Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

March 22, 2009


At my age every new day is a new beginning


          This week, if the Lord wills, I will turn 77. One of my older friends laughed and told me I was still a young whipper-snapper.

Intrigued by that description I looked up the word. It means a “diminutive, insignificant, or presumptuous person.” Evidently “diminutive” in this connection has to do with influence, not size; thus a person of “little” consequence.

This left me wondering if my “friend” really understood what in jest he had   called me. Perhaps it is presumptuous for me to say so but I think he did not. Yet I must confess that there are times when the description does fit me, Sometimes “the truth hurts.” And if “the shoe fits,” I must wear it.

“Young,” of course, applies to me no longer. By the kindness of God I have lived to a ripe, old age. I have lived beyond the times when flippantly I would say that I “feel” 20 or 40.  No, these days I feel 77.

However, at my age every new day is a new beginning. To be truly alive is to start over again every day. In one sense life is a perpetual response to the call to “start your engine.” Every day there is a new race, a new challenge, a new opportunity. You have to move on. If you stay in the middle of the road you will be run over.

Grammar School lasted six long years. Those were the days of singing “Scotland’s burning, fire, fire,” “Honky said the Donkey,” “Reuben, Reuben, I’ve been thinking,” and “Sailing, sailing, over the bounding main.” Those songs and others are stamped on my brain and generate joy every time I recall them. But the best thing about that happy time is that I met my bride in the first grade. Dean bowled me over with those big, adorable eyes and that long, brunette hair. I was hooked from day one.

          Seventh grade required a new start. But high school years in Wetumpka were marvelous. 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 necessity of a new beginning.

          Four years at Auburn followed. They were challenging but fun years. No longer an Indian, I became a Tiger. War Eagle blood was soon in my veins. When I bleed, the blood is orange and blue. My Crimson Tide buddies called Auburn a “Cow College.” That did not bother me; I was a country boy 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. How quickly, in retrospect, those years passed.

          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 seems like a dream. I was mystified by the absurdity of a farmer’s son 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, and clueless as to the surprises that awaited us. With two years of marriage under our belts, and a precious one-year-old son in tow, we had the world by the tail. I would have laughed had you had told us that tragedy was stalking us.

          Eighteen months later our son was dead, a victim of leukemia. In shock and grief we came home and buried David. A heartbreaking chapter in our lives had ended. Though I was but halfway through seminary, we felt a new beginning would help us. A month later we were living not in Nashville but in tiny Midway, Alabama, where I was pastor of a four-point circuit.

          I transferred to Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, needing 18 months there to earn my degree. Travel time to school was five hours, a long 170 miles.

          Spring’s freshness in 1958 included my graduation at Emory. Two months later, on our last Sunday in Midway, we sang with the people the hymn, “Till We Meet Again.” We wept as we struggled to sing 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. But we managed to move on and serve 48 years as pastor of several churches.

          There is neither space nor time to tell about all the chapters in our lives. Like your own, each chapter begins and it ends. Another begins. New starts are part of the warp and woof of life.

          A lasting marriage must have new beginnings. A husband and a wife become bogged down in failure, trouble, and misfortune. Life’s pressures triggers words we wish we had never said. So there is the need for confession and forgiveness. The only saving remedy is a new start.

Reconciliation is never easy. There is a price to be paid. Those of us who think we are always right must admit we have been wrong before healing can occur.

How many new starts my wife and I have had, I do not know. I do know that we have started over enough times that our partnership will have endured 57 years come June first. And it is stronger now than ever.

          Seven years ago mandatory retirement (at age 70) brought my life of pastoral ministry to an end. A new beginning and a new title: retiree. Then before I could get adjusted to warming a pew on Sundays, the pastor at Saint James United Methodist Church in Montgomery gave me a new start on his staff as an associate. I thought the fat lady had sung but I was wrong.

          I never dreamed the past five years as an associate would pass so swiftly or be so rewarding. Now sometimes I wonder when this chapter will end. I know it will; every chapter does. But until then I plan to arise every morning with gratitude and enthusiasm and live every day as though it were my last one.  

Wherever you are in life’s journey, you can benefit from a new start. The art is to embrace it with gratitude, not regret, and walk into the future with hope. Throw in a little grit, fortitude, and humor for good measure. The steadying conviction that has been like a constant rainbow in my sky has been my confidence in the faithfulness of God.

As long as you believe strongly in God’s faithfulness, you can keep on getting back up no matter how many times you fall down. You can make a new start again and again. And the first thing you know you will be able to welcome each new morning as a wonderful new beginning. + + +