding, where she was able to be wheeled down the aisle, proud as a peacock, to watch her youngest grandchild get married, but she attended the rehearsal dinner the night before and the reception after the wedding. At the reception, they won the prize as Dad wheeled her on to the dance floor and they danced, as well as they could, as the couple who had been married the longest — 60 years. They were so happy, and all of us, family and friends alike, were all smiles, too. All that we had hoped for, and more, was realized and them being recognized was like the icing on the wedding cake — sweet, beautiful and everybody was taking it in with delight.
Shortly after the reception, I was back at the hotel room, propped my feet up, and was, for a couple of minutes, basking in the success of an over-the-top evening, while Tammy was running one last errand. I was just about to read the beautiful handwritten note that Emily had written to me and addressed “Daddy-O”, when I received a call from my dad who had received word that their house had burned to the ground. The sad word was that they had lost everything they cherished and had collected over the years. Mom had gone to bed Saturday night, before the news was coming in about their house that was no more.
So, the next morning with all of our family and extended family together in Dallas, my Dad told my mom that their house had burned. I was kneeling in front of Mom’s chair as Dad spoke so well and caringly, those difficult words of loss. Mom cried a little upon hearing the word we had been processing all night, and then she said, “Oh, all of my things.” Then nearly as quickly as she said those words, she looked at us and said, “But it was all just things, ‘stuff’. We have each other and we are safe. That’s what matters.” What a word of grace and truth. I know that Mom and Dad will be grieving the loss for sometime, but we are so fortunate that they were with all of us, their family, and not at home, which could have been really catastrophic. Until that weekend, my parents had not been away from home for two consecutive nights for five years.
Mom has been an “organized hoarder” forever. She had saved every picture, newspaper clipping, funeral bulletin, special service program that involved her family and closest friends and neatly packed them into marked containers and named photo albums. The fire claimed these items, destroyed hometown history, and family drugstore relics and furnishings that marked nearly eight decades of “Copeland Apothecary Care” for the people in our hometown and surrounding area.
Tammy and I were visiting the ruins of the house together recently and on the ground there was a charred piece of paper. Upon closer examination, we discovered it to be a Lovers Lane quarterly newsletter that we used to produce, and this one was about 15 years old. It announced coming events and reported on a wonderful lecture. On the reverse side, in the margin, was an artistically laid out photograph featuring the 23rd Psalm — “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…” In other words, the Psalm proclaimed, “All we need that satisfies completely is in that relationship with God who is like the caring, compassionate Shepherd.” Our faith is in a Shepherd God who “makes us lie down in green pastures” full of life even in the midst of death. It is our compassionate God who “leads us beside still waters” brimming with peace and “restores our souls.” I don’t think that little piece of paper survived the fire for any reason but a God-given gracious reminder that all will be all right because this “valley” is not one in which we will reside, but one through which we will pass.
There were also several ornamental Easter eggs that had been in storage in Mom’s closet that were probably one step away from a garage sale, but today they are like precious gold. Their value however, is not in their charred surviving state; rather it is in their message of being the Christian symbol of resurrection and new life that the fire could not conquer. In the flower bed behind the burned out vehicles stood a simple, homemade, wooden cross that stated, “Jesus is Lord”. Those are the reminders that empower “80-something-year-old” Christians, and all of us who love them, to have hope and faith as we start anew.
We’ve cleaned the ruins, salvaged very little, and put most of the rubble in a huge hole to be buried. More than 60 people gathered, half of which were from Lovers Lane, to clean bricks and stone, and remove debris and ash down to the slab. At the end of a long, hot, dirty weekend, the naked, dusty, slab was not really a beautiful sight, but a mark of major accomplishment in this emotionally charged week. What truly was beautiful was the smiles on my parents faces as they saw, young and old, men and women, boys and girls, city and country dwellers, black and white, lay and clergy, Methodists and Baptists, and folk of other faith expressions, come to Chandler to say in word and in deed for so many whom they represented, “You are loved.”
And that is what I want to say this morning, from Tammy and me and our extended family, especially my parents — Martha and Don, “You are loved”. We love you and appreciate you greatly. Plans are already underway to replace the home and the contents that can be replaced, through the benefit of ample insurance. We go forward choosing to look for blessings from God that we would never experience had it not been for a destructive fire, because that is how our loving God works. None of us believe God willed, or caused a fire to destroy, but all of us are “standing on the promises” that God can redeem the worst of circumstances to bring new life even out of the ashes.
We covet your prayers, even as we pray our prayers of thanksgiving for you. We love the church that really does personify the “Gospel Truth” of “Loving All.” Thanks for being YOU!