Friday, February 27, 2015

Looking Back 61 Years, Feb 27, 2015

Insanity runs in my family.
It practically gallops!
~Cary Grant

Hello family and friends and greetings to all of you from San Francisco, California where Cindy and I are concluding our recent cruise down the Mexican Riviera. 

Today is the birthday of my younger brother Darrell Shepard of Kirkland, Washington. Darrell and his wife Mary Medina Shepard are the parents of three children (Chris, Rachel and Patrick) and are now the proud grandparents of three (Logan, Mason and Kellan).

Darrell was born in early 1954, child number 4 of our parents Eugene and Maida Gower Shepard. When Darrell was born we were living in a 2 bedroom apartment on Ulric Street in the Linda Vista community of San Diego. Our home seemed old at the time as part of a large housing complex built after World War II in the northern part of the city. The war had created a massive influx of families who had moved to Southern California from places like Oklahoma where both the Gowers and Shepards had come from. They could not build apartments like ours fast enough to meet the need for affordable housing.

This first picture shows our apartment building in about 1954. The woman and child were among our neighbors. Unfortunately I cannot identify them (If you can, please let me know). Our particular apartment was the unit at the far left end of this building, barely visible here. It was on the corner of Ulric and Dunlop Streets, across the street from the Linda Vista shopping center. The apartment we called home is still there today, having been repainted and refurbished many times over the last six decades. Actually it is looking better today than I remember it being all those years ago.

Darrell's birth meant that there were now four of us kids with our parents in that small apartment. When Darrell was born, Gary was 7, I was 5, and Linda was 3. Mom was 29 and dad was 32. It must have made for crowded living conditions. But I have no memory of family conversations regarding it being a problem. This second picture shows our Shepard family of 6 in 1954: parents Maida and Gene, kids Gary, Linda and me, with baby Darrell in mom's arms.

Darrell's birth must have been a concern for mom and dad. Living with 4 kids in a 2 bedroom apartment? Even for country folks not many years removed from farm life in Oklahoma, they must have felt the pressure to move to a larger place. And move they did within a few months. This second picture shows our family looking happy. Except dad. He looks burdened with the responsibility of a family of 6. Or did he just get home after a long overtime shift? Dressed in drab work clothes, his mood stands in stark contrast to the rest of us who seem to be happy to be in the picture. As a young father making a very modest living, now with 4 young mouths to feed, he must have been feeling the pressure of providing for his family.

Darrell's birth was the occasion of my very oldest memory. We moved into the Ulric Street apartment in 1950 and moved away in late 1954. I have several vague memories of life there: climbing on the flower trellis, eating breakfast at the dining room table, walking to the nearby store for milk, going to the Linda Theatre. But it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when they occurred. One memory however, I can pinpoint because it happened shortly after Darrell was born.

At the time, I was a kindergartner at Kit Carson Elementary School in Linda Vista. My kindergarten class was in a bungalow across the street from the school yard which was behind the main building of the school. One morning in my class it was "show-and-tell" time and I had something to tell. I stood before the class and proudly reported that I had a new baby brother. What cemented the event in my mind was the fact that my teacher was much more impressed than I had expected. Her response gave me pause -- within my family this was just another birth, nothing to get too excited about. But to my teacher it was something special. It has been 61 years since that moment in Kindergarten, but the unexpected response of my teacher and the feeling of surprise it provoked in me are clear in my mind.

This third picture shows Darrell and me just a few years later while on a camping trip, buddying up to each other, with smiles and striped shirts.

In September of 1954 our family of 6 moved from Ulric Street to the Point Loma community of San Diego, into an old, small military housing project within walking distance of where dad worked at the Naval Supply Depot. It was still only a 2 bedroom place, but it also had a garage as well as a sun room that functioned as a small third bedroom, giving us more living space, at least for the next couple of years.

