A Window into Love and Loss: From the branches of a lone pine hung an old swing.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Memory is a myserteous window that often opens unexpected vistas from our past. That’s what author and leadership coach Larry Buxton discovered when the leader of a writing class he was taking at Chautauqua this year asked participants to begin writing from the prompt of a single image. In Larry’s case it was a tree. Please enjoy Larry’s inspiring journey into his memories of family, love and loss. This story may prompt you to begin writing about some of your own family memories. So, please share this story with friends via social media or email. Who knows? You may discover a circle of friends reliving memories with you.


Author of 30 Days with King David: On Leadership

In the shadows of the side yard of my house stood a single tall pine. From it hung, for some mysterious reason, a child’s delight—a swing. It was a simple swing, a thick board with two holes at each end and a bristly rope that soared up to the lowest sturdy branch. The length of the ropes made for an unusually long arc and high pitch.

That side yard was not only shady but also long and narrow. I guess the house hadn’t been centered exactly on the lot, because the yard on the other side was spacious and wide, open enough that Dad could stride across it, step easily through the bushes, and talk with our neighbor about, I don’t know, lawn mowers and grass seed.

But the narrow side had, as its only distinguishing feature, the pine tree with the empty swing. It rose past my younger brother Craig’s upstairs bedroom window, where he could see the knotted ropes securing the thick board below.

That swing remained a mystery to me all of my childhood. I don’t know who put it there or how. Maybe Dad had paid one of the construction workers to swing his crane over a few yards and attach the rope. Dad never mentioned it or asked about it. He never pushed me on the swing, nor my brothers either. While I swung there a few times, that strip of yard wasn’t an inviting place for a swarm of boys to play. So the swing stayed empty and unused for all of my young life.

Only Craig was privy to seeing it on a regular basis.

How was it, I wonder now, that I could spend a formative fourteen years oblivious to that silent presence outside the window? Even more perplexing, how was it I was equally oblivious to the drama of the silent presence inside the same window?

Craig spent hours in that room with the door closed. He hibernated there from stepping off the school bus to being called for dinner. When he opened the door, sometimes the cat would bolt out mewling and run down the stairs. After dinner, again behind the door, we’d hear muffled drums and fuzz-tone guitars, occasional thuds, once or twice a whiff of cigarette smoke.

I was barely a teenager when Craig’s schedule added weekly visits to “the doctor.” When my older brother and I asked what was going on, we learned a new word: “confidentiality.” We heard vague explanations like, “He helps Craig make better decisions.”

We’d ask Craig, who simply shot back, “I don’t want to talk about it.” So, like the silent pine and unused swing outside his window, he too remained a mystery.

The following year Craig was enrolled in a private school in Pennsylvania. “He can get better help there,” we were told, and “He’ll have teachers who can give him more attention.” Now his bedroom stayed open because no one was ever in it. This was the case for two years.

The summer I graduated high school, I took a camp job two hours away, and Craig returned home. He attended three local private schools in four years, never in dramatic trouble but repeatedly not invited back for the following year. We spoke only rarely and briefly.

I learned that while he was in his senior year of high school he’d been invited to an evangelical church. He liked it. He kept going, and a few weeks later he had a “conversion experience.” While we were all somewhat skeptical, over time there were fewer arguments at home, fewer locked doors, and higher marks at school. He got a part-time job and continued to attend his church. In September he went off to college.

Over the decades that ensued, Craig finished college and pinged from job to job—funeral home assistant, car salesman, a Time-Life operator who was standing by to take your call. He got into seminary, then got ordained, and bounced from one small church to another. He was good at only short-term relationships, so he became, perhaps inevitably, a hospice chaplain.

Whether I reached out frequently or sporadically, Craig always kept his distance. He lived alone, rarely answered his phone (but emailed torrents of jokes and comics), and held his daily activities close to his chest.

Late last winter Craig died unexpectedly of a heart attack. We planned for a small funeral, but when the day came, I was taken aback at the turnout. The church ran out of bulletins. The sanctuary was packed with people of different races and ages and economic conditions, some in their Sunday finest and some in work clothes. One after another, man or woman would stand to tell a story of Craig’s kindness or his generosity, a welcome prison visit or a bedside prayer.

One man who served as a health care aide to an elderly church member stood to say, “Every time Craig visited Miss Ellen, he always spoke to me—by name—like I was somebody important.”

For 90 minutes the church chuckled in recognition, elbowed its neighbors, and dabbed its eyes.

