Monday, June 20, 2011

Beginning Our 41st Year Together

It's hard to believe that it has been four complete decades since that photo was taken on June 19, 1971 at the Thomas Memorial Free Will Baptist Church in Huntington, WV. That was the day I promised to bestow all my worldly goods upon Linda Bowling, of Pike County, KY. (all my worldly goods at that time consisted of a small 1966 Opel Kadett four speed station wagon, some bedroom furniture, a small stereo, and a big stack of 33 1/3 RPM record albums, ranging from Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, to Simon and Garfunkel, to Iron Butterfly, and the Grass Roots). We took a brief (one day) honeymoon to South Point, Ohio, then it was back to work on Monday. She in the Credit Department of Anderson Newcomb Department Store, and me at the Big Bear Supermarket in Fairfield Plaza.

A lot of water has flowed under the old 6th Street Bridge, and the new Robert C. Byrd Bridge since that day 40 years ago, but the memories are as vivid as if it all happened yesterday.

I had met Linda just after a church service in a revival meeting at the aforementioned church, back in October of 1969. It was the week before my 19th birthday, and I was in my freshman year at Marshall University. She had recently come to work at the department store in the city, following her graduation from Belfry High School, one hundred miles down the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy River from Huntington.

I don't know if it was truly "Love at first sight", but as Kenny Rogers sang back in that day, "Love or something like it, had a hold on me!" First time I had laid eyes on her was earlier in the night toward the end of the church service. It was one of those "bapticostal" type churches and the service had been an emotional one. I had grown up in that church and knew most everyone there that night - except that girl in the short black dress.

She was in a group of people who were walking across the front of the church, shaking hands with the new converts when she caught my attention. I was standing about two thirds of the way back on the right side of the church (with my girlfriend at the time) when my eyes zeroed in on Linda. She looked good in that little black dress (I confess I've always had a thing for black dresses). She had been crying during the service and her mascara had run a little bit, in sort of a Tammy Faye Baker fashion, but that was OK. SHE was something else!

"Wow", I thought. "WHO is that? Furthermore, what am I doing here with this "girl" when there is a woman like THAT in the place?"

I didn't know who she was, and there was no way to find out diplomatically, so when the service closed, I took my girlfriend home, yadda...yadda...yadda. She only lived a block away, so after the "good night pleasantries" I drove back around the block, passing the darkened church building, headed for home. That's when I saw my friend, Jackie Black, standing there under the street light. I pulled my old car over to the curb and got out to talk to Jackie for a few minutes. As fate would have it, that is when Dorla Hagley, pulled up and the person in the front seat with her rolled the window down, and Dorla called us over to the car. To my amazement, it was THE WOMAN IN THE BLACK DRESS there in the passenger seat.

"How old is Jim Vallance?" the girl asked us.

Now, Jim Vallance was the pastor's younger son. He was eight years my senior, and had just come back from a tour of duty with the U.S. Air Force. Most of the young girls in the church had gone goo goo over this tall handsome guy, and the rest of us guys were feeling a tad jealous. Now here is the new girl, asking how old Jim was. My heart sank.

"Don't tell me you are in love with him, too!" (those were the first words I would ever speak to my future wife)

"Oh no!" she quickly replied. "I want to find out for my room mate, Sandy. I think he is about her age."

That was all I needed to hear. The chase was on. The next few weeks and months were spent in a fervent effort to find out more about this mystery woman.

She became a regular at the church. She got involved with our group of young adults, and we often went to one of the local diners or pizza shops after church as a group. She had me hook line and sinker, and didn't have a clue at the time.

I was confused from the start. She told us she was from Matewan (a small coal mining town in Mingo County, WV), but she said she graduated from Belfry High School (in Pike County, KY). Yet she wore a large class ring (with yarn wrapped around it to make it fit her small fingers) that had a "P" on it. When I questioned her about the Matewan, Belfry, "P" inconsistency, she explained that she had been born in Matewan, grew up across the river in Kentucky, where she went to school, and it was her boy friend's class ring from Phelps High School (also in Pike County). She explained that he was in the Air Force in Dayton, OH.

