Sunday, June 16, 2013

To Timothy, My Beloved Son

(It's Father's Day.  Better freshen up your coffee.)

As you're aware if you've read much I've written, my Dad died suddenly when I was 15 years old & when he was seven years younger than I am now.  I haven't fully gotten over that, & don't expect to this side of Heaven.  Indeed, I've reached the place where I don't even wish nor intend to get over it.  One day, though, I won't have to miss him any more.  Lord, haste the day!

But meanwhile, this Father's Day post is not about my Dad.

Instead, I'd like to celebrate some Dads who have had a significant impact on my life despite the fact that I'm not their son.  My hope in doing so is four-fold.  First, I hope that any Daddies reading this will realize the HUGE impact they have on their children's lives, and will endeavor to make that a positive impact.  Second, I hope any men--Dads or not--will realize the huge impact they can have on people who aren't their children, and will begin/continue to do so.  Third, I hope any single ladies will wait for a real man, rather than settling for a gutless punk little boy who thinks he's a man because of what he convinces you to do for him physically.  Finally, I simply wish to celebrate some men who I view as huge grace notes in the score of my life.  None of these men wish to be celebrated; all will/would be embarrassed to see this.  And certainly none of these men can ever take the place of my amazing Daddy, James E. Madaris, Sr., who I miss palpably on an almost-daily basis; all of them would agree with this, by the way. 

In no particular order, here are some Daddies worth celebrating.  (Note: there are many such Daddies; consider these but a sample.)

Dr. James L. Monroe
Dr. Monroe was pastor--and then pastor emeritus--of First Baptist Church of Ft. Walton Beach, FL, my home church.  In the memory blur that is Saturday, Dec. 14, 1974 & the next few days, Dr. Monroe stands out.  He came to our house & was there when Mom told us Dad had died.  Others were too, and I'm thankful for all of them.  But Dr. Monroe was the embrace I ran to immediately after hearing the news.  There in our living room, I remember crying out "But I wasn't ready!"  I can still hear his calm voice, "Mike, nobody's ever ready for this."  I've gone back to that great word many times in the 38 1/2 years since.  Though a superb theologian & preacher, Dr. Monroe didn't try to explain things to me, nor did he preach me a sermon; both would've been ill-received at that moment.  Instead, he just showed up & sympathized with a hurt, devastated, angry 15-year-old.  I'm so grateful!

In the days, weeks, months, & years after, I attempted to abandon my faith (which journey has also been written about here).  I pretty much gave up on church.  And sadly, on God.  Despite that, Dr. Monroe never gave up on me.  On multiple occasions, I spent time in his office seeking his wise counsel.

The last time I saw him I was on staff with the faculty ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.  (I wonder which of us was more surprised that I, of all people, was in full-time vocational ministry...)  Dr. Monroe took me to a restaurant where we pounded down some BBQ ribs.  With sauce running down our forearms, he told me he was proud of me.  Then he asked me what the Lord had been teaching me lately.  Thankfully, I had an answer.  Then I asked him the same question (which was pretty cocky of me!).  He said, "You know, I've been reading in Haggai,..." & away he went.  I marveled then & now that this man who had been a preacher for decades was still learning new things about God & the Gospel.  May we all finish so well, straining toward the finish line, never thinking that we know all we need to know!

William D. Huddleston
The Huddlestons are lifelong family friends of ours.  Mrs. Huddleston taught with Mom, and Mr. Huddleston was a principal.  We also went to church together, and I still see them when I'm at FBC back home.  Well, most of them.  Mr. Huddleston's faith became sight some years back.  But that's the end of the story, getting ahead of myself.

Do you know folks that are just easy to talk to?  Who laugh a lot, without being frivolous & unaware of the gravity of life?  That was Mr. Huddleston.  Just a solid guy.  Our families hung out before Dad died, and after.  Somehow, after Dad's homegoing, I found myself gravitating more toward Mr. Huddleston.  Mostly, just listening, though we did talk college football (he had season tickets to FSU games for a while.)