I left the church pondering the mystery of a brother I had known—and not known. How he spent his days, and how all these people came to know and love him, would forever remain in the shade for me. I was able to greet neighbors through the bushes much more easily, but he had an ability to walk in the narrower, even shadier, margins of life.

Unlike the swing, I doubt Craig ever soared high and free. Rather, the solitary pine outside his window modeled how he could send deep roots into God and thrive, and how, from an outstretched arm, he could extend a gift he could never enjoy, but always offer.


At a wedding reception in 2019, from left: brothers Larry, Craig and Brian Buxton.

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Larry Buxton works as a consultant with a wide range of leaders. Click on this cover to visit his book’s Amazon page.

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Larry Buxton on: Growing up and growing wise with Abraham Lincoln

Larry Buxton reading with his lifelong friend.

Author of 30 Days with King David: On Leadership

I’m in the 7th grade, soon to be 13 years old. I get up from bed just a little after 10:00  and go outside in the dark. I walk to the edge of the front lawn, just by the street, and I look up. It’s a mid-April night, the skies are clear, stars are visible, and the air is cool.  I stare into the infinite darkness, and I ponder, as best as my pre-adolescent wisdom will allow, the scope of 100 years.

Larry Buxton works as a consultant with a wide range of leaders. Click on this cover to visit his book’s Amazon page.

I would have to live my same life over and over, eight times, to fill 100 years.  Once, twice, three times, four … I can’t fathom this. The year 1865 was decades before all the oldest people I know were even born.  My father’s father, “Pop,” is the oldest of my grandparents, and he seems the most like Abraham Lincoln of the family: He’s quiet, thoughtful, dignified, and good with his hands. I wonder if Pop, like Lincoln, had had rough and tumble experiences in his growing up or in his working as a machinist at the Shipyard. But he’s quiet and gentle with me, as I know Father Abraham would have been too.

The moonlight helps me read my watch: 10:15. In just a few minutes it will be one hundred years. My father will be 50 in a few months, I realize. He’s hardly a young man, and yet the time from 1865 until his birth is the same length of time that he’s been alive. I’m amazed. I can’t begin to grasp what 100 years is like. Images of horses and carriages, fields and plows, cowboys and lawmen, roadsters and bi-planes, flappers, Depression lines, a jumble of images from television and books and movies all race through my mind.

Then it’s 10:20. I look up. I listen for a sound, an echo, even an echo in my imagination, sounding from deep within the abyss of years. It was at this very moment that a shot was fired in Ford’s Theater, 200 miles north of where I’m standing, a shot that ended my hero’s life. This exact moment, 100 years ago to the second. Now!

I listen. I hear just the sounds of a spring night, nothing more. But I’ve marked the moment. I’ve stood and remembered and listened. Maybe God knows I’ve been out here.  Maybe God will tell Mr. Lincoln about this boy standing outside in the dark, in April, remembering him and missing him, too.

I walk back up to the front porch and slip inside. I go back into my room, where above my bed hangs another framed poster of the man. Dad knows of my fascination with this wise, tender President, and he frequently writes the Lincoln Life Insurance Company in Indiana asking for posters. Occasionally a brown cardboard tube will arrive with Dad’s name on it, and I get excited. I know what it is, and I’m eager to see the new print. Mom will frame it for me and position it right above my headboard. It’s always the first thing I see when I walk into my bedroom.

He is a silent, comforting presence in my life. Mom and Dad are good parents, for sure, and I know I’m fortunate. But life is still hectic and confusing, putting up with two noisy brothers, a big furry dog and a skittish cat, plenty of chores, and endless homework.  At school I’ve been one of the new kids this year, and I’ve noticed that 7th grade girls are different from 6th grade girls. They whisper more and giggle more, and I worry sometimes that it’s about me–when my voice cracked in science class, or when I stumbled off the bus and dropped my books in the mud. Or when I lost my wrestling match because the head cheerleader’s brother twisted me like a pretzel in gym class. It’s been an awkward year.

But at home, in my room, there is this quiet understanding. Abraham Lincoln had known awkwardness and embarrassment, too, but he radiates serenity and acceptance. He tells me that my future will hold something deep and important that I can’t see yet. His eyes show kindness, which I crave. His gaunt cheeks and dark beard promise me wisdom to come, something I can’t locate at all in my chubby body and facial fuzz.  His steady expression speaks of his determination to forge peace in a violent, hate-filled country. I love having Lincoln’s face watch over me at night, see me off to school in the morning, and welcome me home each afternoon. He is part of my private family.

Now 50 years have passed since that April night. A half-century again divides then and now. I’ve learned a lot about Lincoln as a father and husband. I’ve also learned about he led our bitterly-divided country as the President.

