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Stephen R. Clark
@stephenrclark

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Oreland, Pennsylvania
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Joined June 1996

 

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om and Dad.

I miss my parents. It's weird being more or less an orphan. For so many years, as is typical, I really didn't want to have too much to do with them. Kind of like teens still are today.

They were so old-fashioned, and, it seemed, intrusive and not particularly smart about stuff. But they were always good for a free meal, freshly laundered clothes, and a little extra cash.

My dad died first while I was living in New Jersey. It's at times like that that being alone is hard.

Somehow I managed to make flight arrangements, find someone to watch my cat and take care of my mail, and to even take over some critical job responsibilities at work. I flew home to New Castle and for about two weeks, kind of became my dad, the strong silent type.

At the viewing I stood by mom's side. Somehow I knew that's where I belonged, and it was where I wanted to be. I didn't cry much then. Strong boys don't cry. But I have since. Especially on Father's Day, or when the Indy 500 runs, and every time something happens that I wish I could talk to dad about. A son always needs his dad, I guess.

Mom died eight years later. My sister was living with her and found her one morning. It was traumatic for sis and I'm sorry she had to have that experience.

It happened near Christmas. We were having one of the coldest early winters we'd had in central Indiana at the time. It was very cold and very icy.

I don't know if it was because she was my mother or that I now had no more parents that made it harder.

At any rate, it was different than when dad died. I cried more and didn't feel so strong. Mostly, I was just a grown man who really wanted his mommy.

I still do.

My parents were good people. They did a decent job with me and sis. They brought us up in the love of the Lord, teaching us how to have our own faith and not letting us try to get by on theirs. That's a pretty good legacy.

It also meant their funerals were not so much times of sorrow, but times of well-rooted joy. We were sad to have lost them, but we knew where they were.

In fact, nearly every year after dad's death, right up to the present, there have been funerals of aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. At each one there is sadness over our loss, but joy over their gain. They're all with God and having a great time! We'll carry on, cherishing the memories, until it's our time to join them.



Pictured above with my mom and dad are my sister, Carol Ann, and me, Stephen!

Walter Ray Clark
Jan. 2, 1922 - July 29, 1992

Grace Armenda Vae Clark
July 8, 1920 - Dec. 13 , 2000

A Tribute to My Father
In memoriam

There are two verses that have come to mind as I've thought about my Dad. The first is Ephesians 2:10: "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."

The word workmanship implies such things as quality, excellence, craftsmanship -- work that's done with love and care, and that endures. These are qualities that God has lavished on us all. And, since we are called to imitate our heavenly Father, these are qualities we need to exhibit in our own lives, in all we do.

There are few men I've known who exhibited these qualities as well as my Dad did. Not only was he an excellent example of God's workmanship, but my Dad's workmanship will stand forever as a memorial to his devotion to his family, his friends, his God.

The second verse is John 15:13: "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." There are many ways to lay down one's life for others. By this I mean putting aside your own concerns to focus on the needs of others. Every day of his life my Dad would do just that. He was always willing to help anyone in any kind of need any way he could.

My father was a man of immense character. And, he was also a bit of a character. The impact he has had on others--many others--is evidenced by your presence here today. We have all, in different ways, been touched profoundly by the workmanship he exhibited in all he did, and by his willingness to lay aside his life to focus on our need. He was never stingy about sharing joy and love with all he met.

As I've said several times in the past few days, while I'm saddened by my father's death, I rejoice even more. I rejoice because my Dad really isn't dead. He's home with the Lord. Of that I'm absolutely certain. And I rejoice, too, because he lives on in all of us. He's in our hearts and memories.

I rejoice most, though, because he's my Dad. I loved him very much, and I know he loved me. I've always been proud of him, and I know he was proud of me. He taught me by what he said and how he lived what being a Christian man means. Because Walter Clark is my Dad, I will be forever grateful. And because of his example and the faith I've acquired as a result, this song is not just a song [that my sister and I sang], but a solid reality in my life:

When peace like a river attendeth my way

When sorrows like sea billows roll

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say

It is well. It is well with my soul.

