Eulogy For Grandma Claxton

Aug 21, 2014 by

The following are portions of my eulogy for my grandma, Retha Jackson Claxton, delivered at Rees Funeral Home in Hobart, IN, Aug. 20, 2014. The passing of grandma marked the last of my living grandparents. 

Eulogy For Grandma Claxton

This morning I will attempt to deliver a eulogy the last time as the eldest grandchild in my maternal and paternal families. And do it without losing my composure.

It’s not done out of expectation or obligation but out of what my Grandma Claxton would see as an appreciation. My hope is to add honor to her memory.Grandma Claxton

I’ve been by the old Claxton house our family inhabited for decades and I’ve seen the body that used to be that of my grandma’s. She’s no longer at home in either.

This room last night was filled with laughs, jokes, love and fond memories. Only periodically were there tear-dimmed eyes and that’s just how she would have wanted it to be. A celebration of sorts. And relief that one of God’s servants finally has gone home.

What she taught me to enjoy in life: The tastes of good foods and the practice of having something good to feed others when they come to your house. Not necessarily healthy food, but gosh-dog it tasted good. For her that was:

  • Chicken and dumplings
  • Cinnamon toast

When my brothers and sister and I all lived in the same town, our house became the family dinner spot. My answer to “what should we bring?” became “only your smiles.”

Grandma loved to laugh. Maybe that’s one of the things that kept her young for so long.

The eve of Grandpa Claxton’s funeral, piled around her dinner table for snacks, I’d brought Mrs. Renfroe’s Habanero salsa. When people started dipping in I said Habanero means “Damned Hot” in Spanish. Grandma stood in her kitchen laughing. She thought it was hot, too, but that’s how Claxton’s roll.

She emphasized a love for music.  She once gave me an Englebert Humperdink album. There also were albums from Abba, and in kindergarten she gave me an album with Alvin and the ChipmunksAll I want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth.

Her least favorite Christmas song: Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer.

She talked constantly about how she loved the trip to Germany to see my Aunt Patsy and Uncle Mike when they were stationed there in the Army. She loved the colors of the trees in Northern Michigan in mid-September. Yosemite in California. She and grandpa rode the Alabama Reunion Train with Gov. Hunt from Auburn to Montgomery in 1990. And they both went to a Cubs game with me and my friend Tim Cobbs in 1993.

When traveling home after wedding in December 1995, Tim was checking her bags in BHM and greeted her with, “Hey, I know you, I’ve been to your house.” It made her feel good to be so far away from home and have someone tell her they knew who she was and had been excited about being at her home.

Words of Advice:

She loved the quilts she made. If you have one, take great pride in your possession of it. There’s a story in the fabric. Her heart and soul still lives on in every stitch.

Even as you age, don’t ever let a dentist take out all of your teeth.

Work the tense situations in life like you were working a puzzle. Put the straight-edged pieces together first then go about filling in the middle part. In time, you’ll start to see the bigger picture.

True love doesn’t have age restrictions. This is the girl who eloped all the way from Athens, down to Decatur, AL—about 10 miles or so—with a man six or seven years older than her when she was 16, and she stayed married to him to the day he died 61 years later. These days we’d put a guy in jail for doing that. Where would you be right now if they hadn’t run off and gotten married at such young ages?

If you’ve been struggling over a puzzle too long, take a break. Go to the bathroom. Go for a walk. Come back in 10 minutes and the answer/puzzle piece probably will be the first one you find.

Read. Every night. Keep the phone by your bed and stop reading when your grandkids call you. They may be keeping you from your reading, but you’re giving them a lifetime of joy in every conversation. And if you can answer it before it rings, well, then you’re faster in their minds than the gunslingers you’re reading about.

Why go to the store and buy Playdough when you can make your own. Even if it was white and didn’t last, the story that you made it with your grandkids will endure for the next 40 years or more. The point is, time with little ones count. It’s not the big things, like trips to Disney World, that count the most. But making Playdough in your kitchen does. Trips to the store to buy things they really don’t need is pretty cool, too, though.

