Holding on to Daddy

Grief is weird. It comes to you in the midst of life.

I realized this morning while sitting in the Starbucks on the Royal Caribbean cruise ship, Oasis of the Seas, that today is second month anniversary of Daddy’s death. For several reasons, I haven’t been able to write anything about his death yet. Today seems to be the day. . .

When someone you love dies, there are parts of the experience that you do not want to remember. There are also parts of the experience that you want to hold on to. Mostly those parts are about the person. You just don’t want to forget.

That’s where I am right now. I want to remember.

Friday morning, August 26, 2016, at 3:25 a.m., my father, Clifton Rogers Hicks, died.

People often ask me how I’m doing. Fact: I don’t know. I’m learning a new way to live and in the process of learning this way, I want to hang on to as much of Daddy as I can. For me, this hanging on happens as I write down my thoughts – my long-time spiritual discipline. My written words may speak to you. You may consider how you want to be remembered. If so, that’s good but mostly I’m writing to process my grief, to remember – to never forget.

I want to remember:

Daddy praying for me when I went away to Carolina. We were like many families. We prayed at meals and at bedtime but the prayer leaving a lasting impact happened on the morning that I left to go to UNC-CH.  Just before we left home, he gathered Mom, Gene and me in the kitchen and prayed for his oldest child who was about to venture out into the college world that he had not experienced. I don’t remember his exact words but his very act of prayer is the reason that I pray for Will at the beginning of every school year,  preschool through this last year as a student at NCSU.

That if you’re going to do something, you should do it correctly. Daddy did not believe in “guess work” but rather precision.  Example: If the package said plant the flower bulbs 18 inches apart, then Daddy used a string, stakes and a yard stick to make sure they were planted accordingly. Of course, he laughed later that his precision created a perfect map for the mole who ate all of the bulbs.

Laughter makes everything better. Daddy was the king of the corny joke. He loved to tell a joke or say something silly.  Noah and I sometimes say to one another, “that sounds like something Cliff Hicks would say”.

Family time came first. Every Sunday we went to Grandma Ella’s house, playing with whatever cousins also there, sitting by the hot wood stove and reading the “funny paper”. I didn’t realize then that one day I would long to have that opportunity once more.

“Place” or home is foundational. Daddy’s family were tenant farmers, never owning their home or property. His family lived on the Boyd farm in Warren County, the longest of any place. This was “home” for them – filled with memories and stories of life on the farm. I drove Daddy down the Boyd farm road just this past March. To the unknowing eye, it looked like woods, a few over-grown wooden structures that once were barns or a farming shed. To Daddy, it was home.

The discipleship (membership) vows of the UMC were promises to be fulfilled. I don’t remember there ever being any question of whether we were going to church – Sunday school and “preaching”. If it was Sunday, we were there. Every Saturday, Daddy wrote a check to the church. It may not have been a large sum but it was faithful giving. Every Saturday night, he’d go “check on” the heat in the winter and the a/c in the summer. That was his service as the Sunday School superintendent – for over 30 years.

Life is for living. Daddy never got to the point that he said “ok, I’m ready to go.” Yes, he was ready to see Jesus. He had committed his life to Christ a long time ago but he loved being here. In those last weeks before he died, we cried together as he said “I just don’t want to leave you all.” We told him that we didn’t want him to go but he should not be afraid – that in the twinkling of the eye, we’d be with him. Every time I left him to drive back to Wilmington, not knowing if it was the last time that I’d see Daddy, I’d say: “remember Daddy:  In the twinkling of an eye.”

In the last days of Daddy’s life, he often would look at us and say “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.” I like to think Daddy was in that place between heaven and earth. Should he take the next step in heaven? Should he stay here? I asked him:  “Daddy, what do you want to do?” Maybe he thought he was supposed to do something. He was a hard worker all of his life but now, there was nothing else to be done. He just needed to let go. Finally he did.

“Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master.”

25 Years of Love, Diamonds and Umbrellas!

I was just being practical. I WAS listening to Noah when he said he needed an umbrella. Shouldn’t you give someone a gift they need?

Well, yes . . . but not as a wedding present to your future husband!

Twenty-five years ago today, I married the love of my life, Noah Archer. Maybe more surprising? He married me after receiving probably the worst wedding gift of all time – a brown umbrella. How was I supposed to know that wedding gifts to your future husband should be a little more romantic? How was I supposed to know that he was having his grandfather’s ruby and diamond tie tack made into a pendant necklace for me to wear on our wedding day?

