You Are Who Your Friends Are

It was 1976, the first day of my junior year in high school and my first day at a new school. My mom was dropping me off in front of the school and just as I am about to shut the door my mom hits me with one of her old sayings, “you are who your friends are.”  She was waiting for me to respond but I was now a junior in high school and I was hip to her game. That’s what she wanted me to do. She wanted me to ask what are you talking about so she could give me one of her little mini-lectures. I wasn’t going to bite. I shouted, “love you mom” and headed toward the school.

Unfortunately her words kept floating around in my head all day long. That’s the way all of the best old sayings are they stick in your head whether you want them to or not. This one was a doozy.  Eventually I decided this old saying meant I would have the same reputation as the friends I decide to hang out with, and therefore, at least in the minds of other people I would be the same as the people I hung out with.  Thinking I had it worked out I told my mom and she said I had part of it right and then she explained that not only will you have the same reputation as your friends but in most cases you will make the same choices.

This is of course the kind of old people saying that young people hate. Young people want to believe they can run with any group they want but maintain their separate identity and more importantly make their own decisions.  I didn’t care much for this saying and my mother had other sayings that were also designed it seemed to limit my freedom to associate with other people. Have you ever heard someone say “one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch.”  Again, according to my mother’s way of thinking this means if there is one bad person in my peer group that could destroy all of us. Man that is harsh stuff and hard for a teenager to accept. My school was teaching tolerance and saying treat everyone the same, don’t be prejudice but my mama was saying “guard your heart.”   That one she drug straight out of the Bible, now that is really getting old school.

This really is one of the more difficult things we have to learn in life.  Freedom of association is after all enshrined in the first amendment of the Bill of Rights and some of these old sayings have been used as a means of maintaining inappropriate class or racial barriers.  On the other hand birds of a feather do in deed flock together.  Deciding who to be friends with is not easy and sometimes we are not in a position to pick our friends.  Sometimes events seem to conspire to place us together with other people.

I think all of these sayings serve to remind us that we are responsible for making positive decisions about our associations. We can be tolerant and open minded but we must also learn to say no and when to get up and leave. Not easy for an adult and perhaps impossible for a teen. The best we can probably hope for is to make our children stop and think about what they are doing and make deliberate and thoughtful decisions about whom they associate and under what circumstances.

Proverbs 4:23 says, “above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

First Day of Deer Season

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Kenneth Warford and Sally Warford in her Kitchen

Now my cousins and I called our grandmother, Mamaw, but the whole community called her, Aunt Sally. One cold November morning around 1968, or maybe 1969, I was staying with my Papaw and Mamaw. I was sleeping on the couch and I was awakened by my Papaw stoking the cast iron firebox in the corner of the living room. They were country folk of modest means and they did not have central heat and air. I’m not sure what time it was but I am guessing it was three-thirty or four o’clock in the morning. From where I was laying I could see into the kitchen that my Mamaw was cooking and a half-dozen men were sitting around the table eating. My Papaw said, “Lloyd, there are going to be a whole bunch of people in here in a minute why don’t you go back and lay down in my bed.” I could see one of my uncles, my grandfather and several men I knew from their church. I remembered then that it was the first day of deer season. I wanted to get up but I was so tired and I dozed off for just a little bit. I was startled when another group of men burst through the front door.

