Sunday, November 29, 2015

Happy Birthday Jason -- Thanks Prof.

Gratitude Note 11/28:  For Dr. James Timberlake and Jason – my youngest son.  Dr. Timberlake was a New Testament professor and my Advisor at Oklahoma Baptist University.  I was wandering in my personal wilderness in those years – a ministerial student who knew more of what he didn’t believe than what he did believe.  I wasn’t doing well in the grade department and on one occasion Dr. Timberlake looked down and shook his head saying, “Stephens, you will never make it.”  I won’t say what I thought at that moment, but things got a lot better – even if I had to squeeze four years into six.  Dr. Timberlake also taught me what fear he faced in telling “theological truths.”  One day in an advanced Greek class of eight he started talking freely – but only after making sure there were no recorders and our notepads closed.  He made the transition several years ago to the Kingdom where there is no fear – free at last.  Jason is my youngest son and his birthday is tomorrow – as in Sunday.  His teen years were challenging – for him and for me.  He had a tough time after his Mother and I divorced.  He too wandered in a wilderness in seeking stability and direction.  I knew he would be all right eventually, but didn’t know how.  Lynda suggested we let him live with us in Tyler – what a brave and caring woman!  We were all in the wilderness for a while.  The particulars are not important now except to say eventually he found the stability, direction and maturity he needed to become successful.  He married an incredible woman named Erica – another daughter to us.  They have two wonderful children:  Savannah and Landon.  Jason is a regional director for On the Border in Kansas City.  I am so very proud of him – always loved him – but now happy for him and his family.  I thank God for Jason and his family – precious to Lynda and me.  And, thanks be to God the wildernesses are not forever – even so, we are never alone.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Jessica, McCoy and Ryan

Gratitude Note 11/27:  For Jessica & McCoy and Ryan – my middle son.  Jessica was stillborn and McCoy died shortly after birth.  What pain.  I was honored to be the priest who baptized them as uncontrollable years flowed down my cheeks.  The parents were so loving and so broken.  God seemed to hold all of us.  These experiences left a mark on my life of both pain and presence.  Sometimes life takes turns we never dreamed which become nightmares.  At the same time we are called to trust God’s presence and love that will never leave us.  I so admire the parents and grandparents – love the children – and thank God for hope even in death.  Ryan is my middle son and bright spot in my life.  Ryan has some disabilities that make life more challenging for him than other people.  Yet he has always exceeded expectations and is a can-do kind of person.  You cannot find a more loving and caring person – he would do anything to help friend or stranger.  He is just that kind of guy.  If you give him a job, then get out of his way because he is always full steam ahead – on time and dependable – he has always been that way.  Many people still remember him in Bartlesville and often ask about him.  I am very proud of him and all that he has accomplished even with difficult challenges.  Thank you, Ryan, for being who you are – a loving child of God – and one of my three sons.  You are special and I love you.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Two Episcopal Mentors

Gratitude Note – second for Thanksgiving Day:  For The Very Rev. Earl Cavanaugh and The Rev. Dr. David Galloway who introduced me to the Great Thanksgiving (Eucharist) of the Episcopal Church.  Earl was Dean of Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral in Kansas City.  We met when some Baptists attending a convention misused his parking lot and I was assigned to apologize.  He waved it all off and offered me coffee and conversation.  I found a soul-friend in him that day and soon became a “closet” Episcopalian.  Earl was gracious, progressive, patient, compassionate, justice-minded – and so much more.  He encouraged me to seek ordination as an Episcopal priest, but the timing wasn’t right.  A couple years later Lynda and I were confirmed at the Cathedral as we started up the path of a new adventure.  That was just after David Galloway gave me a surprise call encouraging me to become an Episcopal priest and work with him at Christ Church, Tyler, Texas.  We had first met in Atlanta when I was in my first fulltime position and David was graduating from high school.  We became friends and went on to be life-time friends.  David was my primary mentor as an Episcopal Priest – I owe much of who I am in that role to him.  He is man of passion and vision – bright, knowledgeable, compassionate, innovative, persuasive, social justice minded – tolerant and persistent – intimidating and embracing – humorous and full of fire – confident and open – complex and wonderful.  I love him and I am profoundly grateful for him.  Both Earl and David continue to bless me.

