Saturday, August 05, 2017

August 4, 1983

I was busy trying to finish painting to get the upstairs ready for the carpet layers the next morning when I heard Sheila call me down. She said we'd better start timing contractions and get ready to head to the hospital.
I remember like yesterday, a little later, driving down Cedar Avenue in the dark, my beautiful courageous Sheila hissing through another contraction beside me, and thinking: “Our lives are about to be forever changed.” We pulled off of Second Avenue/Martha Berry (what do you call that little section of road) to park at the emergency entrance to Floyd Hospital. We made our way across the parking lot, pausing often for Sheila to hug a car hood while she dealt with the next contraction. 
Once into the labor and delivery rooms I witnessed the sweet bravery of Sheila Matthews Shaw as she worked to birth a baby, a process correctly labelled "labor". Brannon Shaw was born at 3:31 the next morning. I was privileged to hold her and bathe her with warm water. 
I slept on the floor for a couple of hours once we got into a room, then had to rise and leave my beloved new baby and Sheila, to drive along city streets blurred by tears of joy, wonder, and exhaustion to meet our dear friend Cotton Franklin at the house, so we could finally get that upstairs straight enough for the carpet layers to do their job bright and early of the fourth of August 1983. (Thank you Cotton wherever you are!) 
On this special day, 34 years later, Brannon is sharing a honeymoon, camping in the Rockies, with the son she has now joined to our little family, John Carlin
What a blessing to our lives Brannon has been.
Happy Birthday and unending love to our first baby, Brannon Ruth Shaw Carlin.
(This slide show is a decade old now!)
Miscellaneous pictures from the Life of Brannon Shaw born 24 years ago tonight.

Judgment, Decision, Promise

A friend asked:

What words changed your life-for the better or the worse?

There is a clear frontrunner for the single quote that most immediately changed my life for the better.

I'd been wrestling with "What is love?" Earlier that year I had been dating a girl who wanted me to make up my mind. She was sweet and smart and attractive, but so were others! What makes it "true" love?

Then I read these words in 1970. They struck a chord with my heart.

“Love is a decision, it is a judgment, it is a promise. If love were only a feeling, there would be no basis for the promise to love each other forever. A feeling comes and it may go. How can I judge that it will stay forever, when my act does not involve judgment and decision.”
― Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving

Love is a decision!

Of course there must be attraction -- physical, emotional, intellectual -- but, given that, we have some say about it.

So I sat down and made a list. (I learned that from my eldest sister.)

Lo, and behold, Sheila Ann Matthews of the long blond hair, sweet smile, brilliant mind, unending kindness, and very nice other features migrated to the top of that list.

So I asked her out. And she replied with the other important quote in my life:

"Okay, but you'd better be serious about it this time."

I was.

The rest is glorious and ongoing, and mostly blissful, history. The decision/promise/vow carries us through the less-than-blissful parts.  

Here is a post on the topic from over a decade ago:

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Among American Presidents There Are the First 44 and Then There's Trump

Washington at Valley Forge

George Washington, as much as we all admire him, was far from perfect. He made major blunders as a general. At Valley Forge he stayed mighty comfortable while his men were suffering. Lordy, the man kept many of his fellow human beings in bondage. And among his successors there are 43 other flawed men counting flawed Cleveland twice. 
Jackson was downright homicidal. 
Jackson betrayed the Cherokee, defied the Supreme Court, and caused the infamous Trail of Tears.
Several were horribly unfaithful to their wives. 
FDR & Lucy Mercer
Andrew Johnson drank too much and was sometimes less than stable. 
I believe both Nixon and Reagan rationalized near, if not outright, treason. 

But I trust presidents 1 through 44 each and every one loved his country and wanted what was best for it. 
I have no such trust in #45.

The Washington Post is reporting tonight that #45 has his legal team investigating whether he can pardon himself, his family, and staff members. According to the Supreme Court (Burdick vs. US, 1915) “a pardon, to be effective, must be accepted [because it] carries an imputation of guilt; acceptance a confession of it.”
Donald Trump's psychological disabilities put him in a class that is not reasonably comparable, in my settled opinion, with Nixon in Watergate, Reagan in Iran-Contra, or Clinton's or JFK's or Ike's or FDR's or Harding's marital infidelity, etc.

Donald John Trump is sick and dangerous. 
That is fact and I have no need to reargue the obvious.

