My Story. Verse 1
I’ve been contemplating the idea of writing down my story for a long time. I’m more stirred toward that end since my parents both passed away in late 2016. They had a story to tell. Their lives were an incredible journey of faith, love, endurance and accomplishment. I’d like to think my life has been that as well so far. Maybe that’s not for me to judge, but for others. I do know that I want my boys to know more about their parent’s journey. It’s certainly interesting, exciting, scary and fulfilling. One’s story is all they really have. Our stories of love, of faith, of perseverance, pain, suffering and recovery can help others. Our stories are interconnected in such wonderful ways. I’m an important part of somebody else’s story…and so many others are certainly part of mine.
I’m also keenly aware that for me, writing is therapeutic, healing and restorative. There’s something about “getting it out” so it can be read, remembered, processed…and again, possibly help someone else along the way. It sure helps me to write it. It’s certainly therapeutic.
There’s also a delicate tightrope to walk, in that we must know when it’s too soon to share parts of our story. Will someone not receive it well? Will it stir unwanted reminders of wounds not quite yet healed? I’m asking God for guidance.
Six years ago, my story, our story, took an unexpected turn. One of great loss, anger, regret, betrayal…but also one of great growth and insight. We simply don’t get the good without the bad. It’s all part of the recipe.
On May 5, 2013 I resigned my long-held position as Sr. Pastor of Believers Tabernacle in Wichita, KS. At the time, it was the worst day of my life. Humiliating, devastating…but I would later experience a couple of worse days at the passing of my mom, then my dad just seven weeks later. It’s all perspective.
I didn’t want to resign. It wasn’t my idea. I was told I needed to by my superiors. I understood. It’s what I signed up for. It took a while to get to that decision and with such decisions comes great emotion, confusion and of course, incredible loss. With that one decision, hundreds and hundreds of relationships built over a 12 year period would be cut off immediately with no opportunity for explanation, context or clarification. No closure. Just a tearful confession of my shortcomings as a leader, a heart-felt apology, and a quick “good-bye.”
I’ll address my “shortcomings” later, but for now I will simply say that I did fail. I have never had a problem admitting that part of the story. Actually, I failed from the first day I became pastor of then Hillside Assembly in 2001. Policies, procedures, practices were put in place from the very first board meeting, with full board support, but mistakes nonetheless. Intentional? No, never…by me or those precious board members. Actually, some great, godly people trying to bless their young pastor who had taken a great risk and followed God’s voice to lead them after five candidates before turned them down. (That bit of information wasn’t revealed until a few months after we settled in.)
Arriving at Hillside Assembly of God in August of 2001 was quite a journey in itself. I had spent eight wonderful years as the Music Pastor of Bethel Life Center in Wichita under the leadership of Kenneth Woods. What a risk he took on me. I was a 26 year old, newly married kid who had never directed a choir or waved a baton in front of an orchestra. I had led very little worship leading experience. However, I knew what sounded good. I was born to do it. My training in opera, in theater and singing on national television with Oral Roberts University’s television ministry had given me great experience and confidence. But I was green…really green.
Polly and I had relocated to Wichita after six months of marriage for her to work in the Wichita office of SRS (now DCF) as a social work case manager. I was traveling in concert ministry sporadically and working as a siding installer during the week days for a godly man named LaVern Becker.
On Easter of 1992, we were looking for a home church. My brother and his family had visited Bethel a few times and suggested we check it out. We met my parents there as well. I’ll never forget walking up the stairs to the church and being greeted by Eldon McClemore. He was the most congenial, sweet individual who grabbed our arms and led into the church’s gym/sanctuary and sat us in the few remaining seats left in the building (along the back wall underneath the coat rack. Hangars kept hitting my head the entire service.) I was actually quite disappointed to be handed a program telling us that today’s service was not actually a service, but the music ministry’s rendition of some Easter musical, with full orchestra, drama, choir, costumes…all of it. Again, my slightly judgmental attitude was critical…as I thought to myself, “This is great. I don’t get to experience the worship, don’t get to hear the preacher preach. And…let’s face it, every church in America thinks they know how to pull off an Easter cantata. This is about to get lame!”
As the orchestra tuned and the lights came up…I was actually blown away at how good the choir sounded, the orchestra was rich and the drama held my attention thoroughly. At the end of the service, I purposefully sought out the Music Minister to congratulate him and tell him how impressed I was with the program (not that he needed it from some stranger like me).
It was this particular day that my dad really showed his true colors as salesman, pitch man, etc. Without my knowledge, he had brought into the service two of my CD’s and two promotional packets that I used to solicit ministry opportunities with pastors and ministry leaders. He handed one to the Music Minister and handed one to Pastor Kenneth Woods. He put on his best pitch…making them aware of my experiences, talents and desire to come and hold a service at Bethel at some point. Wow…was I embarrassed and put off! While God had certainly blessed me with some uncommon opportunities to that point, I was always terrible at promoting myself. It was simply never in my DNA. Not out of false humility…but out of awkwardness and the feeling that so many others were better than me in this arena.
What I didn’t know at the time, was that six weeks later at 8 AM on a Saturday morning, Kenneth Woods would ring my phone and wake me up asking me to meet him at McDonalds for breakfast. We sat there for 3 hours. He was interviewing me and I didn’t know it. I thought I might get a ministry date from the meeting…but the ministry opportunity would later come in an offer to become his full-time Music Pastor. It turned out to be an incredible eight year run, growing, learning and sharpening a new-found calling that God was stirring in my heart. I was called to be a pastor.