Family

Graveside Message for Bluefford G. Hancock

BlueffordWe gather today to remember the life of Bluefford Gordon Hancock. Many of the Bible passages I will read today were marked in Bluefford’s Bible as important passages to him. Yesterday, George Ray said Bluefford emphasized it was important to understand the different types of soil and how each can affect a tree when it is planted. That reminded me of a parable Jesus told.

“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matthew 13:3b-8, NIV)

The seed was the gospel of Jesus Christ. The soil is one’s heart, how one responds to the gospel message and to Jesus. Bluefford was good soil. He produced a crop a hundredfold more than what was sown. Many of you here today are part of that crop. You are part of the fruit Jeremiah mentions in chapter 17 of his book,

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” (Jer 17:8-9, NIV)

Bluefford had a star beside the first part of that verse, “blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him.” This was very descriptive of Bluefford. He loved his Lord and sought to trust him more each day. Even when periods of drought came, such as in the last days of his life, when his body was in pain, yet he bore the green leaves of life for he drank deeply from the river of life that his Savior Christ Jesus provided to him. With the prophet Habakkuk, he could say, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food . . . yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” (Hab 3:17-18, NIV) This call to praise God even in the difficult times of life was not only bracketed in Bluefford’s Bible, it received both a check mark and a star. I imagine that was shorthand for a Bluefford truism, “Son, you can take that to the bank!”

The Christian hope has always been rooted in the belief of the resurrection of the dead. This hope grows out of the teaching and life of Jesus Christ himself. When Jesus’ friend Lazarus was dead and in the tomb for four days, Jesus stated to Lazarus’ sister Martha,

“Your Brother will rise again.”

Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

Jesus said to her, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11: 23-26, NIV; emphasis mine)

What did Jesus mean that those who believe in him would never die? It could not mean physical death, for we know from the story of Jesus that he himself died on the cross and was buried in a tomb. But that wasn’t the end of the story. The witness of the first Christians was that God raised Jesus from the dead three days later. In the Revelation, Jesus proclaims, “Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last. I am the living one; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever. And I hold the keys of death and Hades [the grave].” (1:17b-18, NIV) Because Jesus holds the keys to the grave, we can have confidence that this is not the last word in the story of Jesus’ servant, Bluefford Gordon Hancock. He will certainly live again. Bluefford was confident of this, for not only were these words bracketed in his Bible but he wrote the words “Rev 1:18” at the top of the page and had those words underlined!

Now, in the story of Lazarus, Jesus—who had just emphasized that he was the foundation for the Christian hope in the resurrection of the body—did an interesting thing. Jesus knew that he was the resurrection and that those who believe in him would live again. He knew that he was about to raise his friend Lazarus from the dead. Yet when Jesus arrived at the tomb, John’s gospel tells us, “Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’” (John 11:35-36, NIV) So it is ok for us today to mourn the loss of Bluefford. Jesus himself experienced the impact of death; he wept when confronted with the reality that death cuts us off from those we love. Even though death did not have the final word in the story, for Jesus raised Lazarus back to life, Jesus cried because of the momentary separation. Bluefford felt that momentary separation from his wife Katie, his daughter Penny, his brothers and other family members, but now that separation has ended. We feel the separation today, so it is ok to grieve, to cry, but as Paul told the Thessalonians in his first letter, Christians are not

to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those [like Bluefford] who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And we will be with the Lord forever.

And then Paul says, “Therefore, encourage each other with these words.” (1 Thess 4:13-18, NIV; emphasis mine) Paul’s words were words of encouragement. Those who believe in Christ will be with Bluefford again, when the dead are raised and Christ brings his eternal kingdom in all of its fullness. For the Christian, death has no sting, no victory, because it does not have the final word (1 Cor 15:54-55).

John had a vision of the kingdom of God in the Revelation,

I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. . . . I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev 21:1-4, NIV)

So it is ok to shed a tear today for the loss of one who was so significant in our lives. But one day, those who are in Christ will be raised to eternal life. On that day, God himself will wipe away any remaining tears. He will mend our broken hearts and heal our broken bodies.

The beauty of that restored creation described in the Revelation must have thrilled this old horticulturalist’s soul. For John writes,

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the trees are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. (Rev 22:1-3, NIV)

But what is underlined in that passage is not the trees of life, nor their fabulous yield rate, nor even the medicinal value of the plants. What Bluefford underlined in this passage was the phrase, “his servants will serve him.” In fact, flipping through his Bible, one finds verse after verse marked with calls to serving others, caring for others, loving others. If you want to know how to honor Bluefford, it would be to fall in love with his Savior Jesus Christ as much as he was and to be a servant of Christ daily in the lives of others. That is what Bluefford was looking forward to in the next life, and what he did so faithfully in this one.