Many experts use the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association, to diagnose mental conditions. This manual is also used by insurance companies to reimburse for treatment.
DSM-5 criteria for narcissistic personality disorder include these features:
  • Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance
  • Expecting to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
  • Exaggerating your achievements and talents
  • Being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate
  • Believing that you are superior and can only be understood by or associate with equally special people
  • Requiring constant admiration
  • Having a sense of entitlement
  • Expecting special favors and unquestioning compliance with your expectations
  • Taking advantage of others to get what you want
  • Having an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
  • Being envious of others and believing others envy you
  • Behaving in an arrogant or haughty manner
Although some features of narcissistic personality disorder may seem like having confidence, it's not the same. Narcissistic personality disorder crosses the border of healthy confidence into thinking so highly of yourself that you put yourself on a pedestal and value yourself more than you value others.
That's your right and that's fine. Write about it elsewhere. 
I love my friends and family who disagree, and admire each in many ways, but at seventy I just do not care to countenance in this speace equating the evil of Donald John Trump with the run-of-the-mill human frailties of previous presidents. That argument is over on this wall and has been for two years (or maybe thirty).
I am not interested in relitigating the clear fact that #45 is mentally, morally, ethically, psychologically, in a whole 'nother universe from numbers 1-44. Here and on my Facebook page I will continue to remind folks of Trump's evil. And I will work in every moral and ethical and legal way I can come up with to stymie, impeach, and/or convict him till I die or Trump is out of the office he is currently profaning. As of January 20, 2017 evil is occupying our unitary executive. 
Patriots must resist.

And to boot...

For the moment...
...forget his history of fraud,
...let slide the abysmal ignorance
...overlook his spying on naked girls,
...never mind his sexual predation,
...dismiss his debts and bankruptcies,
...forgive his unending lies,
...excuse the broken promises,
...think no more of the birther business,
...condone his bromance with the Murderer of Moscow,
...ignore Junior's treason and the daughter's business conflicts,
...minimize his small-hands insecurities,
...let pass the petty tweets.
The healthcare fiasco of the last week makes palpable and indisputable what most Americans have known since the early days of the transition: this is easily the least competent president in our nation's history.

Thursday, June 22, 2017


A picture on Facebook this morning reminded me of someone else, Sarah Colley.

Sarah Colley used to travel around the country to help communities put on shows starring the children and other folks of the town.  She had graduated with a degree in theater and dance from the prestigious Tennessee school now called Belmont University and now she was putting that learning to use. In the early thirties Bibb Manufacturing brought her to Porterdale, Georgia, their mill town and home of little Sarah Ruth Baird. Quiet little Ruth was somehow coaxed to play the part of "Rita, the Bold Senorita" in the show that resulted. 

Half a century later, Larisa Johnston (now Featherstone), one of Ruth's granddaughters, became part of the confirmation group at Brentwood United Methodist Church. Sarah Colley Cannon, was now a seventy- or eighty-something, and an active and highly respected member of that congregation in the suburbs of Nashville.

Sarah became Larisa's "Friend in Faith". If I remember correctly Larisa's confirmation mentor and prayer partner not only prayed for her and sent little notes of encouragement, but also arranged for her backstage tours of Nashville's Grand Ole Opry. (see comment from Larisa's mom, below.)

Of course, there is more to the story. 

In between those two events involving Ruth and Larisa, Sarah Cannon, a smart, cultured, serious, and dignified person in her personal and church life became world-famous for hanging price tags on her hat, hollering "How-deeeee!" and pretending to be brash and plain. 

As part of her theatrical efforts Sarah developed a comedy act filled with characters distilled from her Tennessee neighbors. She renamed her hometown "Grinder's Switch" after a tiny neighboring community, and she peopled it with lovingly lampooned "hillbillies" including her own alter ego: Minnie Pearl.

Others look at the pictures above and see a famous rube. I think also of a loving Christian, who faced terrible illness (breast cancer, double mastectomy, and stroke) and left a cancer-fighting legacy at the Sarah Cannon Research Institute, and also left an impact on the lives of two people "I love... so much it hurts!" 

Do you suppose her work with the introverted preteen who would become my mother might have helped Ruth Baird Shaw, at least a little, to build the self-confidence that would later allow her to face widowhood, the horrible pain of trigeminal neuralgia, and aging, with the determination and dedication needed to build a new career as a pastor?

Do you suppose her willingness to mentor a young Christian helped my beloved little niece explore her faith and, perhaps, build the strength with which she would face, later in life, with heartbreak but dogged determination and great courage, the reality of her young daughter's battle with leukemia? (And Larisa with her daughter Lily and other family members and friends would build their own legacy by establishing Lily's Garden.)