Blessed Thanksgiving

Gratitude Note: For relationships that enrich our lives -- go beyond "happy" to a "Blessed Thanksgiving." The picture is from Sunday's birthday dinner for Rose Mary, my Mother, along with Jean Rowlett, Susie's Mother, and Cordy Liggett (her service will be Saturday at 2:00). Susie Clark is a "daughter" to all three of these remarkable women and a dear friend to us. Meanwhile, Lynda and I are with my two brothers and their wives -- and our Queen Mother. We will have Mom's favorite meal of grilled shrimp today -- our Thanksgiving turkey dinner was on Monday, her birthday. Have a Blessed Thanksgiving with repeated "Thanks be to God" from the heart.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Two Michaels

Gratitude Note 11/25:  For Two Michaels – Athey and Stephens.  Michael Athey was the first Curate at St. Luke’s during my tenure.  Handsome and bright – so very gifted for being a priest.  He had a passion for social justice and reaching the same crowd Jesus made a priority in his ministry.  He had a love/hate view of the “institutional” church.  Michael loved the liturgy and sacraments but found the walls and vestments of the church limiting.  He wrestled with his own wealth and serving the poor.  Still, he was growing into a wonderful priest with a bright future.  That is at least in part of why he left St. Luke’s earlier than expected and went to the Church of the Savior in Washington D. C. – to immerse himself in ministry to the poor.  That ended in disillusionment and he came back to Oklahoma to serve as Chaplain at Canterbury of OU.  There he found his niche working with college students – seven or eight of his students went on to be ordained as priests – a huge part of his legacy.  Little did people know that Michael suffered with a mental illness which ultimately led to his tragic death.  He is still loved and remembered by many people.  Michael Stephens is my oldest son and has served as pastor for Southwood United Church of Christ in Kansas City for many years.  His calling to ordained ministry was known early on but the path was not clear – except he would not continue in Baptist life.  He is bright, creative, energetic, humorous, handsome and caring.  Michael is progressive in every way and has the gifts and vision for ministry to both lead and nurture his church for today and the future.  As we say at St. Luke’s – his Arms Are Wide Open – and I am proud of him.  I am also grateful for his wife, Catherine – their marriage – and the way they of brought up The Twins: Lauren and Cayden.  For both Michael’s – Thanks be to God!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Cordy Liggett and Fr. Sean Ekberg

Gratitude Note 11/24:  For Cordy Liggett and Fr. Sean Ekberg.  I wrote about Cordy this morning after learning that this dear one had unexpectedly died.  When I began this November spiritual discipline of writing about people in my life who have died and who are still living, it never occurred to me someone might cross over from one list to another this month.  I am deeply saddened by this loss – so painful.  Earlier this year Cordy was recognized at St. Luke’s as a Prism of Christ and Christ’s Ministry.  That sums up what Cordy has been for many of us who shared the journey with her.  Her Requiem Mass will be Saturday, 2:00, at St. Luke’s.  One of Cordy’s children is a priest – Fr. Jim Liggett.  She often told me how proud she was of having an Episcopal priest in the family.  That is one of the reasons I want to mention Fr. Sean Ekberg tonight along with Cordy.  He is our newest Curate and has been with us for five months.  He is a very gifted young man growing into his priesthood – and is so doing quite well.  Though his learning curve is steep, he is already having an impact on our parish – and is well ahead of his time and experience.  I love, respect and trust him.  I am away with my family this week, so when Cordy died at the hospital, Fr. Sean was called to provide “Last Rites.”  Cordy really liked Sean and several times told me, “Don’t you love that boy?  He is already a good priest and he is going to get even better!”  You may find it odd, but I think Cordy is proud that she was the first person to receive Last Rites from Fr. Sean.  This experience will remain with him throughout his ministry.  I know from my experience that in times like this Sean blessed Cordy and Cordy blessed Sean – and God was there.  Sacraments are like that.  For both my friends – Thanks be to God! 

An Unexpected Death

Gratitude Note: For Cordy Liggett -- a Prism member of St. Luke's and special friend who unexpectedly died early this morning. I am still in shock as is the multitude of her friends. Soon after hearing the news, l watched a glorious sunrise and felt the breath of God. All will be well. Thank you, Cordy, for a life well lived -- and now forever. And, thanks be to God! (a picture of the sunrise was here on Facebook)