His faith became sight some years back too.  Like Dr. Monroe, he finished the race & kept the faith.  And along the way, had a significant impact on this weasly little guy who was in his daughter's class & who seemed to be around his house periodically.  Mr. Huddleston's handshake & smile & congratulations on my marriage, college degrees, and the birth of my children were big "welcome to manhood" moments for me, even though I didn't realize it at the time.

Dr. John Morrow
Uncle John is my Mom's brother-in-law.  He's a radiologist, now retired.  I have several outstanding uncles; Uncle John is one of them.  A very wise man, but always humble.  Not many wise men can balance it with humility, but Uncle John does & always has.  A superb sense of humor, that I've treasured for decades now.  Uncle John will speak hard truth when needed, but always with a sense of optimism & "You can do this" and "I believe in you." 

After Dad died, Uncle John would call periodically to check on us.  Sometimes he would talk to Mom & see if there was anything he could do to help.  Other times, he would talk to me & ask me how (a) I was doing, and (b) how Mom is doing.  That's an easy question to ask; the difference here is, Uncle John always stood ready to drive down from Alabama to FWB if needed.  How I cherish his wisdom, his example, his making us laugh, & his being a role model of what a patriarch should be!  Also, the fact that he trusted me enough to ask me how Mom was doing was another big "welcome to manhood" moment, as were the times he has told me, "I'm proud of you."  Just now, I'm remembering that he was among my first phone calls when James Madaris was born in Indiana; somehow, that seems important now.

Charles T. Madaris, Jr.
My Dad's oldest brother.  Uncle Jr. was another favorite, before Dad died & after.  A retired Colonel in the Air Force, he & his family had lived all over, but he landed back in the hills of Lowndes County, AL where he and his wife grew up.  Somehow, that sense of connectedness with roots is inspiring.  Uncle Jr. was servant-minded& amp; fun loving; great combination!  He always wanted us city boys to have fun whether we were visiting his home in Braggs or the lake house on Lake Martin.  There were motorcycles to ride through the woods, inner tubes to roll down the hill into the lake, guns to shoot, animals to hunt, fish to catch, and indoor games as well.  Some deeply-treasured memories are of hunts with Uncle Jr.  Not so much for the hunt itself, but rather for the circle of men that I felt part of on those days.  Uncle Jr. always shot last; "There he is, Mike; take him!" Then after I usually missed, he'd knock down the quail or the dove or the squirrel & attempt to give me credit.  It was as if Uncle Jr. extended a hand & pulled me up toward manhood in so many ways (the hunts just being one of those ways.) 

I only saw him lose his composure one time.  At the family Christmas right after Dad died, I took the present I had bought for Dad with me--a collection of Hank Williams' greatest hits.  (Back story: Hank grew up not far from where the Madarises had grown up, and not far from where Uncle Jr. lived.)  During the family gift exchange, I gave it to Uncle Jr. instead.  Seeing his emotions brought home to me that it's OK to love a brother, and also that it's OK to grieve & to show emotion.  Uncle Jr.'s passing has always been poetic to me.  It was the only time I recall him going hunting by himself.  His heart gave out while out in the woods; his tombstone reads "Gone to the Hills."  I still thank God for this man who's been gone several decades now, & who I still miss quite often.

George Styles
Was married to my Dad’s oldest sister.  Uncle George & Aunt Daisy were our neighbors & landlords when Lisa & I were first married.  His impact on my life, faith, & marriage is incalculable.  Remember my “Learning to Dance” blog entry last week about couples married for a long time?  Lisa & I saw two great dancers live it out before us for the first three years of our married life.  I’m eternally grateful.