These events occurred long ago, in the middle of the last century, but the memories are still ensconced in my brain and the importance of those days are still clear. And the joy and importance of child #4 is still remembered. Happy Birthday to Darrell!
- - -
Steve Shepard

Friday, February 20, 2015

Greetings From Baja, February 20, 2015

Friends and family are my support system.
Without them I would have no idea 
where I would be.
~Kelly Clarkson

Hello to all of you from "The Giggling Marlin", a restaurant in Cabo San Lucas in Baja California, where WiFi makes connection to the internet possible. Cindy and I are currently on a Mexican Princess Cruise which is traveling down the coast of California and Baja California, stopping at several Mexican ports of call. Today we are at our first stop, in Cabo.

This first picture, taken last night, shows Cindy and me on one of the open decks of our ship, enjoying a beautiful sunset over the Pacific Ocean.

Happy Birthday to my cousin Hershell Gower who lives with his wife Shelly in Bullhead City, Arizona. Hershell is the first and therefore the oldest of the 12 grandchildren of the late Leroy and Nola Shannon Gower. Born in San Diego during World War II he is the first born of Hendrix and Starlene Gower. Hershell began the Gower baby boom that included the births of their 12 grandchildren over the 19 years following his birth.

Hershell was born at just about the same time that my mom Maida Gower Shepard met my father Eugene Shepard. They were married in 1945 and the Shepard and Gower families became forever linked. 

This second picture shows my mom Maida Gower -- an older teenager at the time -- holding her first nephew and the first Gower grandchild Hershell. This picture was taken in 1943 in San Diego.

Hershell has two sons, Shaun and Lloyd, who live in the north county of San Diego. Hershell's younger son Lloyd has two daughters, Amber and Autumn Gower, who are among the oldest great grandchildren of Leroy and Nola Shannon Gower. 
- - -
Steve Shepard

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Grace In The Wilderness, February 15, 2015

Grace In The Wilderness
A Sermon delivered February 15, 2015
University Christian Church San Diego
Rev Dr Steve Shepard

Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, 17 who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick: 18 Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. 19 I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. 20 The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, 21 the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise. (Isaiah 43.16-21)

In my thinking I keep coming back to the theme of “wilderness” as I think about our life in recent times. Ours has been something of a wilderness experience. The concept of wilderness, of course, has a rich history in our faith tradition. Our Hebrew ancestors had a seminal experience that was central to their identity when they were liberated from Egyptian bondage, miraculously crossed the Red Sea, and then "wandered in the wilderness" for 40 years before they reached their "promised land".

Our wilderness experience has lasted just over 2 years now, which is not too bad in comparison!

A wilderness experience is a time of change, a time of movement, often a time of loss. There is often a sense of disorientation, a shaking up of the ways things have always been.  Like that old Jerry Lee Lewis song: “There’s a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on.”

A wilderness experience is not necessarily a negative thing, although it may feel that way at times. It can actually be a very stimulating and creative time.

Frank Herbert, who wrote the novel Dune, said, “A person needs new experiences. They jar something deep inside, allowing [us] to grow. Without change something sleeps inside us, and seldom awakens.”

I have noticed that about our church life recently – there has been lots of excitement and energy; an interest in revival, a new willingness to jump in and get things done.

The wilderness experience of ancient Israel was so significant that they have been trying to make sense of it ever since. The recent movie “Exodus: Gods and Kings”, was one more recounting of their wilderness experience in hopes of understanding it. Because when something like that happens, we humans have to make sense of it somehow. That’s just how we are wired.

Early on some of the best Hebrew writers and poets considered it a punishment for their mistakes. In the book of Numbers the writer says, “the Lord’s anger was kindled against Israel, and [God] made them wander in the wilderness for forty years.”

Other writers saw it as was way of forcing them to trust God, a kind of coerced obedience.

After that some of them considered it an opportunity for God to treat them like a helpless child. In Deuteronomy the writer says to Israel, “in the wilderness… you saw how God carried you, just as one carries a child.”

Still others considered it an opportunity for God to teach them some hard lessons about life. In Deuteronomy 8 it is written that the wilderness was intended “to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you [some] good.”

Still other Hebrew writers explained the wilderness as a way of getting them to see what was in their hearts.

Jeremiah says to God’s people that “those who survived [their struggle] found grace in the wilderness.”