"Drat!" This was going to be a problem.

We began seeing more and more of each other, and I kept putting on the pressure for her to go out with me. (I had dropped the other girl by then and was honing in on this one!) Problem is, she really didn't like me much...

I know. Hard to imagine, isn't it?

Anyhow, to make a long story short, eventually I apparently wore her down. I chased her until she caught me.

On June 18, 1970, sitting on the steps to her apartment, I asked her to marry me, and she said yes! (a response that still amazes me over four decades later). The next day, on her lunch hour, I met her downtown at Roger's Jewelers where we picked out an engagement ring. I slipped it on her finger in the romantic setting of 3 1/2 Alley, behind Anderson Newcomb. With a kiss,we both headed back to work.

Real storybook stuff - huh?

One year later, on a sweltering evening in June, we stood at the altar at Thomas Memorial Church - the place where I had first seen her. My Dad, Rev. Caudle Adkins, Jr. read the vows which we repeated nervously. Linda was attended by her sister, Violet Bennett, as her matron of honor. Other bridesmaids were her cousins, Brenda Huddle and Joyce Pope, along with Lois Conn Vallance (who had married Jim a year earlier), and the late Sandy Chapman Harbour. College friend, Doug Goolsby, stood as my best man (a favor I returned for him in Green Bay, Wisconsin three years later). My brother, Bruce, stood with me, as did long time friends Don Smith and Phil Cheek. College buddy, Larry Gunnoe rounded out the line of groomsmen.

With vows made, and a kiss, we turned, faced the full house, and headed down the aisle on a journey that has lasted forty years and two days - so far.

It seems like a lifetime ago... yet it seems like yesterday.

We've seen the "better and worse". We've been through the "sickness and health". We've certainly been through the "poorer" but are still waiting for the "richer" part (financially, that is). But in terms of blessings, we are two of the richest people I know!

Thank you, Linda, for investing your life in me. Much like God's Grace, your love has been something I have never deserved.

Please note: For some reason in my last two posts, some words are being highlighted as links to some other websites. I have no clue why this is happening (since I am not doing anything any differently than before). Trying to find the problem and get it corrected, but just want my readers to know this is not intentional!

Happy Birthday, West Virginia!

148 years ago today, during the dark days of the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln signed a proclamation, designating West Virginia as the 35th state in the United States of America. The Mountain State owns the distinction of being the only state that came into being through a Presidential Proclamation.

The 55 counties that make up our beautiful state are as varied as the peoples who populate it. From the high mountains of Pocahontas County to the wide rolling Teays Valley; to the steel mills of Wheeling to the coal mines of McDowell County, West Virginia is a special place. Aging urban areas such as Huntington and Charleston have a rich history, and the growing, thriving areas of the eastern panhandle point to a bright exciting future. The good, God loving, family oriented people from Ohio County to Mercer County are a treasure which is unsurpassed by any population - anywhere!

I love West Virginia. And even though I have made my home just across the border in the Bluegrass State of Kentucky for three decades, I am still a West Virginian at heart. The words of "The West Virginia Hills" (our state song) still echo in my memory, all the way back from 3rd grade music class at Gallaher Elementary, where we learned it from Mrs. Susie Jimison. "... If o'er sea or land I roam, still I think of happy home, and my friends among the West Virginia hills!"

My love for West Virginia comes honest. My parents were born here. Many of my ancestors from the Adkins side of the family migrated here from England and Wales, by way of Henrico County, Virginia. My maternal Grandfather, Jerry Stidham, dearly loved the Mountain State. He came here as a young boy from his birthplace in "Bloody" Harlan County, Kentucky. He grew up in the coal camps of Logan County. A self educated man, who worked in the mines, he built a network of friends and acquaintances, and rose up the ladder of success. He went to work for the United Mine Workers of America, and eventually rose to a position as an International Representative with the UMWA. He served three terms in the West Virginia House of Delegates, and at the time of his death in 1968, he counted many past Governors, Congressmen, state legislators, and United States Senators as his friends.