Uncle George exemplified the phrase “green thumb.”  He made things grow more and better than most people.  I still miss his “German vegetables” dish.  He was also very handy around the house, helping me fix a number of things.  Though a quiet, gentle man by nature, he had as strong a set of forearms as I’ve ever seen.  And though a principal, he worked hard outside building, cutting, gardening, etc.  A military veteran; South Pacific in World War II.  One of our absolute treasures is a collection of letters compiled by his younger son, Ben.  Uncle George & Aunt Daisy were relatively newly married during that time when he was away, and so they wrote letters very regularly to each other.  A long-distance, time-travelling clinic on how to love a spouse.  But then, Lisa & I saw the live version 40 years later.

I’ve written here before about how Uncle George & Aunt Daisy got me back to attending church when I moved to Tuscaloosa.  He usually sang in the choir, but I personally enjoyed the times he didn’t.  That way, I got to enjoy his beautiful tenor voice singing the hymns.  Uncle George’s faith became sight some years back.  Can’t wait to hear that tenor voice sing again, and to see his smile, and to tell him “thanks.”

Don Madaris
My Dad’s youngest brother.  Uncle Don also helped my faith in a number of ways.  I remember when Uncle Jr.—his older brother!—died, I fell apart.  As I snuck away to fall to pieces in private, he followed me.  There, through our shared tears, he loved me & helped me begin to make sense of it.  Uncle Don is a very talented musician and a good writer as well.  He served in south American and in Mexico, before retiring in New Mexico.  I thank God for him helping teach me how to praise God again after some years of not wanting to.

Jim Parker
Mr. Parker taught us 9th grade Sunday School at First Baptist.  A man's man; big game hunter, strong, handsome, and truthful.  I still recall him telling us, "Boys, some folks will tell you that sin isn't fun; let me tell you, they're not telling you the truth!  And that, fellows, is why we're so susceptible to it.  It's fun, and dangerous, and spiritually deadly."  Frankly, I don't recall much of his actual teaching other than the previous sentences.  But I recall that he loved a bunch of knot-headed 9th grade boys, while helping us have fun and teaching us the Word and telling us the truth about life & faith.  Some years back, I took him to breakfast when I was home.  As I thanked him for his impact on me, this picture of masculinity broke down & cried.  Through his tears, he said, "Thanks, Mike, but there are so many I missed..."  I'll never forget that breakfast nor his words.  A passion for the Gospel and for people.

Dr. Ronnie Kent
A local pediatrician.  Ronnie would be my Adult Bible Study teacher today if I weren't called to teach myself.  I still consider myself one of his students.  Lisa & I landed in Ronnie's Sunday School class the first day we visited Temple in 1989.  And all these years later, I still find myself wondering "What would Ronnie do with this passage?"  Earlier today, as I was preparing my teaching for Sunday, I again had that thought.

Ronnie helped teach me "the depths of the riches of the knowledge of God" by being my teacher.  He taught me how to serve the church by being a deacon & lay leader.  He taught me how to be a husband and father by letting me see him lead a family.  He taught me how to take prayer seriously on multiple occasions when I've shared a prayer concern with him, and he stopped & prayed for it right there on the spot, in public or in private settings.  He taught me how to be an encourager by, well, being an encourager!  I'm delighted and humbled and honored that Ronnie is my friend, and a role model of mine.

Dr. John Mayfield
A local veterinarian.  A country boy from Smith County, Mississippi.  And a discipler of men.  I still remember that Sunday night in 1990 when Johnny locked that strong, forceful arm around me in a hug & said, "Listen, Me & Sandy are starting a Masterlife group, and you & Lisa need to be in it."  (It wasn't really a question!  )  And he & Sandy poured themselves into us for the better part of the next year.  I'll never be the same.  The first time I wrote my story & shared it was during that time.  The first time I ever had a serious evangelistic conversation was during that time (with Johnny by my side).  I still remember our three-hour prayer time one Sunday; before that, I doubted I had three hours' worth of things to pray about.  That afternoon revolutionized my prayer life!  He's the one who first spoke of "my ministry."  I thought church staff folks & missionaries had ministries, while the rest of us just sort of hung out & supported them financially.  Johnny helped me see otherwise.  I could take you to the spot in the parking lot where I asked him to pray with me about a possible job change; he did, but said "How would this new job affect your ministry?"  I said, "What ministry?" and he said, "The one you have over there at the university."  Changed my whole approach to my job, and I'm forever grateful.  Johnny's one of the few guys who has unfettered access to my life & thoughts.  I remember him putting that same hug on me a few years back & saying "When's the last time you & Lisa went on a date?"  After I stammered, searching for an answer, he smiled, interrupted me, & said, "I'll ask you again next week, & I'll expect a better answer."

