1 ¶ “Comfort, yes, comfort My people!” says your God. Isaiah 40:1 (NKJV)
By Bro. John L. Cash, “Country Preacher Dad”
I spent yesterday at a country church other than my own, preaching the funeral of one of my former students who passed away unexpectedly. His name was Louis Foley, and he was just 27 years old. Louis was a conductor on a railway train, and had just finished driving his morning route. After parking the engine, he rested his head against the headrest to take a little nap. When his partner tapped his shoulder to wake him up a few minutes later, he was unable to awaken him. Louis had slipped silently into eternity.
As you can imagine, his funeral was a very sad day. But, somehow, underneath the surface, it seemed we were all being under girded by a profound sense of deep, abiding, peace. Louis was one of the most loving and compassionate young people I have ever known. And a couple of years ago, he came to worship with us at our country church. After the morning service, as I was shaking hands with the people as they went out the door, he turned to me and told me he wanted to be baptized. I immersed him that evening. Funerals are always difficult, but it helps everyone so much when the departed has made preparations for their final destination.
Louis was in my 9th grade English class in 1998. At his funeral I was thrilled to see so many of his classmates that I had taught that year. When you are a school teacher, some classes are wonderful, and some school years are the special ones that you remember the rest of your life. This freshman class was like that.
The school year 1998-1999 was one of my best as a teacher; we all had so much fun, and learned so many things. But in my personal life, that year was one of my worst. I was teaching school in Mississippi, my sister Cathie was teaching school in Tennessee, and our beloved father was dying of cancer in Arkansas. Cathie and I took turns leaving our teaching jobs to help care for our daddy. Looking back, that whole year is a blur—an endless stream of heartaches, hospital rooms, 6-hour-drives and essays to grade.
Ask any teacher what ninth graders are like, and they’ll probably use adjectives like “self-absorbed” or “goofy”. But this particular class was exceptional. As I returned to the classroom every seven days, I tried to hide my grief from my students and to “put a good face” on the situation. But I was amazed to see that my students could see through the brave façade that I was putting on. And it was touching to see how the 9th graders tried to find ways to cheer and comfort me.
The scene I remember best is when I returned after one of my long absences, exhausted to the bone and totally drained. An entire section of kids–these big football boys—met me at the door and lined up single-file to give me a bear hug. And this is what they said: “Mr. Cash, don’t ever leave us again. Please don’t leave us with that substitute!” This scenario must have meant something to me on a very deep level; I still think about it after a dozen years have passed.
I’ve come to realize something about this life. Everyone you come in contact with each day is seeking comfort and encouragement. When people tell you their trials and concerns, they aren’t just making conversation; they want someone to care. And it doesn’t take any special credentials to give comfort. You don’t have to be old. You don’t even have to be grown-up. You don’t have to be a college professor or a pastor. You just need to open your heart and your life.
It’s been said that everyone you meet is going through a hard struggle. Dear mama, there’s somebody who needs your help this week. Take time to listen. Take time to care.
Dr. John L. Cash is the “Country Preacher Dad.” He was raised in Stuttgart, Arkansas, and has spent the last 25 years being a country preacher in the piney woods five miles south of the little town of Hickory, Mississippi. (On week days he works at a public school.) He and his lovely wife, Susan, and his sons, Spencer (age 19) and Seth (age 16) live in the parsonage next door to the Antioch Christian Church (where the beauty of the autumn countryside helps heal a thousand wounds.) He would love to hear from you in an email sent to email@example.com.