On November 13th, we had a celebration for my husband’s retirement after 45 years in the ministry.
It was filled with lots of laughter (A This is Your Life, Doug Eddy! program scripted with a lot of humor – to the left Liz Woodbury as me [my wedding veil] and the doll for our son Chris!), as well as wonderful family and friends, great food, and a few tears…most of those falling when our daughter, who hates public speaking, offered a tribute.
The day after all our company left we began to seriously pack for our move, a sort of altered reality. Only now, as we finally are getting genuinely settled, is the reality of his retirement, our retirement, really reaching us and we can look back with a bit of perspective at our lives through the lens of that celebration.
We had asked Gretchen for a text of her remarks and I reread them the other day. As parents, I think we all wonder if the messages we hoped to teach our children really get through. Even when you see them exemplified in their lives and amplified by their own personalities, you can remember every mistake you ever made as a parent, and wonder how your children saw you and what context who you were created for them.
Gretchen’s touching remarks walked us through our lives from her point of view, and it meant so much to me, I asked her if I could share it with you.
“Thank you to the Edenton church for taking such good care of my parents…
“When I was preparing for today, my first thought was to talk about all of my parents’ accomplishments, the extensive community work that they did, the awards that they have won and their time at Ground Zero, but my parents are extremely humble, so I decided to talk about being their daughter. It is very important to my dad that this be a celebration of my mom, as well, because he is tremendously proud of her. We are, too.
“When my father first decided that he wanted to go into the ministry, his parents were not really in favor of it. They worried about the challenges and financial security and like all parents, they wanted that security for their son. But my parents’ calling was strong and they had a dream about what their life would look like and they decided to accept the challenges.
[Ella and Grey, Gretchen’s children]
My grandparents were correct, with two small children, it was certainly a challenge at times to make ends meet. There were times that they worried about having enough food on the table, but somehow they made it happen.
“We have talked about the hours it takes to be a minister. There were calls in the middle of the night and we didn’t know what was happening, but we knew that someone needed help. My father managed to do this while pursuing his doctorate. My mother worked full-time and went to school to get her MSW. There were times when my mom worked 3 jobs. We didn’t have the brand name clothes or the best cars, money was tight, but when I think about my childhood, that doesn’t even enter my mind.
“My earliest memories are at the church camp that my father ran in Buffalo. There were lots of kids and activities. The counselors were members of the youth group, in their teens, but even at 4 years old I was [Grey and our son Chris at right] convinced they were my best friends. My favorite memories there are of our bonfires on the beach when my dad would play his guitar and lead us in a variety of folk songs. Yes, we definitely sang Kumbaya.
“When we moved to Syracuse, every year I would ring bells for the Salvation Army with my mom at the giant kettle in our local mall. I believe we started when I was about 8 years old. After our shift, we would take a tag from the Tree of Lights and go shopping for someone who may not have a Christmas without that tag.
“I was fortunate enough to spend a lot of time at the Salvation Army daycare center. At one point, when I was around 11, I became an assistant teacher, almost by accident.” (Proud mother’s note: Our lead teacher in the 6-year-old class went out for surgery, our assistant teacher was trying, but Gretchen, competent even as an 11-year-old, just took over. She told the assistant teacher what needed to be done, organized the lessons, and seeing distress in one little boy, put him on her lap to read him a story.) But back to Gretchen’s words:
“I remember one Thanksgiving my mom got a call that a family was looking for a Thanksgiving basket that had long since been distributed. When she hung up the phone, she told my boyfriend (now husband) that we needed to go to the store and we shopped for everything you would need to make a Thanksgiving meal. When we were done, we went to the family’s home. My mom told the woman that we were able to find one more basket. As we brought in the bags, their children were peeking out at us from the stairs. This was one of the most meaningful Thanksgivings I have had.
“Often times, I would go to my parents with what they would call my wounded birds. I remember one Christmas, I was working at BJs with a single mom who worked 2 jobs. She told me that she wasn’t going to be able to buy her boys Christmas gifts that year because she was struggling to just keep up on her bills. So I did what I always did. I called my Dad. I told him the situation and asked him to help. Christmas was only a week away and my dad told me there was nothing left, but that he would see what he could do. I took a private collection at work and managed to gather a small amount, but before the end of the day, my dad showed up with a large donation. My friend, who worked so hard, was able to buy gifts for her children that year.
“I remember asking my father how he was able to find a donation so late. He told me that as he was leaving the church, a man showed up and said that God had been good to him that year and he wanted to make a donation. Did this man actually exist? I don’t know. What I do know is that my father is one of the most selfless people who I know and that never, not even one time, has he ever let me down.
“So what I would like to say is thank you, Mom and Dad. Thank you for taking the challenging path and for giving me this childhood. You have given me deep roots, shown me to have the passion to fight for what is right and how to give someone a voice when they may have lost theirs. I am profoundly grateful and proud to be your daughter.
“I hope that you enjoy taking life a little slower, although I have a feeling there will be some sort of community work before I know it. You have done what you committed to each other. You have touched countless lives and have made this world a better place.
“Today has been tough, you are my minister, too, Dad. It is emotional to think I don’t get to see you preach again, but Grey told me that if I ask nicely, maybe you will preach in our living room.”
…well, that may take a while.
Doug is enjoying not having to preach. He always described writing sermons as a bit like producing a term paper every week, not just a couple of times a semester, but week in and week out. The unrelentingness of the task is not all: it needs to meet the needs of every life in the congregation, no matter age, or situation, and speak to every hurting soul there present. And if that isn’t enough pressure, you are doing this for God, as well, so you are not allowed, or don’t allow yourself, a merely adequate sermon. To use a sport’s analogy, Doug loves those, you can’t even just bat over 300 like the great Babe Ruth, because that would mean (only) getting a hit one out of three times at bat. No, you need to hit a home run out of the park every time while doing all your other pastoral duties as well. So, after forty-five years, and batting close to 900, a little rest at this point seems fair.
…so give him another month or two, Gretchen. Then, plump up the pillows in the living room, and bring out that great rocking chair you bought him. Let him sit down… Then, have Grey ask him.