One of the men that came in was my cousin, Eddie, as he came in Eddie, shouted, “city boy what are you still doing in that bed don’t you know it’s the first day of deer season.” I got up and I followed the men to the kitchen. I couldn’t believe all the food that was on the table. There were all the normal things she cooked for breakfast, big homemade biscuits, slab bacon, ham, white gravy and my grandma’s specialty rice and chocolate gravy. It was a southern style breakfast feasts but there were other things you did not normally eat at breakfast like mashed potatoes and venison. I think my Mamaw might just have cooked everything she knew how to cook. Over the next hour or so one group of men after another came to the door, some knocked and some just walked in. My grandma greeted them all and offered them a plate. I have no idea how many men came through and ate that morning but I would not be surprised if it was 50 men. Now later in the day I did hear Mamaw tell my Papaw that she was getting too old to cook all night but that morning she insisted everyone eat and everyone did. In fact I am pretty sure her feelings would have been hurt if anyone had not had a full plate of food.
Some men ate and took off but most stayed. They were waiting on something. Some were concerned that it was not long until sunup. Finally a man arrived I knew him as the pastor of Ten Mile Baptist Church. The preacher wasn’t dressed for the hunt and made and excuse that he had some business to attend to that morning. One of the men joked; we ought to cut your shirttail off for missing the first day of deer season. Everyone laughed. The pastor then asked, “will everyone join me in prayer.” The Pastor asked God to bless the hunt and he pray for the safety of the men in our community. There was a hardy Amen all around and they were off.
Regrettably this was the only time I was at my grandparents for the first day of deer season. I don’t know if this was a one-time event or a community tradition. Either way it is a wonderful memory and I am glad I was there. The world has change a lot since 1969. In those days we killed deer we didn’t harvest them. I suspect my Pawpaw would snicker at harvesting deer and figure that was something some city-slicker must have come up with. There were no women on that hunt. Today both my daughters are deer hunters. I would give anything if I could send a text or email to my Papaw with a picture of one of the deer they have killed. I know that would bring my Papaw a great deal of joy.

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Papaw Warford and some of my Cousins and Family Friends

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Melissa Warford Freeman

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Kristina Warford

“There is no rewind on that movie.”

The Stebbins Family

The Stebbins Family

The picture above is of my cousin, Heather Armand Stebbin’s and her family. I love all my cousins and their families but I get a special joy watching the Stebbins.  I grew up in a family of two boys and a girl with very similar age differences. Watching her family brings back so many memories of my childhood. With three young children in the house there is constant motion. Just getting a picture with everyone happy and looking at the camera can be a challenge. Heather and her husband Ted always take whatever happens in stride.

Recently Heather posted on her Facebook a quote from a devotional by Jen Haymaker that she came across during her morning quiet time. “You will never have this day with your children again. Tomorrow, they’ll be a little older than they were today. This day is a gift. Breathe and notice. Smell and touch them; study their faces and little feet and pay attention. Relish the charms of the present. Enjoy today, mama. It will be over before you know it.” —

This quote struck a nerve with Heather as it did with my wife who immediately responded. Within a few minutes a number of other young mothers also expressed how moved they were by this quote and more importantly the reality of the very short time they have with their children.

Now my Papaw Warford had his own way of teaching this same lesson to my mother and other young parents. His words lacked the elegance of Jen Haymaker’s but he could always make his point. With a soft grin and a wink of his eye, Papaw would tell young parents “there is no rewind on that movie.” He encouraged them to make the time to invest themselves in their children and to enjoy every minute of their childhood.

The old King James Version of the Bible said “Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”  The English Standard Version says “making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”  This biblical charge found at Ephesians 5:16 is not just for mothers it is for all of us. We are all to make the best of every day but these words have a special implication for parents. A childhood is but a fraction of a lifetime and some of the stages of a child’s life can be calculated in hours. Like scenes in a movie the events in a child’s life flash before our eyes and they are gone. First words, first steps, first cookie, first day of school, first car and so on. Every day with a child really is a one shot affair, there is after all, “no rewind on that movie.”

What will heaven be like?

Scan0010This past weekend we spent Sunday touring the Cowboys Stadium. It was amazing. The best part of the tour was at the very end where they just let us play on the field. I will be fifty-four in a couple of months but I had a blast. I kicked the ball, threw the ball and I caught the ball. I did things I had not done in more than 20 or maybe 30 years. I felt like a kid and it reminded me of a theological dilemma I tried to work out when I was thirteen.

