Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

June 11, 2006


Hugging other men is becoming a habit in my old age


      Lately I find myself hugging other men a lot – and liking it. If that seems strange to you, relax and let me explain. It may not be as bizarre as you think.

          On a recent Saturday in Auburn I helped Al Jackson with a wedding at Lakeview Baptist Church. His lovely daughter Naomi was married to my longtime friend Matt O’Rielly. I had not seen Al in several years but consider him a good friend. We greeted each other with a warm embrace – something more than a handshake.

          Matt, now 26, has been like a son to me since he was 10. After his dad died suddenly, Matt came to Opelika to live. His mother Vickie wanted Matt and his brother Tim to be near their fine grandparents, Jack and Jackie Whitlock. That was a wise move. The Whitlocks are the kind of grandparents every child should have.

          Matt and I hit it off from day one. As a little boy he had a heart for God. I could tell he liked me and I liked him. I assisted him with a Cub Scout project and watched him mature until he became an Eagle Scout.

          He wanted to play football and the coach took a chance on him. Playing football helped Matt learn the value of discipline. That helped him grow up. Matt is a finer person for having been coached by one of the best coaches in the business – Coach Spence McCracken.

          As Matt matured he began talking to me about becoming a preacher. I encouraged him to be open to the Inner Voice. I told him that only the Spirit could give him the assurance that God wanted him to pursue the ministry. He listened and conviction came.

          Four years at Auburn did not dislodge his desire to preach. I told him that a fine liberal arts education would help him be better prepared to share the gospel with ordinary people. The next time I see Bill Davis I plan to hug him because he helped Matt major in philosophy. Bill helped Matt believe in himself.

          For the past year Matt has served as pastor of three Methodist churches in Lee County. These fine Methodists have embraced and encouraged Matt to hone his skills in ministry.

          Now God has provided Matt a wife and not just a wife. Naomi knows from the example of her mother how to be a pastor’s wife, companion, counselor, and friend. What a precious gift from God Naomi is to this devoted young preacher. I was so happy for Matt that I hugged him Friday night at the rehearsal and again Saturday at the wedding. I held him in my arms a long time, giving thanks to God for the special bond between us.

          I saw Earl Ballard the other day and hugged him for a long time. He has been such a special friend since 1989 when we moved to Opelika. How I thank God for bringing Earl and Susan into my life.

          Jim Whatley replaced both my knees three years ago. I saw Jim the other day. I hugged him and he hugged me. Jim is more than my surgeon; he is my brother in Christ. He asked about my new knees. He seemed mighty pleased to hear that they are working fine – no problems. The only problem is the 74-year-old body that those Titanium knees have to put up with.

           I ran into another doctor whose friendship is precious to me. When David Scott recognized me, his eyes lit up as he smiled, called my name, and quickly embraced me. His hug simply made my day. He has a way of making me feel like somebody.

          My four sons usually hug me each time they stop by. My brother Seth embraces me when we greet each other. My Uncle Wylie Johnson hugged me at the Johnson Family reunion last Saturday. At 86 he is the patriarch of my mother’s large family.

          Does this talk about hugging seem weird? Is this what happens to old people?  Has senility crept up on me and taken over?  My mind and my body are about worn out; is that why I like being hugged?  

          Whatever the reason I feel no embarrassment about it. A good hug from a friend makes me thankful for my blessings and glad to be alive. As a matter of fact, it makes me feel good right now – just thinking about it. I believe I will just thank the good Lord for the men who love me enough to hug me. Then I shall go to bed and sleep well. + + + +