Now there have always been those who questioned this belief Christians have in the resurrection of the body. Paul addressed these questions in his first letter to the Corinthians:

But someone may ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own kind of body. . . .
So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural [soulish] body, it is raised a spiritual body.

If there is a natural [soulish] body, there is also a spiritual body. . . . The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. . . . And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven. (1 Cor 15:35-38, 42-44, 47, 49, NIV)

The famous preacher D. L. Moody once noted many people call this passage from 1 Corinthians 15 the “burial service.” But, Moody argued,

I think it is an unfortunate expression. Paul never talked of ‘burial.’ He said the body was sown in corruption, sown in weakness, sown in dishonor, sown a natural body. If I bury a bushel of wheat, I never expect to see it again, but if I sow it, I expect results. Thank God, our friends are not buried; they are only sown! (Great Sermons on the Resurrection, p. 61)

So, for now, we do not bury the body of Bluefford Hancock as we might put away something that has served its purpose. We do not even bury Bluefford as we might hide away a great treasure we seek to protect. Instead, we sow him into the ground this day, knowing that one day the Lord Jesus Christ will raise him from the dead. And we can hear the voice of Christ even now saying to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matt 25:21, NIV)

Family

Eulogy for Bluefford G. Hancock

BlueffordWhen I asked the grandchildren what they wanted me to share about Bluefford, the first thing they often mentioned was not stories but sayings. You might call them “Blueffordisms.” For example, whenever Bluefford was ready to go but you weren’t, he would say he was like “a dollar waiting on a nickel.” If something was really good, it was “prettier than a speckled birddog pup.” I’ll admit, I wasn’t used to Blueffordisms at first and feared for some of the kids’ lives whenever I heard him say he was going to “knock a knot on your head.” And you’ll often hear many of the grandkids exclaim, “Dad-gum!” as much in honor of Bluefford as in genuine surprise or exacerbation.
To his grandkids,

Bluefford is better known as “Deeda.” Supposedly, Bluefford and Katie decided to let the first grandchild determine their names. Jeff Grimes had trouble saying Grandpa; it came out Deeda, so the name stuck. Amazingly, however, Jeff was about to say “Grandy” even though “Gr” is a sound that most children do not master until age 6. That, or else Katie didn’t play by the rules as well as Bluefford.

Several of the kids shared Texas A&M stories about Bluefford. Scottie told me that as a child Deeda took her to an Aggie football game. It was November and it poured down rain the whole time, yet her Deeda made her stand in the rain the entire game, even though some around them left. Scottie was sick for a week afterward! Joseph recalled fondly that his Deeda not only gave him a place to live while attending A&M but purchased tickets for him to make sure he attended football games. In fact, Bluefford bled maroon so much that my son, Christian, while watching an LSU-A&M game on television as a young boy felt the need to root for A&M so as not to upset his Deeda—despite the fact that Bluefford wasn’t in the room and Christian’s other grandfather (who was in the room) had been part of LSU’s 1958 national championship team!

Bluefford loved to go grocery shopping. There was no such thing as a “quick trip” to the store for him. Since Scottie lived in College Station, she often went with him on these expeditions. When she was little, she loved it because she was fascinated that everyone in the store knew Bluefford’s name. She felt like a celebrity. As she got older, however, she began to try to hurry her Deeda by throwing items in the basket and trying to stop him from picking up an extra five gallons of ice cream because it was on sale. Katie and Lucy used to send me to the store with Bluefford, honestly believing I could somehow make it a quick trip! While I could not, I did learn from those trips how to pick ripe cantaloupe as well as other melons, fruits, and vegetables.

Many stories were about the outdoors. Bluefford grew up on a dairy during the Depression and had to hunt and fish for food. So the worst criticism a grandchild could receive was when Deeda called him or her a “town boy” or “town girl” for something wrong, whether fishing, hunting, horseback riding, or just working around the farm or house. Joseph and John David said their favorite memories were all the fishing trips with Deeda, which were too numerous to count. Jason said that Bluefford used to try to get the kids to behave in the car during trips by telling them to keep an eye out for wild turkey or deer. One day, they say was turkey fly across the road and told them to keep an eye out for more wildlife. A little later, Jarrett said he saw a deer. Deeda stopped the car in a hurry and asked where Jarrett had seen the deer, wanting to get a glimpse of it. Jarrett said it was jumping on the yellow sign. Deeda was extremely mad at Jarrett.