Praise God for men who hold other men accountable & who ask hard questions!

Ethan Pope
A minister who now lives in Dallas, and one who had a HUGE impact on me.  Aside from being my friend & wise counselor in many areas, Ethan helped teach me how to study the Bible in depth.  I came to realize that he was basically passing along what "Prof" Howard Hendricks--his seminary professor--had taught him.  Ethan had been on staff with the Josh McDowell ministry, which is a division of Campus Crusade for Christ.  (I'm still a fan of Josh & am still awed that he & Ethan are on a first-name basis.)  Ever know anyone who just never gets rattled?  Who is always steady & confident & wise?  Who has helpful council in virtually any situation?  That's Ethan.

Johnny Tatum
A businessman, Johnny's the other guy who helped teach me how to study the Bible in depth.  Once I spent a couple of days with him going through 2 Timothy in depth.  And then, Lisa & I spent approximately two years under his leadership studying the book of Romans.  Just Romans.  And I came to realize, we had not nearly exhausted the book!  I thank God for Johnny building into me a love of studying the Bible, along with some tools for doing so.

Keith Seabourn
Keith is Chief Technology Officer for Cru (formerly "Campus Crusade for Christ"), but when Lisa & I were on staff, Keith was part of Christian Leadership Ministries--the faculty ministry that we served with for seven years.  Do you know anyone who always has a good, wise, biblically-sound, humble answer to any question you ask?  That's Keith.  Keith & his beloved Kay served in Nigeria for some years before moving back to the states.  I have two vivid memories of life-changing moments I spent with Keith.  One was when I asked him how he was called to ministry.  He said when he was a student at Texas A&M, Dr. Bill Bright came & spoke on campus.  As was Bill's wont, he challenged the large group of students to "come help change the world" by joining staff.  Keith to me: "Mike, that Gospel call resonated with me then, and still does now."  The other was when we were all in CO for staff training one year when Keith turned 50.  We had a small party for him that was a lot of fun.  But Keith asked if we could have a shared prayer time.  I still remember his quoting from Psalm 90; "So teach us to number our days, that we may present a heart of wisdom."  One of the most vivid prayer moments of my whole life, realizing that this guy who had already been part of very significant ministry for the Lord was still desiring to use his time wisely, rather than chilling out & coasting.

In his last letter before his execution, the apostle Paul referred to Timothy as "Timothy, my beloved son."  Paul was not Timothy's biological father, nor his adoptive one.  Paul was recognizing Timothy as a leader and as one who had been impacted by Paul's life & message.  None of the men listed here have referred to me that way, but I consider myself the recipient of a small piece of the mantel of their leadership & gifts.

I thank God for raising men.  Real men.  Men who are unashamed of the Gospel.  Men who love their wives, publicly and privately.  Men who raise their families and sacrifice for them.  Men who love the church, and who celebrate when any part of the Church--not just their local fellowship--brings honor & glory to God.  Men who are themselves humbled to be recipients of God's grace in the Gospel.  Men who will wake up tomorrow morning, numbering their days, and impacting lives and eternity.  Men who are believing Jesus' Great Commission, but more, are living it out in their daily lives.  (Take note, by the way: only one of the men listed above was actually a paid minister.)  Men who are finishing the race & keeping the faith, while impacting us other lesser men with the Gospel and encouraging us to also finish well.

Go, and do likewise!  And hold me accountable for doing so too!

Humbled and honored to be friends with such giants,

p.s. - Again, these are but a sample of the many men who have connected with me & impacted me.  There are so many others who deserve mention too.

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