Words to Live By

I only met Vernon twice, but he had an impact. The first was a brief conversation after a meeting at my job, the second was when I had gone to interview him and his wife for the newsletter I produce for the nonprofit I work for; I left feeling like we were life-long friends. He had that effect on many, as evidenced by the crowded church at his funeral the other day. As the pastor said, “The church has not been this full in two years.”

The closing sentence from the short bio about him that accompanied the service’s program read, “In all life’s journey, he lived out his true calling as a pastor.”  He was studying chemical engineering when he was commissioned into the Army through ROTC. His life of ministry began during his military service in Vietnam when he decided to become an Army Chaplain. This engineer was also ordained after graduating from the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University. He returned to engineering later in life.

Of the many things said during the two eulogies presented by his sons, and comments from the various pastors who spoke during the service, two stand out as words to live by.

Be present and listen. These were the words of advice that Vernon shared with a young minister who was struggling with how to be pastoral in a specific situation he was working with. Whether we are with family or friends, strangers or alone in prayer, his simple, powerful advice holds true. It is easier not to, but more loving to do so.

Merriment is good medicine; dad was well medicated. One of his sons shared that insight. Laughter from the attendees affirmed what was apparently common knowledge about Vernon. Several people cited Vernon’s special sense of humor. The images shown prior to the service revealed a life full of smiles and laughter; many smiles were wry. Of all the advice and information that we hear about medicines of all sorts, this is the one we should perhaps pay most attention to. Be well medicated with heavy doses of merriment.

It takes a special person to create a sense of lifelong connection after only an hour of conversation. Vernon was that kind of man. We should all aspire to connecting to others in such authentic ways.

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