Deeda has always told stories about the various hunting dogs he had growing up, so a few weeks ago Jason and Morgan thought it would make Deeda happy to spend some time with their dog, Birdie, so they took Birdie up to Deeda’s nursing home. Bluefford was ecstatic, asking nurses and others at the home if they had seen the fine dog they had brought him. He was disappointed, however, to later learn that they weren’t giving him the dog.

Bluefford and Katie owned some land outside town. The kids creatively call it “The Place.” The kids often go there to fish or ride horses. Kyle said Deeda taught him patience once at the place. After an afternoon of fishing with cousins and aunts and uncles, everyone gave up and went back to Deeda’s to eat. Kathy told Kyle to ride back with Deeda because her car was full. Kyle said that Deeda kept saying they needed to wait for a fish to bite before they left. Kyle, who was seven, became antsy thinking about the food and drinks at home. Deeda pulled some on his hair and kept saying, “wait for the fish.” As it grew dark, Kyle tried to walk back to the car but was turned around by an animal in the dark. About thirty minutes after the others had left, however, there was a pull on the line and Bluefford helped Kyle catch the biggest catfish (to that time) Kyle had ever caught. Kyle said he never forgot that trip. It taught him patience as well as to sit in one spot all day and wait for the fish to come to him.

Isaac said that he remembered horseback riding at the place when he was little. One of the first times, the saddle on the horse wasn’t put on tightly, so as Isaac rode the horse, the saddle slowly began to slip to the right. Isaac held on to it as he continued to slip down until eventually he was hanging from the underside of the horse, but still in the stirrups. Deeda cinched the saddle on properly, but Isaac was leery of riding the horse again. It meant a lot to him when Deeda talked him back onto the horse, helping him to learn perseverance.

Bluefford would often talk about someone having “the patience of Job.” This really described Bluefford. He was always calm within the swirling chaos of sixteen grandchildren and all the misadventures that many kids could generate. Despite such calmness as well as patience in fishing, Bluefford could get frustrated by circumstances beyond his control. This was never more apparent than when Katie decided to throw Bluefford a surprise birthday party one year. She sent him to the store so that everyone could get to the house to surprise him. There are two front doors on their home, so Katie locked the door they normally used so that Bluefford would use the door closer to where the party goers were hiding. She thought Bluefford would check that door, find it locked, and then go to the other door to enter the house—then be surprised. Instead, Bluefford surprised them all. When he found the door locked, he kept trying to open it. He then started hollering for Katie to come open the door and help him carry in the groceries. When she didn’t come, he began to use some language I cannot share here but suffice to say, this later caused him to turn red when Katie hurriedly opened the door and he found the pastor, many of his church members, and other friends inside.

Despite such outbursts, Bluefford did have the patience of Job. During the last years of his life, when his health began to fail, his nurses and other medical staff loved him because of his long-suffering, sweet disposition. John David recalled taking Bluefford to get his blood tests, where he would exclaim, “hot dog” when he saw the phlebotomist. He would say, “there’s my girl,” or hold her hand as she worked with him. He flirted the same way with his nurses, and they enjoyed working with him. Every so often, Bluefford would exclaim “Oh baby, I hurt” or “son of a gun,” but it was always in a good humored way despite the pain. During those times, I imagine he thought about the Psalm he had written in the back of his Bible, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps 73:26, NIV), to which Bluefford added, “The Lord himself is my very life.”

His family, however, were his second life. Bluefford and Katie supported both their kids and grandkids as much as possible. Whether it was sitting in the stands for Lucy’s track meets, being at all the Bengal Belles performances for Kathy, serving as Scoutmaster for Jubal, he was there for his kids. Even the big events of the grandkids he supported, driving to Colorado for Aaron’s state wrestling tournament or to Georgia for Jeff’s commissioning to the Army.

Several of the kids recalled the family trips with Grandy and Deeda. Each year, Bluefford and Katie would take one of the families on a trip. For many a year, there was also the annual reunion in conjunction with the Peach JAMboree in Stonewall. Bluefford and Katie also visited the kids’ homes for special occasions. Becky said the grandkids didn’t have one or two special memories of their grandparents. Instead, they had continuous memories. While at the Peach JAMboree on the year of their fiftieth wedding anniversary, their kids gave Bluefford and Katie a needlepoint with Psalm 1 on it. The words of the Psalm describe Bluefford and are especially appropriate since he was a horticulturalist. “His delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers” (Ps 1:2-3, NIV).