I love Minnie Pearl, but there was a lot more to Sarah Colley Cannon than a dangling pricetag and that cheery "How-deeeee!" and tagline: "I love you so much it hurts!"  

Friday, May 05, 2017

Healthcare: What does your heart say?

Some of my former students from our years at Nature's Classroom on Lookout Mountain will fondly remember the many wonderful camp field-group leaders there. Those who were lucky enough to be assigned to the field group led by D.J. will always remember him. He's the guy splayed out at the bottom of the steps in front of the group. 

The staff at NC was always outstanding but none were better loved than D.J. The kids were thrilled to find that D.J. was engaged to beautiful fellow staffer Sarah!

Well now Sarah and DJ are still doing outdoor education (as am I!) and happily sharing their commingled lives with two daughters.

But the journey of the last decade has not been an easy ride. Read D.J.'s story as he wrote it today on his Facebook page.

What does your heart say?
by Darrell Fedchak (alias DJ)

I'm going to tell you a story only a few people know. I've kept my silence until now, and recent events have led me to believe this story might open people's eyes.
In February 2007, I stood in an office and had an insurance rep look me dead in the eye and tell me I was denied health insurance based on a pre-existing condition.
I remember asking him why. He replied that since my condition "sometimes required surgery," I was ineligible for benefits. Benefits that would make it affordable to get the medication that would let me avoid surgery. I told him this, and he responded (and I'll never forget this exchange as long as I live): "Doesn't matter, it's your problem."
I was diagnosed with advanced stage ulcerative colitis is 2006. Short version: every so often my body would decide to bleed internally. I nearly died several times over the next three years.
"Doesn't matter, it's your problem."

In 2009, it got so bad I could barely get out of bed. I couldn't work. The meds I needed would have cost me over $300 A WEEK. People don't pay that much in rent. But I couldn't work, and my family couldn't afford that kind of cost. I was too old to go back on my parent's insurance, even though I heard them on the phone a few times, fighting to get me covered.
It never worked out.
I got lucky. I qualified for a clinic that helped people in my situation. They helped me get Medicaid, and then helped me find a doctor and a surgeon who helped me with the initial surgeries. I needed three because I almost died in the hospital while recovering from the first one. I was in Buffalo General for a month. A MONTH.
Three years, eight surgeries, and a whole lot of good Samaritans later, I walked out with a clean bill of health. It was the hardest time of my life, and not just for me, but for my family and friends as well. There are still complications, still hardships, everyday. But I'm alive.

Today, the House of Representatives voted to remove Obama Era protections for those with pre-existing conditions. They voted to allow insurance companies to charge sick people more for their coverage, coverage they may no longer be able to afford. Coverage that could keep them alive and able to contribute to society.
I almost died because a man who did not know me denied me access to medication that would have allowed me to keep working, to keep contributing to society. I picked up $30k in medical debt just to stay alive; I'm still paying it off. I pray every single day that this condition isn't genetic; I'm deathly afraid that I may have passed this hardship onto my daughters.
It's too late for me to change what happened to me, but I can try to make things better for my kids. I can try to help build a world where they can get help if they need it. Not for me, for them.

"There are still complications, still hardships, everyday.
But I'm alive."

Put your politics aside for a moment and ask yourself this: 
"If I were sick, how would I feel about this new legislation?" 
"If it was my child, would they be able to get care?"

What does your heart say?


Terrell's Amen

The 24 million folks who may lose insurance because of the repeal of the Affordable Care Act are actually individual people like Darrell. Each has a bloved child, a wife, a husband, a sweetheart, daughters, sons, jobs, churches or synagogues or mosques, favorite walks, hometown teams they support, best friends, favorite pets, songs they love, pet peeves, aggravating faults, great skills, and/or any of the plethora of abilities, disabilities, loves and hates that you and I have seen in our acquaintances. I will be thrilled for my taxes to go toward the healthcare of all my fellow citizens, even Klan members and Brietbart staffers.

Universal healthcare will:
-save lives
-lessen pain
-reduce suffering
-reduce costs

Call your Senators and Representatives.
Tell them you support the ACA.
Tell them you want Medicare and Medicaid protected and expanded.
Tell them you want Social Security protected.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Renaissance Man

A friend reminded me of this favorite quote from Robert Heinlein:
“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

How close have you come to his ideal? Here's my record...