And then there is the novel explanation from the Book of Ezekiel: Israel’s wilderness was a time for God to be tested. The Lord was so angry that he planned to destroy the people, but at the last minute couldn’t do it, and God’s mind was changed. (Ezekiel 20) 

How do you explain our wilderness experience of the last couple of years? I am sure you like me, have tried to find meaning in it. What has it been for you? A punishment, a time of testing, an occasion to learn life’s hard lessons, or a way of finding grace?

Maybe it has been a little of all those things. Okay – not the punishment part. Let’s discard that one.

Here’s my point this morning: Our wilderness journey is an opportunity to find grace.  And grace will be ours as we “learn our way through” this transition period, taking responsibility for our life together and perceiving “the new thing” that God has in mind for UCC. There is grace in the wilderness for us.

A Wilderness Year

The year 1978 was a wilderness year for me and my family. At the time we were living in Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley. At the end of 1977
·       I lost my job,
·       I lost my income,
·       I lost my church family,
·       and much of my personal support,
·       I even lost my denominational affiliation, which for a minister was no small thing. I was in transition big time. Fortunately Cindy was still gainfully employed.

Our son was less than a year old when the year began, so for most of 1978 I was Mr. Mom, a stay at home dad.
·       I changed a lot of diapers,
·       made sure Nathan was fed well,
·       took him to the park and the occasional dr’s appt,
·       gave him afternoon naps
·       and did all the other things that go along with caring for an infant.

As with any wilderness experience, despite the difficulty, the uncertainty and the personal struggle, it was an exciting and memorable time.  It turned out to be one of the best years of my life. It was the year of my first connection to University Christian Church, as I got some personal guidance from ministers Wayne Bryant and Rich Perry. 

In the middle of that wilderness year, I had a literal wilderness experience. Here are some pictures of that experience 37 years ago. 

I took a group of church youth on a weeklong backpack in the wilderness of Sequoia. We parked at the Lodgepole Camp ground on a Sunday afternoon in July and headed north into the wilderness, getting only a few miles in before setting up our first night’s camp. 

That first night a bear made off with one of the two bags that held our entire food supply. So there we were, Monday morning at our campsite, packing our backpacks, looking at only half of the food we had brought for the entire journey, debating what to do.

These kids were pretty adventurous so we decided not to give in to our losses. Instead of heading back down the trail to our cars, we headed up the trail, further into the forest. To our great surprise we made it through the entire week just fine. Our stomachs weren’t full after every meal, but we never went hungry. We not only survived, we thrived and we came home with great stories to tell and a readiness to go again.

We discovered that what we had was enough.

UCC, we are discovering that same measure of grace in our life together at this particular time. We have lost some important leaders in our church life recently:
·       Paul Svenson,
·       Tim Tiffany,
·       the Girl Band,
·       Paula Elizabeth,
·       Ron Dewes,
·       Pastor Jill,
·       and others.

How do we move on after losses like that? We discover grace in our wilderness by understanding that who we are right now, and what we have right now, is enough to move forward. We make it enough. Our financial resources, physical resources, and especially our human resources are sufficient to get the job done. How can I say that? Because, in the words of Isaiah, God is “about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, don’t you see it?”

Hand wringing will not serve us well; faith in the God who has been in this church for over 100 years is what we need. And will lead to some pleasant surprises.

Free Climbing El Cap

Last month, two men, Kevin Jorgenson and Tommy Caldwell, accomplished something that had never been done before. They climbed the 3,000 foot face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. And they did so without using all the apparatus used by every other climber who has ever ascended it. Here are some pictures of El Capitan and their climb of that monstrous peak.

It was considered impossible to free climb El Capitan, using only one’s hands and feet and a safety rope.

·       The face was too steep.
·       The dangers were too great.
·       The toll it would take on one’s hands and feet was too severe.

But they did it. It took an amazing amount of planning and preparation, but they did it. It took them 19 grueling days to make that 3000’ vertical climb from the Valley floor to the top.

They rested in tents that hung out from the cliff, hanging hundreds of feet above the Valley.

