Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

September 14, 2003


Memories are precious and they do linger in our hearts


            A line from an old gospel song comes to mind: “Precious memories, how they linger.” That they do linger is what makes our good memories so precious to us.

            All of us have some memories that are not precious. If we are willing to nurse them and entertain them, they can break our hearts repeatedly. It is best, if we can, to forget those memories that hurt, and try to enjoy those that are precious.

            Precious memories leap out at me as I glance at the bookshelves and pictures that line the walls of my little study.

            The book, Habitations of Dragons, reminds me of its author, Keith Miller, and our strange encounter in Earlham, Indiana.

            I had been invited to spend two weeks with the most well-known Quaker in America, Elton Trueblood. Though retired, Elton was still teaching at Earlham College. His invitation had both humbled and frightened me.

            “I met Keith Miller at a retreat in Texas. I helped him with his writing, and I would like to help you. Come spend some time with me,” he had said.

            As the time drew closer for me to visit with him, I wished I had not agreed to go. I was afraid for him to get to know me, fearful that he would discover how little I had to offer.

            I tried to become ill so I would have an excuse not to go. When I tried to convince my wife that I was sick, she would have none of it. “You look perfectly well to me; go on to Earlham and enjoy your time with Doctor Trueblood.”

            I made the trip. On my first day there, I learned that Keith Miller was also on campus. By now, Keith was nationally known for his best seller, The Taste of New Wine.

            Perhaps I can meet him, I thought. What an honor that would be – to return home and tell my friends I had met Keith Miller!

            That night, in my little apartment in the Lodge, I turned the matter over to the Lord. I prayed simply, “Lord, I would surely appreciate it if you could arrange for me to meet Keith.”

            The next morning my phone woke me. It was Keith Miller. “Walter, our friend Elton told me you were here for a few days, and I wondered if we might have lunch.”

            Trembling and stammering, I accepted the invitation, all the while thanking God for answering my prayer and hoping that Keith would not realize how ecstatic I was.

            At lunch that day, I tried to keep the conversation focused on Keith, his books and his ministry. He was speaking everywhere as the inspirational speaker at large conferences and retreats for laity and clergy.

            Soon, however, I discovered that Keith was a skillful conversationalist. He began to quiz me. He wanted to know what I was doing, and what plans I had for the future.

            As we shared our lives together, Keith asked me the most difficult question I had ever been asked. “Walter, if you could do anything you wanted to do, what would you do?”

            I looked at him for what seemed an eternity. I had no answer. I finally mumbled something, and we turned to other matters. I was embarrassed at my inability to give him a strong answer to his probing question.

            That night the question kept troubling me. I wrestled with it, unable to sleep well, wanting to find an answer that would make sense at least to me.

            What makes this a precious memory for me is that during the next two weeks I was able finally to answer Keith’s question. I never got back to him and gave him my answer. That was not important.

            What was important was that I realized what I really wanted to do with my life, and I made a career move toward that goal.

            I quit the job I had at the time, returned to pastoral ministry, and never looked back. I realized that, more than anything, I wanted to become a good father to my boys and a good husband to my wife.

            I realized that this was not likely to happen unless I gave up what I was doing and settled down to doing the work of a pastor.

            I made the move, one of the wisest decisions I ever made. Thirty-three years later, Keith’s unnerving question, and the decision it prompted, is one of my precious memories. It lingers, and it blesses me. + + + +