When your family is coming and going to and fro and the Air Force makes them feel like they don’t really have a home, let them know that no matter where they travel, your home is their’s, no matter how big or small it is.

Life can be difficult and families can be hard on each other. Love harder. No matter how mad you are or frustrated you are with someone else in the family, never close your door to them. Life’s too short.

Love music.

Love God. But not being at church every Sunday doesn’t mean you don’t love the Lord.

If you’re sitting there sad about her passing I ask you to stop. She wouldn’t want that. She wouldn’t want tears. Just like in the old hymn Where the Soul of Man Never Dies … she would want no tear dimmed eyes today. She’d want us all to be happy, to tell a joke or two, to find Mike Feltman and get him to say something about “Mama” that would make her laugh. She’d want us all to find a way to get along … life’s too short to be mad at each other over differences of opinion or doctrinal interpretation. I heard so many times from her over the years the heartache she had over the fissures that were there between brothers and sisters. Life’s too short, she would say.

And it is. Forty-three years after I really came to understand who this woman was, it seems like it only was yesterday. Life has raced by with all it’s pains, sufferings, temptations, high points, celebrations, births, successes, and tragedies.

Grandma believed she was going to Heaven. When Grandpa died, her last words to him were “Grab hold of Charlotte and I’ll see you soon.”  She lost a child who was age five and until these recent shadowy years, never forgot Charlotte had left so early to be in God’s arms.

Now she, Grandpa and Charlotte are reunited again and in the words of Grandma, we’ll all be seeing them soon.  In Heaven.

Do not pain the loss of this great, loving woman. She’s dancing with angels now, and out of pain.

In 1973 she brought me a 45 of Paul Simon’s Loves Me Like A Rock. For all her four children, the 10 grandchildren and 22 grandchildren, really, anyone she knew, that was how she loved us one and all.

Thank you.

 

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Who Am I? The Self-Discovery Caused From Writing A Novel

Apr 22, 2014 by

Who Am I? The Self-Discovery Caused From Writing A Novel

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My childhood window, upstairs and down. I used to sit at these windows and write when I was in elementary school at KI Sawyer AFB in Michigan and we lived at 208 Fortress.

Somewhere back in time at 208 Fortress Street in base housing of the former Strategic Air Command’s K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I would sit at a kidney bean family heirloom desk with a children’s red type writer and “write.” I would sit in front of the lower window you see in the photo to the right and I would write.

A few years later in Mrs. Reid’s eighth-grade journalism class at Mitchell Sr. Elementary School in Atwater, CA circa 1979-80, I received the worst grade I’ve ever received on a writing project–an F, for refusing to write a short, fictional story. Note, it was a journalism class.

During my senior year of college at Auburn University at Montgomery, in 1987, I received one of my best writing grades–an A, in Nancy Anderson’s Advanced Expository Writing class. Mrs. Anderson, who went by the self-proclaimed nickname “the Dragon Lady,” almost never awarded works with such grades, but I am proud to say, I am one of the few. During that quarter I was taking 24 hours of classes, working on the school newspaper and working at a local department store to help pay for school.

Writing, and principled writing, has been a part of my life since I can remember.

But I am learning at age 48 there still is much I have to learn about writing.

My late maternal grandmother, Joyce Sheptak, used to always to encourage me to “write what I know,” the oft used cliche nearly every writer knows. She always used to cite “I Remember Momma” as her impetus for the suggestion.

During the past month or so since I began this new novel writing practice, I’ve studied much about what I know and come to the conclusion that my writing shouldn’t be as much about “what I know” but about “who I am.”

And that’s led to some amazing self-discovery and analysis. My counselor, friend and web client, Dr. Harold Duncan of Dallas, Texas says right now I’m actually doing something that almost 95 percent of the population, or more, never will do, whether writing a novel or not.

I’m trying to really find out who I am.

WHO AM I?