Bluefford’s love for God brought forth fruit in his love for his family. He loved them deeply. You can see that if you look at the pictures of him holding each newborn child or grandchild. You could hear it when he said the prayer during a family gathering. When some expressed concern to him about that motorcycle-riding hippie that Becky was dating, Bluefford saw the man within and knew that Bobby would be a great spouse for his daughter. When I sat down with Bluefford to ask for Lucy’s hand in marriage, we had a long talk about responsibilities and the great qualities he saw in his daughter. But when Katie and Lucy came back from shopping and we were sitting at the table eating dinner, Bluefford suddenly said, “Momma, do you know what these kids are talking about?!” It was one of the few times I was ever upset with Bluefford. He thought Lucy and I were talking about marriage and told Katie this. I had wanted to get his permission first, so we had not talked about it. Boy, was Lucy surprised! Scottie told me how meaningful it was after her father’s death that Deeda would bring breakfast every morning, sit and talk to Penny and the kids, then drive the kids to school. He did this because he loved his daughter. Family was important to Bluefford.

The importance of family grew out of his experiences as a child. A fire destroyed Bluefford’s family’s home at the start of the Depression, teaching him from an early age to rely on family and to love them. Now those who knew Bluefford know that he could tell a story. Sometimes you didn’t know how much of the story was history and how much was embellishment. For years when communicating how well his children and grandchildren had it compared to living through the Depression, he would say his family was so poor that he only had a one-wheeled tricycle. Everyone thought that was an exaggeration . . . until a few years ago when we found a photo. There was Bluefford with his two older brothers on a tricycle that only had the front wheel!

Because of the fire and the Depression, his family had very little money. For Christmas, Bluefford would get a soap dog that his father had carved for him. He loved those soap carvings but always wanted more for his children and grandchildren. Because of this, Christmas was a special time for him. He wanted to have the biggest tree that would (almost) fit in the living room. It had to be a real tree—no artificial one would do. He enjoyed seeing the happiness on the faces of his family members as they opened their presents. But most important to him, as a believer in Jesus Christ, was that Christmas is the time of year when we celebrate the birth of Jesus. Through the life of Jesus, Bluefford found forgiveness for his sins and a new life that was full and blessed. The gift of Jesus gave him joy. It brought Joy to the World, as the prophet Isaiah said, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa 9:6, NIV). It was Bluefford’s prayer that all would know the joy that comes from faith in Christ.

Family

Graveside Message for Katie Lou Hancock

katie lou hancockWe gather today to remember the life of Katie Lou Harris Hancock, a devoted wife, honored mother, and beloved grandmother. We come to commit her into the care of her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, whom she loved and served. We know that in the final years of her life, she suffered from the effects of Alzheimer’s, but even so we recall Paul’s words to the Corinthian church in his second letter. “We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Cor 4:16-18, NIV)

The Christian hope has always been rooted in the belief in the resurrection of the dead. This hope grows out of the teaching and life of Jesus Christ himself. When Jesus’ friend was dead and in the tomb, Jesus stated to Lazarus’ sister Martha,  “Your Brother will rise again.”  Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”  Jesus said to her, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in me will never die.” (John 11: 23-26, NIV; emphasis mine)

What did Jesus mean that those who believe in him would never die? It could not mean physical death, for we know from the story of Jesus that he himself died on the cross and was buried in a tomb. But that wasn’t the end of the story. We also know that God raised him from the dead, that he could not stay dead. So we find in the Revelation that Jesus proclaims, “Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last. I am the living one; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever. And I hold the keys of death and Hades [the grave].” (1:17b-18, NIV) Because Jesus holds the keys to the grave, we can have confidence that this is not the last word in the story of Katie Lou Hancock. She will live again.

Now, in the story of Lazarus, Jesus—who had just emphasized that he was the foundation for the resurrection of the body in which Christians hope—did an interesting thing before ultimately raising his friend Lazarus from the grave. John’s gospel says, “Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’” (John 11:35-36, NIV) So it is ok for us today to mourn the loss of Katie Lou Hancock. Jesus himself wept at the impact of death, how it cuts us off from those we love. He wept even though it was a momentary separation—for he raised Lazarus back to life soon after. Therefore, it is ok to grieve, to cry, but Paul told the Thessalonians in his first letter to them that Christians are not

to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those [like Katie] who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel, and will the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And we will be with the Lord forever.

