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Monday, January 14, 2013

A Lesson in Love

Matthew 16: 26  "For what is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?  Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?"
Several years ago, I was attending a conference of the United Methodist Church, held in the mountains of North Carolina at Lake Junaluska.  On the first day of the conference, I walked into crowded Stuart Auditorium where 3,000 people were sitting and began to look for a place to sit.  Finding a seat when you are late for the beginning of this conference is always a  problem and many people were standing against the walls at the back of the auditorium.  As I made my way down the aisle, scanning row after row of seats full of talking faces, I heard someone ask, “Are you looking for a seat?”
I turned to face an elderly man who looked to be about 80 years old with white hair and glasses.
“Yes, I am,” I said.
“Then you can have this one that I was saving.  It looks like he’s not coming.”  I slid into the seat and we introduced ourselves.
“I’ve been coming to these conferences for more than 50 years,” he told me.  “I remember when they had a gate at the front entrance and there was only one way in and one way out.  The main road was dirt and the only hotel was built of boards.  People don’t know how much this place has improved over the years.”
We talked about Lake Junaluska for a while longer, and then he asked, “You married?”
“Yes,” I said.  “I have two children, a girl and a boy.”
“Well, spend time with them.  That’s the most important thing.  And talk.  Don’t matter about what.  Just talk.  Most of all talk to your wife.  She’s going to be there when the kids leave.  It’s important to get to know her before then.  And tell her you love her before you go to sleep and when you wake up and when you come home from work, and when you call her during the day, if you call her.  She needs to hear it and you need to say it.”  He gave me a long stare.  “Do you do these things?” he asked quietly, placing his hand on my arm.
“I try,” I said.
“No, you have to do more than try.  You have to do them. “he told me with some urgency in his voice. “I didn’t do these things.  I took my family for granted.  I had meetings every night that I thought were important.  I worked on weekends, and I was on every committee in my church.  I couldn’t say no to any request from anyone.  I enjoyed being needed by everyone except my family, and especially my wife.   I remember coming home at night and the kids would be in bed and I hadn’t seen them in a week.  My wife would be up and wanting to talk about some problem with the children, but I was too tired to listen.  We had a lot of fights back then.  But after the children got older, we stopped fighting and we stopped talking.  I lost touch with my own family.  Now that I am retired, I still don’t spend much time at home.  Not because I’m all that busy, but because I can’t stand the silence.  She sits and watches T.V. all day and when I try to talk, she doesn’t hear me, or pretends not to.  I would give anything I own to be able to undo what I have done, but I can’t.  All I can do is tell people like you about my mistakes.”
I did not know what to say except, “Thank you.”
We didn’t talk the rest of the session and at break he got up and left.  That was the last time I saw him.  After the session, I went outside and called my wife.

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