• change a diaper
I learned to sort of almost enjoy changing diapers in a way. After watching the courage and labor of Sheila in delivering our precious little rugrats and then nursing them, and mothering them, it felt good to know there was a necessary unpleasantness that I could do efficiently to make things better.
• plan an invasion
Of play forts in the woods, plastic soldiers in the dirt, and then there's Statego and Chess?
• butcher a hog
Not really, but I was there at about eight with my buddy to watch the process... and step on the bladder to see the dead pig urinate. Strange child.
• conn a ship
Kayaks, canoes, and jon-boats with that old 5 h.p. Johnson motor.
• design a building
Does a small shed count? And worked at a lot of renovation/remodeling of our own homes.
• write a sonnet
In eleventh grade, a poetic plea to the student teacher to get me out of the teacher's class. A a couple of others since.
• balance accounts
• build a wall
• set a bone
No, but a terrifying memory is helping the doc try to pull a bone back into place.
• comfort the dying
I hope. I've tried.
• take orders
A challenge but I've done it.
• give orders
Brief executive experience.
• cooperate
Best work I've ever done.
• act alone
Proudest moment.
• solve equations
• analyze a new problem
• pitch manure
Literally and figuratively. A favorite time was when Kathy Fincher (now Wilson) allowed me to shovel out her stable for the manure which fed the biggest garden I ever raised... out at Chubbtown.
• program a computer
I taught my elementary kids to do exciting stuff like drawing a rectangle with BASIC. Ha!
• cook a tasty meal
Absolutely! I'm pretty good at pantry/frig soup... concocting a palatable combination of items that happen to be in the house at the moment.
• fight efficiently
I've had few opportunities. The highlight of fifth grade was when Mrs. Anderson broke up the fight just at the moment I happen to have rolled on top. Yay!
• die gallantly
Y'all will have to judge that when the time comes. I'm shooting for three digits, but I think I'll be as ready as most if it happens tomorrow.

Monday, April 11, 2016

PTSW: Abraham Lincoln was a poet

My Childhood-Home I See Again

by Abraham Lincoln
Our melancholy sixteenth president wrote wonderful prose that verged on poetry: the Gettysburg Address, the Second Inaugural; the Cooper's Union speech. But years before that he had a friend publish this poem anonymously. It is part of a series, of which only one other has survived. Not bad for a politician, huh?

    My childhood's home I see again,
        And sadden with the view;
    And still, as memory crowds my brain,
        There's pleasure in it too.
    O Memory! thou midway world
        'Twixt earth and paradise,
    Where things decayed and loved ones lost
        In dreamy shadows rise,
    And, freed from all that's earthly vile,
        Seem hallowed, pure, and bright,
    Like scenes in some enchanted isle
        All bathed in liquid light.
    As dusky mountains please the eye
        When twilight chases day;
    As bugle-tones that, passing by,
        In distance die away;
    As leaving some grand waterfall,
        We, lingering, list its roar—
    So memory will hallow all
        We've known, but know no more.
    Near twenty years have passed away
        Since here I bid farewell
    To woods and fields, and scenes of play,
        And playmates loved so well.
    Where many were, but few remain
        Of old familiar things;
    But seeing them, to mind again
        The lost and absent brings.
    The friends I left that parting day,
        How changed, as time has sped!
    Young childhood grown, strong manhood gray,
        And half of all are dead.
    I hear the loved survivors tell
        How nought from death could save,
    Till every sound appears a knell,
        And every spot a grave.
    I range the fields with pensive tread,
        And pace the hollow rooms,
    And feel (companion of the dead)
        I'm living in the tombs.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