It’s hard to believe that Noah and I have been married 25 years! I will not go through the entire meeting and courtship but let’s just say it was a God-thing. We met at Orange UMC. I was teaching school in Chapel Hill. He was a pediatric intern at UNC-CH. He was sitting behind me in church one day and after worship, I told him that he had a nice singing voice. Then we didn’t speak for another year.

By the next summer, I had resigned from teaching and was preparing to enter Duke Divinity School in the fall. Noah had survived his first year of residency as an intern and now had a little more time outside the hospital. I needed a pianist for the early service choir that I was leading. He happened to play the piano.

Sunday, Labor Weekend, 1990, early morning choir turned into lunch, an afternoon at the Symphony in the Park and by Thanksgiving weekend, we were engaged.

On August 10, 1991, at Orange UMC, we were married, surrounded by our family and friends.

Through these 25 years, our love has changed and grown in ways that we could never have imagined. Through the joy of the birth of Will, through the pain of miscarriage and infertility, through the challenges of busy professions or rather callings, through family and friend ups and downs . . . in everything, God has been the source of our strength and the foundation of our marriage.

Every day has not been rosy. Really, who has that kind marriage? But every day has been a recommitment to one another, to our love for one another and to our marriage.

Happy Anniversary, Noah! I love you and look forward to the next 25 years. Thank you for giving me your heart all those years ago – even after a brown umbrella!

P.S. Maybe on the 25th anniversary, I’ve done a better job with the gift. TBA

A Roller Coaster Week

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here, but has risen!”                                               Luke 24:5

Read Luke 23:55-56, 24:1-12

Have you ever used the phrase “It’s been a roller coaster week”?

Maybe your experiences have been all over the place: working, grocery shopping, talking with friends, visiting a loved one in Hospice, attending a funeral, celebrating a new baby in the family, enjoying a few days of vacation, taking a business trip.

Maybe your emotions have been all over the place during the “ordinary” week: happy, sad, joyful, angry, peaceful, anxious . . . all of the emotions wrapped in one mind and heart – YOURS!

For me, the very nature of ministry is a roller coaster. One moment I am praying with a church member who is preparing for surgery. The next moment I’m completing a report that is due to someone. From funerals to new babies, from reports to rehearsals, from worship to meetings, ministry life is a constant up and down. Throw in family concerns and vacation . . . well, you get the picture.

It happens to all of us. Long ago, it happened to Peter, Mary, the mother of James, James, Mary Magdalene, John, Joanna . . . to all who followed Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem. It was a roller coaster week!

The followers watched as people cheered the Savior as he entered the city. It was a joyous time! Everyone seemed happy except the Pharisees, but then again, they were never happy. They tried to hush the jubilant crowd but Jesus quickly told them: “if these were silent, the stones would shout out!” *

The followers experienced the angry Jesus, the one who threw out those selling and buying in the temple, turned over the moneychangers’ tables, and called them robbers. Jesus was furious – quite a change from compassionate Jesus who welcomed the children with loving arms.

Then they watched as Jesus cried over the city, desiring to gather His children under his wings as a hen gathers her brood. 

The followers were shocked as Judas, one of their own, betrayed Jesus with a kiss.   Most likely, they were fearful as they wondered: “would they be next?” They wept as their friend, their son, the person they believed to be the ONE to save them all, died in agony on a cross.   They sadly followed as Jesus was laid in the tomb. Then they rested on the Sabbath as they were commanded.

Happy, sad, shocked, fearful, confused, disillusioned . . . all of the emotions of life in one week.

But it’s the beginning of a new week. Maybe things will be different. Maybe somewhere in the darkness some light will shine. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others go to the tomb.

It IS a new DAY! He is not there. He is risen. Jesus is resurrected! The complicated emotions that have filled their souls are gone, replaced by the sheer joy of LIFE!

Sarah Young, in her devotional book Jesus Today, writes that often the Evil One uses the 3 D’s to draw us away from Jesus: deception, discouragement, distraction.   The followers of Jesus were indeed deceived, discouraged and distracted by the events of the week.

My guess is that you may have experienced these same D’s. I know I have. I get deceived in my thinking that God is not in control. I get discouraged when I hear the complaints over the little stuff of life. I want to say “Really?” Sometimes I say it. I get distracted by the clutter of my desk . . . yes, the clutter of my life.

But then I go to the ONE whose light may be shining, to the place where new life may be springing and I am never disappointed!

Christ the Lord is risen! He is risen indeed!


* Luke 19:40

Matthew 23:37-38

Young, Sarah. Jesus Today. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publisher, p. 108.

Photo by Jon Strother

This blog entry is adapted from my message at Pine Valley UMC’s sunrise service this morning.  If you are an early riser, you’ve “experienced” it twice!

