Grace is Truly Amazing: A Tribute to Ellen Berlin

Grace is Truly Amazing: A Tribute to Ellen Berlin

 I am not writing from a prison cell tonight, but it is not like that would be beyond the scope of possibility. I graduated from high school with very average grades, made below average grades my first two years of college, and miraculously got with the program and graduated with a B.A. degree in 1984. I went on to earn both masters and doctoral level degrees. That is sure proof that miracles do not cease. How did that happen? Why am I not composing essays behind bars? I believe it has something to do with the fact that grace is truly amazing.
I was fortunate. Even though I was a wild child and somewhat of a lost puppy during my teen years, I was blessed with wonderful people in my life. When I ride out with police officers in my chaplaincy role I often see lost puppy teenagers who are totally void of any positive adult role models in their lives. It is pitiful and it is dangerous.

Last Wednesday I traveled to Sweetwater to officiate at Ellen Berlin’s funeral. Ellen’s daughter, Paula, and I were friends in high school. We traveled all over the state together on Lubbock’s Monterey High School’s Speech Team. We were a part of a group of friends who learned about life together in high school. Fortunately most of us have either stayed in touch, or we have reestablished contact in recent years.

As I made the three hour trip to Sweetwater, memories flooded my mind. Paula’s mom was good to me during my teen years. When I drooped by their house to pick up Paula, she would always call me in the kitchen for a “talk.” As I look back on it now, those talks could be likened to an interrogation. But Paula’s mom always had a twinkle in her eye. And I knew behind that twinkle the wheels in her head were turning. We were not getting anything past her. I still shiver today as I think about it! How could she possibly know what we were up to??

We were anything but angelic and Paula’s mom knew it! But she loved us anyhow. And that is what I remember today. I never felt rejected or shunned by her. Even when we made horrible mistakes she still accepted us and loved us.  I will never forget that. I do believe grace is truly amazing.

It has only been in recent years that I have grown to appreciate and value the contribution that Ellen Berlin and others made to my life during those years. I did not realize that they were keeping a lost puppy from being run over by forces of life that so dramatically impact teenagers. I didn’t realize that regular interrogations created just enough fear to make us think twice about doing foolish things that could have shaped the rest of our lives.

As I stood in the hotel room in Sweetwater pondering the thoughts I had prepared for her service, the significance of her death hit me like a freight train. I remembered what it felt like when my own mother died in 1991. I felt that same emptiness again. The odd feeling of being an orphan came over me. I “lost it” for a few minutes. But the sadness was soon replaced with joy. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for having a “second mom” who loved me. I smiled to myself, because I knew with certainty that grace is truly amazing.

I went on and packed my suitcase. I straightened my tie and double checked the grammar in the eulogy I had prepared. (Ellen was a tickler for proper manners and good grammar.) When the last item was packed, I start thinking about all of the new kids who will join the speech team at Granbury High School next week. They will no doubt run around with my youngest son. I have had the privilege of knowing the speech team students who have traveled with Randall and Daniel. Now I will know an entire new group who will travel to tournaments with Mitchell. It will be great fun. I will be searching for the lost puppies among them. And when they come out to the house, I will smile inside when I call them in the kitchen for a “talk.” And yes those talks will be likened to an interrogation!

I am thankful I can write tonight from a wonderful home, because grace is truly amazing.

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