And then Paul says, “Therefore, encourage each other with these words.” (1 Thess 4:13-18, NIV; emphasis mine) These were words of encouragement. Those who believe in Christ will be with Katie again, when the dead are raised and Christ brings his eternal kingdom in all of its fullness. John had a vision of this kingdom in the Revelation,

I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. . . . I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev 21:1-4, NIV)

On that day, Katie will look full into the eyes of Bluefford, her children, and her grandchildren, and know each one by name. It is this belief in the resurrection of the dead that allows Christians to say death has no sting or victory over us (cf. 1 Cor 15:55), for when Christ appears, Katie—along with all Christians both dead and living—“shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2, NIV) It was always Katie’s hope that each one of you would be part of that great day, would know Jesus Christ as your Lord and your Savior. If you do not know Jesus in this way, I would be happy to speak to you later about this.

Now there have always been those who questioned this belief Christians have in the resurrection. Paul addressed these questions in his first letter to the Corinthians: “But someone may ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own kind of body. . . .

“So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural [soulish] body, it is raised a spiritual body.

“If there is a natural [soulish] body, there is also a spiritual body. . . . The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. . . . And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.” (1 Cor 15:35-38, 42-44, 47, 49, NIV)

The famous preacher D. L. Moody once noted many people call this passage in 1 Corinthians 15 the “burial service.” But, Moody argued, “I think it is an unfortunate expression. Paul never talked of ‘burial.’ He said the body was sown in corruption, sown in weakness, sown in dishonor, sown a natural body. If I bury a bushel of wheat, I never expect to see it again, but if I sow it, I expect results. Thank God, our friends are not buried; they are only sown!” (Great Sermons on the Resurrection, p. 61)

So, for now, we do not bury Katie Lou Hancock as we might put away something that has served its purpose. We do not even bury her as we might hide away a great treasure we seek to protect. Instead, we sow her into the ground this day, knowing that one day the Lord Jesus Christ will raise her from the dead. As John said in his first letter, “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 Jn 5:11-12, NIV)

Family

Eulogy for Katie Lou Hancock

Before I katie lou hancockstart, I want to say I would much rather you could have the chance to sit with Katie’s five children, as I did yesterday evening, and listen to them share about their mother. They could do a far better job than I to communicate to you who their mother was and why they loved her. Prov 31:28 says, “Her children arise and call her blessed.” Never was there a truer statement.

When I asked Kathy if Katie had a Bible I could look through to see if there were any favorite verses marked, Kathy told me I needed to look in Mom’s Bible. “Mom” is what Katie’s children always called Katie’s mother, Lota Mae Harris. Kathy told me that there was something special I should see written beside Proverbs 31. So I opened the Bible to that chapter, and saw written in the margins, “Katie Lou” with an arrow pointing over to the text.

While I knew what the arrow meant, at first it seemed to me that the arrow pointed at verse 9, which began, “Open thy mouth.” Well, if I stopped right there, some might think that described Katie. After all, one of her children remarked there wasn’t a waitress in College Station who hadn’t heard about Katie’s children and grandchildren at some point in their career. In addition, one of her grandchildren told me she must have talked her way out of at least fifty traffic tickets. Katie never met a stranger.

But verse 9 doesn’t stop at “open thy mouth.” The reason it says you should open your mouth is to “plead the cause of the poor and needy.” Katie certainly had a heart for the poor, the needy, and others who might not be accepted by society for one reason or another. Not many people from Bluefford and Katie’s generation would be close enough to an African-American man to be listed by him as “family” when he filled out papers to enter drug rehabilitation. Even fewer would actually show up at the family meeting nights to support him. But Katie and Bluefford were there, just as they were at the opening of an African-American Baptist church and even opened their home to this congregation as a meeting place for their fellowships.

At my wedding, I met a young man with a mental disability who told me how much he loved Katie and Bluefford. While he wasn’t able to say this, I know it is because they treated him with dignity, and they always made time for him when he called, came by, or spoke to them in church. Where others labeled him “special” because of his disabilities, Katie made him feel special because he was a person created in the image of God. Katie loved to serve people, whether in the Women’s Missionary Union, the Extension Service Auxiliary Club, or on the street; be it a friend, family member, or someone in need or needing a friend.