It is well with my soul.

It is well, it is well with my soul.

 

My sin, O, the bliss of that glorious thought

My sin not in part but the whole

Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

It is well with my soul.

It is well, it is well with my soul.

 

And Lord haste the day when the faith
shall be sight

The clouds be rolled back as a scroll

The trump shall resound and the Lord
shall descend

Even so, it is well with my soul.

It is well with my soul.

It is well, it is well with my soul.

Stephen R. Clark
Saturday, August 1, 1992
First Assembly of God Church
New Castle, Indiana


A Boy After His Father's Own Hand

My family frequently took the traditional driving vacation in summer. The four of us—me, mom, dad, sis—loaded into the Olds and took off across the country. Each year we went the same direction—away. 

Since the car didn’t have A/C we looked forward to stopping at a Stuckey’s or other tourist trap site to cool off and de-stickify ourselves. And every motel we stayed in had to have a pool—that was my requirement.

One summer we stopped to explore the wonders of a cavern called Cave of the Winds located in Manitou Springs, Colorado. The signs promised that "whatever the temperature outside, it’s always a comfortable 54 degrees inside."

When you’re inside a car with vinyl upholstery, no air conditioning, two kids who love to pick on each other, and it’s 80+ outside, dad didn’t need to use curiosity as an excuse to stop. The promise of time spent in the cool got everyone’s attention.

The tour was cool, totally cool, taking us deep into the heart of the earth. The huge rising stalagmites and hanging stalactites were awesome, especially as they were enhanced by colorful and dramatic lighting. Every twist and turn of the path brought appreciative ooohs and aaahs.

At one point during the tour, to give us a full appreciation of how dark a cave really was, the lights were turned off. We were instructed to take the hands of companions, parents, and children, and not to move an inch. The lights went out and it truly was The Big Dark!

Being the "proud little man" that I was, I pulled free of dad’s hand to scratch my nose and shift my feet a bit, turning around trying to see in the darkness—just for a second. I was brave—just for second. Then I reached for the comfort of a hand again.

When the lights came on I quickly sensed something was wrong. I was horrified to discover that I wasn’t holding my dad’s hand. It was the hand of a stranger and dad was nowhere immediately visible. Actually, he was only a few feet away—but there were a lot of other feet, legs, and adult bodies towering between me and him, and I was only about four feet tall! To me, a wee kid, he may as well have been eons away.

That moment—and it was in reality only a moment before dad reclaimed me—gave rise to terror, confusion, bewilderment, remorse, regret, and a rush of other emotions. I was stunned that my momentary letting go of dad’s hand had put me at terrible risk and at such distance from him so quickly. 

David, who spent some time in caves, is a fascinating biblical character for a lot of reasons. What I find most amazing is what’s said of him by God: "After removing Saul, [God] made David their king. [God] testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’" (Acts 13:20-22).

God says David is "a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do." Does that mean David never made a mistake? Not at all. We’ve got nearly the whole scoop on his failures and misdeeds in the Old Testament. David did all God wanted him to do, and a few He didn’t. Some of those things were tragic. Yet, through it all, David still was a man after God’s own heart. As a deer pants after the water, so David’s soul longed and sought after God relentlessly, through success and failure, through blessings and woes. So it should be with us and our relationship to our heavenly Father.

How many times each day throughout our busy weeks and months do we play the proud Prodigal and do our own thing? Each decision—insignificant or momentous—gives us the opportunity to hang on to God’s hand in utter dependence, or let go and go our own way to never good consequences. When we come to our senses, the distance between us and God feels like a boundless chasm of guilt, shame, and regret. Yet, the reality is that He never is very far away at all. 

Going through life can be like walking through an unfamiliar room lit with a strobe light—or one where someone is constantly turning the lights on and off. We confront people and situations which bring both darkness and light. It can be disorienting and exhausting. Our ultimate goal is to get from one side of the room to the other in one piece—to move through our lives holy and preserved. But there are a gazillion unseen hazards seeking our hurt.

