There is a sense in which all of us are always living in the “in-between” times, either between childhood and youth, youth and adulthood, adulthood and old age, or old age and death. At my present age, I enjoy sharing the cycle of life this way: “The four stages of life are childhood, youth, adult, and ‘You’re looking good.’” My wife and I are hearing the latter a lot these days, as time continues to go by so fast. I find myself wondering what people expected to see after a long absence. Perhaps they expected to find us senile and using walkers. When friends ask how I am doing, I usually respond, “Compared to who?” We are indeed fortunate to look as well as we do, and to be as active as we are, at our advanced age. Thank God for good genes, and also for tender loving care.
In my last post, I shared my initial call to the ministry when I was five years old, and how I relived the experience I had with my maternal grandmother, at that early age, when I was almost nineteen and preparing to attend the United States Military Academy. Following that “GOD-INCIDENT,” I had mixed emotions. I certainly could not explain that experience apart from God, but I was confused. What now? I had a divided mind. The ministry was by no means my own choice of a career, but I would soon know that it was God’s choice. Nevertheless, I had my heart set on West Point, and I had worked so hard to qualify for entrance, but I now found myself questioning my motivation. Was it the honor and glamor of it all? Was that really the lifework for which I was best qualified? Was I about to miss God’s calling on my life? The question I had been hearing in my mind over and over again, “Have you considered the ministry?,” was still troubling, even intimidating, me. I knew I needed to share the experience with someone, and the first person I talked to was “Honey” (the nickname I had given my mother as a child, which had become so familiar that almost everyone was calling her by that name, rather than Augusta, or “Gus”). She was excited and thrilled when I told her how I had relived my childhood experience with her own mother, “Deedee.” Furthermore, she was not surprised, for she had often said herself that I could best use my talents in the ministry, at times recalling my grandmother’s prophecy. She suggested that I also consult our Methodist pastor, the Rev. Harold Dorsey, which I did.
Looking back, I now realize that my beloved Pastor reacted more like a Presbyterian than a Methodist, when he gave me this counsel: “Bobby, if you can stay out of the ministry, stay out!” What did he mean? Was he encouraging me to avoid the ministry? No, he was saying, “If you can ignore the experience you have had, and be at peace in your heart, then perhaps this is not really God’s call on your life after all.” Well, to make a long story longer, I could not ignore it. I was not at peace until I had knelt in prayer, telling God, “I believe this is your voice I have heard, and I want to be obedient to you. Tell me what I need to do.” It was then that I had an even stronger sense of God’s presence and experienced a peace, as well as a joy, I had never known before. That was the confirmation I needed. As I now look back across the years, recalling the many experiences that followed, I find myself identifying additional happenings as further divine interventions, and will be sharing a few more of those “GOD-INCIDENTS” in future posts. For from my present vantage point, after more than sixty years of pastoral experience, as I look back across the years through the bifocals of faith, I can see more clearly now how God was working at all times in surprising ways to make His presence known, confirming His will, keeping us on the right path, preventing us from making wrong decisions, closing wrong doors and opening the right doors that no one would be able to close.
Those confirmations began almost immediately following my decision to cancel my plans for West Point, and to enroll for the Fall semester at Kentucky Wesleyan College. I became a candidate for ordination in the Methodist Church, and was licensed to preach at the age of nineteen before entering KWC. A friend of mine, also from Henry County, who was completing his first year at the same college, called me during the Christmas break to reconnect. Both of us were members of the “Shelby County Hop Club” (don’t laugh; that was 1949), and he wanted to know if I was dating anyone, and planning to attend the annual Christmas dance. It so happened that both of us were dating girls from Louisville. His date was also a first-year student at KWC, and I was dating a girl I had met at a summer resort after returning home, following my graduation from Columbia Military Academy. My friend asked if we could double-date for the dance, and if I would be willing to provide transportation. He did not have a car, but he knew I always had a car because my stepfather owned an automobile dealership in my home-town of Eminence (the “highest point” between Louisville and Lexington, KY, although most people living there had no idea where the name came from). I agreed to drive and pick up his date, as well as my own. I only danced once with Lee’s date, and we spent very little time with each other at the dance. However, she was destined to be my wife! Do you think that was a “coincidence?” What are the odds that double-dating that night was an “accident?” The past sixty-six years have proven that was one of the most important GOD-INCIDENTS in both our lives!
In conclusion, Norma and I can see clearly now that wherever we were at a particular time in our lives, even before we met, God was at work in surprising ways in her life and mine – nurturing us, guiding us, preparing us for the time we would meet, and for the short time we would date before I proposed (four weeks, to be exact). Yes, it began with an “accident,” or was it really an accident when someone fell at a skating rink not far from the college? A group of people fell, and Norma and I ended up in the same pile. She had split her skit all the way up the side (and attracted my attention; I never knew who which skater caused the fall, so I could thank him or her). Was that an accident? I don’t think so. She had been taken to the skating rink by someone else, but I ended up taking her back to the dorm to change clothes. The rest is history (really “HIS-STORY,” for it is the story of how HE has worked His own purpose out in our lives as we have sought to live in conformity to HIS will and the larger story of HIS eternal plan and our place in it). It continues to be a glorious pilgrimage of faith, AS TIME GOES BY.