A Job I Love

         It was not a stellar beginning. I never intended to be a teacher.
Mumps had put me in the college clinic the last two weeks of my senior year. I was quarantined and took my final exams in bed, completing my bachelor degree with majors in history and English and absolutely no idea of what I wanted to do the following year. 
One afternoon a good friend showed up at the door to the clinic with an application to the Peace Corps, which I had requested, but also a Teacher Corps application. I had never heard of the Teacher Corps. This federal program offered a master’s degree in education, he said, in exchange for spending two years teaching, taking classes at Marshall University, and doing community service in the hills of West Virginia. It sounded like a hoot to me, and a good way to spend my time while I searched for a vocation. So I filled out the application and sent it in. I wonder if I have ever licked a more consequential postage stamp in my life.
So a few weeks later I drove my brand new Opel Kadette to Huntington, West Virginia as a freshly minted National Teacher Corps Intern. After a summer of graduate classes and NTC training and orientation, I was placed in a small school on the banks of the Kanawha River where the mines had played out and the residents were mostly poor. I found myself drawn to the most desperate children: "Mike" whose closest brother had just been killed in an accident. "Leon" whose academic struggles required some after-school tutoring. His Mom would serve me supper in exchange for an hour of tutoring. "Paul" who lived in a one-room unpainted shack with a yard full of stove wood and rusting cars, and a magnificent fifty mile million-dollar view across the mountains. And tough "Jake", who turned out to have the same uncertainties and needs as the little guys, and he became a real leader in the boy’s club I organized in the community.  That was after I broke my resolution not to use corporal punishment and used the "Black Dragon" paddle on Jake's backside.
The second year the Teacher Corps expanded to a more remote site and I volunteered to join that group. Soon I was team teaching in a mountain school with only 56 children. My primary responsibilities were those six sixth-graders, but I also taught social studies to almost a dozen fifth-graders, and handled the physical education for the whole school. The cows grazing just outside the classroom windows could be a distraction. At lunch I could eat in the school cafeteria or I could take a dirt trail from the playground to the general store down the hill and buy a wedge hoop cheese and some crackers. When it rained hard the creeks were too deep at the fords for the bus to run and only half the students could make it to school. Once again I did some tutoring, this time for a homebound little girl who was battling leukemia.
I discovered over the course of those two years that I love working with children, had a talent for teaching, and that it was indeed a good way to pass the time until I could find my true calling. 
So when a principal, Judson Frost, called me up to offer a job in Rome, Georgia, I jumped at the chance and arrived at McHenry Elementary with a new degree, a new apartment, a new bride, and two-thirds of a classroom filled with 25 students depending almost entirely on Terrell Shaw for their fifth grade education. The other third of the classroom had been partitioned off for the reading teacher, who must have been frequently frustrated by the  interruptions from my noisy classroom by the total lack of sound insulation. Nor was there any other kind of insulation: we sweltered in August and, even though there was ice on the windows in January, because ours was first on the steam heat system, and to warm the last classroom ours had to continue to swelter.
When Pepperell Junior High took our assistant principal and our seventh and eighth grades, Mr. Frost called me into the office and offered me the post of assistant. I was surprised. I said I'd never considered getting into administration and asked what the job would entail."Well," he replied, "you receive a supplement of $400 for the year." That sounded good to me. Then he got to the nitty gritty. "You'll need to watch the late bus every day." Not a great duty. "And if you don't mind, I'd appreciate it if you could lead the prayer at PTO meetings." Well, I'm a Methodist preacher's kid. I could handle that. And $400 is $400. I accepted.
          I soon learned that Judson had neglected to tell me a few things:
• that every time the principal leaves the campus a child breaks a bone, or a parent gets upset with a teacher, or some unprecedented matter of discipline erupts.
• that the principal often leaves campus for meetings.
• that the principal takes a one week leave of absence each spring.
• and, most neglectfully, that he would die suddenly during the fourth year.

I spent six years teaching at McHenry, four of those as the teaching assistant principal. Add one year teaching sixth grade at Pepperell and eleven years roaming from school to school as a teacher of the gifted, and I had nineteen years in a profession that was not yet my calling. I liked teaching. At McHenry I had led a county wide study of teachers’ suggestions for improving the system. I was chosen as the school's Teacher of the Year. As a gifted teacher I had helped plan Sea Day at Floyd College, Quiz Bowl at Berry College, study trips to Savannah, Anniston, Huntsville, the World’s Fair, and Washington D.C. As a teacher of the gifted I was one of the first in our county to use computers regularly. 
With a background in writing and new-found skills with computers, I decided to try my hand at desktop publishing. My wife and I founded a local interest magazine and soon decided that we needed to give it full time, so I finally left teaching after nineteen years for my “real” calling. I spent eleven years with my struggling business, enjoying parts of it, but finally realizing that I missed the daily contact with children, hearing their laughs at the antics of the Foolish Frog (part of my storytelling repertoire), seeing pre-teen eyes light up at smelling a crushed wild ginger leaf, hearing the wows when I hold up a Lion’s Paw shell at the climactic moment in Robb White’s wonderful book, watching parents’ cameras flash at the end-of-year honors program.
So in 1999, at the age of 53, I made a profound decision. I decided my calling is to teach. I was fortunate to be hired to teach fourth grade at Armuchee Elementary. What a grand fourteen years I had knowing I was where I wanted to be. At 60 I had so many projects going that were I able to retire right away, I wouldn’t. I wanted to see them through. I enjoyed teaching. But in 2013, after agonizing indecision, I took the plunge and retired. And at my retirement party I was approached about the part-time job that has become my dream retirement occupation -- storyteller/naturalist at Arrowhead Environmental Education Center.
Whatever success I have had comes from my sincere love of students, my enthusiastic approach to living and learning, and probably a little from the incorrigible show-out in me.
As a teacher, every August a crisp new agenda book awaited 180 new entries. A couple of dozen freshly scrubbed nine-year-olds passed by the eight-by-ten glossies of their predecessor stars hanging on the wall outside our classroom. Bright-eyed, ready for a new start, these were my new stars. I loved them already. I relished the opportunity to tell them the stories of our wonderful country and help them explore the wonders of our beautiful world. And I was determined to be true to them, to be the outstanding teacher I aspired to be. I was determined to help them discover the star within themselves and to help them make it shine. I was truly blessed for more than a total of three decades to have a job that I loved.
In the third year of this new chapter I pinch myself occasionally. Am I dreaming? I haven't graded a set of papers in three years. I have no bus duty or cafeteria duty. No parent conferences. No standardized tests. They pay me, not much but they pay me, to lead young children through gorgeous woods and fields and by wetlands and lakes and streams and tell the stories of our glorious Ridge and Valley flora and fauna. I'm a lucky man.

