Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Doc's Daughter - 5

Tommie Stiles arrived in Anderson, Indiana for the first time, fresh from the warm waters of the Gulf Coast and Houston, TX. She had been further north several times; but on this occasion she had visited the Michigan family of George Buller in Benton Harbor. The Buller’s had several girls, one being in the High Street dorm across the Street from the Dean with Tommie, so she fit right in. Another of the Buller girl's had been my “first love” at Grand Junction Camp Meeting the year I was twelve. I did not see her for a whole year, only to discover then that she lived but twenty miles down the lakeshore from me.

It had been in Benton Harbor that Tommie saw her first jumbo-sized peach, big enough to require quartering to fit into a large-mouth Mason fruit jar.  After she met me and visited my hometown of South Haven several times, she never in all our seventy-plus years ever lost her sense of “utter amazement” at the fruit we produced-and-consumed (to this day I enjoy an enormous consumer of fruit products).

In Houston, Tommie had found employment with Stanolin Oil and  Gas following her year at Tulsa and was attending first Church on 11th Street in the Heights. She had just served as the Youth Representative on the Pulpit Committee of First Church of God when they called Max R. Gaulke. This sturdy North Dakota German, then pastoring the church in South Saint Paul Park, MN, would find the prestigious pulpit in Houston to his liking. He was an excellent musician with expertise in Christian Education; he was a Masterful pulpiteer and an extraordinary pastor.  

Max became quite successful in this South Texas urban megalopolis and would eventually feel compelled to launch a Church of God Bible College and that positioned him to become our future friend and peer at a time when Tommie and I would host many of his GBC student groups, but I am getting ahead of my story.

Tommie’s move to Anderson became complete in September 1946, and she began her classwork still smarting from the direct assist from Doc that removed her from the Tulsa campus. She never did have any Northern blood in her veins but the move went okay until she fell ill late in the term and nearly died. That is another story, but it was the AC--NC State Basketball game that brought us together and we discovered each other’s existence, except neither of us liked the other (at top of page Johnny Wilson is being recognized for his extraordinary athletic career as an AC Hall of Famer).

I had sought Jeannie’s company, a student acquaintance. In turn, Jeannie had redirected me by introducing Tommie to me. After that the pieces had fallen together like pieces of a puzzle. It seemed that God redirected her life away from medical studies in Oklahoma, at least for the time being. After she and I met and grew together as we did, it would later become obvious to both of us that God had redirected her from medicine into ministry. She would spend her adult life as her pastor’s wife where she dispensed helpful medical information that opened many doors for both her and me across the decades.

Under Doc’s tutelage Tommie had been trained, along with her mother, as a Physician’s Assistant (granted, unlicensed). One of her favorite stories she was still telling at the time of her death was of delivering a breach baby for a fifteen-year-old black girl, under Doc’s verbal direction; his hands were simply too big for the task.

That baby grew up hearing this “miracle story” throughout his life. It thrilled Tommie immeasurably when she attended her mother’s funeral in 1982 and had a BIG BLACK STRANGER ushered to the seat beside her when he made a late appearance. Immediately at the close of the service, this strange black man swept her off her feet, and with great exuberance he thanked her from the depths of his soul for “saving his life” (by delivering him when Doc could not).

Meanwhile, I had come along and the rest was all history. Tommie’s Oklahoma Church Elders had wanted to ordain her as a teen, but she had the gall, or starch, to refuse. When her call into medicine via Doc metamorphosed into life married to a preacher, Tommie suddenly found herself the “Queen of the Manse.” Later, when she and I looked back across our seventy-year span of marriage, we saw more than six decades of Christian ministry which we spent mostly pioneering mission churches, interspersed with more profitable and less difficult circumstances, though’ not necessarily always peaceful. Sometimes they were more than difficult, even disappointing.
Fragile health compounded even the less strenuous times, especially after her near-terminal encounter that brought—as we believed—the providence of God. It had resulted in my immediate discharge from the Air Force because she “would live no longer than 3-12 months” and “we bring men home from overseas for less than this.” Or, that was what she heard the Colonel tell his friend on the other end of the line at my Virginia Wing Headquarters.

As it turned out, God gave her ninety-one fragile years of difficult living; but, she lived her life personally victorious. She had mothered two children she was not supposed to be able to bring to birth and she had the satisfaction of being able to touch many lives along the way. By the time she reached her journey’s end, she would take nothing for her journey, even if she was ready to move on.