In Katie’s mother’s Bible, I also found quotations from several poets written on the obverse of the presentation page. One quote was from a poem by Robert Frost. “The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep.” This verse reminded me of several things the family shared with me yesterday evening. Jeff talked about how much Katie loved to hunt and fish. He said she would pick a spot and stay there fishing, never leaving until time to leave or break for lunch. Usually, he said, she caught the biggest fish because the rest of us were too impatient and would move back and forth looking for the “right” spot. It is not without reason that we will sing “Shall We Gather at the River” later. Katie loved the outdoors.

Frost’s poem, however, emphasizes that while the outdoors are lovely, he couldn’t stay there, for he had promises to keep. Katie was always there for special events, such as the birth of a baby. As two additional examples, Lucy said her mother would sit in the stands waiting for the end of the track meet, when the two mile race began, to cheer her on. Aaron told me how his Grandee convinced his Deeda to drive all the way to Colorado to cheer him on at the 2003 state wrestling tournament. We think this was the last time they made such a long distance trip. “And miles to go before I sleep” indeed.

In fact, Scottie told me to tell you that Katie never slept. She said Grandee would go to bed after all the grandkids yet be awake before any of them got up. When the grandkids got older, they would think nothing of going by the house at 10pm. Grandee would always welcome them in, put on a pizza or find something else for them to eat. She was always ready for a party.

Another example? Katie’s oldest grandson, Jeff, lived next door to his grandparents when he attended A&M. One morning before Christmas, around 12:30 in the morning to be exact, he called his Grandee and asked if she was asleep. No, she said, what did he need? Jeff was in line at Hastings to buy a Playstation 2 when the store opened later that morning, but he really needed to go to the restroom and wanted to get something to eat. Could she come up and stand in line for him? Katie not only drove up there and held Jeff’s place for him, she knew all the kids in line by the time he came back and they were all telling him what a cool grandmother he had!

Now please understand, Katie wasn’t perfect. Joseph, another grandson who lived next to Katie, talked about how sweet his Grandee was to bring him food from time to time . . . but having to throw some of it away because the expiration date was a couple of years past. Scottie and Jarrett noted Grandee never learned to put gas in the car, cutting short a shopping trip with Scottie once so Bluefford could take the car to get gas or driving around town with Jarrett another time the gauge was low searching for a full service station in the mid-1990s!

But Katie’s life reminds me of two verses from the book of Proverbs. Chapter 20 verse 7 says, “The righteous lead blameless lives; blessed are their children after them.” Chapter 13 verse 22 states, “A good person leaves an inheritance for their children’s children.” Katie was an only child who always wanted a big family. Yet several of the children said to me, somehow she had six only childs. None of her daughters or sons felt like they ever took a back seat to someone else. Each felt important. Katie supported each one in whatever he or she was interested in. She was always there for the special events.

But her love did not end with her children. Her children’s spouses were sons and daughters, not “in laws.” The grandkids grew up feeling her house was their home, because Katie made it a home and made sure they had fun when she was there. Several of the grandkids said they were such good friends with their cousins because Katie insisted the family get together twice a year, at Christmas and at the Peach Jamboree in Stonewall each summer. Even the friends of Bluefford and Katie and the friends of their children and grandchildren felt welcomed whenever they came over or joined the family to attend the Peach Jamboree or some other family event. Becky said, “Mother lived out her Christian faith.” Jubal agreed, but added she showed you could be a Christian and yet have fun and a good sense of humor.

Returning to where I started, you recall I found the words “Katie Lou” written beside Proverbs 31 and there was an arrow. The arrow actually pointed to verse 10, which begins a poem known as the Virtuous Woman. Becky said Mom used to always say Katie was the woman of Prov 31. In Bluefford’s Bible, he also had a star beside Prov 31 and several verses underlined. One verse was, “A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.” The other was, “She brings her husband good, not harm, all the days of her life.” Jeff pointed out the fact that Katie knew Bluefford her whole life. They grew up as friends. They married and lived happily almost 67 years. She was always there for Bluefford, supporting his work, assisting his ministry as a deacon, even learning computer skills to help him after his retirement. While they sometime would get frustrated or upset with the other, there was never any doubt that they loved each other.

I remember Bluefford often looking at me and saying, “Son, what’s bred in the bone comes out in the flesh.” He usually said it in jest, hinting to me that whatever it was at the moment that I saw Katie doing would at some point manifest itself in my wife, Lucy. This statement was true about Katie, however, in at least two ways. First, none of their six children has ever been through a divorce. They all attribute this to the witness of Bluefford and Katie’s long, happy marriage. The second way is what I saw in Katie the last time I saw her. Despite the fact that her memories had faded, I saw her grabbing some paper towels to help clean up after a fellow resident had become ill at the dining table. There she was, making a home, serving another in his time of need, living out her Christian faith that was bred in her bone.

