Visible Means of Support

by the Rev. Scott Walters


It’s been at least twenty-five years since I walked onto a job site one day in a pair of shorts and a Walters & Marietta Construction t-shirt, my work uniform for that time of year and phase of my life. We were building a house and had hired Dan Orcutt to install the cellulose insulation, which was the latest thing back then. A mischievous grin spread across his face when he saw me and said, “Have you ever been arrested?”


I bit. “Arrested for what?”


“No visible means of support.”

[Insert rimshot.]


It’s possible that I remember this otherwise forgettable exchange because, even as I approached 30, I hadn’t entirely grown out of my boyish self-consciousness about my skinny legs. I wasn’t nearly self-conscious enough to smother them with long pants in the summertime, but Dan’s joke was well delivered and still apropos to pretty much everything.


Over the Thanksgiving holiday, Ardelle and I visited my father in Silver Spring, Maryland. Over this past weekend, our kids did too. Alden and his partner Hannah flew out from San Diego to see him, and Kate flew down from New York, understanding we may not have many more chances to do so.


Those of you who know Dad from Calvary know that it’s been increasingly difficult for him to get around over the past few years. But at Thanksgiving, when I saw his caregivers move him from his recliner to his wheelchair with no apparent help from the legs that have carried him through this life, his weakness startled and saddened me.


Dad would very much approve of the fact that a groan-worthy old joke was what returned to me as I reflected on this experience, although he’d be happier if it had involved a pun. But what brought it to mind was the realization that it didn’t actually apply to him. His legs were weak, but there were visible means of support all around him. 


In addition to the two women offering their help with such clear affection for him, there were family photographs on the wall, including a stunning one of my mother in her wedding dress, and one in which she’s leaning over my brother Kirk as an infant, smiling the smile that first made Dad’s knees go weak in a different way almost 60 years ago. There were flowers in a vase on the windowsill and an afghan draped across the club chair I sat in. Dad’s favorite C.S. Lewis books were on the shelf at his elbow, as was a photo of him with me greeting Bishop Phoebe when she preached at the Lenten Preaching Series. None other than Barbara Brown Taylor is looking over his right shoulder. All of this had been lovingly arranged by my sister-in-law Randi, with a little help from Kirk. There was also a substantial pile of handwritten notes from Calvary’s pastoral care team on the old red secretary, as well as cards from colleagues, former students, and neighbors. Visible means and markers of a lifetime’s accumulation of love and support. 


Advent and Christmas can be a time of love and of loss. A time of great joy and of heartbreak. And, for all I’ve described above, our extended family is as complicated as anyone else’s, with its share of hurts and failures as well. So, I’m not proposing we pretend things are other than they are. I do believe the promise of Emmanuel, God with us, is sufficient to hold all of us and to hold all of our lives. But there might be grounding wisdom for us all in setting aside a few moments this Advent to notice and give thanks for the visible means of support in our lives. Maybe especially for the invisible and overlooked ones as well. 


In fact, as I type these last few lines of this little blog post one Friday in Memphis, I’m suddenly aware that someone like you will be reading it, bringing a little of your life into conversation with it. And that simple connection, in itself — which is to say you, in yourself — is no small part of what holds me up, whether I notice it or not. A means of support made visible to my mind in this moment. One for which I am just now giving thanks to God.

40 thoughts on “Visible Means of Support”

  1. Love this writing. The words remind me of “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human has conceived, the things God has prepared for those who love him”

    Thanks for this reminder

  2. Scott, what a beautiful and sweet reminder of love and memories. This Advent is poignant for those of us who have experienced loss and loving family reminders of times past.
    My prayers are with us all during this blessed season!

  3. Thank you; your post means a lot to me. When my sister Linda died, she was far away from family, leaving an unstable husband, teenager and young son. I have never forgotten the overwhelming thankfulness of being a visible means of support for her: when my other sister arrived at the home to help the family pack and move back to Arkansas, Linda’s kitchen wall was covered with my many cards over many years, words of encouragement and love, all in the place where she stood to make family meals and daydream out her window. We must all hold each other up, and in the words of Ram Dass and “Mutts,” we are all just walking each other home.

    1. These are just the sustaining connections I was referring to at the end, Needie. Thanks for adding these memories.

  4. Over the last 1 1/2 years I have seen visible support and felt invisible support following an eye injury in August 2020 requiring four surgeries and a Prostate cancer diagnosis/surgery a year later in August 2021. I have been held up knowing there are people I know and even those who I don’t know lifting me up in these struggles that I have (eye) and eventually will (prostate surgery) overcome. It is powerful.

