Forty-Nine Years Ago

HeartIt was a cold January 29th in central Texas. The temperature in Austin that night reached 12 degrees. Thankfully, Terry and I were able to spend the night at the Stage Coach Inn in Salado and not in a tent or on the parking lot!

The weekend of our wedding began Friday evening with the rehearsal at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Austin, the congregation of Terry’s birth, baptism and confirmation. It was the obvious venue for our matrimonial vows.

St. Paul also operated the school at which I had taught 30 fourth graders the year before. I had been hired for that position August 15, 1964, fresh out of Texas A&M with a degree in Animal Science, for the princely sum of $200 per month. For a few days I thought I must have really impressed Pastor Jesse, who hired me on the spot. Then it occurred to me that school would be starting only two weeks later and he desperately needed a teacher in that classroom!

After the rehearsal dinner I kissed Terry goodnight Friday at midnight, drove the 100 miles back to College Station and got to bed shortly after 2:00 a.m. Saturday. My last graduate school final for that semester was Biochemistry at 7:00 a.m. You can probably guess my score on that exam! Not all that great, mostly because my mind and heart were focused elsewhere.

The grad school idea came after one year of fourth grade teaching. I was persuaded that church work would be my vocational ambition but most likely the elementary classroom would not be my final destination. A Master’s degree in biology would open additional opportunities. That plan was never completed, replaced with a decision to go to the seminary instead.

After the final was finished I got in my ’57 Chevy with all my worldly goods and drove back to Austin. The short afternoon was spent “hanging out” with Mom, Dad and my three sisters. Wedding participants had been instructed by Pastor Albert Jesse to be at St. Paul shortly after 3:00 p.m. That was a good thing, since my best man had forgotten to pick up Terry’s rings.

The worship/wedding service was wonderful, meaningful and memorable. Pastor Jesse’s sermon was based on John 2, the first miracle of Jesus at the wedding at Cana in Galilee. The title: “They Invited Jesus to the Wedding!”

After the service and photo session we went to the reception at the Villa Capri Hotel in Austin, which no longer exists. It was picture perfect. Not extravagant, just very nice. On the way to our two-night honeymoon stay in Salado Terry asked what I thought of the groom’s cake. My reply: “What groom’s cake?” I hadn’t even seen it or known it was there.

We spent Saturday and Sunday nights at the Stage Coach Inn, which at $20 per night pretty much blew our meager budget. Monday morning we drove back to Austin, picked up Terry’s belongings and our wedding gifts, and drove to our first apartment in Houston, a clean but not at all fancy one bedroom apartment that rented for $75 per month. We paid half every two weeks.

The next morning I was in another fourth grade classroom, teaching one semester at Pilgrim Lutheran School in Houston for a teacher who was on maternity leave that semester. Four months later we moved to Springfield, Ill., then the home of Concordia Theological Seminary. It might just as well have been the end of the world as far as our parents were concerned.

All that and everything that followed had its official beginning 49 years ago today. Lots of water has gone under our bridge since then, most of it joyful, some of it stressful. Through it all we have relied on our love for one another and God’s grace. We will continue to do so, as we pledged that January night in cold central Texas, “… until death parts us, according to God’s holy will.”

Happy Anniversary, dear Terry! I love you with all my heart!

Advertisements

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dr. Martin Luther

MLKJThis Monday was an American federal holiday marking the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is observed on the third Monday of January each year, around the time of Dr. King’s birthday, January 15. Martin Luther King was born Michael King, Jr. in 1929, named after his father the preacher, who was also born with the name Michael King.

In 1934, after becoming pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Dr. King, Sr. changed his name and that of his eldest son from Michael King to Martin Luther King after becoming inspired during a trip to Germany by the life of Martin Luther (1483–1546). We know this Luther as the German theologian who initiated the Protestant Reformation.

Dr. King, Jr. is best known for his role in the advancement of civil rights, especially for African Americans, using nonviolent civil disobedience based on his Christian beliefs. On October 14, 1964, King received the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolence. He was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee.

