Some times words just get in the way of a picture. 😀
This picture was taken in the summer of 1963 at our home in Star City Arkansas. My little brother, David, on the right, has somehow managed to get himself cover in mud. That is me on the left and as you can see I am still pretty clean. For years I have been accused of somehow getting David muddy without getting myself muddy. Nobody knows how a four year old might have pulled this off but there is a generally held belief in my family that the grin on my face is strong circumstantial evidence that I was responsible.
I don’t know for sure but this may have been the day I first heard my mom say that “the trouble with trouble is it starts out like fun.” I heard her say that at least once a week when I was growing up. My brother and I were always into something and when she got old enough my younger sister was right there with us. One thing I can say about my childhood is we had fun, and yes, we often ended up in one kind of trouble or another. Fortunately the trouble we got into was usually the kind you could wash off. That is important.
The saying “the trouble with trouble is it starts out like fun” applies to all sorts of behaviors with drastically different consequences. It certainly applies to little boys and mud holes but it also applies to many more dangerous behaviors such as driving too fast, drinking excessively, and inappropriate relationships. The list of dangerous behaviors that seem fun at first but can quickly go bad is endless. We are all going to make mistakes but it is important we avoid those mistakes that cannot be undone. The goal is to teach our kids to measure risk and to know when it is time to walk away from a challenge, a dare, a fight, an unhealthy relationship or destructive friendship. The goal is to teach them to recognize for themselves that sometimes a few minutes of fun can result in a life time of consequences. The trouble with trouble, really is, that it starts out like fun.
This 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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
This 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.
6 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)
In this photo Olga Baker, Armand, Griffith, is holding the trophy for winning the Houston Women’s City Softball League Championship. Olga Griffith was my maternal grandmother. Of course I didn’t know her when she was a young woman winning softball championships. I am told she was also very athletic and a strong leader. She was also a great dancer. I think we all wish we had been able to know our parents and grandparents when they were young. It was only after my grandmother had passed that I came across this picture and it is now one of my favorites. When I found this picture my youngest daughter, Kristina was a senior in high school. Kristina was a pitcher and star player on her school’s softball team. My oldest, Melissa, had likewise played and been a leader and star a few years before. In flipping through old photos the past few weeks I kept coming back to this one. It does not lend itself to any particular spiritual lesson or words of wisdom but it just makes me smile. I was not sure at first why I liked this picture so much but then it occurred to me that while I will never see my grandmother play softball maybe I did see a reflection of her years later when my two daughters took the field. I certainly see a reflection of her in both of them in so many ways other than playing softball. She was smart, independent and very strong as are her great-granddaughters. None of us like all the same things our parents and grandparents do but it amazes me how often our personalities reflect our ancestors. I think I may have to share a few more of these reflections in the coming weeks.
“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.
“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.
The 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.