On Readiness, by Ron

Celia’s last newsletter was sent out in June. We have some catching up to do. It’s been a busy, incredible summer and the traveling has been great.

Saturday night we saw the movie “Second Hand Lions.” I recommend it. It is the story of a teenage boy who is literally dropped off in the front yard of his great uncles. His uncles are a couple of retired gentlemen who have lived full lives, and are far from calling it quits. One line that surfaces several times during the movie is “he died with his boots on.” In the movie, having your boots on means staying active.

Though the movie is talking about activity in general, my thoughts turned toward my faith journey. I am reminded of the parable of the sheep and the goats, (It is in Matthew 25 if you want to have a look.) Jesus commends the sheep for their treatment of those in need and ultimately of him. The sheep say, when did we do that? The story continues with the goats answering for their actions. Their best excuse is (I’m paraphrasing). . . if we’d have known it was you, we’d have had our boots on.

The only way to insure that you die with your boots on, is to LIVE with your boots on. It’s not about living in the significant moment, it’s about living in the average moment.

Sunday at our church, we consecrated a new building. During Sunday School, our class spent some time on the word “consecrate.” We talked about definitions. Two meanings we settled on were “to set aside as holy” or “to set aside for religious use.” We also talked about things we consecrate beyond the church. The one that stuck with me is consecrating our lives and our days. I think that’s what morning prayers are for me. A time to recognize the day before me as a gift and to set it aside as holy. Remember the words of the hymn Take my life, and let it be. It was written by Frances Ridley Havergal in 1873. (To read a two minute version of her life, follow this link: )

Take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
Take my moments and my days; let them flow in ceaseless praise.
Take my hands, and let them move at the impulse of Thy love.
Take my feet, and let them be swift and beautiful for Thee.

Take my voice, and let me sing always, only, for my King.
Take my lips, and let them be filled with messages from Thee.
Take my silver and my gold; not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect, and use every power as Thou shalt choose.

Take my will, and make it Thine; it shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is Thine own; it shall be Thy royal throne.
Take my love, my Lord, I pour at Thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for Thee.

Consecrate your day and live with your boots on!

On Loss, by Ron

The valley of the shadow of death . . . we’ve been walking through that valley. Celia’s father, Rev. William Vincent Sirman, whose 80th birthday was devotional subject in our last e-mail newsletter, passed away on May 24th. He had come to Tennessee for a visit (with our apple trees, primarily) and suffered a heart attack. He spent about 2 and 1/2 weeks in the hospital. Then with the help of hospice, we brought him home, knowing his days were numbered. After 1 and 1/2 weeks, he died in our home–the old fashioned way with family surrounding him. It was an incredibly peaceful transition and if I could type faster, I’d tell you the whole story, It was an honor to be there to help him with that part of his journey. This loss follows the death of Celia’s sister last July and her mother in January. I think the effects of grief are cumulative.

All of that said, God IS good and considering the circumstances, Celia is doing well, herself. We have known the support of the community. Our church has a casserole ministry–EVERY church should have a casserole ministry. With one phone call, you’ve got meals delivered to your home roughly once a day, until you say stop. I’m going to call them back after Thanksgiving and tell them we don’t need anymore meals–just kidding–they’ve stopped already. That’s just the tip of the iceberg of support we’ve felt from the community, friends and family. People we’d never met drove into our driveway with groceries, because they’d heard about our situation. We were taken care of.

Two brief stories about Max (the 3 year old). Story number 1: The morning Brother Bill died, we’d all said our good mornings to Bill. Max has a special way of saying good morning. His line is, “it’s a beautiful day.” This literally translates it’s not dark anymore. The opposite of this line isn’t, “it’s not a beautiful day,” but “it’s still dark and I should get back in bed” (an unpopular notion). All of that interpretation gets lost when you hear Max’s three year old voice proclaim, “it’s a beautiful day”–and that’s what Brother Bill heard on his last morning among us. Not a bad way to start your final day here. Story number 2: Immediately after Brother Bill died, a friend took both boys out of the house for a couple of hours. When they returned, we delivered the “adult to child death talk” that we’d prepared and rehearsed. It was a brief talk that ended with “Pawpaw is in heaven.” After listening to the talk, Max thought for a very brief moment and then said, “Can we go swimming?”–The boys are doing fine.

Following the cleaning out of Celia’s parents’ home in Louisiana, we had a wonderful memorial service for Brother Bill. After that, we led some music for a youth group on the beach in Florida. We love the beach. Show me a better place to contemplate the eternal than that place where all of the water meets all of the land–I want to go there!!

We’re ready to move forward, hoping that we’ve filled our loss quota for the next while. We’re excited about our upcoming work. July is a slamming month: we’ll be in Virginia for a week and then with a band, spend 3 weeks at national youth gatherings. If you see us at an event, check in and say howdy!

On Birthdays, By Ron

Four Score and Three Years ago…

It’s a month for birthdays at the Whitler house.