My earliest perceptions of Dr. King over 45 years ago were not all positive. Since that time I have developed an appreciation for what he did and said. Here are some of his most famous quotes:

  • “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
  • “Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.”
  • “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
  • “I have decided to stick to love…Hate is too great a burden to bear. Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.”
  • “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”
  • “Only in the darkness can you see the stars.”
  • “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
  • “A man who won’t die for something is not fit to live. No one really knows why they are alive until they know what they’d die for.”
  • “Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.”
  • “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
  • “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’”
  • “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
  • “People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other. We must live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
  • “Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says to love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.”

My perspective is that a significant number of these statements sound as if they might well have also been spoken by the man after whom Dr. King’s father named them both. This Dr. Martin Luther lived in the 15th and 16th centuries. Here are a few similarities observed between the two men:*

  • A single issue for each of them was their lifelong battles for reform. For Martin Luther, a Catholic monk, it was his parishioners buying indulgences, purchasing their salvation to fill Rome’s coffers. For Martin Luther King, it was a black woman being arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man. Both saw their parishioners struggling in the face of corruption and autocracy.
  • Both struggled with the laws and doctrines of their time. Luther King worked to eradicate segregation in America. Luther spent much of his life trying to reform the Roman Catholic Church.
  • Both were fathers and husbands who deeply loved their families despite their many other commitments and responsibilities.
  • Both lived controversial lives, suffered incarceration and death threats and died before they should have.
  • Martin Luther and Martin Luther King left the world a better place, leaving large tracts of their thoughts and beliefs through the written and spoken word.

Both were men whom God raised up in their own time to accomplish, each in his own way, much good that prevails to this very day.

The Public Baptism of an Unwed Mother’s Child

Credit: Willam Mittelsteadt

Credit: Willam Mittelsteadt

Recently while traveling, Terry and I worshiped at a congregation of our church body. That’s a common practice for us when we’re away from home. That Sunday morning we experienced something that’s not very common at all: the public baptism of an unwed mother’s child.

We later learned that this young lady of 17 had left home at 16, had become pregnant and had subsequently returned home. After giving birth to her baby, with support from her family and pastor she decided to have her baby baptized on Sunday morning in a public worship service rather than in a private service at a different day and time.

As I watched this young lady, who is younger than both of our university student grandchildren, I wondered what her life as a very young single mother would be like in the years ahead. How does a teenaged mother support herself and her child? How does she deal with the judgmental attitude of friends and acquaintances? How does she pick up the pieces of a broken heart and spirit most likely resulting from a severed relationship with the father of her newborn child?

I know of other similar situations where the parents of a young unwed mother have openly embraced their daughter and her child, lovingly providing emotional, financial and spiritual support for both. While acknowledging the moral mistake that led to the reality they faced, they wisely knew that to forsake or abandon their daughter and grandchild would essentially constitute responding to one wrongful act with wrongful acts of their own. Thankfully for all concerned, they chose to emulate the actions of the father of the prodigal son in Holy Scripture and to receive mother and child with open arms and forgiving heart.

What struck me most about our experience that Sunday morning was the courage of the young mother to request the baptism of her child in a public, rather than private, worship service. That decision was particularly poignant in light of the fact that years ago young women in identical situations were required to endure the shame of personally standing before their Christian congregation, embarrassingly admitting their sin and receiving public chastisement for their wrongdoing before, at least in some cases, obtaining corporate forgiveness.

The young mother we saw had received forgiveness from pastor and parents. With their support she made the right decision not to terminate her pregnancy but to give birth to the life within her womb. She then chose to bring her baby to the waters of holy baptism in a public worship service.

There, in the presence of her fellow Christians, she quietly yet openly demonstrated a truth all of us would do well to remember and replicate. When we sin, which we do every day, we ask for and receive God’s forgiveness. Then we move forward in life, doing everything we can as forgiven children of God to transform the result of sin into a manifestation of the grace of God within us.

Terry and I were powerfully blessed by this young lady’s example of doing just that!

