In the spring of 1995, Carolyn was still receiving treatment for Hodgkin’s Disease. We had settled into a strange, surreal routine by that time after months of treatment. On the days she would receive treatment, we could basically count on her being sick and lethargic for a few days after that.
Members of our church and friends from Carolyn’s work were incredibly gracious as they arranged to have our meals taken care of on those hard days. Caro would basically crash on the couch or bed as her tired body recuperated from the harsh doses of chemo. I did all I could to keep a steady barrage of light-heartedness around the house during those days.
We prayed a lot together, and I believe those days laid a spiritual foundation in our lives that helped us learn to depend completely on God and His strength and joy. Our own was too often exhausted. Even today when Caro and I sit down together to pray, I sometimes reflect on those days in which we prayed diligently for healing and help.
That spring was my last semester in seminary. It had been a four-year ordeal for me. I had expected an experience at seminary similar to the one I’d had at Ouachita, but instead, I found that I simply did not enjoy seminary. Don’t get me wrong; I loved learning. However, what I saw at seminary – in some of the students and some of the professors and in the theological educational system as a whole – greatly disturbed me. It’s another post for another day.
I couldn’t wait to get out.
Our church was in the process of planing for a dynamic family life center, and I had become the minister to singles and young adults in late 1992, early 1993. We loved working with this new ministry segment in the church, and it was exciting to see it grow and new families and singles getting involved almost on a weekly basis.
However, as I’d mentioned earlier, a pastoral change at the church also brought a significant change in leadership style – one that I was deeply uncomfortable with. My restlessness grew, and I found it harder to keep my frustration to myself.
I was at seminary one day and noticed that there would representatives from the “Arkansas Baptist State Convention” on campus. This was pretty common, as I remember. It was a wonderful gesture as denominational leaders from your home state arrived on campus and often hosted a dinner for students from that state. It was pretty smart as well, as they would discover potential pastors and church leaders in order to recommend them to churches who might be looking.
Since we lived in Garland, which was an hour away from the seminary, I never really experienced “campus life” and never attended one of those dinners. However, on that particular day, I simply felt drawn to visit with someone.
I found the rooms where some of the denominational leaders were interviewing candidates for different positions, and happened to find a man named David James just finishing up an interview. I introduced myself and explained that I wasn’t looking for a “job” or a change but had just wanted to “meet the folks from Arkansas.”
David has an incredible ability to get anyone sharing within moments. Before I realized what was going on, we were deep into conversation, knee to knee, with me pouring out my heart and my hurts and my frustrations to him. I don’t know what happened. The gates of my soul seemed to have come unhinged.
He smiled and nodded and empathized with me in a genuine, Christ-like way. I literally felt like a massive semi-truck load of burden lifted from me as I shared. I told him about Caro and her cancer. About my hopes and dreams for doing relational ministry. About our church leadership transition and frustrations associated with it. I shared until I was empty.
Then he prayed for me and Carolyn as if he’d known us all our lives.
As we departed, he got my phone number and thanked me for the visit. I thanked him profusely for his time and listening ear. As I drove home, I was a little unnerved by how I’d unpacked my entire life onto this stranger. What was that all about? I wondered.
I told Carolyn about it at home and slipped back into routine for the next few days.
I can’t remember how many days later it was, but one afternoon, I received a phone call. It was David James.
“I’d like to talk to you about coming to Arkansas to be a campus minister,” he said. “Would you be willing to visit more about this?”
I was shocked to hear myself answer, “Yes.”
To be continued…