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Monday over Coffee: We are Not Made of Sugar Candy

Need a Word of Encouragement?

We are Not Made of Sugar Candy

Just three weeks after Pearl Harbor, as a terrible European war had become an all-out world war, Winston Churchill invited himself to the White House. It took ten days to cross the U-boat-infested Atlantic. The day after Christmas, he addressed a joint session of Congress, telling Americans what he had told his own people: “The task set before us is not above our strength. Its pangs and trials are not beyond our endurance.”

Then that night, exhausted, he suffered a heart attack in the bedroom of the Rose Suite of the White House. (Churchill had declined to stay in the Lincoln Bedroom — he said the bed did not suit him.) Three days later, against his doctor’s orders, he traveled by train to Ottawa to give a speech to the Canadian Parliament. What he said is equally applicable to us two generations later.

“We have not journeyed,” Churchill told them, “all this way across the centuries, across the oceans, across the mountains, across the prairies, because we are made of sugar candy.” 

He instructed them that what their forbearers had accomplished and what their ancestors had done should echo down to them powerfully to inform them who they were as they faced the present crisis — tough, resilient, and hardy with constitutions and histories incompatible with surrender.

We just observed All Saints Day. In church, we called the names of those we lost this year. Perhaps your mind also moved toward memories of those who went before them. My father died ten years ago this past week. Dad grew up in Texas during the Depression, served in the United States Navy in World War II, returned to Texas to start his own business, raised four kids, and cared for his wife, who fell ill and was incapacitated for the better part of two decades. There was a relentlessness in the unforced dedication with which he quietly went about his life. He taught me many things, not the least of which was the value of sitting down, staying put, and working. 

My mother wasn’t made of sugar candy either. Born in Oklahoma in 1935, she graduated from Kansas, obtained her license in occupational therapy, then came to the Texas Institute for Rehabilitation and Research here in Houston. Among the many things she did at TIRR was to work with burn victims and to teach paralyzed polio patients restricted to iron lungs to paint using special mouthpieces. I have an emblematic black and white picture of her in her nurse’s uniform next to a remarkably happy little girl hooked up to a breathing apparatus sitting in a wheelchair. My mother is pretending to pour her tea. They are having a tea party. 

She later set an example for her kids, serving as an ardent volunteer and joyful caregiver, carrying a casual loveliness into whatever environment she entered, always looking with intention for those who needed help, hope, or a kind word. She painted, created exuberant and colorful collages. Even after she started getting sick, she showed us the transcendence on offer to us all in simply and patiently striving to create and love each other with what we have. 

My parents’ story is by no means unique. I’ve heard similar stories of fortitude and resilience each time I meet with a family to prepare for a memorial service. You have such stories too.

Yes, we’re in the midst of a period of great challenge, but this is our heritage, and we too are made of sterner stuff. Just as we look back, inspired by our own family and congregational histories, these mountains we face today will be used as examples and gathered stories for others in the future. We’re learning from hardship, growing from it, and becoming better people. Keep going. You’re not made of sugar candy.

God — 
 
It’s easy to forget the heritage of resilience inside of me, and to focus instead on the risk of present threats. I’ve been scared and in pain in the past, just as those who came before me were, but they didn’t melt, break, or fall apart. And neither will I. 

Amen.

—Greg Funderburk 


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