Papaw Stidham dearly loved West Virginia, and in the early 60's he wrote this poem that showed his devotion to the Mountain State. He was named Poet Laureate of West Virginia, by then Governor Hulett C. Smith. I think it appropriate on this 148th birthday of the state he loved so much, to publish once again his poem, "A Particular Place".

A Particular Place

When God made the earth, He looked out in space,
And graciously blessed a particular place.
Some mountains He molded to begin His plan,
As He knew they would be cherished by mortal man.

The valleys He shaped so deep and so wide,
And the streams so swift, never to hide,
The sparkle or ripple from man's sharp eye,
So crystal and clear as if dropped from the sky.

The seasons He made, our desire to delight:
With light of the day and darkness at night,
Overcast with stars and a silvery moon
The sun in the heavens every day at noon.

With seeds of summer's green grass to grow,
Sleeping under the beauty of a winter's snow.
The gorgeous spring flowers for all to see,
And the abundant color of the autumn tree.

Game creatures for the bow and fish for the rod,
Rich fertile soil for the tiller of the sod.
Great beds of coal and timber galore,
Limestone and gas, very much in store.

So great, so fine, wonderful and rich,
A pleasant surprise in each corner and niche.
Nowhere you go will be the same,
For West Virginia is its name.

- Jerry Stidham

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

No Hanging Chads

You're never gonna believe this one!

I spent nearly an hour typing a post that recounted my experience today counting ballots as a substitute Teller at the Southern Baptist Convention.

It was a most interesting experience, and a really great, in depth post. Unfortunately, Blogger's autosave feature apparently didn't work, and I LOST THE WHOLE THING!!!

You would think that after all these years I would remember the one symple thing regarding computers as to WWJD?

Jesus Saves!

I give up. It's after midnight and I am going to bed.

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Piece of History

I am in the beautiful city of Phoenix, Arizona for the 2011 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. This is the second time I have been to Phoenix. The convention was held here seven years ago. My son, Jay, and I stayed together here at the historic Hotel San Carlos when we were in town for that convention. We liked it so much, that when we learned that this year’s convention would be held in Phoenix, we decided to stay again at the old hotel.

It’s a far cry from the gleaming towers that house the nearby Sheraton and Hyatt Regency hotels, where many of the Convention people are staying. This is a classic old hotel with a rich history, and a throwback to days gone by. Don’t get me wrong. It has all the amenities one would expect from a downtown hotel in a large American city. It is just a classic in architecture and style from the early 20th Century.

I checked in late last night and Jay will arrive here in town in an hour or so. Our room is easily identifiable from the street. It’s on the 5th floor and it’s the room you can see in the photo with the little false balcony and awning (left side of the photo).

There is lots of history here and there are plaques, photographs, newspaper articles and other information posted around the hotel, which point out historic events and famous people who have stayed here over the years. One interesting thing I have noticed is the bistro off the lobby which is known as “The Ghost Lounge”. It draws it’s name from the legend associated with the hotel’s history.

I did some research on the hotel and found this interesting article:

“The site where the hotel sits was the location of the first school in Phoenix. The four room adobe school was inaugurated in 1874. It was replaced with a larger structure in 1879. The school was enlarged several times but was condemned in 1916, with construction of a luxury hotel in mind. In addition, many area children died during the 1918 flu epidemic that attacked the United States.

In 1919, the land was bought by the Babbitt family (relatives of Bruce Babbitt, former Secretary of the Interior and Arizona Governor, who intended to build a hotel. The San Carlos Hotel project was finally begun by Charles Harris and Dwight D. Heard who purchased the property from the Babbitts. Construction began in 1927. The hotel was designed by Nationally known architects in the Italian Renaissance style. The hotel was state of the art with air conditioning (the first in Phoenix), elevators, circulating chilled water in the rooms and steam heat. The hotel grand opening was on March 19, 1928. The hotel was built at a cost of nearly $850,000.

The hotel competed with the posh, nearby Westward Ho hotel, completed the following year, which was located on what once was Phoenix's first radio transmitter and whose list of clientele include such celebrities as Jack Dempsey and John F. Kennedy. The San Carlos had its share of celebrities such as Mae West, Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, Marilyn Monroe and Gene Autry.

