Wednesday, October 31, 2018

A hug can go a long way in this old world

Sarah, a student in an online course I'm teaching for Winthrop University, brought the following heart-warming video to my attention.

Being a "regular" at the VA Hospital in Johnson City, Tennessee, I can relate to this:

Sunday, August 12, 2018

One Texan hands the mantle to another Texan

How do you replace or succeed a pastor who’s been at the helm for 38 years and practically founded the church all those years ago in Johnson City, Tenn.?

You don’t.

But you help to continue that well respected house of worship—Grace Fellowship Church—along its journey. A church whose slogan is: "Everybody's welcome. Nobody's perfect. Anything can happen."

Matt Murphy, recently named the new pastor of GFC, finds himself in that “to be continued” voyage.

He’s the successor to the irreplaceable Tom Oyler, who 38 years ago began leading GFC. (I’m not even sure it had that name 38 years ago, but Tom, now an emeritus pastor, has had a big hand in shaping and growing the church over that time span.)

This Sunday morning was Matt’s ordination. At least that’s what I’ll call it.

There he was up on the stage with his family, as Tom, along with seven elders flanked him and gave him his charge.

Leading this church is not a job, as Tom noted, but more a solemn responsibility.

As a packed, solemn, quiet sanctuary looked on, one tall Texan—Tom Oyler—passed the baton (rather the “spirited sword”) of church leadership to another Texan, Matt Murphy.

Elders laid their hands on Matt’s white shirt-clad shoulders and prayed.

Then came hugs, handshakes, backpats and a loud applause from the congregation.

Tom Oyler, truly a beloved legend in the Christian ministry in Johnson City, stepped aside, and then it was all about Matt as he preached a sermon about the church’s mission of “building a community” and serving the broken and reaching those who don’t know Christ.

He made a good point about East Tennessee being one of the most densely churched regions in the U.S., with perhaps a thousand churches in the Tricities area. And yet though we live in the Bible Belt (I would call it the “Buckle of the Bible Belt”) too many folks still don’t know Jesus.

One more point about Tom Oyler.

He’s one of the best and most profound speakers I’ve ever listened to, and I’ve been attending GFC for a few years. My iPhone is full of notes from his sermons, and some of what he’s said may have even found its way into a few of my novels.

I bumped into him in the lobby of GFC a few weeks ago and congratulated him on being named “emeritus pastor.” I shared with him that I’m an “emeritus associate professor.”

“Doesn’t mean a thing, does it?” he said with a laugh.

Back to Matt Murphy.

He will do well. He, too, is a gifted speaker. Good sense of humor. Knowledgeable about the Bible. Has something to say and says it well. (Maybe that’s a Texas thing?)

Congratulations, Matt Murphy.

And to Tom Oyler: You are definitely not done. I ‘spect the church and Matt and other key figures at GFC will be leaning on you aplenty for guidance in the coming months and years.

Note: That’s a picture of Matt Murphy in the plaid shirt with this blog post. The bespectacled guy in the blue shirt is Tom Oyler. Pictures came from website of Grace Fellowship Church.

Monday, May 28, 2018

My long lost cousin

I had not even thought about him for many years.

They called him "Little Charles."

He was my first cousin--the son of Charlie and Jess Timbs. (Charlie Timbs was my dad's brother).

Never met Little Charles.

Never had the chance because he went missing while serving in the U.S. Army in 1964.

Little Charles never came home.

All I ever heard about him while I was growing up was that he went out to sea on a ship, but when they called roll (or whatever they do in the Army), Little Charlie didn't answer.

They searched high and low.

No Little Charlie.

No body.

No trace of him. Not a clue as to his whereabouts.

So what happened?

No one knows.

I do know that his parents went to their graves without any answers.

Fast forward 54 long years to today--May 28, 2018.

I'm driving slowly through the Veterans Administration Cemetery at Mountain Home VA Medical Center in Johnson City, Tenn.

Just killing time, taking in the expanse of tombstones/markers--every single one of them decorated with a small American flag. Moseying around in my car waiting for an annual Memorial Day service to begin.

For some reason I stopped.

I looked out the driver's side window.

And there was a marker with the last name "Timbs" on it.

Of course, I stopped!

Why did I just happen to cast my eyes toward that particular marker--of the thousands of flag-decorated markers that grace that hallowed cemetery?

What happened all those years ago to my cousin Little Charlie?

Some questions will never be answered.

Uplifting scene at my favorite grocery store

You never know what you'll encounter when you go to the grocery store.

