So, we worshipped @ FBC of Ft. Walton Beach, FL Sunday while visiting Mom and meeting Leo.
Some other folks were there too...
Mr. Kossie Akins. His son Clint was my Royal Ambassador leader back when dinosaurs still roamed the earth and Clint & I were much younger. Mr. Kossie is a veteran of WW2, which sets the stage for a really touching thing about him. Seems they had some training down in S. FL in the early 1940s as they prepared to go to war. While there, he & some of his buddies went to watch some pro baseball teams have Spring training, and had a blast doing so. After they came back from the war, they went again. And again. It became an annual reunion. Just some guys hanging out, watching baseball, and remembering. I LOVE that image! Now, Mr. Kossie is one of the oldest members of FBCFWB. His beloved wife passed away some years back. And there, Mr. Kossie was Sunday morning. I spoke & reintroduced myself, and he remembered. "Hi, Mike, it's been a long time..."
Lewie & Martha Tidwell. They have kids just older & just younger than my brother and me. Lewie was a banker, but to me back then...and maybe now...it was way cooler that he played church-league softball with us young folks. I'd love to have seen Mr. Lewie play when was a young man, because he was very good as a middle-aged man. A few years back, the Tidwells went out west with the North American Mission Board for a few years to help plant churches. I said, "how do you not ever get any older? You look just like you used to!" His great answer was "Cleeean living..."
Lewie and Martha pray for me every morning, and have been deeply burdened by my cancer situation. I managed to hold it together when he came by & shook my hand & asked after me yesterday. But just barely.
Brian Buckelew spoke. Big, strapping, muscular young man who lives in Nashville. A long way from the shortish little guy I knew back in the day. Brian's dad is a Dr. in FWB.
The Valentines. Their son Miles was in my HS class, and went on to play football @ LSU. (but he's a great guy anyway...*winks*) They, too, looked like they did 30+ years ago.
Libba Clark. Still greeting at the door. Every greeter should have a smile like hers and an east Alabama accent like hers. Her son Johnny is a year older than I, and is being used mightily by the Lord. In prison. As an inmate, which he'll be for the rest of his days. Mrs. Libba told my Mother once, "I always prayed that the Lord would use my children...I never dreamed that this is how He would say yes to that prayer..."
Dale Winslet. My age. Still a big, strapping guy. Dale was there by himself, just singing his heart out in praise. Like me, Dale didn't always sing those praise songs quite so loudly. But God's grace forgives, heals, calls, and restores. For which Dale & I are most grateful.
Nancy Hale. Still singing in the choir. Her Dad was the long-time, much-beloved pastor of FBCFWB who had a huge impact on me. (Which impact was not fully realized until after I had largely left his considerable orbit, but which I am so grateful for now). Her son used to be in my Sunday School class when he was in college. His wife was too (before they were husband and wife). They're very gifted singers & players & song writers. (Anyone from Temple B.C. remember Curt & Noel?) Now he's on staff at a large church up in the Jackson area, and is expecting a daughter tomorrow morning.
Mary Hailey. A servant-hearted widow. Much like this other servant-hearted widow I know in that church...from whom I'm descended. I had a great time of fellowship with Mrs. Hailey and her husband in their home back when we were on staff w/ Campus Crusade. Such encouragers.
Vicki Staples. Very talented organist. Always smiling. Her daughter was also in my Sunday School class in college days.
Wiley Burch. Usher extraordinaire. Every male usher should have a voice, a smile, and a handshake like Mr. Wiley. Both he and his wife have had health issues in recent years, but you'd be hard-pressed to know that. They lived in Hattiesburg for a while before moving back to FWB. So he always asks about Hattiesburg.
Benny Bowen. Retired elementary school principal, and my Mom's boss. One of those behind-the-scenes guys who is just always there, steady as a rock.
Gary Stanford. My cousin & one of my best friends growing up. Had a part in helping me come to know Christ and in helping me come to know Lisa. But other than that, he's not very important in my life...*huge grin* We roomed together @ Bama, which was huge in helping me get back on course academically, personally, and spiritually. Gary was in his usual place up in the bass section of the choir. He sings in the first service, then teaches youth Sunday School, then attends the second service because his 9th grader does so. Gary remains one of the steadiest, godliest, and all-around best guys that I know. That view is shared by many others. His son is a senior @ Bama, and his daughter is a freshman @ Florida.
Of course, my beloved aunts. Aunt Margaret & Aunt Frances, my Dad's sisters. Frances roomed with my Mom at Bama in something called "the co-op house." Students reduced their housing costs by living there because they had to do a lot of the work in cleaning & maintaining the place. Regrettably, Aunt Frances wasn't there Sunday morning. Chemotherapy takes one out of public circulation. Joyfully, she's finished w/ her chemo and will be back in church in 2 weeks. More joyfully, she came over to Mom's to see us Sunday afternoon. Still smiling, laughing Aunt Frances, despite her own medically-hellacious summer of cancer treatments. Aunt Margaret invited me to speak to her Sunday School class yesterday morning. What a great joy it was to speak to a group who have been praying for me in their private prayer lives and as a group! I think I only choked up twice, which is pretty good for me given the setting...
Aunt Frances & Aunt Margaret spent a fair amount of time trying to keep my brother & me out of trouble when we were young. With some success...but not with total success. And, of course, we shouldn't have stayed out of trouble, knotheads that we were... Both of them were widowed young (Hodgkins' Disease and heart attack). And both a very strong, sturdy lighthouses, pointing the way home for me and for so many others. May my faith and joy be just a hint of theirs.
It was such a privilege to be around these (and others) who prayed for me, taught me, loved me, and occasionally disciplined me. My manifest faults are of my own doing. But if you see any good in me, now you know where it comes from. My Lord providentially landed me among a group of excellent saints at Ft. Walton Beach, FL when I was one. Now that I am 4(garbled) years old, it is not a stretch to say that those people and that church were/are huge parts of shaping me. As one lady said after I spoke to Aunt Margaret's class, "what you shared goes back far beyond this past summer..." I totally agree. Any truths shared were first taught by word and by deed there in the hallways and from the pulpit of FBCFWB.
And I will always be grateful for that shaping and for those marvelous saints of the Lord who invested in a hammerhead like myself back when it seemed the investment would never pay off. Maybe...just maybe...opportunities like Sunday morning's speaking help some realize that the diapers changed, the koolaid served, the RA classes, the Sunday School and Training Union classes, the love, and yes, the admonitions were worth it after all. I'm nowhere near where I ought to be. But I'm a looooooong way from where I used to be. For which progress many there @ FBCFWB deserve credit.
Oh, how I wish I were a better steward of the gospel placed into my life so lovingly by so many back there. But oh my...how deep are the roots I have, even when the fruit seems lacking. Seasons like this past summer test and challenge the roots of one's being. And by the grace of God, the roots so tenderly cultivated there @ FBCFWB held.
You know those little snot-nosed kids who run around the church seeming to demand all of the church's attention? Those little twits who suck up so many of the church's resources? The ones who make you just shake your head in sadness? Well, keep loving on them and investing in them. For one day, years from now, one of them may come walking into your Sunday School class as a guest speaker and make a point of saying "Thanks!" By God's grace, they'll say it in glory with you forever.
To God be the glory for the rich spiritual roots He caused me to have!
In His Grip,