The moving from light to dark to light to dark forces us to press on in faith because we can’t always see clearly where we’re going or what’s in front of us. As with David, our hearts long after and draw us toward God, yet there are moments our self lets go of His hand and we do those things He never intended for us to do. We stand in the dark holding the wrong hand.

In the cave, when the lights came up and I realized my situation, you could say that I became a boy hard after my dad’s own hand! While in my tiny act of rebellious independence I’d let go, I was still my father’s son and coveted his protection and care. My hand was in another’s, but my heart belonged to my dad. So it is even now. Our lives become flawed by sin, yet we’re still men and women after God’s own heart. The stains of sin are not indelible when washed in His blood.

With Paul, we can say, "Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of [perfection]. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:13-14). 

God is loving, faithful, and patient. When we pull away, He’ll let us go. When we wake up to our folly, His hand is always right there, open, reaching toward us. But better yet, why even pull away at all. There’s nothing wimpy about dependence on God. Real men and women aren’t afraid to be seen holding His hand.

The Thing With Mothers
In memoriam

The grace of God most often flows to us through others. I believe the most eloquent human conduit of this grace is a mother.

The thing with mothers is that, as a child of one, you're always a child. Dads more or less let their kids grow up. With mom, you're forever her "baby" even when you're in your high forties and beyond. It can be really annoying at times. Especially when you're with her and others are around and she launches into her favorite "most embarrassing moment but oh so adorable" story about you. Like the one time you got mad and stomped out the door muttering, "Nag, nag, nag. Every day it's the same old thing: Comb your hair, blow your nose, tie your shoes! I'm just going outside to play for crying out loud!"

She thought it was cute. You keep telling her that you and cute parted company over three decades ago, but she remains unfazed and merely responds with something like "Whatever you say, my little precious. Would you like me to make some brownies for you, dear?"

Of course, you say yes! Being babied can also be quite wonderful.

For instance, when you've got a sore throat that you know is really a terminal illness masquerading as a cold, having mom around wouldn’t be such a bad thing, especially when you're all alone in New Jersey. She could cure anything with a mere caress of your cheek and kiss on the forehead. Moms are medicinal marvels!

So, it's not always such a bad thing to be babied. And moms know that.

That's why they do it no matter how much we object and fuss. They just take it in stride and give us another spit bath, wiping away the smudges of the most recent of life's hurts and disappointments.

My mom did that with me often. Babying me was just one of her ways of dispensing grace, which was why she was so aptly named, Grace.

In fact, a little over two years ago, I wrote a devotional that she really enjoyed. It was titled "Grace Is My Mom's Name," and I'd like to share it with you. It's as much about Mom as it is about God's grace.

-- -- --

My mom’s name is Grace. Growing up, in church, we always sat in the same place: On the right side, at the end, three rows from the front, directly behind another Grace. I was surrounded by Grace! You could say Grace was always near at hand.

Since kids minds work weird (mine still does) every time we sang a hymn that contained the word grace, I used to think we were singing about the two Graces somehow. I mean, who wouldn’t?

Every time Amazing Grace came up, which was fairly often, it tickled me and I’d chuckle. Then I’d get smacked. Not too hard, just enough to remind me I was in church and that meant being quiet. But still I chuckled while we sang. And so did mom and dad, though they tried to hide it because they knew why I was chuckling. I was cute then and cracked them up with stuff like that.

A child’s theology is also a weird thing. My idea of grace related more to the words, "Just wait until your father gets home." The sound of this was not so sweet. But once those words of unwelcome promise were uttered, a lot of negotiation, pleading, and downright bribery went on -- appealing to Grace -- before dad got home. Fresh picked wildflowers from the woods across the street often had a great soothing effect and seemed to erase mom’s memory. Not always, but usually. And when it worked, that, to me was real grace!

When the flowers and child’s charm didn’t work, the words, "This is going to hurt me more than it’s going to hurt you," just seemed to add insult to the injury I was about to receive. The injury was more in my mind than on my behind, but it’d still hurt. Discipline was supposed to be a form of mercy, but it didn’t feel merciful. It kinda stung and burned a bit, if you know what I mean.

