There are few things in life more comforting than certainty. There is no event more requiring of comfort than death.
Losing a loved one is never easy. Whether their passing was sudden or at the end of a long and arduous battle with illness and declining health, we are never really ready to say goodbye. And it’s with heartfelt sadness that we say goodbye to Uncle Terry. More than just a patriarch for the family. More than just a farmer in the fields of Alabama. More than just a career lineman for the phone company. Coleman Terry Walker was, first and foremost, a man after God’s heart.
Terry was a father figure to me. I met him two years after my dad passed away in 2004, and I soon came to realize he was the stately male influence I needed in my adult life. Through his anecdotal charm and spiritually influenced example, Terry was the compass that helped direct me in my late thirties and through my forties towards a true North. The man I knew was the embodiment of compassion and kindness, ever listening to what you had to say, but forever steadfast in his principles and love of Scripture.
Strong but not overbearing, supportive but not one to coddle, Terry’s demeanor was an even keel in the turbulence of life. Even in the midst of the most unspeakable of tragedies, Terry anchored a family’s grief because he himself was anchored in the Word of God.
In this time of sadness, we all take comfort in the certainty that Terry is in the presence of our Lord and Savior. There is no doubt. We are all filled with the assurance he is face to face with the creator of the universe, Terry’s “aw-shucks” grin bigger than it’s ever been. This certainty is a comfort that ever so briefly expels our pain and our sorrow, and it’s a comfort to which we cling with every ounce of our being as we struggle to say goodbye to such an indelible man.
The cliché is true: God really did break the mold when He made Terry.
And as we struggle to hold back the tears, we smile at the idea of a grandfather, a man taken in the twilight of a life well-lived, reunited with his granddaughter who was called home in the early dawn of hers. May the joy of their reunion overcome the sadness in our own hearts.
God is found everywhere, but I know that I really feel and appreciate Him more in those random, serendipitous moments of life. You know, those times when God gives you a wink as if to say, “Here, this is .. All for You.”
After becoming part of the Sister Hazel music community (aka Hazelnuts) back in 2006, Lee and I made the music of Sister Hazel part of the foundation of our relationship. If you trace back all the dominoes that fell that directed us to where we are today – including our renewed faith walk together and moving to the Dominican Republic – all those footsteps of fate lead back to Sister Hazel and everyone we met that summer of 2006. I look back at the last fifteen years of my life, at all those moments in which I was able to .. Hold On .. and I think, “All because two guys in Gainesville decided to start a band.”
God is in the details, and there are so many detailed little memories that make up my story, Lee’s story, and our story; memories that extend from the collection of friends we hold near and dear to our heart, all of whom we met because of music. All because of the friendships that .. Effortlessly .. fell into place.
I just drove back from Florida, a trip in which I got to share time with my two best friends (#MyTwoJeffs), and sandwiched in between that was taking in another Hazel show at the House of Blues. Truth Is .. it felt great to be in those familiar confines, and as I drove back to Alabama, I wondered when we’d be able to see Hazel again. Since that first show in 2005, Lee and I had seen them at least once every year.
Then 2018 happened, and even though we wouldn’t change our mission experience for the world, I have to admit it was a massive departure from the norm. And in that departure was going almost 18 months without seeing our favorite band. It was all very .. Surreal.
I don’t think I’ve stopped grinning. To say it makes me .. Happy .. is an understatement.
And now I’ll look at the calendar with giddy anticipation for November to .. Come Around .. so Lee and I can not only be in the crowd one more time but also so we can share that experience with the wonderful friends we’ve made since moving to Dothan.
There’s so much in my life for which I am thankful, and I honestly feel my life as of late has been blessing upon blessing. And now, having the date for this concert on my calendar really is a .. Beautiful Thing.
In July 2015, my wife Lee traveled to Eutaw, Alabama, to serve on a domestic mission trip. On her way to Eutaw, she stopped in her hometown of Dothan to share some time with family. Her cousin Kathy invited Lee to join her and her husband at church, and with that Lee was introduced to Wiregrass Church.
