by Rev. Glenn Kennedy, Associate Pastor of Congregational Care, Audobon Park United Methodist Church
When I turned seven my time of living fulltime with my Grandparents had come to an end. I think maybe my Grandfather, Charles Boyd, was trying to hurry and squeeze in some life lessons he thought I was going to need. Grandpa was an excellent livestock man. He raised livestock of various types; he served as a livestock judge; he had worked as a professional Auctioneer in his younger days; he had even owned a Livery Stable in Missouri before automobiles became the main thing. When I lived with my grandparents, grandpa raised replacement heifers for the dairy he was a partner in, so he always had a selection of good Holstein heifers around the place. Grandpa loved to show off his livestock and the Hunters community fair was coming up. His front porch was lined with ribbons won at the local fairs. This year he decided it was time for me to get my first taste of livestock showmanship so he took me to the pasture one day, pointed out the qualities to look for in a show worthy animal, then asked me to choose one and start working with her. I chose a good-looking prospect named Iris, and under grandpa’s daily tutelage Iris and I started getting ready for the fair. Grandpa also made his pick and we practiced together. Grooming, leading, learning how to stand.how to do the little things that would be pleasing to a judge. The day finally arrived…we managed to get two reluctant yearling heifers squeezed into grandpa’s well-used little homemade livestock trailer and off we went to the fair.
We got everybody unloaded without incident…but this was Iris’s first-ever trip off the farm and she noticed everything! By the time it was our turn to enter the small arena with the dozen or so others in Iris’s age group her eyes were about the size of tennis balls and the lump in my stomach bigger yet! We’d no sooner entered the ring when Iris decided that she was through. She bolted about five feet into the air…knocking me to the ground face-first on her first jump. That was only the first jump…! There were a good many more to come. She zigged and zagged back and forth across the little arena, and I, still face down, refused to let go of her rope. I wasn’t going to disappoint my grandfather! Fortunately, the sawdust was about eight inches deep so as I plowed my body-wide furrows back and forth while others tried to corner Iris (which isn’t easy to do in a round arena) I wasn’t getting badly hurt. Unfortunately, our class was not the first to use the arena that day, others had come and gone and left their offerings behind if you know what I mean…so it wasn’t shaping up to be a pretty sight…but I wouldn’t let go of the rope. After all I was seven and it was time to handle little setbacks like this. Finally Iris was corralled with the help of my grandfather who stood quietly with his heifer, containing his amusement, but not saying a word.
The Judge came down the row carefully examining each heifer, making notes on his scorecards. Then came time to present the ribbons. Grandpa, as usual, took the first place ribbon – then something happened that I was totally unprepared for: By that time I stood there soiled and embarrassed, wanting the whole ordeal to be behind me when a very wise judge approached me, handed me the second place red ribbon…bent over and whispered in my ear….”son, this is for hanging on!” and then tipped his hat and walked away. All was redeemed. The day was saved. Indeed, the only thing I had done right was to hang on until the judging was complete.
I’ve shared that story a number of times over the years and when I do I think always of the scores of truly great people of faith that I’ve been blessed to know over the course of my 45 years of pastoral ministry. I think of the widowed ones who “hung on” and raised their children alone. I think of spouses who have stood at the bedsides of their beloved one and prayed and wept over them…but “hung on” to a living faith that kept them standing…battled, but strong in the ways that matter. I’ve thought of those who have lost loved ones out of life’s normal order…a child or grandchild and have “hung on” to a faith that has fed them and brought healing to others. I’ve thought of the wonderful teachers I’ve known…those for whom teaching is a vocation, not just a job…who have poured their very souls into interceding for a child or a youth who is living far too close to life’s edge…those who have refused to “let go” for the sake of another.
It’s sure enough true that life knocks us down, drags us through the soiled sawdust, bruises us and bangs us up…but we call upon the words of that grand old Gospel Hymn:
“I know whom I have believed,
and am persuaded that he is able
to keep that which I’ve committed unto
Him against that day”
Hanging on to the Easter faith that we’ve been gifted with brings a reward that can neither be adequately described nor explained. I’ve come to imagine what that greeting day might be like as we stand in the presence of a smiling judge and we hear that judge congratulate us with these words…”son…daughter…this is for hanging on.”
Remember these words from Philippians 4:13:
“I can endure all these things through the power of the one who gives me strength.”
Bless you all, Pastor Glenn