Lifelong Passion

When I was in my twenties, I served on staff in churches because I loved Jesus.  I saw older men who had begun by serving Jesus in churches, but no longer did so.  They quit, crapped out, fell away, stopped, and a host of other ungenerous, unkind ways to simply sum someone else’s life.

In my fifties, I resigned from serving on a church staff.  I spent more time, drained more of my soul managing an organization rather than serving or loving anyone.

In my twenties, I knew my passion for Jesus would sustain me, allow me an obedience in a long line, enable me to finish well.  I still do, but the world is more complex than I understood.

I remember Larry Bethune, a pastor, saying, ” I am going to leave church work and go into ministry. ”   We laughed, but now I smile quietly.

People wear you down.  Churches goof up.  People fail you and hurt you.  You fail people, dear ones, and hurt them.  You find that people and churches study their navels and loving the poor, fighting for justice, and establishing new answers to stupefying challenges missionaries face around the world, is relentlessly, witheringly, draining.

To have fire left in you in life’s autumn, it turns out, is like salvation: a gift.  You should not claim gifts as if you manufactured them; you nurture them as precious bought kindnesses you could never have deserved.


Continental and Service and Death

I noticed that Continental merged with another entity which caused me to wonder about one particular agent, and how she is faring. 

Twelve years ago she was the manager of Continental’s presence at Beaumont, Jefferson County Airport.  

And she was at the desk when I walked up and placed my ticket before her.  

Thirty minutes before I had knelt beside the bed of my father which we had set up in the living room.  For the last ten days my two sisters and I had ridden the roller coaster of emotions up and down, far and wide as my father was finishing his walk through this world.  

Each of us had last conversations with dad before he descended into unconsciousness.  I watched him a few nights before as he lay in bed, obviously walking through a room somewhere else pointing, gesturing, hugging not a few people — my older sister BJ and I rapt in attention.  Invisible to him where ever he was.  

And thirty minutes before placing my ticket before her I had prayed with dad, releasing him from duty, thanking him for courage, Christ, working it as well as he did for us.  And telling him he could go Home now.  Then I hugged my sisters, walked out to the car, and mom drove me to the airport.  It was Friday, and I would need to preach on Sunday.  

So this twenty something woman took my ticket as they called my name over the Public Address system.  I told her I was Tom Westbrook.  She quickly put a phone up for me and my younger sister, Mitzi, was on the other end weeping and telling me dad had passed.

i asked Mitzi, “How long ago did he die?”

While Mitz told me, “Five minutes after you prayed,” the Continental woman took back my ticket, and whispered, “Same flight tomorrow?”  

I nodded “yes” as Mitzi told me the particulars.  

My ticket slid back under my elbow of the hand holding the phone, and the Continental woman was sprinting out to catch the luggage cart before it got to the plane.  She wrestled my bag off in a heartbeat and lugged it back in and pushed it across to me —

All before my Mom walked up from hearing the page outside as she got back in her car after hugging me good bye.  She then hurried up to me to find out —

I was able to scoop up my ticket and bag and Mom while she wept and get her back to the car so we would be able sense Dad as he made a last pass by the airport he loved to fly out of so very, very much when he was at the controls.  But that is another story.

We held each other back at the house, called the funeral home and police and we knew all of them and they were so helpful.  

She was not there the next day.  When I walked up to the ticket counter and asked for her, she was off for the weekend, but they had her business card.  I had to settle for writing her story to Continental and insuring it went in her file.  

No one can train people that well, but one can be smart enough to hire that sort of soul and put her where she can serve other people with a genius and intuition so powerful, you feel as if God put that person in your path at your most vulnerable and broken moment — as a great kindness. 

I still have a soft spot for Continental and whoever they have become, and that would be called loyalty.  If only for one three minutes of service at a critical moment of my life.  

The flight out the next day was stunning as the sun broke through for the first time in days as we climbed out toward Daisetta Hull Omni radio beacon.  I knew that from flying with dad.  

I was on the flight because she was that fast and that good and that kind.  May we all be that for someone at some time when they need us to be so.