The Four Score: This past Tuesday (May 6) we celebrated Celia’s father’s 80th birthday. He had a heart attack while visiting us the prior week and so we had the party in his hospital room. We had pictures and singing and cake, doctors and nurses and friends, cards and letters . . . and one candle for 81! He’s scheduled to come back to our house tomorrow. We’re glad we could be with him during this illness. He’s in great spirits and his cardiologist appreciates his sense of humor and his spirit as he walks through this ordeal. (Please keep us in your prayers during this time of recovery. If you’d like to send a card to Rev.Bill Sirman, you can send it to him at PO Box 1385 Franklin, TN 37065)

The Three: Max turns three next week and he is excited. Last night we were in the grocery store picking up a few items (we really went for ice cream, but I insisted we buy some oatmeal while we were there, as balance is critical.) We rolled through the bakery area and as we passed the cakes, Max yelled “My Birthday Cake” . . . There will be another part next week!

I’m reminded of the familiar verses from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

Whatever it’s time for in your life . . . do it BIG! . . . Ron

On Favorites, by Ron

Day before yesterday Max shared a brand new word with me . . . “favorite”. I’ve never heard him say it before. It’s kinda funny that his first use of the word was to describe a video he’d never seen before. He was carrying a video tape he had selected for viewing from a drawer of tapes. The tape didn’t even have a picture on it–just some random shows we’d recorded to watch, but Max wanted to watch the tape he’d chosen. I guess a it was a new strategy to use in an attempt to get the world to respond to what Max wanted (not that adults ever exhibit that kind of behavior–I can’t imagine where he picked it up.) I know what his favorite video is, we’ve seen it many times, sometimes more than twice in a day. I can sing all the songs to it–and it’s not my favorite video. I still don’t know where he got the word favorite–if I’ve used it around him, it was insignificant to me. Max has made the word significant.

Speaking of significance . . . last week in worship, we heard a sermon about a story that I’ve heard before. It had been a fairly insignificant story to me, but I doubt it’ll ever be insignificant again. It was the story of Cornelius from Acts 10. The turn of events in this story radically changed the church–we’d be a very different church without Cornelius. One of the central elements of the story is a vision from God. Some Bible stories seem pretty distant to me, because they happened so long ago. But as I listened to Cornelius’ story, I smiled, thinking of my friend, Adam (that’s not my friend’s real name.)

Adam and I are pretty different people. If you know me well, you know I’m pretty down to earth (though I’m really careful about saying what God doesn’t do). Adam, on the other hand, sees visions from God–nothing on the everyday sort of frequency, but about every ten or fifteen years, Adam has a vision that I believe comes straight from God. I’m not talking about a post-burrito kind of dream–I’m talking about a vision like right out of the Bible, that forces Adam to make sweeping changes in his life. Several months ago, I spoke with Adam about the events leading up to his most recent vision, about the vision itself, and about Adam’s response. It was an incredible story that took place over the course of two or three years. I can assure you that Adam was a faithful disciple before his vision, but Adam’s life has changed radically. Adam doesn’t share all the details of this story with many people, and I feel pretty privileged to know the whole story. When you know the whole story, you understand. Being faithful has had a high price tag for Adam. Adam had to lay it on the line. I’m not sure I want instructions that are that clear from God.

Adam’s and Cornelius’ stories are incredibly similar. Knowing Adam’s story has made Cornelius’ story come alive for me. My word for you is to be on the lookout for the significant–it’s out there. Read Acts 10 and think of my friend Adam, it’s still happening today.

God’s Peace, Ron

Ps I’m also more aware about my use of the word “favorite”.

On Advent, by Ron

Advent, a time of preparation. It started a little early at our house this year AND it was a baby we were waiting for.

When I read the Christmas story I don’t often think about all the work that goes into bringing a new life into the world. I just think about the picture of a sweet baby in a warm manger. I guess that’s what hearing a story or songs over and over does, but I’ve had my infant refresher course for the year. There was a lot of getting ready that got done at our house. We had to move furniture, paint, get more baby stuff, get more little diapers (you quickly forget how small those things are), pack bags for the trip to the hospital . . . and wait. Your life goes on hold when you’re waiting for a baby. (Somebody once told me that there are few things in life that you have less of a say in than what your birthday will be.) We got it all done and then waited and waited some more. We got up early and watched the leonid meteor shower in the morning. We went to our church’s thanksgiving dinner and had a great time. We stayed for the cleaning up of the gym and then went home. Within a few hours, we knew it was time to head to the hospital. So we called Max’s designated sitters for the few days we’d be out, and off we went.

It’s an incredible experience to be in that room–my best count is that there were five of us there–and then there were six of us there. The other thing that’s incredible to me is that we each arrived like that: there was a room with people in it…and all of a sudden there was one more. Zach had his weighing in and warming up and breathing exercises. Then I watched this new life lay on a warming table and take in his new world for the first time.

