A New Chapter
The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away. (Psalm 90:10 KJV)
I came to the northeast in September of 1967 to attend Bible College. In February of 1972, my wife and I arrived in Vermont pulling a U-Haul trailer behind our Chevy Caprice. I was 24 and Barbara had just barely turned 23 and was pregnant with our first child, Michael Bryan. We never really planned to stay in New England. Our thoughts were always back home in our native North Carolina. This was a temporary assignment as we were sure that someday, God would take us back to the Blue Ridge Mountains that we called home. That day never came and 46 years later we find ourselves calling Vermont our home. Our roots are now firmly implanted in the rocky soil of New England rather than the majestic hills of western North Carolina.
This morning, I awakened to the sound of my phone buzzing repeatedly at my bedside as many, many friends were wishing me a happy birthday. Even as I’m sitting here at my computer, my phone continues to “buzz-in” birthday wishes from all over the world. Today, I am seventy years old; threescore and ten years as the Bible describes it. I have spent just shy of one-half century preaching the Kingdom of Heaven in Vermont. I really cannot imagine how the time has so quickly past.
In October of 2017 I wrote a little book entitled “Eddie;” the record of an unforgettable vacation that included my wife and I in our 42 year old motorhome, our five children (and spouses) and our 13 grandchildren. Early one morning before sunrise I sat outside by the pool of our hotel reflecting on the blessings of God in my life. I wrote the following:
We moved to the Brattleboro area in February of 1972 and Bryan was born in August of that same year. What ensued from that point were many years of ministry during which we have built wonderful and endearing friendships, engaged in years of rich ministry; often despite us more than because of us, and suffered some moments of very regrettable failure.
More than once I have been the victim of my own ego, the engineer of my own downfall, and the instrument of great pain and disappointment in others. I have at times impeded the progress of the Kingdom rather than to advance it and have brought shame upon the Master instead of bringing Him glory. Though I understand I am as prone to human frailty as any, and more so than a lot; and even though I am completely conversant with the Biblical reality that God forgives us of our sins when we have a repentant heart; I still look back with an ache that wishes I had been a better man, a better father, a wiser, more spiritually mature pastor so that so many people I love might have suffered fewer wounds and less disappointment. (Eddie; Chapter 9, page 65)
How happy am I that God chooses to use the foolish things of this world to accomplish His purposes. He called Gideon a mighty man of valor while he was a coward hiding in a winepress. David was anointed King while he was still an overlooked shepherd boy, He found Joseph in a prison cell, Mary in Galilee, shepherds in the fields, Peter, James and John in a fishing boat and Mary Magdalene in her whoredom – and he used them all! He redeemed Jacob out of his treachery, David out of his adultery, Jonah out of the belly of a whale, and He set Saul of Tarsus free from his hatred.
Sometimes I wonder in awe that God found me. Born out of wedlock in the winter of 1948, the son of a wounded and scarred young woman who suffered from the specter of her father’s abuse until the day she died. I was abandoned to foster care as a toddler, endured repeated physical and sexual abuse as a child. As a teen I had a quick mind and a hard heart. I had grown up alone and happy for it to be so. But God……………… You know, those are two of the most powerful words in all of the Bible. But God searched me out. He found me hiding in the winepress of isolation, He pushed through my anger and rejection; He gave me the father I had always longed for, the family I had always hungered for, and the purpose He had created me for.
I have reached that plateau of life that the Bible describes as “threescore and ten.” I am strong, relatively healthy, and my mind remains keen. (Please do not discuss the merits of this last statement with my wife.) I am not preparing to die, I am preparing for the next adventure, for the next opportunity to serve the Kingdom in ways that I have not seen before. I am enjoying my new career as an author, I am exploring new opportunities to share lessons learned from more than 50 years in the ministry, I have seen much of the world and am in hopes of seeing more of it.
Today, I have looked back with some sadness and a great deal of joy. I have not always been the man I had hoped to be. I have not always been the pastor I had hoped to be, and I have not always been the father I should have been. There are moments of disappointment and personal shame, there are instances of failure for sure. But God, as he has with all men, has assured me that if I am faithful to confess my sins (come into agreement with Him about my sin), He is faithful to forgive us of our sins. I don’t have to sit here in a pool of regret but can, and have, cried out to God as did David, “Create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me, restore unto me the joy of my salvation. Cast me not away from thy presence and take not thy holy spirit from me.” (Psalm 51:10-11 KJV)
Because of the wonderful gift of repentance from my failures of the flesh, I am looking forward to the years ahead with a great sense of anticipation. I am not yet in the winter of my life, but surely I am in the fall and as it with the trees of New England it is my prayer that I may enter that winter which is surely to come, ablaze with the full spectrum of His spirit manifesting himself in my life. This day marks a new chapter in life for me. It may or may not be the final chapter, but regardless, I am expecting the pages of this chapter to be filled with new opportunities, new adventures, and the grace of God to be on full display.