That’s been an amazing question to ponder. Dr. Duncan says that at age 48 it’s about time I started asking myself such questions. As he has explained, you can’t do what I’m doing in your teens, 20s, 30s or even really in one’s early 40s. In life, we’re just not ready. Our perspectives on such an exercise would be highly skewed.

Think about that for a moment. In our teens, we clearly have no clue about what life is about. We think we do. Many parents have done much to help get us ready to leave and cleave by age 18 and graduation from high school, but even as the eldest of five children, I can honestly assert, I wasn’t ready for that.

Our 20s are spent trying to find a vibrant career and in large part, mine were also spent thinking I needed to find a spouse to start a family. God had other plans.

Our 30s are spent in family and work mode.

Our 40s leap up fast and we think we have become experts about what this life is about and all of a sudden someone pulls a rug out from under you and everything that once was up is down and what was down is now up.

And at least for me, after enduring that mid-40s upsetting of what I thought was going to be a smooth sail to the finish line, I can honestly sit here and pen this. I have some new perspectives on life I didn’t have before.

So who am I? I’m not the person I was at any other point in my life. When I was younger I held the perspective that I probably couldn’t write fiction because ultimately, I hated to see the travesties of life inflicted on my characters. I wanted and thought and longed for a smooth life. I thought that was still possible. After being wronged, cheated and having lost nearly every element of normalcy to my life I once held as dear, I finally feel like I can skewer a character or two of my own in my stories.

More about me to follow. This is, after all, a journey. We’re not going all the way in one or two posts.

 EXERCISE

Time to step away from the computer for a bit, take out a piece of paper and a pen and think about yourself.  Do this exercise:

1) Write down one or two words that describe each of the various roles you currently play in your life.

Fill up the page. Do two or three. That’s fine, there are no right or wrong answers, so long as you’re being honest with yourself. This isn’t for anyone else to see, so be brutally honest with yourself. The more honest you are with you, the more you will get out of this activity, whether you’re going to write a novel or simply work on better defining who you are.

2) Once you’ve made a sizable list go back thru it. What roles are you in that are positive? Are there any that are negative? Do you need to change any of them?  If there are roles you think you need to change, I recommend getting out a 3 x 5 notecard and putting them on a separate list. We’ll come back to them later.

 

My Novel Project

The Beginning April 21, 2014

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The Melancholy of Divorce

Feb 19, 2014 by

The Melancholy of Divorce20081001_1898 20081001_1896

On my Facebook wall today are two photos with me and my dog, Molly, my Great Pyrenees we got in 2008 as a puppy and raised to a 70-lb adult, gentle giant.

It’s almost been four years now since the collapse of my marriage with K., expedited largely by external corruption and dishonesty, but also coupled with my own faults and those of my ex, who has lost access to all her minor children through the alleged use of meth and other drugs. (Molly was sent away before I ever got a chance to say goodbye to her–largely out of meanness.)

Two Sundays ago in church, preacher Gordon Dabbs talked about putting one’s past behind so that growth could once again happen. And I have to say that after nearly four years now, the melancholy of divorce isn’t nearly as painful as it was when it was so very raw on my emotions, but there still are triggers that pop up unexpectedly, like today’s photos of Molly, that make me sick inside like I was when my world was collapsing around me. Worse still are two refrigerator magnets of the youngest child; one I raised as though she were my own, who now supposedly is with her biological father, whom she’d never met until well after she’d been removed from her mother’s lack of care. Holidays and birthdays still are painful.

They say “time heals all wounds,” and yes, I am largely recovered emotionally from the trauma of the early part of this decade, but its impact will endure probably till my end.

I think the only way the ending of that marriage could have been thwarted was never to have begun it at all. But I also look back on good times, travels, and the difference my time made with a couple of the kids and when I think of it in those terms, I have no regrets.

I miss Molly, A. and L. J, too. I know my three girls feel the same. Life is hard. Some people have it out to make it even harder on others. And then there are just those variables in life one cannot explain.

Today is a new day. I could not be where I am today but for the hardships of the past, many of them that still have a claw in me. But more and more each day I continue to look forward, eager for new opportunities and new growth–more growth than what I’ve been able to accomplish in the new quiet of the past four years.

