Last evening and today, I’ve been texting with a friend of 60+ years as we set up the reunion for the church in Birmingham that ministered to me so thoroughly when I was a student at nearby Birmingham-Southern Baptist Church. Everything that follows below is relevant to that.
I’m 81 years old. Not decrepit or senile, thank you very much. And, not ancient or feeble by any means, you understand. But the calendar is what it is and the white hair belies my protestations. Honestly, l feel like I’m 15. Okay, sort of.
The time is here when it’s perfectly acceptable to look back and remember and give thanks to God for what He has done.
Thinking of all the blessings of people and incidents, of words and books and jobs and churches, I constantly thank God that He did “this” and not “that” or something else entirely.
You are looking at one blest man. (Okay, to the extent you are actually “looking” at me, that is.)
The last reunion of West End Baptist Church, maybe 4 years ago, we held a joint service of worship with Mount Calvary Baptist Church, the congregation now occupying the buildings and campus of our beloved WEBC. Looking back, it kick-started my thinking about these things—
–Perhaps it was visiting with Joel Davis, who was my roommate for two years, who called my attention to this Margaret Henderson girl, and who would not give me any peace of mind until I began dating her–and then became our best man–that did it. Joel was a wonderful roommate, seven years my senior, and a mature Christian. Any parent would love for their college son to have such a friend.
–Perhaps it was seeing Myra Buckner Davis, Margaret’s best friend from childhood and maid of honor in our wedding, and who married Joel’s brother Henry, that did it. Henry is in Heaven now, but they have some wonderful adult children.
–Maybe it was seeing a lot of other friends from those years of 1959 into the early 1960s. People like Thom Brett (we double-dated and once got speeding tickets at the same time), Brenda Mitchell (we dated and competed against each other in a speakers tournament), Kay Forrester (a great friend then and now), and a host of others from the past.
These were my college years, and easily the most formative of my life. God did some wonderful things during this time, much of it having to do with West End Baptist Church (meaning of course, the pastor and congregation).
In thinking about what God did, it hit me how tenuous some of those moments were when God stepped in to take charge.
–What if John L. Smith (the pastor in September of 1959) had done something different that night in prayer meeting? I entered with my sister Patricia and her husband James fully intending never to return to that church. Big city churches, I “knew,” were dead and liberal and terminally dignified. But Pastor Smith brought an inspiring Bible study that night, then introduced us to people standing nearby, and connected us with Larry Andrews, the minister of music. The next night, the three of us enrolled in choir rehearsal.
–What if Joel Davis had decided to room somewhere else? After his discharge from the Navy, he took a job in Birmingham as office manager for a trucking company. Moving up from LaGrange, Georgia, a friend at the company told him where he was staying: the boarding house near the campus of Birmingham-Southern. A half-dozen single men were staying there with Mrs. Holleman. That’s where Joel and I met.
–What if my cousin Nelda Chadwick Schultz had recommended a different college? When Patricia and James invited me to transfer to a Birmingham college and stay with them (I would be company to Patricia and their baby while James traveled on his job), I called Nelda for advice about local colleges. To this day she does not know why she suggested ‘Southern. “It just had a good reputation academically,” she says. We moved close to the campus, and everything about my life changed.
–What if I had not invited Joel Davis to prayer meeting that Wednesday night. Or if he had declined. After Patricia and James decided to build a house in the country and live near our parents, I moved into the boarding house near the college. A week or two after Joel Davis moved there, we were on the front porch. He was reading the paper in the swing and I was sitting on the side of the steps. He said, “Well, if I was back at home in LaGrange, I’d be going to prayer meeting tonight.” I said, “Come go with me. I’m waiting on my ride right now.” He did. He joined the church and the choir, and we became best friends, eventually sharing a furnished apartment a block down the street for the next two years. When his brother Henry got out of the service, he moved in with us briefly. He met Myra at church and theirs was one of the first weddings I performed.
–What if Joel had not spoken to me about “Maggie”? After a night with the church group, lying awake in the bedroom (twin beds, you’ll be glad to know), we would talk about the girls. Always respectfully. (True) And he would comment about Margaret, whom everyone was calling Maggie. How special she was, how lovely, etc. Eventually it got through to me. When God took her home in January of this year, we had logged almost 53 years of marriage. She gave me three children and they gave us eight grands.
–But earlier, what if Patricia and James had not done any of several things: a) had not been transferred from Montgomery to Birmingham? b) had not wanted me to stay with them? c) had not been willing to move close to Birmingham-Southern?
I could go farther back and wonder what if Patricia had not urged me to take the cartooning course by correspondence when I was 16 and she was 18, saying she would pay for it? What if Baptist Press editor Art Toalston, then with the Jackson Daily News, had not asked me to submit cartoons for their weekly religion page? That was about 1980, and Art is still running my stuff and encouraging me.
God is so good and I am so indebted to His people.
“Our God is in the Heavens; He does whatever He pleases” (Psalm 115:3).
This process of retrospection and remembering and rejoicing could be endless, of course. What if Hugh Martin had not recommended me to Emmanuel Baptist Church of Greenville, MS, in 1967? We ended up living in the Magnolia State for the next 19 years and ten thousand things happened to our family, all of them good. These days, I’m back in Mississippi, married to Bertha, and loving life.
What if, what if, what if? Such slender threads. On such do major life directions hang.
“He leadeth me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” Oh yes indeed. Thank you, Lord.