When I was thirteen years old I heard a sermon about heaven and it caused me great concern. You see, the preacher, said we were going to spend all our time in heaven singing praises and worshiping. Now, I have always loved to sing and I probably enjoyed church as much as any kid but singing praises and worshiping 24/7 sounded like torture. In all honesty it still does. Now at thirteen years old the thing I loved to do most was play football. I literally slept with the football in my bed and I carried one to school every day, not just in season, but all year long. 2013-06-16 165c

One day I heard another preacher say that heaven would be better than the best world we could possibly imagine. I began to dream about what I hoped heaven would be like. In my dreams every day was Sunday, we got up, went to church, worshiped and then we played some football. The theological dilemma was not whether there would be football in heaven, of course there would be. I could not imagine heaven without football. My theological dilemma was how people in heaven could experience the thrill of victory if no one there ever experiences the agony of defeat.

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The concept of winning and losing just did not go together with Bible verses on there being no pain or sorrow in heaven. I actually remember struggling with this in my mind night after night and sometimes during the day. Eventually, I decided they would probably not keep score in heaven or maybe they would only keep up with the difference. Either way, I imagined if one team got too far ahead we would just pick teams again and start over. 1014571_10151662331954883_1117832724_o

As I got older I realized that this is completely childish thinking and eventually I decided to take a closer look at what the scriptures say about heaven. My favorite scripture on heaven is in Luke Chapter 23. There were two common criminals who were crucified side by side with Christ. One of the criminals was defiant until death and railed against Christ, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other repented and he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Did you here that; Jesus said, “in Paradise.” What did Christ mean by paradise? I honestly still don’t know but I like the sound of it. At fifty-three it is enough that Christ described heaven as paradise. 2013-06-16 176

As an adult I have reconciled myself to the fact there is probably not going to be football in heaven. I am now 40 years older and way too mature for such childish dreams. Still, deep down inside of me there remains a tiny flicker of hope that after worship on my first morning in heaven, someone will pull out a football, and ask, whose pick is it?

Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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In 1969 my father, Kenneth A. Warford was an Air Force Chaplain serving in Vietnam. Baptist Chaplains rarely perform the baptism of soldiers and airman. Baptist Chaplains normally may only baptize a soldier or airman with the permission of, and in conjunction with, a local Baptist Church. Obviously there were no local Baptist Churches in Vietnam and making arrangements with a local church back home could take months. Communication with preachers and congregations back home were far more difficult than today. This put Chaplains like my father in the position of denying baptism to new believers for months or even years. Baptist do not believe that baptism is necessary for salvation but most new believers have a strong desire to be baptized. Some chaplains, including my father, were also concern that denying baptism to new converts sent a message to other soldiers and airmen to put off getting their lives right with God until they got home. On most occasions the young men were encouraged to wait until they got home for baptism but there were times when some Baptist Chaplains felt led to bend the rules. In the winter of 1969, Chaplain Kenneth A. Warford baptized Airman 1st Class Robert E. Douglas off the coast of Tuy Hoa Air Force Base in the South China Sea. There were other such baptisms in Vietnam but as far as I know this is the only picture and record of one.

“Then Jesus came to them and said, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  Matthew 28:18-20

Get on that couch and don’t get off of it!

1965-03 Lloyd, David and KarenThis picture is the oldest picture I have of my sister, brother and I all dressed up for church. Notice we are all sitting on the couch. You see, as far back as I can remember my parents’ routine on Sunday morning was to dress each of us one at a time from the oldest to the youngest. Once dressed, we would be placed on the couch in the living room and threatened with our lives if we got off the couch. Now, when I was a child, this all seemed rather harsh and unnecessary. It was not until years later when I began to hear all the Sunday morning stories that I understood the “don’t get off the couch” rule. You see, things just went wrong at our house on Sunday morning. The stories of our escapades were many and I have forgotten most of them but let me share with you a few I remember.

One Sunday morning while one of us was being dressed the other decided he was not quite finished with his bath and climbed back into the tub wearing his Sunday best. I’m not certain but I think I was the culprit.

On another occasion my mother had me all dressed for Church and ask my Dad to comb my hair. He combed my hair, all right, but then he proceeded to spray it in place, mistakenly using a can of Lysol disinfectant spray.  This time it was my parents that put me back in the tub.