I have boyhood memories of “The President” being a noble and impressive job, held by men of character. But from those days til now, our nation’s Presidents have been men who’ve been shot, ridiculed, lampooned, embarrassed, impeached, disgraced, impeached, vilified and impeached again – on and on. Some commentators consider our era now heading towards “another civil war.”

But I cultivate an odd dream.  The dream is that in April of 2015, 150 years after that night in Ford’s Theater, some young adolescent also captivated by the soul of Abraham Lincoln kept a brief nighttime vigil under the stars. Some young girl or boy noted the hour and the minute and slipped outside. That teenager listened carefully for an echo from the past and tried to bring something of that moment into ordinary life.

That adolescent would be 20-something now, maybe finishing school or entering the working world. I dream that Lincoln’s kindness and compassion, his strength and determination, his character and wisdom are deepening the heart of another human soul. I dream that that person will emerge in the years to come ready to offer Lincolnesque leadership to a family, a community–even to our own weary nation.


The Rev. Dr. Larry Buxton has been an ordained United Methodist minister since 1975. His book, 30 Days with King David: On Leadership, is a character-focused study of the historical King of Israel. Larry began Larry Buxton Coaching in 2012 and holds the ACC credential from the International Coach Federation and the BCC credential from the Center for Credentialing & Education.  He is also a certified Resilient Leadership coach. To learn more about his work, please visit his professional website.


Care to Read More in our Fourth of July 2023 series on Lincoln?

Whatever you choose to read next, you will find the following links to the other 2023 columns at the bottom of each page:

Lincoln scholar Duncan Newcomer’s introduction to this series includes a salute to Braver Angels, a nationwide nonprofit dedicated to de-polarizing American politics that is gathering from across the country for a major conference at Gettysburg this week.

Duncan also writes about: What were Lincoln’s hopes for our nation?

And, he explores: What were Lincoln’s core values?

Then, journalist and author Bill Tammeus writes about how Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address still calls us to reach out to one another.

Journalist and author Martin Davis asks: Are our battle-scarred American roads capable of carrying us toward unity?

Author and leadership coach Larry Buxton writes about: Growing up and growing wise with Abraham Lincoln

Columnist and editor Judith Pratt recalls: Hearing our Civil War stories shared generation to generation.

Attorney and community activist Mark Jacobs writes about: How Lincoln’s astonishing resilience and perseverance inspires me today



Want the book?

GET A COPY of Duncan’s 30 Days with Abraham Lincoln—Quiet Fire.

Each of the 30 stories in this book includes a link to listen to the original radio broadcasts. The book is available from Amazon in hardcover, paperback and Kindle versions.




Larry Buxton: Remembering the sacrifices of Peacemakers as well on Memorial Day

HONORING PEACEMAKERS AND WARRIORS IN A SINGLE IMAGE: U.S. Army photographer Rachel Larue took this photo at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day a few years ago. It shows Audrey Hsieh laying flowers at the gravesite of U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Donald C. May Jr. who was killed in Iraq when his tank plunged off a cliff into the Euphrates River. After his death, May’s wife connected with TAPS, a nationwide nonprofit that aides families grieving the death of a loved one in the military. Hsieh volunteered to serve as the TAPS mentor to May’s young sons. In addition to helping the boys, Hsieh visits May’s Arlington grave on Memorial Day.


Contributing Columnist

What are the iconic images of Memorial Day? A man, a woman or a child pausing in prayerful reflection in a cemetery, near the grave of a loved one who served in the military.

Such powerful images of war and peace! They bring tears to our eyes, because this is the eternal spiritual struggle that explodes into headlines in every season—especially this spring. It’s a spiritual tension in all of the world’s great faith traditions.

I was reminded of the universality of this struggle when my Muslim friend Ibrahim Anli and my editor-and-publisher David Crumm spent time with me recently on Zoom discussing the role King David plays in Islam. David Crumm then wrote about his impressions from that conversation. And I followed up with my own video meditation on these timeless questions.

In a real sense, this is an ongoing conversation in which we all share, isn’t it? That’s especially true as we reach Memorial Day.

In our initial talk, Ibrahim offered a provocative insight that I wrestled with powerfully over the past week. In Islam, he told us, King David—also known as Dawud—is honored for living “a balanced life.” It was balanced because “David was a warrior by day and a priest by night,” Ibrahim said. That is, his daytime work involved planning, leading and strategizing, focusing on military power to protect his people. David’s nighttime work involved praying, meditating and interceding, focusing on divine power to protect his people. The balance came because David equally valued both. He was a man of war and a man of prayer, and the two were of equal importance.

