Finding Father

One Man's Journey to Discover Paternal Significance

Month: October 2013

The Apple of My Eye

17051_1166345048661_7282830_nShe was one of those girls on campus who naturally caught a young man’s eye, however, I was absolutely positive she was out of my league.  There was no way a girl as smart and beautiful as she would have anything to do with such an immature freshman like me.  When her roommate started dating a friend in my dorm, I took the opportunity to tempt fate and put all my dignity on the line.

“David,” I said, “you have got to set me up with your girlfriend’s roommate.  If she would just go out with me one time, I would consider that a gift.”  I knew I would be extremely fortunate just to get the one date.  After she experienced that, I figured the odds of her wanting to go out with me again would be slim to none.

David went back to her and literally said, “Hey, there’s this guy in my dorm that wants to date you, but he just wants to date you one time!”  I was sure upon hearing it put like that, she wouldn’t dare go out with me.  Luckily he clarified himself and on Friday March 14, 1980 I had my very first date with Jeannie Smith from Rock Hill, South Carolina.  It must have gone pretty well because we went out again the next week, and before we knew it, we were “going steady.”

A year and a half after we started dating, I asked her to marry me.  The next year we were married.  On May 29 of this year, we celebrated 31 years of marriage together, and I still marvel at how blessed I was that she said, “yes” to that first date.

When I think back as to how all those events happened in such a short amount of time, I have absolutely no regrets that we married as soon as we did and as young as we were.  Not only do I have no regrets, I wouldn’t have done it any other way.  We actually got married between my junior and senior years of college, with my best grades coming in that final year.  We started our lives together in very humble ways, with very little money and very few material possessions.  We grew our marriage sharing everything – our time, our money, our hopes and our dreams – together.

The only reservations I may have had regarding the whole idea of marriage were made up of my own personal insecurities, as well as the absence of a father-husband in my own family.   Not having a father meant that my mother had no husband, so I had no direct point of reference upon which to base my approach to marriage.  Would I be able to make her happy for the rest of our lives?  Would I prove myself worthy of her?

I was, however, absolutely sure that Jeannie was perfect for me.  With Jeannie, God gave me the right balance of someone who could help smooth out my rough edges (and He knew that I had a lot of them), but also give me total freedom to be the person He truly made me to be.   She has extraordinary faith, tremendous patience, and is the greatest example of grace that I have ever known.  She is a wonderful wife and mother, and an exceptionally gifted director of a local church preschool.  Our love has only grown stronger over the 31 years of our marriage and today we are each other’s best friend.

935128_4803508655478_1246397610_nWay back in the Garden of Eden, God saw the man he created and thought, “what a shame that he should live life alone.”  So the scripture says that He created a “help meet,” a wife, for Adam.  The funny thing about many of those old Hebrew and Greek words is that sometimes there is just not a good English equivalent that captures the full meaning and flavor of the original word.  In this case, other translations have used “helper” or “companion,” which get close but still fall a little bit short.  One commentary that I read said that the true essence of that old Hebrew word could be best captured with the word, “completer.”  “Completer” is my personal preference, and, in my “Tom Cruise/Jerry McGuire” way, I can say with all honesty and sincerity that Jeannie truly has completed me.

Even though it is an exercise in futility, I sometimes play the “what if” game, but not in the way one normally plays it.  I think about my senior year of high school and think, “What if I had not gone to Montreat?”  I would have missed out on two of the most monumental and pivotal years of my life, and most of all, would have not met this most wonderful woman who has, indeed, completed me.  As God used these years to answer the complex questions I had of life, He had now granted me the most important piece of the puzzle – my companion and soul mate.   We were now ready to continue this wonderful journey together.

 

Feeling His Pleasure

6a00d8341bf77f53ef0167668db66a970b“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart…”  – Psalm 37:4

My favorite movie of all time is Chariots of Fire, which tells the story of Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams, two British runners who won gold medals in the 1924 Olympics.  In a classic scene from the film, Eric Liddell, a Christian missionary who was martyred in China during World War II, tells his sister that he has been approved to go to the mission field. “But I’ve got a lot of running to do first,” he adds, evoking a disheartened look from his sister.  Then Liddell makes a profound statement that is one of my favorite quotes from any film.  “I know God made me for a purpose…for China,” Liddell says, “but He also made me fast.  And when I run…I feel His pleasure.”

My first two years of college at Montreat was a time where I delighted myself with learning and discovery.  It was not only a wellspring of rediscovering the true essence of God,  but it was also a discovery of who I really was and what I was here to do.

Towards the end of my sixth grade year, the band director from junior high school came to our elementary school to recruit new band members for the coming year.  When he asked if anyone was interested to raise his or her hand, a friend next to me quickly grabbed my arm and flung it into the air as a joke.  For some strange reason I kept my hand up, and just like that, I was a member of the Belmont Junior High School Band.  I played clarinet throughout my junior and senior high school years, and it was there that my love for music was truly born.  I went on to learn piano while I was a student at Montreat, and later began to play and sing solos.   I served a couple of churches as Music Minister during my adult life and have even penned a few songs.   Music has been and still is a huge part of my life and work.

It was during the spring semester of my sophomore year at high school that I tried out for my first play.  I wasn’t ready to dive in to a big role, but I thought I’d like to give a try to tackle one of the smaller parts, getting the part of Pablo Gonzalez in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire.  That began an extracurricular career in drama and theater that continued through my sophomore year of college.  I performed in Annie Get Your Gun and garnered the role of Barnaby Tucker in Hello Dolly!  While at Montreat, I worked on productions of Twelve Angry Jurors, The Odd Couple, and The Diary of Anne Frank, as well as a couple of one-acts and children’s theater presentations. I absolutely loved it…it “rang my bell ” and there was no question that God had put both of these loves deep within my soul.