I actually remember the final episode in the tales of Sunday morning. It occurred about the time this picture was taken. In fact, I think it may have been the same day. My mom had gotten each of us dressed and positioned on the couch. She went off to get herself dressed leaving my Dad in charge. My Dad finished polishing his shoes and headed out for Church leaving me to watch my brother and sister. That is of course a pretty tall order for a five year old who is also trying to watch Bullwinkle. A few minutes later I realized Karen was gone. It only took a few seconds for me to track her down. You see, Karen had crawled over to where my father was polishing his shoes. With the lid in one hand and the can of polish in the other she had then crawl down the hall leaving a trail of black polish that even a five-year-old could follow. There were alternating black circles and black rings leading from where my father had polished his shoes to where she was now sitting.  There she was in her pretty little dress digging the shoe polish out with her hands like it was play dough.

My father and mother took very seriously their responsibility to take all of us to church. You would think that would be an easy commitment to keep when you are the pastor of the church but somehow Sunday mornings were always the most chaotic days of the week.

My dad became convinced that Satan himself was working to create as much confusion as possible on Sunday morning. The satanic goal was to ensure that we were late for church and that he was distracted or outright angry by the time he got up to preach. It is all funny now and we enjoy sharing and helping each other remember these old stories but we are all profoundly grateful that in spite of all the chaos our parents made sure we got to church. We may have been late, a little damp, smelling of Lysol or shoe polish but we got there.  Praise be to God, we got there.

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6 (ESV)

Dance With the One Who Brung You

Elmer Warford and Family“Dance With the One Who Brung You.” Nobody knows who coined this phrase. It has been around since at least the 1920s. Many people from my generation remember legendary Texas football coach Darrell Royal and associate this phrase with him. In football the phrase means that if you get to the championship game you should remember what got you there. In a broader sense the phrase is a call to remember and to be loyal to those that helped you get where you are.

When I was a boy I used to go with my grandparents to the Williams Store where they traded. In those days there were many privately owned small community groceries stores like the Williams Store. In time most of them including the Williams Store would be put out of business by supermarket chains that could sell for less. I remember my grandmother saying to my Papaw, “Elmer, we could save money if we went into town more often to Safeway. She would ask, why do we trade here at all? My Papaw would look at her and say, “yes you do,” and that would be the end of it.

The evidence of why Papaw was willing to pay a few cents more for milk every week is reflected in this picture. This picture is of Elmer and Sally Warford with sons, Floyd, Kenneth and Chuck and their first grandchild Jerry. They are standing in front of their home which was being rebuilt after it was completely destroyed by fire. My father, Kenneth Warford, on the far right, has told me many times about how the entire community and particularly the Ten Mile Baptist Church came to their aid when they were left with absolutely nothing. It was the outpouring of Christian love and charity that profoundly affected my father and he would later say that it was the love that was shown to him and his family by the church that was the beginning of him being led by the Holy Spirit to go into the ministry. All of the clothes they had on in this picture were bought for them by others. Virgil Williams was a leader in the church and one of the people that help organized the relief effort when Elmer and Sally lost everything. Virgil Williams not only was a leader in the relief effort he personally donated all of the timber that was cut, process and used for the lumber to build the house you see being built in this picture.

In 1 Corinthians 11:2 Paul commend the believers in Corinth because they remembered and practiced the things he had taught them. There are so many moral and spiritual lessons in this story but I think one of the most important is that we should be the kind of people who remember. Remember what people have done for you, remember what God has done for you and remember to do for others as you would have them do for you.

Perspective

Elmer Warford running the saw at the Warford Sawmill

Elmer Warford running the saw at the Warford Sawmill

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. Isaiah 55:8

In the 1940s Elmer Warford (my grandfather) and his brother, Aud Warford, ran a sawmill that supplied much of the lumber for the Lonsdale Community in Saline County, Arkansas.  Elmer used to tell me that Aud was the brains of the operation.  Aud was quick minded and was especially good with numbers. Aud ran the business and kept the books. Elmer worked the mill and kept the saw running. Elmer Warford is at the controls in this picture and as you can see from studying this photograph the mill was very crude. The entire process was driven by the engine of a model T ford.