Leaving this World … Slowly or Suddenly

Heaven 1January 1, 2015 was the 32nd anniversary of the passing of my now sainted father, Martin Herbert Otto Kieschnick. He died New Year’s Day of 1983 after battling cancer for more than a year. Our entire family, especially my almost 99 year old mother, Elda, misses him greatly. We are comforted only by the hope and assurance that our earthly father is the recipient of eternal life from our heavenly Father through faith in Christ our Lord and that, through the miracle of the resurrection of the body, we will see this wonderful but not quite perfect man again someday.

Last month I visited a longtime friend and co-worker, Dr. Keith Loomans, who is at home under hospice care, spending what appear to be his last days on this earth. His wife, Margie, and other family members are lovingly caring for Keith, trying to make him as comfortable as possible, even though he struggles valiantly for every breath of life.

Conversely, during the recent holidays I received word of the sudden death of two LCMS clergy friends of mine. Rev. Dr. Ronald Fink, former parish pastor and past LCMS Atlantic District President, died suddenly December 27 at the age of 77 after preaching two days earlier at a Christmas Eve service. Terry and I traveled with Ron and his wife, Millie, on our recent cruise following the footsteps of the apostle Paul. Ron appeared healthy and was doing just fine on our trip. Apparently he suffered a heart attack or stroke or aneurism that took his life instantly.

Rev. Kim DeVries, long time pastor of Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in San Antonio, passed away New Year’s Day. He was not yet 65 and apparently suffered a heart attack or blood clot while jogging. Terry and I were with Kim and his wife, Cathy, in November at the LCEF Fall Conference in California. Though seemingly in excellent health, Kim died suddenly. He leaves Cathy, two sons, their wives, two grandsons and other family members to mourn his passing.

People who lose loved ones as the result of lengthy illness have the burden of walking with their loved one through the valley of the shadow of death. They see and are deeply saddened by the pain and suffering their loved ones experience, often resulting from medical treatments intended to cure the disease that has captivated the loved one’s being.

People who lose loved ones to sudden, unexpected death are shocked by the loss and the unhappy experience of not being able to say goodbye or to prepare themselves in advance. If the loved one is taken prematurely, there’s a sense of regret or remorse that the expected longevity of the loved one in question was abbreviated. There may also be feelings of anger at being cheated, robbed of future time and life experiences that have suddenly and irreversibly vanished.

There’s no easy way to lose a loved one, whether he or she leaves this world slowly or suddenly. Although it’s not a frequent topic of conversation and while I’m certainly not in any rush, I’ve told Terry that should the Lord choose to take me quickly, may his Holy Name be praised!

Either way, as the hymn says, for all of us: “I’m but a stranger here. Heaven is my home!”

A New Year’s Outlook on Life

Gazing OffThere once was a woman who woke up one morning, looked in the mirror, and noticed she had only three hairs on her head. “Well,” she said. “I think I’ll braid my hair today.”

So she did and she had a wonderful day.

The next day she woke up, looked in the mirror and saw that she had only two hairs on her head. “Hmm,” she said. “I think I’ll part my hair down the middle today.”

So she did and she had a grand day.

The next day she woke up, looked in the mirror and noticed that she had only one hair on her head. “Well,” she said. “Today I’m going to wear my hair in a ponytail.”

So she did, and she had a fun, fun day.

The next day she woke up, looked in the mirror and noticed that there wasn’t a single hair on her head. “Yea!” she exclaimed. “I don’t have to fix my hair today!”

While some may think such responses unrealistic, especially from a person apparently undergoing serious medical treatment, our attitude toward the hand life deals us is critical.

So here are some encouragements for this New Year. Be kinder than necessary. It’s very likely that everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.

Live simply. Love generously. Care deeply. Speak kindly. Pray continually.

Someone said: Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.

Life is too short to wake up with regrets.

Love the people who treat you with respect and kindness.

Pray for the ones who don’t.

Many blessings in the Year of our Lord 2015!