  5. Scott, your gentle-minded and pun-filled father made quite a warm impression on so many people at Calvary. Thank you for sharing your lovely reflection. Strangely, sometimes I am not only grateful for small, visible means of support but also for invisible support from family and friends who have gone before me. With deep gratitude for you and Calvary, Bill

  6. Scott, it was a pleasure getting to know your dad while he was residing in Memphis. He is most fortunate to have sons and daughters-in-law like you and your brother and your spouses, as well as loving grandchildren. You all are also lucky to have him. I am glad you have this time to still be with him. My prayers are with you all. Milton

  7. Dearest Scott, Thank you, as always for your gift of sharing in ways so meaningful. Even though I never had the pleasure of meeting and knowing your father, through you, I have a sense of him. I feel your pain and joy as you move through this time with him that is lije no other. I feel honored to be a part of the process from afar….. holding you up with support, love and care.

  8. Scott, my dad came from much the same mold as your dad. As my dad was sinking into the bottomless depths of dementia, I always saw your dad as a sort of proxy who was still alive in all ways. He was a silent and unacknowledged witness of strength for me during this very difficult time. I am so glad that you, your family, Calvary and so many others are there to pay it back now. These times of both sorrow and anticipation are so much a part of the fabric of Advent.

    1. This connection is powerful for me, Martin, as your father was so much further away during his last days. I remember your trips to Germany to be near him, and that you were about to travel for a visit when you got word that he had died. I know that to hear you drew strength just from saying your prayers with Dad at Calvary would mean the world to this Pennsylvania Dutchman whose grandmother’s German was better than her English. Thank you for this.

  9. I have always enjoyed what you write, and more so how you think. As I recall my memories of your parents, and your dad as your mom’s very visible means of support, the beauty and meaning of your perspective drills down very deep in me. Our need for Emmanuel, the hope and yearning in Advent for Christmas all come in Winter, which truly is the season of life so many of our parents are in now. And, it can be cold and dark, among other things. But, light and warmth are coming. Love you, man!

  10. Words from you have always been a support ,and comfort to those who have had the opportunity to hear you.yYour mom and dad did a great job in raising such a bright, fun, and compassionate man as you. Merry Christmas Scott, and to your precious family. Priss Maddux

  11. Enjoyed this. Praying our eyes are not limited by our own imagination, and that we can recognize and give thanks for those unexpected supports and opportunities the universe/God offers.

  12. Scott, when I wrote to Dr. Jim recently, I reminded him that so much of his “foundation” is ongoing, and is being beautifully expressed through you for all of us. Indeed, Emmanuel, God is with us.

  13. Scott, this is beautiful and has so much meaning for those who, even though it’s late in life, still feel like orphans with our parents long since gone. Thanks also for your superb December 5th sermon based on Malachi.

  14. This one, with its eerie similarities to my own past experiences, touched a place in my Christmas heart. Thanks for sharing, Scott.

  15. Scott, I can’t help but see, in my mind, your faithful father with your lovely mom, herself for many years with no visible means of support. And yet, she was never without that delightful, funny, caring man by her side when she needed help.
    Your reminder of the One from whom our help has always come brings with it a sense, almost an onus, of responsibility and resolve. May I always be faithful to stand waiting to aid any who need it. And, when the time comes, may I gracefully receive the help of those who come alongside.
    Blessings to you and your family in this season of light and joy.

  16. Thank you. Christmas is a sad time for many, on account of those not here. This year, of course, many are not getting together with loved ones (or seeing fewer loved ones) on account of the pandemic. You remind me to think of all the support I receive from friends and family, whether by email or phone calls, or by the presence of the departed who are still in my hearts and prayers and recollectiuons of all they did for me, and what I did for them, in the past.

  17. Reading this post just now after hearing of your dad’s passing this morning, I am remembering the first time I ever met your dad—in 2016 at Christ Church. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to visit with him a couple of years ago when I was a at Calvary for some lecture. I am grateful for those two moments. Grateful that I got to meet the man who was your father, Ardelle’s father-in-law, and Alden’s and Kate’s grandfather. Peace and love to each of you.

  18. Hello Scott,
    We don’t know each other, but in my sadness at the news, I also rejoice that your dad is now with your mother who has been restored to health in her glorified body. He used to say how they would danse together in heaven. He was a tremendous help and encouragement to me and my family when we were missionaries in residence at JBU in 1999-2000. Lynda was always chuckling at Jim’s jokes and so good natured. What a testimony in the midst of suffering! He now has the reward of a faithful servant, as my husband who went to be with the Lord in 2016. Your dad called him his “French Gardner”. In the loss, I have found joy through the pain because of His promises! May it be the same for you.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Nancy! We don’t know each other but I know your name well from Mom and Dad. Yes, thanks be to God that joy and pain are not incompatible by God’s grace.

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