On May 7, 1928, “The Arizona Republic” reported the death of Leone Jensen. The article's headline read "Pretty blonde jumps from (the) San Carlos (hotel) early today". Based on what she wrote on her death note, it could be assumed that the 22 year old woman was physically abused by her boyfriend, a bellboy at the Westward Ho. Speculations have been made as to whether Jensen was pregnant and/or her boyfriend was having an affair with another hotel worker. Because of these theories, the way she died is also debated. While most evidence pointed to suicide, many have said that she could have been pushed off by her boyfriend or her boyfriend's other girlfriend.

Another ghost frequently mentioned by hotel employees is that of a little girl, possibly around six to nine years old, who is rumored to visit hotel rooms at night and sit crying. Ghost believers think she was probably one of the area children affected either by the school's closing or the flu epidemic.

On December 9, 2004, yet another death happened at this hotel, when an unidentified man jumped to his death from the hotel's roof.”

Quite a history, huh? So far we havent seen any ghosts here, but it is a nice break from the modern cookie cutter convention hotel, (and much more reasonably priced!).

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

No More. NO MORE!

The headlines read, “Five American Service Men Killed In Iraq”.

When will this end?

How long is this going to contine?

Many of America’s finest young men and women face physical danger and possible death every day in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hundreds of flag draped caskets bring their remains home to grieving families. Thousands of these young men and women pass through hospitals and physical therapy units, to learn to walk on new artificial limbs and deal with other crippling physical (and emotional) disabilities of war.

And for what?

For a war with no apparent end game and no exit strategy.

We went to war in Iraq to topple a dictator and to stop the production and possible use of weapons of mass destruction. Saddam is gone, and the WMD’s were never found there.

Get out now!

We went into Afghanistan to get Osama bin Laden and to break up Al Quaida. The Taliban has been overthrown from power there, Osama took a bullet to the head in neighboring Pakistan, and anyone who believes Al Quaida is ever going to disappear is crazy.

Get out now!

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am not some type of bleeding heart, tree hugging, pacifistic, flower child. I served in the military during the Viet Nam era. I support and pray daily for our troops. I supported our former President’s incursions into Iraq and Afghanistan, for the reasons given by him. I believe in the concept of the “just war”. I agree with Francis Scott Key (“And conquer we must, when our cause, it is just. And this be our motto, ‘In God is our trust’”). But the present situation in these two fronts begs the realization that enough is enough!

911 required drastic action by our leaders – not only for retribution, but for the future safety of our people and our way of life. The larger "War on Terror" is a just war. But wars come at great cost. That cost must be taken into account before combat begins. Wars must be justly prosecuted, with a strategy and a will to win, and with the resources necessary to accomplish the mission. There must be a plan to exit when the time is right.

That time has passed.

The sands of Iraq and rocky terrain of Afghanistan have run red with American blood. We know that some sacrifice was necessary – but not a drop more than required. Five more of our fighting men have been killed this week in a place where our forces are being “drawn down”. When we leave Iraq, after all these years, trillions of dollars spent, and American lives lost – does anyone really believe that democracy will work there? A three way civil war between Shiites, Sunni’s and Kurds is inevitable. And yet the spending, and dying continues to go on.

Get out now!

And Afghanistan! Haven’t we learned what the Russians learned there? Do we honestly believe that we can win a war against a tribal culture still existing in something akin to the stone age? Yet the bleeding, maiming and death goes on.

Get out now.

Two billion dollars are being poured down that drain every day. TWO BILLION DOLLARS EVERY DAY! Our service men and women faithfully fulfill their duties and obey their orders, all the while at risk of dying – in a war that has no clear strategy, and arguably, at this point, of no strategic value to the safety of our nation. Furthermore, their sacrifices are not only unappreciated, but resented by many of the very people they are supposedly there to protect.

Meanwhile, our nation’s borders remain porous. Our neighbors try to recover from floods, tornadoes, and other natural disasters of biblical proportions. Our infrastructure is crumbling. Our education system is woefully inadequate. And our national debt is unfathomable. Yet we continue to pour billions of dollars of our resources and the best of our young people into the abyss – with no sign of success in sight.