The climb was broken down into 32 “pitches” or sections. The most difficult section was about half way up where their route took them sideways rather than straight up. On that particular section, one of them fell 11 different times, and dangled like a spider on a string before being caught by his safety rope.

It was a wilderness accomplishment that captured the attention of people around the world. Even President Obama tweeted them congratulations afterword and said, “So proud of Caldwell and Jorgesen for conquering El Capitan. You remind us that anything is possible.”

There is something about that climb worth noting: they planned for the occasional slip, and learned how to survive what would have been deadly falls. They endured the occasional mishaps for the sake of their primary objective.

All of us are tempted to think that the future of UCC is all about whether I will like the pastor, or whether I will get enough out of worship, or if the music meets my needs. But there is grace for us in our wilderness when we keep the mission of this church the most important thing. And what an incredible mission we have.

Our mission has to do seeking wholeness in our lives and in our community. It has to do with helping the homeless. It has to do with celebrating God’s presence within each one of us in worship. It has to do with welcoming and assimilating people into this fellowship without regard to sexual orientation or any other human condition. 

We have an amazing mission that must ever be kept before us. It is larger than each one of us, but it includes each one of us.
Those mountain climbers kept their primary objective in sight at all times. They overcame the occasional mishap for the sake of the mission. As we do that in our life together we will find grace in the wilderness.


The recent motion picture Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon, is the true story of a young woman named Cheryl Strayed.

She had experienced some tragic losses in her life.  Her mother had died of cancer -- way too young.  Her marriage had fallen apart – in large part because of her own poor behavior.  She had spent years in reckless living, jumping from relationship to relationship, finding herself in a downward spiral. She found herself in a hopeless place, a personal wilderness, struggling for wholeness and peace.

Jerry Harvey wrote a book about organizational life some years ago, with this title:  “How Come Every Time I Get Stabbed in the Back, My Fingerprints Are Always On The Knife?” It is an unwieldy title to be sure, but the message is clear: take responsibility for whatever has happened to you, for that is the beginning of grace and an avenue for change.

Cheryl Stayed understood that and took responsibility for her actions. After a lot of soul searching she decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. She was not an experienced hiker. She did not even live on the west coast; she was from Pennsylvania. Her resources were limited. She simply knew that something was needed to bring healing and wholeness to her life.

The Pacific Crest Trail is an amazing wilderness journey. It is called one of the best trail experiences on earth. Beginning here in San Diego County at the Mexican border it winds over 2500 miles ending at the Canadian border in Washington State. It meanders over foothills and through deserts before following the backbone of the majestic Sierra Nevada Mountains.

At one point in her journey she meets another hiker named Stacey.
“Why are you here?” she is asked.
“I don’t know. I just need to find something in myself,” she replies.

She went OUT from her home, OUT and away from her losses and her friends. She went OUT into the forest, OUT into the wilderness. But she went inward and discovered who she really was.

As she reflected on her journey she wrote,
“I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me.” 

She learned something in her wilderness that we are discovering as a church: that her past losses could not defeat her. She had the resources within herself to complete her journey – and not just barely. She finished her trek with great flair, defeating the twin demons of fear and a mentality of scarcity.

UCC’s wilderness journey is a time to outwardly search for a new pastor. But grace will be ours – in the process – as we journey inward and discover who we really are as UCC. How deep is our faith? How great is our love? How strong is our allegiance to our God and our church? And how patient are we as we wait for God, who promised, in the words of Isaiah, “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, don’t you see it?”


In Stanley Elkins novel “The Living End”, God is asked “Why all the variety and differences in the world, why all the mess and madness?” God’s answer, “Because it makes a better story.”

Our journey may not feel like it right now, but there is grace in the wilderness for us as we get a vision of the larger picture. For in God’s scheme of things, it’s all a part of that “better story” that awaits us. Amen.

- - -

Friday, February 13, 2015

Tomorrow Is Valentine's Day! February 13, 2015

Don't talk to me about Valentines Day.
At my age an affair of the heart is a bypass!
~Joan Rivers  

Happy Birthday Gloria! Happy Birthday to my cousin Gloria Harrell Watson of Knoxville, Tennessee on this Friday the 13th! Gloria's mother Vicki Gower Johnston lives in Oak Harbor, Washington. 