In the front of Lota Mae’s Bible was another quotation. “God gives us memories so that we may have roses in December.” Katie has died and all we are left with are memories. Yet these memories allow us to remember and celebrate the life that she lived. And for those of us who share Katie’s Christian faith, we can look forward to the day when her life will be in full bloom again.

Christian living

Reflections on courage: Observations from Benedict’s resignation

Courageous.  I have read and heard this term numerous times on television and in print during the past week to describe the decision of Benedict XVI to resign as pope of the Roman Catholic Church at the end of February.  Perhaps they are viewing the decision from the perspective of the world’s definition of power.  If you think power is something to be grasped rather than to become the servant of all, then perhaps the term “courageous” is justified.  The Bishop of Rome is one of the most influential people in the world and some cannot comprehend how Benedict could give up that kind of power.

Benedict said in the past that he would abdicate the See of Peter if his physical and/or mental capabilities no longer enabled him to perform the duties of that position.  Faithful to his word, he has elected to step down as his health appears to be waning.  “Courageous” to relinquish such power and responsibility?  Benedict is said to be the “Vicar of Christ.”  So if Jesus defined messiahship (i.e., Christhood) in terms of a suffering servant when the world around him insisted it should be a conquering king, then courageous is the wrong adjective.  Faithful, honorable . . . certainly.  Even visionary, as Benedict actions set a precedent (or renews one?) to place the good of the Church above personal gain.

But courageous?  John Paul II, Benedict’s immediate predecessor, comes immediately to mind as more deserving of such a moniker.  Many who use the term “courage” of Benedict clearly have John Paul in mind.  They think John Paul was selfish or lacked vision when he continued in his papal duties even as his health declined in his final years.  But John Paul emphasized the sanctity and dignity of human life throughout his reign.  All human life, he emphasized, is created in the image of God and has equal worth to God as well as to those who bear the name of Jesus.  This worth extends to the unborn babe within the womb, to the mentally ill or disabled, and even to the physically disabled and the dying.  John Paul rejected abortion and euthanasia.  More importantly, he lived what he preached, demonstrating to the end the dignity of life.  Breaking with tradition, he lived out his final days in public so that we all might hear his message.  That is courageous!  Living what you preach.  Allowing us to see the frailty of life and the dignity by which he lived his final days, rather than receding into the shadows of private life as if the elderly have no worth.  I have noted this previously: http://www.baptiststandard.com/resources/archives/45-2005-archives/3563-2nd-opinion-by-jm-givens-jr-lessons-from-the-dying.

Many have observed the last pope to resign was Gregory XII, who stepped down in 1415, almost six hundred years ago.  The prior century had been a turbulent time for the church.  Most of the fourteenth century found the Bishops of Rome residing in the south of France, until an angry mob surrounded a cardinal conclave and insisted an Italian pope be elected who would reside in Rome.  The cardinals complied, but almost immediately afterward declared a second man pope, claiming the first was illegitimately selected under duress.  For the next forty years, two men claimed the title pope.  A council in 1409, intending to resolve the issue, declared the two men deposed and elected yet a third man pope.  As neither “deposed” man recognized the council or its actions, this only exacerbated the issue.  Finally, a second council declared the popes who had reigned from Rome to be the legitimate popes.  All others were “anti-popes,” so Gregory XII was the legitimate leader of the Church.  At this recognition, Gregory chose to step down in order to put the entire embarrassing period to rest by allowing the cardinals to select a new pope, one unstained by the struggles of prior decades.

A church leader putting the unity of the Church–his denomination–ahead of his own vision for its future.  A man willing to give up personal power in order to empower others.  Here is an act of courage!  After decades of schism and political maneuvering, would that Baptists had ears to hear and eyes to see.

