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Semper Gumby

David Epps's picture

It is Wednesday morning and I am in northeastern Tennessee where I did not expect to be. Yesterday, I awoke in Champaign, Ill., to a temperature of 28 degrees and, by 2 p.m., my flight had brought me home to a balmy spring-like 67 degrees.

It was warm enough that I rode my motorcycle in search of a podiatrist who would alleviate the pain of an in-grown toenail.

While there, I received a call from my wife that her mother had been admitted to the hospital and transferred to ICU and was informed that we would be making the trip to Tennessee.

When I was in the Marine Corps, I learned the Latin phrase, “Semper Fidelis,” which means “always faithful.” About 18 years ago, I heard a minister say that the operating phrase for a minister is, ”Semper Gumby,” which is only partially Latin and stands for ”always flexible.”

I thought about that phrase as I left the doctor’s office, toenail issue unresolved, and rushed back to the house to repack and load the car.

I dropped by the church office to inform my assistant who would be calling all the people I had appointments with this week and canceling or rescheduling them.

At about 5:45 p.m., the car pulled out of the driveway and we headed back into the freezing temperatures of the mountains of Tennessee, arriving just after midnight.
Along the way, I discovered that a RaceTrac convenience store somewhere along the Interstate advertised a new “extra caffeinated” coffee.

That, along with one of those 5-hours energy drinks helped me to arrive alive after a day that began in Illinois at 5 a.m. and ended in Tennessee after midnight.

Also helping to keep one alive is the embracing of the concept of Semper Gumby. Things don’t always (do they ever?) go as one plans. In the Marine Corps, I learned the phrase “improvise, adapt, overcome,” a concept that recognizes that, even in war, the most carefully laid plans may go awry.

Still, one must carry on and complete the tasks and missions that loom ahead.

There are certain trees that bend and sway with the wind but almost never break. One does not think of them as particularly strong trees, but their flexibility allows them to endure the mightiest of winds and survive.

There are other trees, strong, proud, and inflexible, that will break and die if the winds become too severe. There is a lesson here.

One of my kids had a toy in his childhood called “Stretch Armstrong.” Stretch was a doll that was incredibly flexible. His limbs could be pulled and twisted in all sorts of impossible directions. As the boy sadly discovered, however, even Stretch Armstrong had his limits.

Usually our limits are greater than we think they are — but only if we are prepared to embrace Semper Gumby.

Hopefully, my mother-in-law will be fine and return home in a few days, the appointments will be rescheduled, the pile of work waiting for my wife at the university will somehow get done, and I will finally make it to the podiatrist before I stub my toe (again) and collapse in the floor in agony (again).

Blessed are the flexible for they shall not be broken. Semper Gumby.

[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. ( He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese ( and is the mission pastor of Christ the King Fellowship in Champaign, IL. He may be contacted at]

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