I nodded. As a Christian and a pastor, I liked the sound of that—at first.

Except, that “balance” bothered me all week. With apologies to my friend Ibrahim, I think his use of the word “balanced” is confusing here. “Balanced” sounds like an equilibrium, like something that is settled, at rest, peaceful, content.

Like the iconic photographs we see in newspapers, magazines and TV reports each Memorial Day, I don’t think that those people visiting the memorials in our graveyards would describe their experience as “balanced.”

Our Challenging Choices

Click on the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Like most Americans, throughout my lifetime I have had a love-hate relationship with the military, both the U.S. military and other armed forces all around the world.

As a pastor for many years, I experienced families with ties to the military as strong supporters of congregational life, as generous givers and often engaged in volunteer community service.

But, like many Americans of my generation, I came of age during the Vietnam War. In fact, I came of age at a time when a lot of reflection and prayer went into my decision to file as a Conscientious Objector. This is one reason I’m pleased to see my publishing house releasing the new book, What Belongs to God: Reflections on Peacemaking by a Conscientious Objector, by the late Disciples of Christ pastor, teacher and singer-songwriter David Livingston Edwards.

David Edwards rejects the whole idea that faithful Christians can lead a life balanced between war and prayerful peace. In my case, my own choice to file as a CO became moot when it was clear that I would not be called in the draft. In David Edwards’ life, he did formally become a CO and performed alternative service at a children’s hospital. In his new book, David argues that all of us who consider ourselves people of faith must consider the call to “Choose Peace.”

This begins to sound much more like a struggle than a balance.

One thing my friend Ibrahim emphasized in his description of David’s prayer life was its overwhelming intensity. Ibrahim describes it as if David needed to pour an equal amount of physical, emotional and spiritual energy into his prayerful connection with God—because of the challenges of his life as a military ruler.

What’s the character of my peacemaking?

This raises questions we all ask need to ourselves, don’t we? What’s the character of my prayer life? And what’s the character of my peacemaking?

These questions haunt me especially as I stand before the rows of military graves in nearby Arlington Cemetery at yet another Memorial Day. I know those graves hold men and women of courage. And they also hold reluctant soldiers, frightened warriors, men and women who prayed not to be where they were.

And other graves around the world hold civilians who showed sacrificial courage in more peaceable ways. They prayed about military service, or they stood ready but were not called, or they took the risk and the consequences of saying: No.

Some of our world’s graves hold those who devoted their whole selves—sometimes gave up their lives—in peaceful action.

Just this week, I was heartbroken to read The New York Times story about Ko Chan Thar Swe, who left his role as a Buddhist monk because he felt a calling to write poetry that would peacefully but forcefully confront the military dictators now running Myanmar. For his eloquent witness, he was arrested, tortured and shot in the head. Thanks to the Times’ Hannah Beech, millions now are mourning his death as he pursued the forceful service of peace.

Honoring Sacrificial Peacemakers, too

In his new book, David Edwards raises this very question from his many years serving congregations as a pastor where the community knew that he was also a CO and pacifist. He writes, “My overall experience of serving churches as a minister who was a conscientious objector, and who felt it important to speak about Jesus’ life and teachings regarding violence, was that the church simply did not talk about it. The church in our society was so thoroughly acculturated that the default position was always in favor of nationalism and militarism. There was a consistent concern for those ‘who served’ be honored and recognized, yet no interest in the same for those who had chosen, out of their commitment as followers of Jesus and his teachings, to serve the country and world in ways other than military.”

That’s quite an indictment, isn’t it? Are our communities really balanced? Do we make time to prayerfully remember and lift up the peacemakers among us as regularly as we honor the warriors?

King David’s “balanced life” is impossible for me and for most of us, if only because thankfully most of us will never face the daily challenges David confronted in his time and place.

But what we can’t do individually—we can do communally. As a nation, we can find balance this Memorial Day by honoring both the warrior—and the pray-ers, the peacemakers.

We can rebalance ourselves as a country by honoring the sacrifice of those who fought and the conscience of those who would not. Christian faith teaches us that in being a part of the Body of Christ, we have more wholeness as a community than any one has individually.

Can we find that wholeness as a nation?

Every war has more casualties than just those who wear a uniform. When we honor that truth on Memorial Day, we the people just might stand straighter than ever before.


NOTE TO READERS: As our conversation continues, David Crumm also contributed to this column.


Care to Read More?