There were times when I wondered where God had gone in all the Hell I was enduring. I know now with greater resolve that he was right there next to me the whole time, knowing he’d not put more on me than I could handle, even with the heart attack two years ago, and wanting me to grow in life experiences and pains in new ways so I could greater fulfill the purpose he has for me in this life. That’s not easy to see when one is in the middle of the tornado of divorce and wondering why all of what was is suddenly getting sucked out of one’s life and thrown miles and miles away, possibly never to be seen or experienced ever again.

But God, I have found, has this way of taking us out of our comfort zones when it’s time for us to do something in his plan, not necessarily in ours. Sadly, today, it seems divorce becomes a vehicle for making transitions in life happen. And the result is usually something far better than what we had before. Amen. (That isn’t saying I condone or encourage divorce. But I do believe that in the end, good can come from such bad.)

If you’re suffering from an active divorce, either of your own making, a spouse, or one involving your children or parents, I pray for you constantly. It’s one of the worst experiences in life and it causes so much lasting pain. People shun you. People get mad at you. People form their own judgments of you, right or wrong, and there are times when you feel so very small and hurt inside.

Anger and pain are part of it, but so is answering God’s calling and voice to find good in the bad and make something positive come from it.

That’s not easy, I know. But it’s the only way to make things better, not to mention God has something bigger and better in mind for us all in the end….

Molly Ball on Jan 25, 2009

Molly Ball on Jan 25, 2009 (Photo credit: ClaxtonCreative)

Sophy And Fizz

I plan on getting two Great Pyrenees pups again as soon as I am able. I’m going to name one Sophie, and the other, Fizz. When I was a kid in Northern Michigan, one of my best base housing friends was Robbie Webb and he lived a Where The Red Fern Grows life with two black labs he had of the same name. He’d call them by name or he’d call them “Doggers!”

Eventually I will be returning to the woods of Northern Michigan to ply my book and eLearning trade from the beauty of those many and magical woods.

You see?  A plan.  And moving on from the pains of yesterday. Progress.

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In Hard Times God Was With Them–Do You Think He’s Forgotten You?

Feb 11, 2014 by

In Hard Times God Was With Them–Do You Think He’s Forgotten You? What Gordon Dabbs Taught Me Sunday

Sunday in the a.m and p.m. services, Prestoncrest Church of Christ’s Gordon Dabbs drew two amazing word pictures that have helped continue to reshape my focus and attitude the past few days, and I feel compelled to share them here. You know I don’t do this about religion very often, but I’m drawn now to do so.

Growing Into The Enormity Of God’s Love

When we put on Christianity, most of us don’t really have an idea of its breadth. I’d say it’s almost impossible to do so until we spend a lot of time in study, prayer, reflection and personal growth.

During his morning sermon, Gordon painted this word very special word picture: Imagine I’m a billionaire and I go and buy the most expensive private jet aircraft in the world for my 13-year-old son and give it to him and say, “It’s yours. All paid for. The only stipulation is that you are the only one who can pilot the aircraft.”  At 13, his son does not have a pilot’s license. To make the most of his father’s gift, the son will have to go through growth, maturity and pilot school in order to ever make full use of the gift.

Doesn’t the same situation exist in our walk with Jesus? Do you think new born Christians are ready to “fly the plane?”

It’s why on our walks, we need to do as I think it was Paul said, and drink small sips of milk in order to grow, to study regularly and to find ways to mature in our faith.  That’s why it’s a walk, not a sprint.

God Was With Them

The other great thing Gordon was talking about Sunday evening was that through their trails and tribulations, which both involved jail time, the Bible says that “God was with” Joseph, whose brothers sold him into slavery, and with Paul, who was falsely imprisoned.

The inference is that even in times of great despair and loss for two of God’s favorite biblical characters, he was there with them, at their side, ensuring that they’d be around for to meet his purpose for them.

Finding Life’s Purpose

On the way back from Denver in October I sat on a Southwest flight to Tulsa to Dallas next to a man who claimed to be a professional provoker. Our conversations soon turned to what he does–helping people find their purpose in life.