Trash or Treasure? Fake or Real?

Lesson learned:  Carefully examine the trash on your car floorboard before throwing it out. It may be treasure!

Yes, I know. Not every time. Occasionally there’s a Skittle or a dried up French fry.   However this time? I almost threw out a treasure!

Two weeks ago, as I was driving to my folks’ home, I noticed a tiny metal “something” on the driver’s side floorboard. I didn’t pick it up right away, thinking that I’d let the vacuum get it – eventually.   But when I stopped at the rest stop, I reached down and picked up what appeared to be a jewel setting of a cubic zirconia. I threw it into the coin tray of my car and drove on.

When I got to my mom’s, I showed her what I had found in the car.

“You might want to get that checked out to see if it’s of any value.”

I threw it back into the coin tray.

Four days later, I was in the Wilmington mall and thought: “I might as well let somebody look at it. I don’t suppose they will think I’m too crazy. I know it’s just plastic or glass or something of no value.”

So in the mall jewelry store, I took out the stone from the little Ziploc sandwich bag (decorated with soccer balls) and said to the salesperson:

“Could you check out this stone for me? I found it on the floorboard of the car. I’m sure it’s nothing but I thought I’d just check.”

He looked at me like I had lost my mind. I could tell that he was just humoring me but said ok. He didn’t help me very long before he passed me off to another salesperson.  I’m sure he was thinking: “Crazy lady . . . really . . . the floorboard of her car?”

The next salesperson took out a little instrument to test the quality of the stone. She couldn’t get it to register exactly right but kept trying. It was testing as “real” but I could tell she was not so sure. Then she tried her own engagement ring, saying, “I know this is real!” and then my own engagement ring (Noah Archer, it’s real, right?).  All of the testing said the same thing:  diamond.

Still unsure, she looked at it under a magnifying glass.

“Yes, I’m rather sure it’s a diamond because it has an inclusion in it.  If it didn’t have this and looked perfect, it would more likely be a fake.”

(I learned later that this means an imperfection of some kind.)

A real diamond on the floorboard of my car! You have got to be kidding me!!!

Still, wanting a second opinion, I stopped by an independent jeweler who has gained some Archer money in the last 18 years.

The receptionist again gave me that look: “Sure, lady!  We will humor you.”

One of the owners took the stone and after a quick look under a magnifying glass said, “Yes, it’s a diamond.” He then proceeded to measure it, rate it on the diamond “scale” and give me its value.

Again . . . you have got to be kidding me!

How did it get in my car? The only explanation that Noah and I have is that one of us stepped on someone’s broken piece of jewelry somewhere in Wilmington. It got wedged in the tread of our shoe and fell out when one of us was driving the car.

I told the folks at the jewelry store that I worked at PVUMC and that if anyone came in missing a diamond, please call me.  I sent word to the PVUMC staff saying the same thing.

It’s been 2 weeks. No word from anyone. (If any of you have lost a diamond, send word along with cut, weight, serial number . . . I will give it back.)

I’m still in amazement that this happened. Nothing like this ever happens to me.  Even more amazing to me?  I almost threw it in the trash.   I was so close to tossing it away!

And then in my spirit, I hear:  How often do we do this with people? Stepping on them, stepping over them, believing that they are of no value, no worth . . . ready for the trash?

The jeweler knew it was real because it was not perfect. He could tell a fake.

So can the One who knows us.

The eye of God knows real value.  He says “this person is real . . . he or she has value.  I know treasure when I see it!”

More in the Dental Chair

Questions in the dental hygienist’s chair sometimes go beyond “do you floss every day?” Occasionally they are a little more unexpected – like “do you ask your congregation for topics for sermons?”

Umm . . . wasn’t expecting that between rinse and suction.

After I stumbled around for an answer (which was “uh, not really”), I replied: “why do you ask?”

Hygienist: “Well, I just wondered if, in light of the tragedies of this world, you try to offer some kind of answer to the questions of why?”

Me: “Oh, certainly world events both at home and far away inform our messages.” Sounds like a nice and tidy answer, doesn’t it?

Honestly I don’t know what else I said.  Her original question was simple.  Her second question – not so much.

But it made me remember why I answered the call to ministry some 25 years ago. (Has it really been that long?) People want answers.

All of us are searching for answers in this crazy, beautiful world that we live in.  We are all searching for more than just what we see in the media.

I find my hope and my strength in Jesus Christ. I don’t understand why there’s pain and heartache in this world BUT I know that in the midst of this life, Jesus is the One who stands with us, bringing hope and peace.

Jesus is the One who offers more.

Thanks to Noah Archer for the photo used on this page.