Sunday, July 12, 2009

My Heritage

This is an edited version of a talk I gave for the Emmaus Community. In it I discussed two of the most influential men in my life and how they were disciples of Christ.

Today I’m going to tell you the story of two Christian men who meant a lot to me, whose examples of living the Christian life still guide me to this day. They were my grandfathers; Eddie Arthur Wetterman of Waco and Leslie Lowe of Lufkin.

Eddie Arthur Wetterman was a boy during World War I. His parents were 1st generation Americans, whose families had come from Old Prussia, before it had been united into Germany. I’d like to relate a family legend with you. I can’t verify this happened, but it is an old tale that’s been passed down in my family. During the war in Giddings, Texas, the family was threatened because they spoke German and had an old painting of the Kaiser in their home. A mob threatened to burn them out. My great-grandfather, Charles Henry Wetterman, reportedly took the painting out and burned it before the crowd, stating, “We are Americans.” This must have satisfied the crowd as they did not burn the home down, but the Anti-German sentiment was strong. Young Eddie and his three brothers were told never to speak German, but only English from that time on. While raised in the Lutheran church, Eddie became Baptist upon moving to Waco and marrying my grandmother Louise. They were always involved in the Church, despite moving many times across Texas. Eddie always looked for the next big challenge, and liked to take on new jobs. They raised three boys and one girl and they were always in Church.

Eddie suffered in life as we all must do. He watched his mother die of lung cancer in the late 1930s. He helped care for his father into the late 1950s. He worked throughout the Great Depression as a mechanic, and during World War II he worked on the plane factories that had sprung up between Waco and Dallas. Finally, in 1979, after suffering from back pain, the Doctor told him that he, like his mother, had lung cancer and that even with treatment, he only had six months or so to live.

Like so many facing death, he could have felt cheated, he could have wallowed in self-pity, or yelled at God, but he did not. Eddie wanted to make sure that he died after making peace with anyone who had any reason to be upset with him. He began contacting everyone he could, everyone he thought might have any reason to be upset with him. He didn’t tell them he was dying. He simply apologized for any problems they might have had between them, witnessed to them about God’s love, and made peace.

He had been a Sunday school teacher for years and he continued to do so, even as the chemo therapy took what little hair he had left, made him thoroughly ill, and made his feet swell to the point he could barely walk.

I remember the last time I visited with him. It was a Sunday, and I was about 12 years old. I reached down and kissed his cheek, I remember my eyes swimming in tears. He reached out, touched by head and I remember him saying, “Live a good life. Be a good person. Always do your best.” It was the first time I every saw my father cry.

The next day, my Aunt, who lives in Indiana, told my grandfather that they had to return home. They had come down to be with him when he died, but he had lived a week longer than expected. That morning he went outside and sat in a chair in his front yard, listening to the sounds of his neighborhood, the birds singing, the feel of the warm sunlight on his skin. He sat there for several hours, then returned into the house, laid down, and died. My father swears that Grandpa Eddie didn’t want his daughter to have to make the trip home, only to return for the funeral, and that he made up his mind to die that day. Despite being a fairly poor man, he had one of the largest funerals I’ve ever seen, as people lined the walls in standing room only to pay respects to this good Christian man.

My other grandfather, whom I referred to as Papaw was Leslie Lowe. He was born in Scrappin’ Valley in deep East Texas. He had a rough life as they grew up poor, and worked in the fields to grow enough food to feed the family. He and his brothers had many fights with some of the other families in the area. His father was a gruff man, who by all accounts was very stingy, and never showed the children much affection. I remember him telling me that he could not remember his mother ever hugging him or telling him, “I love you.” He and his brothers worked through the Depression and all of them went to War by enlisting after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Leslie served in the Navy, leaving his young wife and three children behind.
Upon returning home from the war, another child, Kenneth, was still born. Leslie became a shipwright, and worked in the dockyards of Beaumont. In the mid 1950s, the scaffolding he was on broke, and he fell several stories and suffered a broken back. He couldn’t work for over a year, and the family lived on canned peas and cornbread, as my grandmother worked in a chicken factory to help the family survive.
Leslie was bitter and like his father, was harsh on the children. My aunt Helen was hardheaded and would stand up to him only to be knocked down time and time again. While he had been raised to be a Christian, I’m not sure he really knew what that meant. In the late 1950s the family was Pentecostal, and though he would sing in Church and minister to others, he remained a difficult father, and fell many times short of the Christian ideal. He got into a few fights, drank too much upon occasion, and was a man who seemed to always have a chip on his shoulder.