Especially my favorite grocery store in the whole world--the big Food City store on State of Franklin Road in Johnson City.

Sparkling, clean floors there.

Aisles and aisles of anything you'd want to eat. Everything neatly and attractively organized.

Customer friendly employees and a very capable store manager who knows how to run a top-notch grocery shopping mecca.

Hats off to the folks at this Food City store.

In the picture are two helpful Food City employees. With them are a woman and her dog.

Thanks, Food City folks, for helping this woman.

(I noticed when I entered the store a few days ago, that the woman with the dog got immediate assistance with her shopping).

Good folks--these Food City employees.

Monday, January 22, 2018

My new novella

News blurb from yours truly: I’ve just finished a manuscript for a novella. Has 23 chapters and an epilogue.

I’m now in the editing phase. I have a working tentative title, but I'll likely change it. So I’ll hold off announcing the title till I’m certain what I want to go with.

My new novella is about a serial killer in the mountains of East Tennessee. It involves a county sheriff, forensic science, a local community newspaper (something I like to think I know a tad about) and a dog.

More to come but know for now that this will be my third novel; first two were co-written with my friend Michael Manuel. My work this time, however, is solely my own. (Michael, you’re off the hook.)

Who will publish it and when?

Good questions.

My dad used to say that anyone can write a book, but it takes a genius to sell one. How true!

Stay tuned.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Tribute to my Uncle Leland

They buried my Uncle Leland Walsh two days ago.

He was 100 years old.

Had led a good, fulfilling life as a member of “the Greatest Generation.” That’s what noted journalist Tom Brokaw has written of those—such as my Uncle Leland—who endured the tribulations of the Great Depression and then gone on to selflessly serve our country in World War II.

Leland Walsh was my dad’s sister’s first husband. Dad always liked visiting him at his residence in the Stoney Creek community of Carter County, Tenn.

“Come back. Don’t stay away so long,” I can still hear Uncle Leland saying as we’d head up for home.

Uncle Leland loved for people to visit him. He loved his family. He had long been divorced from his first wife—Novella Timbs Peters (who passed away late last year)—and he had remarried.

But he never forgot my “Aunt Vell”; and I’ve heard tell that he still loved her after all those years of being remarried and then losing beloved second wife Ethel to death.

As recently as a few years ago, after he’d lost Ethel, Uncle Leland wanted one last kiss and hug from Aunt Vell. I urged her to go up to Stoney Creek and give it to him.

She never would do it.

At his graveside service Friday morning—at a pastoral cemetery in rural Butler, Tenn.—Brent Nidiffer, minister, recalled how Uncle Leland had been a veteran of the U.S. Navy and served as an elder in his church.

He always put his faith and family foremost in his life.

A gentle mountain breeze caressed the little cemetery where Uncle Leland’s flag-draped coffin was laid to rest. It happened under a cloudy sky that threatened rain. But the rain held off.

A military honors color guard stood at attention, then fired three shots into the air.

A crisply dressed U.S. Marine corps private sacredly and carefully folded the flag and presented it to my first cousin Larry Walsh “on behalf of the president of the United States.”

The graveside service—simple but profound—ended with a solemn prayer—thanking the Lord for Leland Walsh’s life and requesting comfort for Uncle Leland’s grieving family and friends.

Farewell, Uncle Leland (pictured as a strapping young man with this blog post).

Friday, July 14, 2017

Ode to Andy

This is a remembrance for Andy.

He was an adorable bichon frise who touched a lot of lives.

Brought love and playfulness and joy to everyone he came in contact with.

He died from cancer—leaving his owners and many others broken hearted.

I didn’t know you, Andy, but I’ve heard you were a great little dog.

Being a bichon, you were a step above a dog.

I can attest to that because I have my own bichon frise—Michael Jackson.

From your picture, you remind me of him.

Smart, always up for a snack or a squeeze toy or cuddling from a human. Not exactly the most sociable with other dogs but seemingly always comfortable in the company of people.

Can’t stand the thought of losing my Michael Jackson, as I’m sure your owners could hardly bear losing you.

Must have been one of the saddest days in the world when Andy, who lived in Georgia, passed.

Tears and hugging and prayers, I’m sure.

And guess what else?

There Andy was—gloriously up in the sky—the day the little guy died.

As if he were on his way to Dog Heaven.

Andy’s pictures and moving likeness of his shape in the clouds appear with this blog post.

So long, Andy—the dog I never met.

But surely the dog that will never be forgotten.