Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

January 12, 2003


A new year offers a chance for a new beginning


          A quote from some sage hangs in the hall of my memories: “The only people who truly live are the people who are always starting over again.”

            I agree. For 70 years I have confirmed the wisdom of these words in my own experience. And I am still doing it as the year 2003 begins.

            High school in Wetumpka was so enjoyable. Senior Sponsor Mary Williams convinced us our 1950 class was so special we wept when graduation came. But the end came, and with it, the opportunity for a new beginning.

            Four years at Auburn followed. No longer an Indian, I became a Tiger. War Eagle blood was in my veins. If I bled, the blood would be orange and blue. This country boy was at home on the Plains.

            But college has an ending too. That’s the plan. The learned professors prepare you to leave, to go do something worth doing.

            One day I was slopping hogs and feeding chickens in Elmore County. The next day I was studying English literature at Auburn. Then, as quickly as a jet is catapulted off an aircraft carrier, I was in Music City studying the theology of the early church fathers.

            It was like a dream. I was mystified by the absurdity of a farmer’s son like me waking up on the campus of Vanderbilt University preparing for the ministry. But there I was, on the crest of a new beginning, at age 22.

            My wife and I had no clue that tragedy was stalking us. High school sweethearts, we had two years of marriage under our belts, and a precious one-year-old son whom we adored. We had the world by the tail.

            Barely two years later David was dead, a victim of leukemia. Halfway through seminary, we felt the need for a new beginning. Less than a month later we were living not in the great city of Nashville but in tiny Midway, Alabama, where I was pastor of a four-point circuit.

            Without the benefit of Interstate 85, our travel time to Atlanta was five hours, a distance one way of 170 miles. I transferred to Candler School of Theology, needing 18 months there to earn my degree. Even today ministerial students at Emory University travel such distances to complete their studies while serving churches in faraway places.

            Spring’s freshness in 1958 included my graduation at Emory. Another chapter ended. A new one began shortly in Pensacola, Florida. There, serving a new church, we began five wonderful years with the people of Pine Forest United Methodist Church.

            On our last Sunday in Midway we sang with the people the hymn, “Till We Meet Again.” We wept as we struggled with the words of this slow, sad song. It was such a wrenching experience that I have never wanted to sing that song again. Its words are draped in pain in my soul.

            There is not space, nor time, to tell about all the chapters in our lives. Like your own, each chapter begins, and it ends. Another begins.

            A good and lasting marriage must have new beginnings. A husband and a wife become bogged down in failure, trouble, and misfortune. Life’s pressures push us to say and do the wrong thing.

            Over and over there is the need for confession and forgiveness. The only saving remedy is a new start. Reconciliation never comes easy. There is a price to be paid; those of us who think we are always right must admit we have been wrong before restoration and healing can occur.

            How many new starts my wife and I have had, I do not know. I only know that so far we have started over enough times for our partnership to endure more than 50 years. And, thanks be to God, it keeps getting stronger.

            Six months ago I enrolled in the Retirement School. A life of pastoral ministry ended. A new beginning was tossed in my lap. So I am learning what it means to be a retiree.

            Some of the lessons are not easy, but they are necessary. I plan to stay the course, though the date of my graduation has not yet been revealed to me. Exams come almost daily, and I am ill prepared for some of them.

            Wherever you are in your life’s journey, be sure of this: you can always benefit from a new start. The art is to embrace it with gratitude, not regret, and move into the future with hope. Throw in a little grit, fortitude, and humor and you can make it.

            The one steadying conviction that has helped me, like a constant rainbow in my sky, has been my confidence in the faithfulness of God. When you believe strongly in God’s faithfulness to keep his promises, you can keep on making lemonade out of the lemons that are tossed your way.

            The beginning of a new year is an excellent time to start over so you can truly live in this new chapter of life. Go for it! I am.