In an hour, he and I are going to have a Skype call about how to expand the reach of what he does. In preparing for that call, I’ve had to search for many new technologies and gone through his learning materials, which have led me to find my purpose in life. On ClaxtonCreative.com now you will find the new tagline, “Telling Stories With Purpose.”  I firmly believe now that my purpose for being on this Earth is to find the best stories ever, and maybe not yet ever told, and share them with as many people as I may.

So at 48, I don’t know if I’m ready to take the plane up in the air, but I’m at least ready to taxi out to the runway.  As noted many times, the past four years have been the hardest of my life. There have been times when I felt like I’d been left alone in a personal prison of great depth and despair with little where to go but back up again. In those times, I did wonder if God was with me. But as life has begun to unfold, as I have now found my purpose, it’s clearer by the minute that he indeed was right there all along. It also has become clear that I had to weather those horrific storms of life in order to be where I am now. At a point of discovery.

So what’s the take away here? Our faith’s progression is a journey and our minds need nourishment to feed them so they can grow in our understanding of what God intends us to do while we’re here. And no matter how dark things may appear in life, he’s always there. You just have to reach out to him to connect. And in dark days when it seems like you’re miles down in a dark, dark cave that’s pretty hard to comprehend. But I encourage you nonetheless. Reach out your hand. God will be there to take it.

 

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What Is The Meaning Of Thanksgiving?

Nov 19, 2012 by

What Is The Meaning Of Thanksgiving?

Got your turkey out of the freezer yet and into the fridge so it can start thawing? That’s probably not where you thought this post was going from the lead, but I’m throwing it in for free.

As you begin to make preparations for Thursday’s holiday here in America, I want to ask you about your meaning of Thanksgiving?

In years past, in many ways for me, it has been a gateway holiday, kinda like a gateway drug.  It gets you started, but very soon you need more to get to the good stuff–the granddaddy of them all, Christmas.

First Thanksgivings

I remember being in Northern Michigan, with snow on the ground, and mom having cooked the meal.  I can’t recall if dad was home that year or Arc Light in B-52s. Little else about it do I remember.

I remember being in kindergarten and living in Northern Indiana at my grandparent’s house while dad was in Vietnam a second time circa 1970 or ’71. I remember making a pilgrim’s belt out of construction paper and seemingly a black hat, too. I remember our kindergarten field trip where they took us to a turkey farm.  I don’t remember the meals. (Though my mom has shared a story with me about how there were conflicts between the Sheptak and Claxton meals in regard to how large or small the celery was cut for the stuffing….)

But that’s about it. After that, Thanksgiving largely turned into a day that opened the doorway to the Christmas season.

Later Years

When I began putting up Christmas trees and decorating for myself, it became a tradition that the tree would be up before Thanksgiving. That way we got to celebrate the Big Deal twice, as it were. The thankfulness part largely got lost, it was just something we did to eat a big meal and be ready for Christmas and all. Then we’d watch the Cowboys football game. And later still in life, came a friend whose family would be up for the Black Friday sales–something I’ve never seemed to have the extra dollars to go partake in, let alone, the interest.

Then Came The Second Divorce

In my second marriage, Christmas and Thanksgiving became harder holidays to enjoy. My second wife really didn’t like much of either day. Her dad would come into town from Washington state and stay a few days. That brought stress upon the house because somehow we all had to present more of what we weren’t than what we were or something, I still don’t comprehend nor ever will.  There were always mean verbal words that were exchanged for reasons I still don’t understand, doors slamming, and extra naps. The best part was time sitting with my out-of-town mother-in-law who took it all in stride, was patient, caring, and actually fun to be around. I miss her.

Throughout the months of November and December I would be trying to excite the kids about the holiday season, while my ex was trying to get them to think about something else.

We had the house decorated from top to bottom, inside and out.  It was a very happy time for me, in spite of all the undertow.