Uncategorized

Boy Scout membership policy proposal flawed

The following is a letter submitted to the National Office of the Boy Scouts of America on January 30, 2013:  

I strongly encourage the executive board to not move forward with the proposed policy change to membership standards. While the proposed change is intended to localize the decision regarding sexual orientation, the proposed change is flawed for a number of reason:
1. The statement is made that “members and parents would be able to choose a local unit that best meets the needs of their families,” yet this is only an accurate statement in the urban centers. Rural and suburban areas often have only one unit from which to choose.
2. The argument for localization implies scouting units are autonomous. This is not entirely the case, however. Units gather together at summer camps, for instance. Individuals from diverse units are selected to join Order of the Arrow. Will OA lodges be allowed to determine their positions regarding sexual orientation? If not, is there truly a “members and parents can choose” standard? If a lodge is able to discriminate, what happens to the discriminated scout who is a valid member of a unit connected to the lodge? Is the solution two lodges???
3. The policy will likely drive away more members and potential members from scouting than it will pull in. There are several scout-like options already in existence, and new programs will certain emerge. These programs will pull current and potential members away from scouting, whether or not the local unit adopts the open policy.
4. The assumption seems to be that sexual orientation is on the same level as race and gender. This assumption is by no means universally accepted. One is born black or white. There is nothing that person can “do” to change that reality. Sexual orientation is different. While there may be a genetic link to sexual orientation, that link is dormant until it is acted upon. Thus, sexual orientation is something one “does” and not something one “is.” For point of comparison, geneticists have identified a “warrior” gene. Individuals with this gene are more prone to anger or combativeness. Such individuals do not have a protected right to engage in assault or murder, however. They are expected to control their actions even though they have a genetic proclivity toward certain behavior. (The same is true of other proclivities, such as alcoholism.)
5. If one opens scouting to all forms of sexual orientation, that would include transgender individuals. Does BSA intend to allow females who think they are male to join units that decide that is a protected sexual orientation? Removing a defined sexual orientation position from the membership policy opens the door to this legal fight.

As one or more of the issues above indicates, the proposed change is flawed. The best course of action for the board is to uphold the existing membership standards policy.

Dr. J. M. Givens Jr.
Assistant Scoutmaster
Troop 253, South Plains Council

*The views expressed in the letter are my personal views as a Scouter and are not offered in my official capacity as a professor at Wayland Baptist University. 

Christian living

Monovision and Single Vision

I told the eye doctor recently that I had quit wearing my contacts because I was starting to have difficulty reading for extended periods of time. I have been nearsighted for years, but have 20/15 vision with corrective lenses and no problem reading without. As with most persons hitting their forties, however, my eyes are losing the ability to compensate for my contacts when I try to read something close to hand.

He asked me if I wanted to try monovision; that is, using different contacts so that one eye is able to see distant objects and the other is able to see near objects. He told me most people’s minds are able to adjust to this situation and quickly learn to trust the dominant eye for seeing distance and the other eye for reading. It sounded strange, but I decided to try it. After all, it would be half the price since I only need the one contact for distance vision!

I wore the one contact for several days. While it was true that I didn’t notice the duality all the time, I continued to have difficulty seeing mid-distance, especially in lower light levels, and night driving didn’t work at all because oncoming lights were doubled—one in focus and one out of focus. My doctor finally decided that I was one of the 20% or so who can’t adjust to monovision because I’ve always accepted input from both eyes.

This experience made me start to wonder how many live a spiritual life of monovision, with one eye focused on the will of God but the other still focused on the world and self? How many are able to rationalize the conflicting information, picking and choosing what they want to see? Is it really so easy to accept the duality of data to create one’s own “unified vision” of truth?

While many can and do attempt it, ultimately this is a futile act. James the brother of Jesus condemned the “double-minded man” as “unstable in all he does” (1:8); Jesus himself told us we “cannot serve two masters” (Matt 6:24); and the Apostle Paul warned we cannot partake from the “table of the Lord” and the “table of demons” (1 Cor 10:21).

Certainly if you attempted monovision, you could recognize the clearly evil and the clearly good, just as my mind was able to see clearly the distant and near objects. But where I had difficulty with monovision was with mid-distance as well as night vision. This is precisely where a life of spiritual monovision would have difficulty—knowing the right from the wrong as you enter the many gray areas of life. What you truly need is not monovision but single vision, that is seeking God with your whole heart. Only singleness of vision can help you make the right decision in those realms of gray.

As the Lord said through his prophets: “Seek me and live; do not seek Bethel, do not go to Gilgal, do not journey to Beersheba” (Amos 5:4-5a). That is, get rid of the monovision and set your vision upon the Lord. “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jer 29:13) Only singleness of vision will help you truly find the Lord and his will. If you “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness,” Jesus tells us, then “all these things”–that is, what is right for the world and for yourself–“will be given to you as well” (Matt 6:33)

Father, help us seek you with all of our hearts.