Pull the plug.

I don’t care who gets the credit (or the blame), just stop the bleeding. Bring our service people home so they may be with their families and prepare for the inevitable time when we must call them into action for the just causes of national security and protection of our allies.

Maybe you agree. Perhaps you don’t, but that is one Kentuckian’s opinion, “For What It’s Worth”.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Old Switcheroo

Yesterday afternoon I was reminded again what a blessing it is to serve as a pastor.

Visiting sick folks and shut ins is far from the most exciting and visible thing a pastor does. In all honesty, it is one of the more difficult tasks we face. It's a time consuming activity, driving from place to place to various, houses, hospitals and nursing homes. Naturally, the conversation usually revolves around ailments, doctors, medications, and test results. I do love people, but ministering to those who are hurting and alone wears on ones own soul. In all candor, sometimes it is just hard to do, and some of the folks are just waiting for someone to hear their complaints.

With all the other pastoral responsibilities - study time, sermon prep, office hours, administrative duties, counseling sessions, planning meetings, evangelistic activities, editing radio programs, and helping with physical tasks around the church building - it is easy to put off the less pleasant aspects of the job. But a shepherd must have contact with his sheep - even with those who are unable to attend services due to age or infirmity. Hospital visits are something that must be done on a pretty regular basis. Home visits are those that just need to be worked into the schedule.

When I left the office yesterday afternoon, I was heading for the homes of two couples that I had not visited in a while. Burdened down with issues of my own, I'm ashamed to say that I almost dreaded what lay ahead. This time, however, the Lord had a lesson (and a blessing) ready for me.

All four of the folks I visited were in their 80's. Both couples had been long time members of the church, but only one of the ladies had been able to come to church in the last two years. Her husband has serious health issues and is visited regularly by home health care personnel. They remain in their own small home. Although there was the usual discussion about doctors, etc, the visit was pleasant. The couple had many questions about the church and it's members. One could feel the deep attachment they had for the faith family. I had taken them a devotional booklet, a missions magazine, and some other literature, for which they were most appreciative. One of our ladies heads up a home bound ministry at the church. She sends out her Sunday School lesson each week to those who cannot attend. Our monthly newsletter keeps them updated on what is going on, and I try to stay in touch with birthday cards, and other notes and letters throughout the year. That, and the church radio program helps these folks fell connected.

The other couple live in an assisted living/retirement community. They both met me at the door of their apartment with hugs. The wife (who had always been very physically active) now suffers from crippling arthritis and osteoporosis. She has had several falls and numerous fractures of her pelvis and several vertebrae. She had been hospitalized the previous week, but I hadn't known about it. When I gently scolded her for not letting us know, she simply smiled and said "You're so busy, I just didn't want to bother you." My heart broke as I told her, "I was in that hospital three times last week and would have visited you if I had known." She just smiled and advised me that it was OK. (Talk about low maintenance!)

Her aging husband, who requires the help of a walker, himself, is her primary caregiver. We talked about families, theirs and mine. We talked about their life together. They'll celebrate their 63rd wedding anniversary the last day of July. "63 years with the right woman" he said with a smile. She returned the compliment.

We talked about the goings on at the church, and I was shocked to realize how much they knew about what was happening there. We talked, and talked, and talked - shared stories, jokes, and opinions about lots of things. But very little time was spent on talking about their problems. As I had prayer with them and prepared to leave, he went over to the counter and picked up an envelope, stamped and addressed to the church. "Here, Brother C.J." he said. "Since you're here you can be our mail man and take our tithe to the church yourself!"

I couldn't help but think how much the church meant to these folks, who cannot attend, and compare it with the attitudes of some of us who are there on a regular basis. Do we love the "family" as much as these precious folks? What a blessing they were to visit.

I had intended to stay about 30 minutes, but the fellowship was so sweet that I ended up staying three times as long as intended - and hated to leave when I finally did so. After the final hugs I walked back down the steps to the parking lot. I sat there for a moment and whispered a prayer of thanksgiving to God.

"Lord, I came here today to minister to these folks. Thank you for allowing them to minister to me!"