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Life and Death

Thomas, Bill, John.TH,IN2006

My favorite photo of the Coker boys: Thomas, Bill, and John — Terre Haute, IN — 2006

We got the call after supper last night. Bill’s older brother Thomas died around 4 p.m. California time. He had spent almost two weeks in the hospital due to complications with his lungs, progressing to his heart, bowels, and kidneys. Dismissed to his home with Hospice care, he prepared to die. His wife and two daughters gathered and kept watch. Until the night before his death his mind was good, talking and relating to his family. Listening to music (so much a part of his life), Thomas passed quietly from this world into the next. He was 89 years old, living the longest of any of his family. He was the eldest of four children of Tom and Wilmoth Coker.

Sister (Mary Elizabeth) died first in Texas at age 47 from a heart attack. Then Dad Coker died in Mississippi at age 79, followed by Mom at age 78 at our home in Kentucky. Bill’s younger brother John Calvin died in Louisiana at age 75, kidney failure due to diabetes.

Bill is now the only survivor of the Tom and Wilmoth (Billie) Coker clan, their third child. He is 82 years old as of June and with no siblings. Nothing, not even death, “will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39).

A note of thanksgiving: I thank God for the Coker heritage, the faith of over three generations, and I celebrate their love for God and family. I have been blessed to be part of the Coker family and enjoy this godly heritage. And I am grateful for my three siblings, all living (in three different states).

 

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I shall not want

The  move caught up with me in unexpected ways. I put my thoughts into words and gave myself permission to grieve and also take action. The first indication came a few weeks ago during worship service while singing a new chorus “I shall not want.” Several lines into the song I read “Deliver me from fear of being lonely.” Tears began to form. What? I’m with family every day. Why the fear? Why the feeling of loneliness?

Over the next days I identified the cause. I missed other family members and my friends left in Terre Haute and Brazil, IN. I also knew that I had to depend on their coming to see me. I could not make the trip there. But the action I could take would be to connect in other ways – writing and phoning. Then we received a surprise call and visit from a dear friend who spent several hours with us. He did not come to Indy because he had an appointment; his purpose was to come and see us.

A text message today brought a request for prayer support. Connection came here not only from a true friend but also with my God as I took time to pray as she gave her gift back to God in music ministry. What sweet communion I had in prayer – not only for my friend but reminding me that I needed to spend more time in prayer, to be more consistent in fellowship with my True Friend.

Also this morning in worship we sang again that same chorus. This time a sweet closure came with the closing: “When I taste Your goodness, I shall not want.” There is where I belong and where God meets me and brings pleasure. Thanks be to God.

School Lunches

In her book Bird by Bird Anne Lamott wrote that she believes good writing is telling the truth. She suggests we write about our being, our beginning, our childhood. As an example, write about school lunches. For Lamott it was brown-bag lunches and through this she got an idea of who she was and “if her family were okay.” Only store-bought white bread was acceptable for the “centerpiece,” the sandwich made with bologna and wilted lettuce and mustard. The sandwich should be wrapped in waxed paper with hospital-squared corners.

My memory about school lunches only applies to high school. I bought the hot meals in the cafeteria. The menus were limited. According to the day of the week we could guess what we’d have. Fish, usually from frozen sticks, was served on Fridays, the Catholic influence in New Orleans. And we generally had red beans and rice one day a week. Mother would hope that day was not when she planned the same. Accompanying the beans we had chunks of French bread, buttered.

And we had some kind of dessert on the divided plates. The boys always ate their dessert first. Maybe it would be ice-cream cups and that would make sense. Sometimes it would be pudding or cookies or cobbler. I thought the boys’ habit was not proper, but I wanted to do the same.

It was not so much what we ate but what lunch period was all about. For me, high school lunch time meant being with friends. At Murphy High School in Mobile, AL, we sat around and talked to find out about each other. I’m sure we also talked about those not sitting with us.

During lunch hour at Murphy the clubs met, so we would rush through the meal in order to attend a club meeting. Even there we made associations with who was “okay,” who was popular and accepted and belonged. We tested who we were and who we would become.

Dominant Right

I am so right-hand dominant that while using a cane with my right hand, I would move the cane to my left hand to pick up something with my right hand. Then my physical therapist had me change and use the cane in my left hand so as to give more support to my weaker right leg. This has made me more conscious about straightening up when I walk. My doctor said that the real purpose of using a cane is balance. When I’m in the house I don’t use the cane much, but I’ve noticed that I check my balance by touching a counter top and even a door frame as I turn a corner. Using the cane in my left hand has freed up my right hand to hold or reach for something. But I’ve had to get used to the switch from right to left when using the cane.

Being dominant right is reflected in my choices also. I want to do what’s right. It’s a good trait for I seldom have to check my balance. I know what’s right and what’s wrong. God has not left us without instruction for daily living. I know “what it is the Lord requires . . . to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8, NIV). Obedience is always the best choice.

However, I have to be careful that being right is not the purpose of my connections with others. Being right is such a dominate trait that I’ve often said I would make a good Pharisee. As I depend too heavily on rules for daily living, it makes me judgmental about others’ decisions. That part about loving mercy is directed toward others. I have the Holy Spirit, a gift to help me concentrate on what is truly dominant in the Lord’s eyes. Daily I surrender to His dominant control. I am His holy temple, His vessel of grace toward others and myself. That’s being dominant right in the way that pleases God.

