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Steven S. Billings

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

GOODBYE, GENE
 
He received the Host and began to weep. "I'm sorry, Pastor," he sobbed. I covered his hand with mine and waited, while Elaine wrapped her arm around his shoulders. "There's no need to apologize," I replied. "It shows how much the Sacrament means to you." In a moment or two we continued with Communion, and Gene breathed a sigh of what appeared to be relief. Do you think perhaps he knew that he had gotten his last Communion just in time?

I had been out of town for a couple of weeks visiting my brother in Virginia. Gene was on my mind and in my prayers the whole time. I would get very encouraging updates, and looked very much forward to getting home and spending some time with him. Unfortunately, I came down with a cold, so even after returning home, it was another week or so before I felt I could safely see Gene.

As I write this on the eve of his funeral (Wednesday evening), his family is welcoming well-wishers at the funeral home. My thoughts turn to my near-disbelief that it was hardly a week ago that I sat with Gene in his living room talking about matters of life and death. "It gets harder the longer you are in a particular congregation," I had said. "I'll never forget the first time I grieved over the loss of a parishioner. It took me quite by surprise. But your people become like family to you. No ... they are family!" I think what I was trying to say without actually saying it was that I would grieve for Gene when he died. I think he knew what I meant.

People will misunderstand my sense of loss with regard to Gene. They will think of the gap he has left in the congregation. They will think of the challenge of finding a new president, someone who will work as hard and care as much. And while all of that is true, it doesn't begin to peel back the layers. Gene was more than a member of my congregation. He was more than a leader. Gene was a friend. He was at times a father-figure to me. Gene stepped up for me in what was perhaps my darkest hour and defended me against all comers. How do you assess the value of such a friend?

"I hope you never leave here, Pastor," Gene had said to me on several occasions. "I have no plans to go," I told him. "Of course, you never know what the Lord has in mind." He agreed. "But until He sets my hand to another plow, this is the field I'm working." "Well, you know we love you."

"I love you, too, Gene." Goodbye and God's speed.

7:17 am est

Wednesday, February 1, 2006

BRANCHES

Okay, it's the first of February, and time to post a new song. This month I am posting my latest effort. This is a song I wrote for my brother Jim's promotion to Lt. Colonel with the Army Reserve. It was a grand affair, presided over by none of than the Chief of the Army Reserve, Lt. General James Helmly.

To heighten the already emotionally charged event, Jim is using our grandfather's silver oak clusters, which he has had his eye on since he was a small boy. Our grand-dad retired at the rank of Lt. Colonel, and he sure would be proud to know that Jim has earned the right to wear his clusters.

For the occasion Jim's wife Stephanie produced a PowerPoint presentation and asked me to provide a song, which I lovingly and painstakingly recorded in my home studio. The result of the sweat of my labor may be found on the "Music & Me" page.

BRANCHES
On the occasion of my brother's promotion to Lt. Colonel.
by Steven S. Billings
12-10-2005

Verse 1

He was born to a legacy of great American pride,
To those who loved and served their country well.
I've watched him now for years, you see; we grew up side-by-side,
And oh, the many stories I could tell!

He learned to know the presidents and the nation that they served,
Its history, and all that makes it great.
Still a teen, he determined his beloved land deserved
His service, too, regardless of his fate.

From early on his heart was drawn to the clusters and the flag,
Mementos of our grand-dad in the hall.
And like a branch upon the oak tree, with Grand-dad he stands tall,
Having answered his beloved county's call.

Chorus

On the wings of eagles he will fly,
For others willingly to give his life.
And like those who've gone before him, he lives for you and me,
Shimmering among the leaves upon the tree.

Verse 2

Now we are engaged in a warfare fierce and long;
The enemy is difficult to fight.
And proud we are of soldiers who are ever brave and strong,
Standing firm for all that's good and right.

The war of words is just as fierce and harder to oppose,
And those who fight it well are in demand.
For words can mobilize the throngs with poetry and prose,
And like our dad, my brother's such a man.

From early on his heart was drawn to the crafting of a phrase.
I'm really not sure when it all began.
But like a branch upon the oak tree, with Dad he still stands tall,
And mighty is his hand around a pen.

Chorus

On the wings of eagles he will fly,
For others willingly to give his life.
And like those who've gone before him, he lives for you and me,
Shimmering among the leaves upon the tree.

Bridge

The mighty oak tree stands so strong and high,
It's branches reaching up into the sky.
And like the un-sung heroes who lived in days gone by,
He points the way to God, who hears our cry!

Chorus

On the wings of eagles he will fly,
For others willingly to give his life.
And like those who've gone before him, he lives for you and me,
Shimmering among the leaves upon the tree.

3:29 pm est

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For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
(Philippians 1:21)

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