Then, in 1972 he suffered the first of four major heart attacks. He no longer could be employed, as the Doctor’s told him only about a fourth of his heart was still working properly. My grandmother then took a job working at Lufkin Foundry to help pay the costs of living. While he was bedridden he began watching television, including Billy Graham, and though I’m loath to admit it, the P.T.L. club. He began to realize what it really meant to be a Christian and he began to change. I wish I could ask him what the turning point of his life was, but that’s a question I’ll have to ask him in heaven one sweet reunion day.

As a child I stayed with him, then everyday after school until the fifth grade. I was very close to my Papaw and I never knew him to be anything but loving, kind, and the most wonderful man I ever knew. He had indeed changed, as my mother and aunt are witness to.

When my parents stopped going to Church, I began going with my Papaw and Mamaw. He exemplified a Christian man to me then. I remember him kneeling in prayer every service, and when I spent the night with him, we would kneel at the foot of his bed and pray. I remember him singing “I’ll Fly Away” as we drove all over East Texas together in his red dodge pickup. It was his favorite song and to this day I can hear his voice singing that wonderful old hymn.

I remember him telling me not to put my faith in man, as I had with a certain charismatic young preacher, but in God. I wish I would have taken this advice to heart, as after being told I shouldn’t want to be a Police officer due to if I ever had to shoot someone, I’d go to Hell, I quit the Church for twenty years.

The last time I was with him, I went to Church in a fairly foul mood. I didn’t hug his neck that day, or tell him I loved him. The next day, a Monday, August 29th, 1983, he suffered his last heart attack and died entering the emergency room of the hospital.

These two men, who meant so much to me, were both Christian disciples, though their stories and lives were different. One was always full of Christian love and filled with the Holy Spirit, the other was a work in progress most of his life, but today both are in Heaven and are examples to us on what it means to be a disciple.

My grandfather’s, Eddie and Leslie, each taught me through their lives about Christ. Each knew about priority, discipline, reality, empathy, initiative, and were most generous with sharing the Good News. They had faith, were humble, had hope, and showed love.

I inherited some of my grandfather Eddie Wetterman’s Sunday school lessons. I’m posting a copy of a special one to you so that he may continue to be a disciple for Christ even though his physical being has been gone now almost thirty years. In it, Grandpa instructs us to Stop, Look, and Listen. We should stop living for the world, and start living for Christ. We should look for God’s love and the work of the Holy Spirit all around us, everyday. We should listen to the teachings of Christ and use his instructions to be servants for others.

In closing I give you my Grandfather Eddie Wetterman’s words, “Could it be that right now some of us are approaching a critical crossroad in our lives. Please take time to Stop, Look, and Listen to what God is saying to you.”

Are you willing to respond to God’s call on your life? Will you gratefully and wholeheartedly respond by becoming true Disciples of Christ Jesus?


Transcribed lesson from Sunday School teaching of Eddie Arthur Wetterman circa 1977.

Stop, Look, and Listen. Small, simple words, but they represent some important concepts that are essential to Christian life.
We need to Stop pursuing the pleasures of this world for they are passing and many times harmful in their consequences.
We must Stop loving the world since it too will pass away and give little if any help to the Christian life.
We should Stop wasting our time for it is the greatest commodity that we have.
We need to Stop thinking wrong thoughts for they will lead us away from God and into Spiritual captivity.
We must Stop neglecting prayer since this is our live line to spiritual insight and strength.
We need to Stop neglecting Bible study for without it we become easy victims of Satan’s teachings.
We are advised to Look to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.
We Look to Him for our salvation.
We Look to him for sanctification in our daily lives.
We Look to Jesus for Baptism in the Holy Spirit.
We can Look to Christ for victory over temptation.
We can Look to Jesus for a clean example for living the Christian life.
We Look to Jesus for that blessed hpe beyond the grave and eternal life with him.
The life that is continually looking to Christ will find power to survive the temptation Satan can bring against the children of God.
There are important things to Listen for. To hear mans to recieve sound by using your ears. Read these words in Mark 9:7 “And a voice from the cloud said this is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” And also in Mark 11:24 when Jesus said, “Listen to me. You can pray for anything and if you believe you have it, it’s yours.”
But Listen to the rest of what he said. “But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in Heaven will forgive you your sins too.
We need to Listen to God’s Word not just with the ear, but with the inner soul.
It is important to have God’s guidance if we are to live the life and do the things He desires that we do. Some times drastic things happen before we will Stop, Look, and Listen.
It is very dangerous to live at a pace where there is no time for spiritual things.
I am sure that many will miss heaven because they did not Stop, Look, and Listen. I have read in the paper where there were three people killed at a rail road crossing as they failed to head this old warning to Stop, Look, and Listen. Could it be that right now some of us are approaching a critical crossroad in our lives? Please take time to Stop, Look, and Listen to what God is saying to you.

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