Friday, January 01, 2016

Where's Debbie?

Last Sunday, as I sat with my wife and youngest daughter in the beautiful sanctuary on Turner-McCall Boulevard where my family has worshiped more than anywhere else since February of 1962, I had the much-too-rare privilege of hearing my favorite preacher.

I listened as the Rev. Ruth Baird Shaw​, my mother, preached what was on her heart this Christmas season. Her sermon was titled “What Child Is This?” and used the story that “Dr. Luke” tells of Jesus “amazing” the priests with his understanding, while his poor, surely frantic, parents searched for their missing (to them) Son.  We then chuckled with the congregation as my mother told of the incident that helped her understand the distress that Mary and Joseph must have felt when they realized Jesus was not with them on their homeward trek from Jerusalem to Nazareth.
You can read my mother’s sermon as a footnote below, but here is the tale from my own memories ---

In 1960 our family purchased a beautiful new car. It was a bronze colored sleek Chevrolet nine-passenger station wagon with a marvelous innovation: the rear bench seat faced the rear. My sisters and I fought over the privilege of sitting with a panoramic view of where we had been.

That fall we took a camping vacation through Kentucky, where my sisters were attending Asbury College (now University.) The presidential election was in full swing and (I apologize) my sisters and I were adament supporters of Ike’s young vice president. We’d lower the electric rear window at strategic locations to express ourselves in song:

“Here comes Nixon,
our man Nixon
We want Nixon
to be the President
Merrily we roll along,
roll along, roll along
Merrily we roll along,
one hundred million strong.”

Unfortunately the design of that sleek vehicle funneled fumes from the exhaust pipe directly in that rear window if one opened it while the car was moving.

The part of the story my mother told happened in Louisville, right at the banks of the Ohio River. My daddy pulled into a Texaco staion on the Kentucky side and we all piled out to find the advertised clean restrooms.

Mother was occupied with David the toddler when we all began to climb back into the car. She didn’t notice when Debbie slipped back out of the car to rescue her hair barrette she’d left in the restroom. Having paid the nice man who had cleaned our windsheild and checked the oil while filling the tank for us, Daddy cranked the car and pulled the big Kingswood wagon out of the station onto US 31 and almost immediately onto the multilane bridge over the big river. Carol spied a tug pushing a huge line of barges approaching below us. “Look at that ship!” she cried, “Look Debiie! --- Where’s Debbie?!”

Anyone who knew my Daddy knows that --- had there been a way --- he’d have wheeled that long Chevy in a U-turn and skidded back into that gas station in no time flat. Mother says she wanted out of the car to run back. But those were not practical alternatives, so we went with the flow of heavy city traffic across the bridge.

As Daddy pulled over at the Indiana shore, there, pulling up beside us, was a Texaco pick’em-up truck driven by a very serious station owner with little Debbie waving from the passemger seat beside him. The filling station man seemed as frantic as my parents. We wondered if he figured my parents had planned to rid themselves of a child at each staion they passed. I was not in that truck, but given my sister’s penchant for storytelling, that “Man Who Wears the Star” might have been a little “amazed” himself --- though he was no priest and, it goes without saying, Debbie is no Jesus.

