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Sunday, June 29, 2008

What a week... A great one, that is!

Last week was one of the best of my life. It had nothing to do with work, however. That was still, as most weeks, a bit of a drag. No, the joy had everything to do with family and friends.
It started with a Saturday (June 21) visit to the Coffey family's Lake Gaston home. Our family's had a great day on the lake and really enjoyed our time together.
This weekend, we spent the weekend at the Fitch's family beach house in Ocean Isle, NC. In fact, we just pulled in from that trip, moments ago. Leslie is unloading the car and should have my dinner on the table very soon. ;-)
Those family events were great bookends to the real event. The "pi├Ęce de resistance"- Monday, June 23, my youngest daughter accepted Christ. This acknowledgement was a decision she made on her on and with great excitement. Jenna was riding in the car with Leslie and her older sister, Meredith. They were all discussing life after death and assurances of salvation. (This has been a common discussion in our family, especially since the recent death of Leslie's brother). At some point in the discussion Jenna announced that she was ready to accept Christ, but with the caveat that she would prefer to do it at church. Wouldn't you know it, just as she was saying this, Leslie was driving past a small chapel along the side of the road. Jenna had found her place and her time, and there at that small chapel, she dedicated herself to her God and Saviour. I am deeply convicted that there are no coincidences when it comes to such matters.
What a great week for this humbled and grateful father.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Falling Trees and True Friends

I have a problem. At times in my life, I have laughed at inappropriate moments. Perhaps, if you are honest with yourself, you have as well. I'm reminded of some 30 years ago, laughing during a funeral service. Crass, I know, but if you could have heard George singing "Trust and Obey" as a 10 year old prepubescent, you would have giggled like a school girl too.

I, too, have been on the receiving end of what I would consider poorly placed laughter. George, himself, has done this to me on several occasions. Just so you know, I'm not talking the ever classic "groin shot" type of incident. That is a patented move guaranteed to illicit laughter even in the most dire of circumstances. A homeless man on Canadian crutches is kicked in the tool shed. Hilarious. Let's exclude that for now. The incident that comes to mind for me is the day a tree fell on my head.

We must have been about 12 or so and George and I were in the woods building a fort. OK, it was basically logs stacked about 2 feet high with no roof, but we'll call it a fort. As you can imagine, to build such a structure in the middle of a pine forest, you need... well, pine logs. Fallen trees were apparently in short supply that day so I decided to use my South Congaree ingenuity and harvest my own.

Now, to make a standing dead pine tree fall without a saw, you have to slowly start pushing it to create a rocking motion. Once you get the tree moving like an inverted pendulum on a clock, in theory, the base will eventually crack and the tree will fall. The weak point of the hypothesis, however, is that you cannot always predict where a rotten tree will crack. It could be at the base, but just as likely midway up the tree. And as you can guess, it was the latter that happened to me.

Things get fuzzy from here, for I only remember three distinct things about this story:
1) I heard a loud crack from somewhere above me.
2) I felt a sudden blow to the top of my head.
3) I heard my friend laughing like... well, like the top of a tree had just fallen on my head.

Apparently stunned and dazed, I wandered aimlessly in the woods for several minutes before coming to my senses. George all the while, doubled over in tears of laughter. If I could have caught him at that moment, I'm sure I would have punched him right in the package. Ah, now that's comedy.

When have you laughed at the wrong moment?

Monday, June 9, 2008

We will miss you, Billy

Yesterday, I attended a memorial service for Billy Hoke, my brother-in-law and the brother of Leslie and her sisters Barbara and Jane. Within 10 days of being hospitalized and 7 days of being diagnosed, Billy had succumbed to pancreatic cancer. Before his brief hospitalization, his only symptoms were feeling tired and sluggish for several months. The family remains, at this point, in disbelief.
Sixteen years ago, I had the honor of marrying into the Hoke family. Shortly before our wedding, Leslie introduced me to her older brother, Billy Hoke. With a grin and chuckle, Billy uttered his first word to me- "Run" (true story). Even back then, Billy had some considerable experience in the marriage department, but I only briefly considered his sarcastic advice.
There were many things that I admire about the man. For me, much of my admiration is based on the attributes laid out as a foundation by Billy's father, Bill Hoke. A strong work ethic; a simple approach to life and lifestyle; honesty in all things personal as well as professional. And perhaps the most evident, his joy in celebrating life. Not just his, but yours as well. Any of us who have had meaningful conversations with Billy know that he would never turn a conversation into dialogue about himself. When you spoke to him, his quiet interest was in you. Someone once said, "People may not remember the words used in a conversation, but they will always remember how you made them feel". Billy always made you feel worthy and important. He was authentic. For better or for worse there were no secrets, no agendas and no putting on airs. To Billy, it was as the song says "Take Me As I Am".
He was generous and loved to give to others. His favorite time of year was Christmas and he especially enjoyed giving gifts to the children. As they excitedly opened their presents from Uncle Billy, he would sit there on the edge of his seat and grin from ear to ear. In that way, he was not unlike a child himself. He was also generous with his time and it was amazing this weekend to hear from his friends how much support and encouragement he gave to them in difficult times. Perhaps that is why so many of us are shaken to the core by the loss. There is not a replacement for the son, brother, father or friend that he was.
But just as our memories of the man remain, Billy lives on. There was a spiritual, prayerful side of Billy and he knew that this life was not all that there was. In the final conversation that they would have, Billy told Leslie that he was right with God and ready. What a gift to a sister and a family. So for now, we will miss you Billy, but know that we will see you again. Until then, we'll try to strive for the authenticity, generosity and celebration of life that you displayed in your life. That's a present you gave us that we'll try to open more often. And as we do, I imagine you sitting on the edge of your seat, grinning from ear to ear.