It’s taken a few years to understand that the grace applied to my backside truly was merciful, and truly was a grace of sorts. Part of that realization came the first time I had to spank my own son. That did hurt me worse than any spanking I’d ever received. But my intent was to apply the grace of discipline that would yield obedience and character in my son.

When God disciplines us, I believe it also hurts Him worse than it hurts us. After all, His love for us is perfect and infinite, and He desires us to be holy. He loves us more than our moms. So, we have really amazing grace. How sweet the sound! Because it does save a wretch like me, and like you. God’s grace is free, but not wimpy. It wasn’t won cheaply, nor is it applied lightly. To His children God applies it aggressively and lavishly. Aggressive grace can sting, whether applied in discipline or as cleansing.

Besides wildflowers, the woods also had small streams that were more like small muddy rivers when it rained. Okay, so can you guess what me and my little neighborhood buddies would do when that happened? Yep. We played in the water… and the mud. I’d come home covered head to toe in mud. What’d mom do? Simple. She’d hose me down. The water was cold and the pressure stung. But, once again, that was grace.

Living in this world is like slogging through the mud. Daily the dirt of life and the sins of our stubborn flesh can cake us, head to heart, in spiritual mud. And when we come home to Him, God hoses us down with the washing of His grace. After the hose, out comes the scrub brush of holiness and the soap of Jesus’ blood. His love is never-ending, His mercies are new every morning. Our spiritual skin may get rubbed a bit raw in the process, but it always feels good to be clean.

-- -- --

Mom's gone now. We know she's in heaven with dad. She's walking with Walter and not a walker, on streets of gold, able to hear and see clearly. No more pain. No more suffering. Her sweet tremulous voice blending with the angel choirs. If you listen carefully, you just may hear her.

She wasn't perfect, but she was still a great mom. She made a mean blueberry pie and the best brownies in the world! My best friend, Stephen Owens, will say amen that!

Mom gave me a lot of herself. When I sing, I can sometimes hear her voice. And she gave me her curls! Unfortunately, while her hair seems to have gotten curlier over the years, mine is just getting thinner.

But she also gave me and Sis lessons of grace. She encouraged us and believed in us. Sis and I were well loved. And the same was true for all of her grand kids and great grand kids: Brent, Brenda, and Brook -- she was so very proud of each of you. And Ellie, Kylie, Addy, Gabby, Jimmy, Brock, Bradley, and Michael -- she loved you kids tremendously.

Many years ago it became my habit to call mom nearly every weekend, or at least every other weekend. If I went any longer than that without calling her, she'd call me -- even at the office -- and ask if I'd lost her phone number or something. My one regret is that I didn’t call her the weekend before she died. But I had called her the week prior. Among her final words to me was the admonition to, "comb your hair, blow your nose, and tie your shoes."

But that's not all she said. There was one more phrase that ended every phone call. She said, "I love you." And I always said the same back to her.

For the love of a godly mother, a most gracious and amazing Grace, I am truly thankful. Her random acts of grace will live on forever, even though she will be very much missed.

Thanks, Mom, for everything.

Stephen R. Clark
Monday, December 18, 2000
First Assembly of God Church
New Castle, Indiana

"Listen, my child…Don’t neglect your mother’s teaching. What you learn from them will crown you with grace and clothe you with honor." Proverbs 1:8-9, New Living Translation

"For the LORD God is our light and protector. He gives us grace and glory. No good thing will the LORD withhold from those who do what is right." Psalm 84:11, NLT

"And now I entrust you to God and the word of his grace—his message that is able to build you up and give you an inheritance with all those he has set apart for himself." Acts 20:32, NLT

"May grace, mercy, and peace, which come from God our Father and from Jesus Christ his Son, be with us who live in truth and love." 2 John 1:3, NLT

"My purpose in writing is to encourage you and assure you that the grace of God is with you no matter what happens." 1 Peter 5:12, NLT

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

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