During an eye exam today I found out that I’m right-eye dominant. Using a piece of cardboard with an open circle in it, the clinical staff person had me look through the circle at the doorstop across the room, first with my left then with my right eye. The doorstop “disappeared” when looking with my left eye but appeared with my right eye. You can do this experiment at home. Select an object across the room; make an open triangle with your hands, overlapping your thumbs. Hold this at arms’ length and close one eye and then the other. Through which eye did you see the object? That is your dominant eye.

Applying this again to my spiritual life, two scriptures come to mind. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus gave this advice about lust: “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away” (5:29). And a positive note: “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light” (6:22). This reminds me of the children’s song: “Oh be careful little eyes what you see. For the Father up above is looking down in love.” So my eyes, even my dominate right eye, have to be disciplined to follow God’s will.

My Testimony – Ann Laird Coker

As a usual summer activity during my teens, I attended church camp. At one such camp I went forward when the counselors asked for those who wanted to be involved in full-time Christian service. Later that night on the top bunk in my cabin, I sensed something was missing. I needed to ask God’s forgiveness. The one sin which loomed large was my habit of “stretching the truth,” as I called it. God took away my sins and gave me new life. I felt clean.

While I put away some bad habits, personal Bible reading and prayer times remained irregular at best. One evening late in my senior year of high school, a former boyfriend called me. Bill and I were married that summer, and I became a pastor’s wife in Mississippi.

We had an old upright piano in that parsonage, and Bill played it frequently, singing hymns with great joy. Again I sensed some­thing missing in my life. The Holy Spirit dealt with me about total surrender. The only way I could keep what I loved dearly was to give everything to the Lord. One Sunday evening after everyone had left the church, I asked Bill to pray with me. I surrendered all. I felt as full as the moon that night.

I’ve struggled off and on with fear. About the time the shuttle Challenger had its fatal acci­dent, the explosion brought fresh meaning about life’s uncertainty. My present circumstances dwarfed my faith.  Fears about travel, health, finances and ministry made me numb. This paralysis of fear showed up in the slightest decisions I’d make, even about what I would eat.

As the Lord had done on numerous other occasions, He spoke to my need through Scripture. While reading a list in Revelation 21 of those who will not gain eternal life, one group stood out–the cowardly–and it headed the list of murderers, idolaters and liars (v.8). I saw myself among the cowardly, the fearful. Was there a cure? In Psalm 38 I read: “I confess my iniquity; I am full of anxiety because of my sin” (v.18). I acted promptly and confessed my anxiety as sin. Then God did His work: “I sought the Lord, and He delivered me from all my fears” (Psalm 34:4).

The by-product of slaying the dragon of fear has been receiving God’s peace. I took hold of God’s promise in Philippians: “Be anxious for nothing . . . and the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (4:6-7). Peace must be nurtured, daily. I am confident that the best part of my day is that time I spend alone with God, reading His Word, talking with Him, listening to Him. My life goal is “to know Jesus and the power of His resurrection and the fellow­ship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Phil. 3:10).

Behaving in Church — Guest Blog

Memories written by my mother, Minnie Eva Burge Laird [1915 – 2006]

I remember when we Burges would go to church and Dad and Mama sat on the second pew and I’d sit on the first row. I would sit on my feet, and most of the time my dress was not pulled down. One lady in the choir would look and motion for me to pull my dress down. Of course, Dad and Mama had seen her and they would talk to me about it when we got home. I’d remember about the dress for the next few weeks. However, the choir ladies would remind me when I would forget.

It was a blessing for the whole family to come to church and all file in together. Our Daddy (who wore a black derby) went in first and Mama came in right afterwards. Then we children filed in. You could tell how happy our parents were. My Daddy was an “Amen” man. I also remember his “Halleluiah” during revivals. My parents had good singing voices and we all loved to sing.

At home my oldest sister played the piano and she had a great voice. My next sister played the violin and the next sister the piano. The sister before me was supposed to learn the piano but she cried and didn’t want to practice. My brother played a horn and he was called on all the time to play taps at someone’s funeral. He may have stammered a lot, but he sure could blow those taps.

When I got older I wanted to sit in the back of the church. My Dad wasn’t too sure about that though and he used to slyly look back at me. I knew I had to behave. Dad was very proud of his “baby girl” and he let everyone know it. He was also very serious about how I behaved.

When I started dating and had a boyfriend come and see me we sat on the porch and talked. One night we didn’t notice the time and Dad called out from his room, “Baby, it’s bed time!” Boy did my face turn red. However, my boyfriend just laughed.

Timing and Writing

There must have been in my childhood a desire to get to know people’s stories and share them with others. I have always loved to read, and I remember trying off and on to keep a diary. The school newspaper and annual interested me but I never pursued it. English and literature were my favorite classes in high school and college. So back then the seed germinated for this desire to write for others to read.

Should I give up writing? I pursue it even with hazards and weaknesses such as being a not-so-good speller. My dad would have me look up a word in the dictionary when I wanted to know how to spell it. Now Bill does the same. I’ve defended myself by asking how can I look up a word when I don’t know how to spell it.

With my writing there’s also the problem of being good enough, writing unique pieces. Several years back and also for the last several years I’ve tried to be serious about writing for publication. I’ve had some success, but not what I want. I’m not giving up yet unless it’s proven I can’t do it, unless the Lord says I need to spend my time and energy elsewhere. So I press on. I spend more time on it and try new avenues to improve myself.

I need to find the balance between other necessary work – family, house, varied interests – and the work of a writer. At the computer I get caught on a project, like cleaning up my files, and notice that I’ve been at it for hours. Other things don’t get done while I write, so I need to reschedule, re-direct my time, be more organized. This sounds like any occupation.