Back to the Christmas story. It’s pretty easy to forget that against the backdrop of that often-told story, a young couple goes through all the emotions, fears and hopes that we do. Setting out on a donkey with a pregnant wife and no hotel reservations is not the way they teach you to handle travels during those last few days of pregnancy. We were told to keep our cars full of gas, but the story doesn’t tell us many details about the preparations that young couple made. It’s incredible that God chooses to enter their story (and our stories) the way all the rest of us make our entry. God shows up through the same vulnerable, incredible, dangerous, exciting birth experience through which we have all arrived.

Part of what I love about this season is that the story happens for us on two levels, past and present. When we celebrate Christmas, there are 2 births we turn our attention toward. The one in the past and the birth of new life in our present. The one in the past is that story we’re all so familiar with. (My favorite rendition is Linus’ story from the Peanuts.) The present story is about the birth (and rebirth) of Christ in our lives.

The challenge I throw out for you this advent is to remember that you’re planning for a birth in your life this season. Consider doing something specific this advent to help you celebrate the present arrival of Christmas in your life. Celebrating the original Christmas is the easy one–it’s all around us. The other birth is the quieter one. It comes as a whisper, but it’s one that deserves just as much preparation. So pack your bags, buy your diapers and wet wipes, get ready and wait to be surprised again.

Have a Merry Christmas, — Ron

ps. I’ve got to share this. We’ve got this wooden cut out nativity set. It’s 3 very simple pieces: Mary Joseph and the baby Jesus in the manger. It’s painted really simply so if you’re not familiar with the story, you might not even recognize the pieces as people. So Max at all of 19 months, notices that the virgin Mary is shaped like his T-rex bath toy (and he’s right–it is). He goes around the house making growling sounds and waving Mary at you. I wish you could see it. I guess we experience Christmas (& life) where we are and this’ll probably be Max’s only Mary/T-rex year. So we’ll enjoy it while we have it . . . and we’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do.

The Undo Button

We started work on Celia’s next album. For those of you who have been with us from the very beginning, this one makes five. We have no idea what the final title will be, but we like what we have recorded so far. I am amazed at how the technology of recording has changed since we began our recording journey back in 1990. One of the newer inventions on the recording machine (the one we’re using now doesn’t use tape) is the “undo” button. What an incredible invention. I wish I would have discovered / invented the button. Here’s how it works: if you don’t like what you just did, you simply hit “undo” and presto you’re right back where you were before you made your last attempt. This is a big leap forward in the recording process. In the “old days,” like a year or two ago, you had to choose between keeping what you had on tape and taking the risk of destroying it in hopes of recording a better take, (You could burn up extra tape to keep both efforts). But, it was pretty much a “do or die” kind of situation. Now, you just give it your best effort and then make your choice with no risk.

You may have had some personal experience with the undo button. Maybe you’ve encountered an undo option on your computer. We have grown so comfortable with that option that our computers now tell us if we’re about to perform a task that cannot be undone. Commitment on our part is no longer expected as the default option.

I have thought of some other applications for the undo button that would help me personally. I’m thinking I’d like to have one close by for the times when I say an unkind word. Or maybe those times when I share a word of gossip or a secret that wasn’t meant to be shared. Or what about one for school or work. Have you had a time when an incorrect answer or a less-than-great idea somehow escaped your brain and made its way from your mouth to the ear of someone you really respected. Sometimes I don’t even know that what I did wasn’t a great idea until I see someone else’s reaction. The undo button could handle that situation as well. The listener wouldn’t even remember what they’d heard. Life would be as if the thing never happened.

I am not alone in my need; I think there were some times when the disciples could’ve used such a button. How about the time they had that argument about who was the greatest. Or what about right after Peter heard the cock crow a third time. I bet he would have given anything for a shot at the undo button. Or what about Judas when he was counting the cost of those thirty pieces of silver.

But life is not like that. We cannot undo most of what happens. There wasn’t a safety net at the circus I went to as a kid and we knew it. It made everything more exciting. You knew those performers high in the air were at risk up there.

My hope today is that you and I would live just a little more intentionally, knowing that there is not an undo button for what we do and say–this isn’t a dress rehearsal . . . so, walk chalantly.


Smokey Whitler

November 17, 1985 – Easter Sunday April 23, 2000

We called Smokey the wonderdog. He joined me (Ron) in the fall of while Celia and I were single. We were both busy working and building separate lives. Smokey went to youth group camp, to parties and to work at the church. As the years passed, he welcomed Celia into the family and they actually shared a house in Louisiana when I went to Texas to start work there. Celia and I counted his vocabulary once. He understood quite a few words. It’s amazing what a difference having lots of discretionary time to invest makes. One of my favorite memories of Smokey was of him singing with any choir that he heard, whether it was on the radio or on television. He declined kind of slowly and eventually died in our arms on Easter Sunday before our oldest son Max was born. There was something providential about losing such a great friend on the day we remember the Resurrection. Some friends came out to the spot by the Harpeth River where we laid him to rest on a beautiful Easter Afternoon. Smokey was the dog of “Dog Not Included,” the name we give our song publishing.