When I moved out in 2010, I lost a  lot of my accumulated Christmas fare. With the agony that came from a second failed marriage, and subsequent things I’ve learned since, it got hard to enjoy what has always been my favorite time of the year.

Thanksgiving 2012

Time, they say, heals all wounds. I don’t know about them being completely healed, but this year, for certain, I’m doing all I can to see Thanksgiving and the holidays in a new light. One which I’ve lost touch with, and maybe never really quite understood.

The Meaning of Thanksgiving--Count Your Many Blessings

The Meaning of Thanksgiving–Do you ever Count Your Many Blessings?

Yesterday I went back to church for the first time in months. And like often happens, when you sit there in church and you hear a message, somehow it seems like God was waiting for you to be there in that perfect spot to share with you just the very words you needed to hear.

All weekend long, I spent cleaning up the apartment here and getting ready for Thanksgiving. And yes, I put two trees up Saturday night, put out my animated, mechanical Santa and Mrs. Claus and began to settle back into life and my “home,” as I have not been able to do since before I met my second wife, before we got married, before my world got majorly turned upside down.

So yes, the potential is there to make Thanksgiving 2012 a “going through the motions event,” but there’s more afoot here this year.

Count Your Many Blessings

We didn’t sing Count Your Many Blessings yesterday in church, but this weekend I hanged a sign from my mom above the door that says THANKFUL, and in cursive over that, is Count Your Many Blessings. I’ve been singing the song over and over in my head all weekend. If you don’t know the song, here are the lyrics:

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Refrain

Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will keep singing as the days go by.

Refrain

When you look at others with their lands and gold,
Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;
Count your many blessings. Wealth can never buy
Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high.

Refrain

So, amid the conflict whether great or small,
Do not be disheartened, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

Over the past three years, I’ve let the weight of all that was wrong, all the wrongs that had been done to me, all the misfortune, all the sadness, all of what was wrong in the world, become the overwhelming force in my life. Last year, we didn’t even put up a tree here in the apartment–well, we put up the Charlie Brown Tree–and of course, a lot of that had to do with the fact that we were supposed to be getting back the house–one we found had been trashed, appliances removed and the mortgage hadn’t been paid on since July of 2010.

This year, I’m rising above all that.

I have so many things in life to be thankful for. Things that in many ways I’d lost sight of.

I have my three, beautiful and very intelligent daughters, whom I love beyond words. Each amazes me daily with their many special talents, insights and inner strength. Because of decisions I have made, my girls have had a tough road at times.  But through it all, they have grown stronger and are more prepared for the hardships that this life can cast upon us than I was in so many ways.

Albeit my weight is still an issue that brings me down and troubles me daily. Going swimming five days a week for the past three months hasn’t seemed to help; it’s just made me hungrier!  But I have good health in spite of it all. I can get up daily. I can walk. I can run.  I can work out and I can be productive. I can also eat less and healthier.  It’s my choice. It’s something I must own up to and I must face.

I have some of the greatest friends I could ever have hoped for, many of them scattered around the globe.  Some are closer than others, and that’s okay.  Each has just the right impact on my life.

The list goes on.

This Thanksgiving

My girls are coming Thursday and we’re going to spend the day cooking. We’ve got a great big turkey in the freezer right now and it’s about to make the drop into the fridge to start thawing. We’re going to have healthy and unhealthy snacks during the day and we’re going to have a fancy meal together Thursday afternoon. Every year while chopping onions and celery for stuffing, I tell myself that next year we’re all going to be in NYC for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Though I was told by a friend the other week the best vantage point for that remains on my living room TV set. Maybe next year, we’ll see.

And no matter what’s happening outside of my home, no matter how much I owe to this or to that, how much I have been hurt by this person’s actions or that, how much I wish there was snow on the ground or my family or dearest friends were closer, I’m going to be counting my many blessings this holiday season.

God has given us so much to be thankful for, and really, only a few years to enjoy it down here. The promise of Heaven afterward is something I’ve often lost site of these past few years.

So what is your meaning of Thanksgiving?

What do you have to be thankful for?

 

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