It is now more than two months since Tommie’s departure. I am not any the less aware of many changes that came about in my lifetime of living with her. I remember the multitude of years of medical bills that made medical insurance absolutely essential; yet based on my conservative rearing, insurance was something I might well have been unable to afford and easily ignore, except for her staunch insistence and financial discipline.  

My independent West Michigan Republican father believed Social Security and big city Democratic social planning found in Detroit and Chicago all belonged to far-out liberals and socialist crooks that were part of FDR’s intolerable socialistic policies conservatives hated.

Dad did not like FDR. Yet, I came to the day when I fully understood and appreciated that my father and our family were deeply indebted to FDR for dad’s 3-day “WPA” job that gave him opportunity for a permanent job and a chance to work his way up the ladder to be appointed City Street Commissioner in our little town.

Living with this Cherokee who had fire in her veins when aroused, taught this stubborn, block-headed German with a smattering of unintentionally “learned chauvinism” several “new things” well worth knowing. Among others, I learned to eat vegetables and healthy salads rather than chowing down on the meat and potatoes of my youth.  I am yet surprised I did not eat my mother out of house and home—a quart of peaches at a time, or a dozen plate-sized pan cakes at a sitting.

I learned through her patient-but-persistent and loving ways many here-to-fore unpracticed disciplines for better living: good preventive health measures; medical maintenance, dental care, and other issues of self-care not always afforded in my “at home” years. When necessary, she was known to issue such challenges as “Will you make an appointment with the doctor or I do I have him come here?” What’s a guy to do…? 
When serving small churches with inadequate incomes; she managed; we SACRIFICED TO MAINTAIN THE INSURANCE that greatly benefited the family over the decades. We bit the bullet—especially when Michigan Blue finally priced us out of the market after thirty years in the plan. In spite of better years, the accumulation of medical bills left us retiring still mired in debt. Retirement intensified the stress after the Church Extension debacle that cost Tommie the invested differential she had set aside for bridging our retirement shortfalls (someone  changed her secured bonds to unsecured bonds, unbeknown to us).

Sometimes mired in turmoil, “providential assistance” at pivotal points always brought us safely through potentially catastrophic situations. And even if Bank of America should own our "stuff"; we genuinely appreciated Government Medicare and available Supplemental Insurance that helped pay our medical expenses, enable us to live frugally, and give our devotion to God.

Experience has taught me much about the rights of people to have available health care as a citizen’s right of each that no citizen should be without such because of it only being available “for profit”. Ministering to needy families across the decades further strengthened this growing conviction as we watched “the system” wear people down under hashtags  of unworthiness because uneducated, poor, illiterate or in prison.

 While our national history documents the near genocide of First Americans, the enslavement of black Americans, the rejection of emigrants, and  the grinding into fine a fine powder other socially unequal, individuals branded as lazy, worthless, or some other criminal offense; I could well understand their seeming lack of self-esteem and personal pride.

Our culture and sometimes our church systematically elevated self-serving entrepreneurs that valued personal desires while devaluing community and social values of the common good. Seldom do I hear the church rise up and address the nation with the message of the ancient prophets as they announced long ago proclaimed,

                “The Lord says …Tell my people what they have done against their God …” Israel
                 complained about being good but God treated them poorly. The prophet reminded
                 them they misused their holy days; they were unfair “to your workers”, they “argue
                 and fight” etc.

They further reminded offenders to
               “free the people you have put in prison unfairly and undo their chains. Free those to
               whom you are unfair and stop their hard labor. Share your food with the hungry and
               bring poor, homeless people into your own homes. When you see cruel words and
              pointing your fingers at others.” someone who has no clothes, give him yours, and              
             don’t refuse to help your own relatives … stop using cruel words and pointing your                                  fingers at others.

We are seldom reminded today that only when we
              “feed those who are hungry and take care of the needs of those who are troubled”
              only “then your light will shine in the darkness, and you will be bright like sunshine
              at noon…” (Isaiah 58, NCV).
I was years deep into my seventy-year journey of matrimony and ministry with Tommie before I became fully sensitized to the ancient message of the biblical prophets and understood it as the other side of the New Testament coin that is the message of Jesus. Tommie has now moved from my care while I finish my journey as an Evangelical Christian that strongly affirms the single message of biblical salvation and social responsibility. It is a two-sided coin with a singular announcement - “Thus saith the Lord. . .” 
I move on from this day forward ... but not without hope …

1 comment:

Dewayne Repass said...

Wayne, I have long enjoyed your friendship and colleague opportunities. It has been an added benefit to have the joy of Tommi's friendship. Looking forward to more of your wisdom as you write & comment on Kingdom thinking & living.