From a rock house
By John Duncan
I am sitting here under the old oak tree, pondering an old rock house. An old rock house sits in Pilot Point. The old rock house might be down some dirt road or out in the country or on an asphalt road near the center of town. I know not where that house sits. I do know that on Sept. 14, 1940, Aunt Essie delivered her nephew, Cordell. Cordell had a last name—Parker. That rock house served as conduit of education, values and spiritual roots.
Not long ago, a speech teacher named Cordell Parker died. Cordell taught at Tarrant County College and served as an educator for over 40 years. Today people change jobs faster than a lightning strike. Forty years at the same task and purpose occurs to me as a remarkable feat. In the Summer of 1980, Cordell served as my speech teacher. He loved talking about life’s most basic commodity—communication. Communication makes the world go around. Today S-P-E-E-C-H is on my mind.
S-Story. Life swells with laughter and drips with tears. Cordell could laugh. He loved stories, a part of the ever-flowing river of communication that puts characters and life into the drama and context of the flow of life. The ancient Greek thinker Heraclitus once said, "You could not step twice into the same rivers; for other waters are ever flowing on to you." Stepping into the same rivers twice is one thing, but telling a story twice is always permitted. Eugene Peterson once announced stories as a pastoral care, understanding the people, places and powers that influence people’s lives. He called his visits with people "occasions for original research on the stories being shaped in their lives by the living Christ." Stories shape life. Telling stories influences lives.
Stories flow like a river—of tree houses; of wedding plans; of the church parking lot where Cordell met Irene, his wife; of swimming pools where a father tosses his daughter, Kippy, in the water, clothes and all; of wrestling matches where Cordell once dressed as a sumo wrestler, baring his body and soul to raise money for the United Way; of cars and Cadillacs and trucks spray painted on a dark night; of life’s No. 1 fear, public speaking; of Artem and monster trucks and hip-hop music with words like, "It’s time to go"; of an interest in the funeral home business and mortuary science; and of a rock house. Stories refresh and connect life like people gathering on a porch to talk while drinking cool cups of water from a mountain river.
P-People. In more recent days, I have concluded that life is really about people—the wired and weird; the stable and unstable; the happy and sad; the big and small; those wilting under the heat of life’s pressure and those blooming in the sunshine of life; the healers and hurt; the non-communicative and the communicative; the thinkers and feelers. People influence, often with stories.
Cordell loved to meet people. He always seemed to have a knack for researching their stories and delivering the news of people’s lives. If you will live joyfully, two necessary relationships lay a happy foundation—a relationship with the Person of Christ; relationships with people. Cordell himself spoke of people—his father in the grocery business; Irene and Kippy; Mrs. Hall, his teacher in high school; Jack Schmidt, whom he worked for in his younger years in the funeral business; his friend Michael; and colleagues like Jane Harper. The circle of life surrounds with a circus of joy when relationships with Christ and people form an unbreakable bond. Did Cordell learn about those bonds in a rock house?
E-Encouragement. Encouragement, of all qualities, is the one thing that everybody needs. Cordell’s booming voice (for after all, he was a communicator himself) asked two questions: "What can I do for you today?" and, "Can I pray for you?" P.T. Forsyth once noted: "Prayer is the highest use to which speech can be put. It is the highest meaning that can be put into words." Cordell constantly inquired about my wife, Judy, during her tumultuous bout with cancer. His "today" question and his prayerful spirit in the circle of life’s stories remind me of two vital keys to genuine communication—care and prayer. Richard Foster once said, "Intercession is a way of loving others." Before his death, Cordell shared with his good friend Michael that he was going to retire and intercede daily for others. That was Dr. Parker, an encourager in the stories of life.
E-Education. Cordell graduated from Denton High Scholl and North Texas State University, and he loved education, students and speech-communication. He once threatened to quit school in the real pressures of education, its costs, and its challenges. He relented, though. "I promise I’ll finish," he told his mother. He did finish, completing his doctorate in education and surrendering his life not to his beloved interest of mortuary science, but to education. Life takes unexpected twists and turns. Stories wind and bend with surprise.
One lady called him a "giant of a man." He won awards for teaching in 2001—the prestigious Chancellor’s Exemplary Teaching Award; the Golden Apple Award; and the Humanities Distinguished Award. It served as my privilege to introduce whim when he won the Golden Apple Award. Afterward he thanked me, adding, "Thanks for taking the time to drive this far to introduce me. I never knew that speech class meant that much." He once told me, based on my speech class experience, that he thought I would be a man of letters (an educator), but not a public speaker. We laughed about that. Who knows what God will do to shape and surprise in the story of life?
C-Communication. I hear an echo in my ear, "You have verbal and non-verbal communication." If you will have a happy marriage, a successful business or serve as a good employee, you need good skills of communication. If you walk through life’s valleys or stand on life’s mountains, you will need to communicate to endure or to celebrate. If you raise kids or raise corn, you will need communication. If you live life with laughter, love and abundant life, communication will serve as your most basic tool. I wonder what Aunt Essie communicated on the day Cordell was born in that rock house?
H-Hope. Cordell loved gospel music, especially the Florida Boys. He researched stories of people and church and Christ at home in the heart. As a boy, he sold newspapers. I liked to think he liked the news, but more than that loved the Good News of Jesus. I see him in my imagination—throwing newspapers at dawn; sitting on a riding lawn mower on a hot summer’s day at the funeral home; making a body-run with the funeral home director; driving an ambulance through a busy street; standing in a church parking lot; laughing, side-splitting laughter, while standing beside a splashy pool; standing in front of a speech class talking; giving a speech; smiling as he receives an award; promising his mother; sitting in church while I preach ("A-," he said that day); loading his office in a box; telling stories, and crying in a rock house while Aunt Essie holds him close to her chest in love.
Most of us never get too far from where life begins—its education, values and spiritual roots in places like a rock house. Jesus asks us not to get too far from him. He tells us about life and death, the stories and the story: "Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions, and I go to prepare a place for you." I am here under the old oak tree pondering a rock house in heaven and a wooden porch where a guy in a cowboy hat sits in a rocking chair near a pond in a circle of people. By the way, if you listen real close, he’s telling stories.
John Duncan is pastor of Lakeside Baptist Church in Granbury, Texas, and the writer of numerous articles in various journals and magazines.