All of my cousins, including Gloria, spent most of their growing up years in San Diego, and now live in diverse locations throughout the western United States. Gloria left San Diego some 40 years ago and, being in Tennessee, has not had much contact with her cousins over the years. I did receive an email from her recently in which she said she is doing well. She had a couple of stents placed in her heart last fall and is still in Cardio Rehab. Best wishes to Gloria for a continuing recovery and for a wonderful birthday!

Happy Valentines Day! Following is an updated musical photo presentation for Valentine's Day tomorrow. It shows various members of our larger family, smooching, snuggling or otherwise showing their affection for one another. May it be a way of helping you celebrate Valentine's Day!


"Show Me The Love." Valentines Day is a perfect opportunity to recognize people in our family tree who have shown love in their lives to other people. As I think about the people I have discovered from our past, one person comes to mind who showed outstanding love in his life. Unfortunately we don't know a whole lot about many of our family members of generations past. But we do know a significant amount about this particular fellow. 

His name was Richard Gray and he is my GGG Grandfather. Here's my lineage to him: me / Maida Gower Shepard (b. 1924) / Nola Shannon Gower (1903-2004) / Samuel Pickens Shannon (1858-1930) / Peggy Ann Gray Shannon (1829-1899) / Richard Gray (1803-1882). 

Richard Gray was born in South Carolina to an Irish father and an American mother. After moving to Mississippi he married Polly Gilmore and with her had at least 4 children, including the woman whose GG grandson I would one day become, Peggy Ann Gray. 

About the time the Civil War started, the Gray family began moving westward from Mississippi, most of them to Stone County, Arkansas. Daughter Peggy Ann Gray Shannon and her husband David Reid Shannon, however, moved to Louisiana, where David died in 1864 serving in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. Peggy and her 7 children were left to fend for themselves under dire circumstances. 

Word got back to Peggy's 62 year old father Richard in Arkansas of her plight, and his heart was touched. He accepted the difficult task of traveling 400 dusty miles -- probably in a wagon -- from Mountain View, Arkansas to Sugartown, Louisiana to gather up Peggy and her children and move them to Arkansas. What else but a father's love for his only daughter could make a man do what he did? 

Moving Peggy Ann Shannon and her 7 children from Southern Louisiana to Northern Arkansas in the aftermath of the Civil War was no easy task. It was a slow, difficult journey that must have taken weeks. The South had been decimated in the war, people were desperate, poverty was rampant and travel had great risks. To undertake this journey required a heart full of love, a pocket full of greenbacks, and lots of help. The help Richard received from his sons -- Peggy's brothers -- James, Samuel and Lawson, who made the journey with him to rescue their family. 

As a result of Richard's venture of love, the family was reunited and they lived out their lives on homesteaded property west of Mountain View, Arkansas. Richard died in 1882 at 79 years old, and is the first burial in Gray's Cemetery near Timbo, Arkansas. Richard Gray gets my vote for the "Show Me The Love" award.
- - -
Steve Shepard

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice, February 7, 2015

Sugar and spice and everything nice;
that's what little girls are made of.

Happy Birthday today to my cousin Paula Harrell Tuzzolino. Paula lives with her husband Frank Tuzzolino in Sun Lakes, Arizona. Her mom, Vicki Gower Johnston lives with husband Duke in Oak Harbor, Washington.

The first picture shows Paula on the right, next to her daughter Heather and Heather's husband Sean and their children. This picture was taken last summer when Paula and her part of our family had a reunion in Oak Harbor, Washington. In the background of this picture is the scenic and historic Deception Pass Bridge near Oak Harbor.

Paula is originally from San Diego and is one of the 12 grandchildren of Leroy and Nola Shannon Gower. All 12 of us grandkids were mid-century children born in Southern California in the two decades after the Gowers moved from Oklahoma to San Diego in 1942. Actually two of the Gower grandchilden, Paula's brothers David and Michael Harrell, grew up in San Diego, but were born in Japan when their father Carl Harrell was stationed there while in the military in the mid 1950s.

