Cat's in the Cradle

Flannery O'Connor once said that enough has happened to each of us by the time we're eight years old for us to write about for the rest of our lives. Memories from childhood, someone else remarked, are like those Advent calendars we use in December—under each tab is a surprise. Last night I got to thinking about my earliest memories and about how they impact my life still, so many years later.

I recently told in a sermon about my insecurity in singing, due to a little humiliation during the first-grade spring program at John Randolph Elementary. A friend and I had to make a duet of When the Red, Red, Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin' Along. Sandy did just fine—but I froze. I'm sure I heard the other children snickering. And imagine them now whenever I have to sing by myself.

As a young child, I cut through a neighbor’s back yard and was attacked by a dog. I remember it being a large German Shepherd, but it was probably only a poodle. I imagine stitches—but he most likely didn't even break the skin. For several years after that I was afraid of all dogs, once walking to school and getting within sight of it only to have to turn and run all the way back home when a small dog blocked the sidewalk. It was only sometime later, when we took in a stray dog of our own, that the fear of them finally left me. Now I'd love to have a dog as a pet—but Audrey will not agree to feed, care for, and walk him with a plastic bag and scooper. She's selfish that way.

When I was twelve years old, I did something very foolish on my bicycle one Sunday afternoon and ended up having to spend the night in the hospital with a broken collar bone. The thing I remember the most about that experience was that the pastor of our church came to visit me while I was there. This important man, very tall as I remember, the preacher at our large Baptist church, came to see me.

I didn't realize then what a pivotal role he would be playing in my later life and my own ministry—I was just impressed that he had the time to stop by my room and pray. JC Mitchell is in his 90's now, but I think about him every time I visit a child in the hospital.

At age four or five I was playing contentedly in one end of the apartment where we lived. My older brother came back to where I was and just started humming the theme music from a scary television program we had both recently watched. He took off running and I chased him. Tommy closed the French door behind him to slow me down. I must not have heard it click, because I pushed on one of the panes and went right through broken glass and onto the floor.
It was a Saturday, and my father was working for extra income at a service station in town. A neighbor picked up my mother and me, then my father, and rushed us to the hospital. I had cut a deep gash into my wrist.

The very pronounced scar is still visible on my right wrist, and the marks that the stitches made, too. For years I have felt the need to explain that I really am happy with life and have never had any inclination to do myself harm.

These, and only a few other random memories float to the surface on occasion. I am not always conscious of them, but they obviously made a lasting impact. I am who I am today because of all these moments in time—put together as in a cauldron and stirred with a long wooden spoon. Mostly it has conditioned the way I speak to little children as a pastor. Softly.

Respectfully. Always with a smile. Hopefully building some positive memories that they can take with them through life—of someone who loved them and saw great things in their future.
 My memories, and the words of Jesus, continue to give me pause—

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea."
—Matthew 18:6

2 Comments


Rick Jones - June 15th, 2021 at 3:22pm

Thanks for reigniting some of MY early memories (some good and pleasant and others that are not so good (but the good Lord got me thru those, as he always does). Anyway, thank you for all of the blessings that you have given me by way of so many of your sermons over the past 8/9 years. You are an excellent speaker and teacher. I feel fortunate to have you as my Pastor

Mark Kern - June 21st, 2021 at 9:37am

Children remember the little things that we do. I do not even recall some of the things I have told the RAs over the years but they tell me something every now and then that I did not even know I did. That is why it is so important that every interaction you have with a child needs to be a good one. Your smile, confidence in God, and behaviors will be remembered in ways you may not know.

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