Mother said she had “lost” Debbie for just five minutes. Mary and Joseph were without Jesus for three days.

Mother also mentioned how Debi (she changed the spelling of her nickname to differenciate her unique self from the myriad Debbies in sixties classrooms.) was surprized when she moved south with her family in 1989 and was greeted her first Sunday back at Trinity with the question: “Are you the one that got left at a service station?”

It’s a tale I had embellished in many tellings during two-decades of teaching elementary school.


What Child is This

a sermon by Ruth Baird Shaw 

December 27, 2015, 8:30, 9:45, and 11:00 am
Trinity United Methodist Church
Rome, Georgia

Luke 2:41-52 (NRSV)

The Boy Jesus in the Temple

41 Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43 When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44 Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents[a] saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” 49 He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”[b] 50 But they did not understand what he said to them. 51 Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years,[c] and in divine and human favor.

Luke, the writer of the Gospel of Luke and also the book of Acts, was said to be a Medical Doctor.

In today's scripture in Luke 2, Doctor Luke puts down his Medical bag and picks up his pen to write down for us the amazing and blessed story of Jesus!

We are only two days after Christmas Day, and this is the last Sunday of 2015. In our important scripture today, we have the first recorded words of Jesus. This brief scripture of the boyhood of Jesus is the only record about Jesus between his birth, his babyhood, and his adulthood.

In todays passage from Luke 2, we have the family of Jesus making their pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the annual celebration of the feast of the Passover . The Passover was important! The Passover was the Hebrew festival celebrated each Spring in commemoration of the Exodus account in the Bible, telling us about when the Lord God “passed over” the Israelite babies at a time when all the other babies in Egypt were being killed.

The last supper that Jesus had with his disciples was a “Passover meal.” It was at Passover time that Jesus instituted our communion service.
So we see in today's Scripture lesson, Jesus had gone to the temple for Passover with Mary and Joseph and other neighbors and friends and kinspeople.

In today's church, as then, we dedicate and baptize babies, testifying that they are “saved’ until they reach the age of accountability, the time they become old enough to make their own decision about whether or not to accept Jesus as their Savior and become a Christian. The christening part of the ceremony, as you know, is when the church names the baby. So we refer to our given names as our ‘Christian names.”   For example, my Christian name is Sarah Ruth, which was given to me in the church where I was baptized as an infant 92 years ago.

Today we see the pastor taking the baby in his or her arms and saying, “What name shall be given to this baby?” After the parent tells the pastor the name this given name is used in the baptism.

In today’s Scripture lesson, Jesus is 12 years old and is claiming for Himself that special relationship to God which was symbolized at the dedication of Jesus as an infant, earlier in this same chapter. This we do in today's church. When our 12-year-old boys and girls, who were dedicated and baptized as babies, accept Christ as personal Savior and thus become members of the church

In todays Scripture lesson, when the feast of the Passover was ended Mary and Joseph traveled in a caravan back to their home, thinking that 12-year-old Jesus was in their company. This was not as unusual as might be thought. Usually the women in the caravan went ahead, so Mary thought 12-year-old Jesus was with Joseph, and Joseph thought He was with Mary.

One of the most amusing stories in our family is about the time that we left our daughter, Deborah, at a service station in Kentucky!  Debi said that when their family moved to Rome in 1989 and came to church here at Trinity, a woman who was introduced to her said, “Oh, are you the one they left at a service station?” Our son Terrell and his wife Sheila had been members at Trinity for several years before Debi and Gregg moved to Rome and had told this story to some of the people here.

This Major Family Happening was when my husband and I and our five younger children were on a brief camping trip from our parsonage home in Ellijay to Kentucky and Indiana.
We stopped for gas at a station in Louisville, right at the bridge that crosses the Ohio River.

All the children had been to the bathroom were back in the station wagon. I had settled our 4 young children in their places on the back seat and was feeding baby David in the front seat.

Deborah, about 6 years old at the time, suddenly realized she had left a hair barrette in the rest room, so she very quietly slipped out of the car to get it.

Charles came back from paying the bill and started the car and turned the few feet onto the long bridge that spanned the Ohio River! Carol, 2 and a half years older than Debi, saw a huge ship on the river and said, “Look, everybody. Look, Debi! Mother! Where’s Debi?”