Paula and husband Frank split their time these days between warm and sunny Arizona and scenic Western Washington. They also occasionally make their way to San Antonio, Texas where daughter Heather lives with husband Sean and their children Lexi and Tori, Paula's grandchildren.

It seems these days I am being drawn to family pictures of babies and young children, pictures that capture the feel of childhood and family life in the early years of our Gower and Shepard families, especially in San Diego. 

The second picture I am including (above) is a pajama pic showing 3 or 4 year old Paula on the left with her cousin Linda Shepard (1950-1971) on the right.
They were born just months apart and were very close as children. This picture appears to have been taken in front of the Shepard home on Ulric Street in San Diego about 1954.

The third picture was probably taken a couple of years later and shows Paula on the right and her sister Gloria in their Sunday finest, gloves and all. It was probably taken in San Diego although I cannot identify the exact location or the circumstances. Happy Birthday and best wishes to Paula!
- - -
Steve Shepard

Monday, February 02, 2015

Happy Ground Hog Day! Feb 2, 2015

The farther backward you can look,
the farther forward you can see.
~Winston Churchill

Happy Ground Hog Day! Today also happens to be the birthday of Cindy Dillon Shepard, the wife of my brother Gary Shepard of Oak Harbor, Washington. Cindy has been in our family now for over 35 years, ever since she and Gary were married in Southern California in 1979. They have lived in western Washington ever since Gary retired in San Diego in 2003. Best wishes to Cindy for a very special birthday!

The first picture shows Cindy with husband Gary on the left, and me and Cindy on the right. This picture was taken last summer in Anacortes, Washington. Thanks to nephew Steven Paul Shepard for taking this picture.

William Elmer Shepard (1862-1915). Today is also the birthday of my Great Grandfather William Elmer Shepard. William Elmer lived a very interesting life. Born during the Civil War, his father William Shepard (1835-1862) died from a war wound when young William Elmer was but a few months old. His mother remarried into a family where William Elmer felt unwelcome. He ran away from his mother and his step family as a teen and never looked back.

William Elmer was a man of great adventures, having struck out on his own as a teenager and ventured as a free spirit westward across 19th Century mid-America. After a few vagabond years, he found a wife in Illinois, and some years later made a home with Elvira Owens and their two children in Oklahoma where he lived out the rest of his life. 

100 years ago today, when living in Beaver County, Oklahoma, William Elmer celebrated his 53rd and last birthday, although it could not have been much of a celebration. He was deathly ill and would not live but another two weeks. He had been diagnosed with untreatable stomach cancer the previous fall.

He probably gifted his son, my grandfather William Shepard, with a spirit of adventure and wanderlust, as well as the complementary gift of story telling.

The second picture shows William Elmer's headstone in the Sophia Cemetery in Beaver County, Oklahoma. Shown below is the entrance to this small country cemetery where a number of our Shepard and Davis ancestors are buried.

I never knew William Elmer Shepard, obviously. But I did know his son quite well, and I knew his Shepard grandsons very well, my father being one of them. And I often wonder how much of William Elmer's personality was inherited by his offspring, in particular how much of his understanding of fatherhood and manhood took root in them. It is difficult to determine with any precision of course, but it is worth pondering to what extent, beyond his DNA, this fatherless vagabond had an effect on future generations of men, especially the 7 of us who are his great grandsons (Rex Russell, me, Gary, Darrell and Russell Shepard, Dane Shepard, and Darren Boyd).

William Elmer's death 100 years ago in February, 1915 occurred during a time of incredible change for his family. His wife Elvira was just 49 years old with a lot of life ahead of her. Their daughter Sadie Shepard Pruett and her husband Levi Pruett had 3 small children and another one yet to be born.

Their son William Shepard had recently fallen in love with the teenager Bura Davis and they were waiting for the best opportunity to marry. When William Elmer died in February, the time was not right for a family celebration. Just a few months later, however, on June 2, William and Bura did marry and the grieving son set out on the greatest adventure of his life, his marriage to Bura Davis. After the death of his father, it was a well deserved turning point for him and the rest of his family.
- - -
Steve Shepard