You’ve already seen a link to David Edwards’ new book, above. If this column is intriguing to you, then please order a copy of Larry Buxton’s book about King. David, as well.

Because of the 10-week focus on David in thousands of Catholic and Protestant congregations, this summer, Larry also is freely sharing 10 videos that match those “lectionary” readings in churches. Visit www.LarryBuxton.com/Preaching-David to find all of the videos.

Please help with this peacemaking effort. Share that link with friends. Encourage your pastor, lector, small group leader or Sunday School teacher to check out these videos. They’re easy to share—and easy to show to friends as a brief “video clip” to spark discussion in your congregation or small group.

And, YES, for those of you who pay careful attention to intellectual property: You do have our permission to stream these clips in your community.

AN EASY REMINDER: If you want to make the videos’ location even easier to remember, just go to www.LarryBuxton.com and you’ll find a link to the Preaching David video series right there on the opening page.

Interested in placing a group order of books for your class or circle of friends? Amazon ordering is quick and easy for most of us. If you are interested in 10 or more copies, email us at [email protected] 

From Larry Buxton: ‘A better way to win’

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Letters to America

Author of ‘30 Days with King David on Leadership

Dear Friends,

This autumn, how often do you find yourself asking this question: How will this battle end?

I came across a true story recently that moved me deeply. I kept thinking about it. Finally, I realized that it truly is a parable for our day—a parable I like to call: ‘A Better Way to Win.’

You can watch the video right here:

Or, please visit my website …

Did you find that video letter helpful? Want more? Every week, I’m posting another very short video meditation based on lessons from my book 30 Days with King David on Leadership. If you go to my website LarryBuxton.com you can enter your email address and get a link to a new video letter like this from me each week. (Don’t worry, we follow best practices and you can cancel the weekly email anytime.)

Want the text of this video letter?

‘A Better Way to Win’

Sometimes, visitors to my website ask me for a text they can read or save or quote or share with a friend. In case you’d like this video letter in text form, here it is …

Two marathoners were matching each other, stride for stride, mile for mile. For hours they pounded the gray streets in rhythm, each man hoping to be crowned the winner of the first-ever London Marathon.

As the miles went on, one runner would attempt a surge—and fail. Then the other one would try to pull ahead—and fail. Nothing worked. Neither runner could shake the other. How would this battle end?

As the two men pass the 26-mile marker, the commentator is heard saying, “Someone must take the race.”

But which one? They’re down to the last 300 yards, gasping and straining. We hold our breaths.

Suddenly one runner puts a hand out. The other takes it. No words are exchanged. In shared exertion they join hands and cross the finish line together. Dick Beardsley of the U.S and Inge Simonsen of Norway finished as the first co-winners of the 1981 London Marathon.

How automatically we assume that winning must be a zero sum game: If someone wins, someone else has to lose. We assume this is the purpose of competition. But the goal of competition is not necessarily winning, Competition is our straining for excellence in the presence of others. It’s pounding out stamina, chasing down resilience, pursuing strength and gasping for courage.

Beardsley and Simonsen were equally great competitors.

I find the mysterious Spirit here in two moments. The first is Dick’s and Inge’s implicit realization that competition doesn’t require a loser. Everyone’s assumption echoed the announcer’s intoning, “Someone must take the race.” But Spirit—however we define Spirit—reframes this contest in their minds and substitutes a win-win model.

Neither suggests it. Neither one floats the possibility for them to discuss along the route. But somewhere they each see it, a different way to win, and that new image or new possibility begins to inspire their race.

Then comes the mysterious moment. Neither one speaks. They don’t even look at each other. Each man reaches out his hand. At the same time.

In their simultaneous clasping hands, Beardsley and Simonsen each surrender, in a sense. Each one surrenders his hope to stand alone on the winner’s podium. But their shared surrender makes for a shared victory. Theirs was concession and triumph at the same time.

That’s a basic conversion theme for Christians and alcoholics and lots of others of us: Surrender leads to victory. When we surrender ourselves and our individual dreams of glory, we discover a much greater victory: Sobriety. Salvation. Honor. Self-respect. Character. Love.

Our political leaders need to embrace this story. So do we in squabbling marriages, antagonistic organizations, conflicted congregations, argumentative families, and bickering boardrooms. We might watch for that glimpse – listen for that whisper – and welcome a more selfless way to lead.

I hope you see it – or hear it – or reframe it yourself. And then, reach out! Risk an offered hand. In the days ahead – Let the Spirit move within you. Our entire nation needs it, now more than ever.

Yours in faith,


Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.