I panicked. Charles panicked. It was panic time for all of us, but we could not make a U-turn on the bridge. If there had been any way to turn around on that bridge, all of us who knew Charles Shaw, know he would have found it. I was ready to get out of the car and run back to the Service Station, but we could not even stop on the bridge because of the heavy traffic.

Finally we got across the bridge into Indiana and Charles pulled our 9-passenger Chevrolet station wagon into the first place to turn around.

Then, much to our joy and relief, not far behind us, was the service station owner bringing Deborah to us.

Deborah later liked to tell the story at “story telling time” in her own dramatic way. She says that the man in the service station thought, “These people have probably been dropping off children all the way from Georgia; but they are NOT leaving one here.” Anyway, whatever the man thought, when Deborah came out of the restroom to see us crossing the bridge, he put her in his pickup truck and brought her to us.

I have forgotten many things in my long life, but that Ohio River Bridge experience is forever etched in my memory.

It is scary in today's world to think of how tragic this story could have ended.

I will never forget the relief and joy of seeing her little head in that truck, and our thanks to God, and our deep appreciation for the kindness and help of this dear Service Station man.

Children, as we all know, have a way of keeping us on your toes, and apparently the child Jesus was no exception in this.

In the hymn “Away in a Manger” one of the phrases we remember is; “The little Lord Jesus no crying He makes.” But one of the glorious truths of the Christmas message we have just celebrated and are continuing to celebrate today is that the Infinite God so loved the world of finite human beings that Jesus, our Savior, came into the world as a helpless baby, unable to hold his head without the help of finite human beings.

So I think Jesus as a baby developed his lungs by crying as other babies do.

Our Bible lesson today is about when Jesus also went missing one day when he was a child. When Mary and Joseph discovered Jesus missing, they turned around and went back; and they found 12-year-old Jesus talking with the learned men in the house of God. The reply of Jesus to Mary and Joseph was that he must also be about the business of his Father in heaven

This has gone down in history as Jesus expressing, at age 12, an early awareness of his special identity as the only begotten Son of God, as we read in John 3:16.

Doctor Luke tells us in Luke 2:51 that Jesus went down to Nazareth with Mary and Joseph and was obedient to them, then adds that his mother Mary kept and treasured all these things in her heart while Jesus continued to develop in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and people.

This lesson in Scripture teaches there are times in life when all of us who are called of God must submit to the discipline of preparation and of studying the scripture, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We see this even in the life of the great apostle Paul, who was already well-versed in scripture and the classics, but was led into the wilderness for three years to be taught by God after his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road.

As I was studying this Scripture lesson, I thought about how often many of us tend to put our minds and thoughts on the minor events of life and ignore the life changing and eternal life things. 2015 years ago, the world was watching the Roman Empire in all its splendor. All eyes were on Caesar Augustus, who demanded that a census be taken so that taxes could be enlarged.

Who noticed Mary and Joseph making their 90 mile journey to Bethlehem? If there had been television then, the television anchor men and women and their crews would have run over Mary and Joseph to put their microphone in the face of Caesar.

Today Caesar is only a small paragraph in the life of Jesus. And all the great schools in the Western world were built to study every single word that fell from the lips of Jesus. And every single word written about the deeds of Jesus have been poured over and translated into every language, and people by the thousands make pilgrimages to Bethlehem and stand in awe at the spot history has marked as the birthplace of Jesus.

I served as pastor of East Point Avenue UM Church for four years after I reached mandatory retirement age.

One of the visits I often made there was to a elderly couple who were bedridden in their small home. They had very little help so when I would visit, she would have me do a few little things for them like bringing in their paper and mail, getting them fresh water, etc.

One day when I knelt down to pray with them after a visit... the elderly lady, speaking for both of them said to me, “We are so blessed. We are so much better off than many people and best of all, the Lord is with us.” Without realizing it, this elderly lady was quoting what is reported to be the last words of the great preacher, John Wesley, as he lay dying: “The best of all, God is with us.”

I also bear this same witness. Whatever else is going on in my life: “The best of all, God is with me.”

Today is the last scheduled service of 2015. So as we stand a the gate of a brand New Year. Let me close with this familiar quote that is a blessing for all of us:

"I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, 'Give me a light that I might tread safely into the unknown.' And he replied, 'Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better to you than light and safer than a known way.'"   - M. L. Haskins

As we come to the closing days of 2015, I hope, each one of us and all of us will put our hands and our lives in the keeping of Jesus as our Savior and Lord. Then, whatever the New Year brings, it will be a blessed and happy new year 2016!