Theater Composite copy

Drama and music would be the combination that would play a large part in the ministry that occupied much of my adult life.  In 1990, I put together a musical monologue based on the book of Philippians called, A Song of Paul.  Not really knowing what that would mean for me at the time, I presented it in the church where I was serving, and from there I received a few invitations to repeat the performance at some nearby churches.  In the years that followed, I produced three more presentations:  Acts of the Apostles, The Song of Moses, and The Revelation.  From 1991 to 1997, I was presenting about 30 to 40 dates a year – this while serving full time on the staff of Grassy Branch Baptist Church in Asheville.  The church was extremely supportive of the itinerant ministry, and gave us their blessing when we decided to embark on a full time venture with the monologues in the fall of 1997. Both Jeannie and I left our jobs, and for over six years, traveled to churches all over the southeast, performing anywhere from 80 to 100 dates a year. Those six years were some of the most fulfilling times of our lives, and we would have greatly regretted it if we had not made that leap of faith.

"The Song of Moses," "A Song of Paul," and "Acts of the Apostles"

“The Song of Moses,” “A Song of Paul,” and “Acts of the Apostles”

Even though we ceased our travels in 2004 when I accepted the call to return to Grassy Branch as Pastor, music and drama continue to be a part of my life and ministry.  I still have an occasional opportunity to present one of the dramas at nearby churches, and I also have the opportunity to lead worship at our church each Sunday.

Something revolutionary happened when I discovered music and drama, and in some shape or form, my life’s work has always included them.  I believe that each one of us are created with a unique set of gifts, talents, and inclinations that await our discovery, and once we do, they will change our lives forever.  And if you wonder what yours may be, just ask yourself this question:  If you had no constraints on time or money, what would you be doing right now?  The answer to that question may reveal the dreams and desires that God has placed in your heart that can be fanned into flame when you delight in Him.

I try to watch Chariots of Fire every year or so, and each time I hear Eric Liddell say those words, “when I run, I feel His pleasure,” it still stirs my soul.  It takes me back to the first time I saw it in college, and reminds me of the time when I discovered what God had given me to do.   It is extremely gratifying to have not only discovered what those things were, but to have had the opportunity to run with them, to delight in them, and in the process, to feel the pleasure of God.

Pulling Back The Curtain

wizard-of-oz-man-behind-the-curtain1For most of the journey on the Yellow Brick Road, Dorothy and her cohorts pinned all of their hopes on one thing – finding the Wizard of Oz.  All of them had their own expectation and hope that once they found the Wizard, he would give them the desire of their hearts.   Upon finding the Wizard, they were overwhelmed and quickly became disillusioned.  He was an altogether different person than they thought he would be.  It was only after they pulled back the curtain and saw his true manifestation that they fully understood who he really was and who they truly were.

I think most of us who profess faith in Christ have walked down our own “Yellow Brick Road” as far as our journey of faith is concerned.  We all grow up with some view of God that is often very different from who He really is.  Depending on how we came to know Him, and the conditioning that characterized how we learned about Him, we may or may not have a view of God that is totally accurate or completely healthy.

I don’t want to sound like I am invalidating any experience I had with God up to this point.  I firmly believe my early years of childhood and adolescence were a significant part of the discovery and formation of my theology.  But I will have to admit that my understanding and perception of God had some major flaws.  In retrospect, I believe that my theology was very self-centered and performance-based.  I never felt that God was totally pleased with me.  I would make so much effort to do right and live right, but would find myself failing over and over again.  I envisioned a God, whose standard was so holy, that He must be very disappointed by weakness and lack of discipline.  My perception of God’s pleasure (or displeasure) of me was directly tied to my performance.   If I performed well, God was pleased; if I stumbled and fell, then He probably was not.

God used the time at Montreat to “pull back the curtain,” so to speak, and reveal Himself to me in ways I had not yet fully discovered, and to correct some of these misconceptions.  For many years before I entered college, most of my understanding of God was based on what I gathered from those connected with my church – my pastor, my teachers, etc.  While I am sure that their efforts to mold and shape my understanding of God were valid and appropriate, I know that much of the misinterpretation was my fault.  I am ashamed to say that I did not devote a lot of my time in a personal study of the scriptures.  When I began my studies at Montreat, I took several Bible classes that prompted me to dive into the scriptures on my own.  One of the ways that this curtain was pulled back was that I discovered passages in the Bible that I had never read before.

One vivid example is in Romans 7, where Paul gets transparent and opens up about his own struggle with sin.  “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do… So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.”  I remember reading that for the first time and thinking, “Wow!  That is exactly how I feel.  Why have I not seen or heard this before?”  Just to know that there was someone in the Bible who was not a spiritual superman, but a human being with real personal struggles, was very encouraging to me.

Another epiphany came when I read the chapter after that one.  Romans 8 is a classic passage of scripture that is a fountainhead of revelation into the true nature of the Creator.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

“If God is for us, then who can be against us…”

“We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us…”

“For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”

 

And he closes that discourse with that classic statement that pierced my heart so strongly then, and still does today:

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life…nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.”

 

The curtain had been pulled back, the veil had been torn, and the God who stood in the Holy of Holies had revealed Himself.  I was not here by accident; I was here because He ordained it to be.  He was for me and not against me.  I was not an object of His wrath and anger; I was His child in whom He was well pleased.  His greatest motivation towards me was his infinite, unconditional love, from which, no power on earth could separate.  And the greatest revelation was that not only did he regard me as a son, He wanted me to know Him as Father…”Abba”…the most endearing term that a child could utter….”My Dad.”

 

 

 

 

 

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