In the 1960s when I was a kid I remember Papaw and Aud talking and telling stories about the mill. I remember them laughing about a time when after Aud got through paying all the workers and their bills they had three cents left over to split. Elmer would grin and say, “now three cents was a whole lot more money back then that it is now.”

When Papaw was younger he talked of the Warford Mill as if it was a failure but as he got older his perspective changed.  With age he came too looked back on the days of the Warford Mill with pride. The last time we talked about the mill he spoke of it as a success, not because the mill made money, it never made much. The source of Elmer’s pride were the homes and barns built throughout the community with the rough cut lumber from the Warford Mill. For years after the mill closed he could drive around the community and see evidence of the impact the mill had on the lives of many people.  Just as important, during very hard times, that simple sawmill managed to feed the Warford families and the families of other men that worked in the small logging industry the mill created.

We will never achieve God’s omnipotent view of our situation but maturity can broaden our perspective enough so that we may see our disappointments in a different light. Whatever the day may bring we can be sure God is still on His throne.

When the roll is called up yonder.

Ten MileThe Ten Mile Missionary Baptist Church was organized in 1873. The Church took its name from the Ten Mile Creek that ran through the woods nearby. Today, Ten Mile Missionary Baptist Church thrives in a beautiful modern facility but it is the memory of the old church that haunts my dreams. It was my grandparents church and I attended my first services their when I was a few weeks old. For a kid mostly raised in the city my trips to Ten Mile were always an adventure and the site of some of my first and fondest memories.

In my early days the only air current at Ten Mile Baptist Church on a July Sunday was generated by Mamaw’s oscillating wrist and a popsicle stick fan. The windows were left open and one had to develop a degree of faith just to ignore the constantly marauding red wasp. In the winter time a black wood burning cast iron stove was move to the front of the church and the oldest deacon I have ever seen sat on the from pew just to keep it properly stoked. The only running water came from a hand pump well out in front of the church. That water was cold as ice and somehow it tasted a little better when you had to pump it. Since there was no running water there were no bathrooms inside the church and members had to go to the bathroom in an outhouse. This was not the kind of one-stall outhouse depicted in old movies this was a tin shed built directly over a septic tank with several stalls. It was snaky and filled with wasp. I, like most of the men and boys preferred to use the woods out behind the shed. It was a brave man or woman in a bind that entered the outhouse at Ten Mile Baptist Church, it still scares me just to think about it.

My Papaw was a deacon and one of the leaders in the church. I was always very proud to be his grandson. We sat up close to the front. My Mamaw always had a choice of gum for us kids, Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit, Spearmint, or Doublemint. I was a Juicy Fruit guy myself but I would chew anything if it came from Mamaw’s big black purse. I really never care for gum that much unless it came from Mamaw’s purse.

I have so many memories of Ten Mile but my fondest memory is of going with my Papaw and Mamaw to “Singing.” They used the word as a noun. We were not going singing we were going to singing. I remember Papaw at the door every Sunday night calling, “come on Mamaw, we are going to miss singing.” Mamaw would holler back just hold your horses. Now, at Ten Mile a singing was where most everyone showed up early for church, one person stood up, picked a hymn, and then led the group in singing that hymn. Then someone else would take a turn. You did not need to have a good voice to go to singing, just a voice, a love for the Lord and a love for the old hymns. The Old Rugged Cross, Rock Of Ages, Sweet Hour Of Prayer, one after another we worked our way through the old Baptist Hymnal until it was time to start the service, then we finished with one final hymn, often it was Amazing Grace.

When I think about my Papaw and Mamaw and Ten Mile Baptist Church I get a lump in my throat. I can almost hear my Papaw singing “Amazing grace, how sweet, the sound that saves a wretch like me…”

I was a witness to the faith of my parents and grandparents and in time I would feel the calling of the Holy Spirit and accept Christ as my savior. I believe with all my heart that by the amazing grace of Jesus Christ that when the role is called up yonder I will see my Papaw and Mamaw again and I will join them at a heavenly singing.