Fast forward three and a half years and one heartbreaking missionary stint in the Dominican Republic; Lee and I found ourselves settling into a new life in Dothan, Alabama, and starting over. While in the D.R., however, I had spent many hours listening to Andy Stanley and his sermons via his Your Move podcast. I became captivated not only by Andy’s communication style, but also by his consistent message of keeping Christ first in your life. I knew this is what I wanted in my life in terms of continued spiritual growth.
Having remembered her previous experience at Wiregrass and that Wiregrass is a partner Andy Stanley’s North Point Church in Atlanta, Lee suggested we begin attending Wiregrass Church. The first service we attended was December 23, and from the very beginning we felt invited, loved, and accepted. We met briefly with Pastor Adam Roberson, which led to a follow-up meeting about Lee and me getting plugged into serving at Wiregrass by leading a small group.
We’ve been attending Wiregrass Church for two months now and it’s been absolutely amazing. It feels great to have a church home in which we can reset and continue to process our experiences – both good and bad – from the mission field. It’s a blessing to have a community of believers with whom we can connect, grow, and lean on. By directing us to Wiregrass Church, God resolved my worries and anxieties about starting this new chapter of my life.
God is faithful and wonderful, and I believe He has great things planned for Lee and me. And I believe those plans all start with us diving into worship, fellowship, and community at Wiregrass.
There’s something healthy and heartwarming about taking time to look back and reflect on the recent moments of our life. As the year draws to a close, I, too, will take part in the unofficial tradition of recapping the year that was. This may be all over the place, so thank you in advance for your patience with my lack of cohesive thinking.
Kicking it Off Lee and I rang in the New Year with our dear friends Jeff and Lindsey. It wasn’t a crazy, NYE bash. It wasn’t a bunch of people reciting resolutions and singing Auld Lang Syne. Instead it was just the four of us, sitting in their lanai, talking about everything, and, as we always do, growing closer in Christ and community. Jeff and Lindsey are one of the couples with which we can openly discuss our faith journey, and they make us stronger because we share the same walk with Christ; four individuals growing closer to Him by sharing in fellowship and family. There was also that part where we shopped to make supply bags for the homeless and took the boat out on January 1st. I also had the opportunity to preach at a special worship service at my church.
The life changer – literally – came in the third week of the month when Lee and I traveled to the Dominican Republic to take part in the first ever mission trip for Relevant Church. The trip was very beta (we didn’t know what we needed to know), but it was eye-opening, informational, and just flat-out awesome. Partnering with SCORE International, we visited several villages in the vast sugar cane fields of Juan Dolio, a home for the elderly, an orphanage, and a house for women rescued from the nightmare of human trafficking.
It was all so amazing, and I wrote about my experiences while on the trip. The take-away, however, was what God would take away from my wife and me. As we returned home, our hearts were broken for Him and His will. Gone were the more material ambitions Lee and I shared for empty-nest life once my youngest graduates high school and goes off to college (2019). We had talked about downsizing and moving into a condo, perhaps in St. Petersburg. Instead, we left the D.R. feeling called to make the mission field the next chapter in our lives.
Lee and I decided to put things in motion to transition from 9-5 as we know it to full time missionaries in mid to late 2019. There was no doubt and no hesitation. We both knew it before we boarded the plane to come home that we’d be back, year after year, training and preparing to making serving others our new vocation.
God’s Take Away
As I mentioned above, God made room in our heart for His calling by taking other ‘stuff’ out of the equation. This was immediately visible to us as we came home from our mission trip and literally boarded a cruise ship the next day for the floating music festival that is The Rock Boat. We love The Rock Boat. Not only is the music amazing, it’s also our chance to connect with friends we get to see only once per year. Our music family is such a big part of our lives, and TRB is the annual family reunion. For Lee and me, TRB XV was our seventh Rock Boat. It was also our last.
From the moment we stepped on the ship, we knew this chapter in our lives was coming to a close. Our bodies were on the Norwegian Pearl, but our hearts were still in the D.R. Instead of thoroughly enjoying the performance by Bare Naked Ladies on the Lido Deck, all I could think of was how for what I paid for the bucket of beer at my feet, I could feed a family of four for a week back in Juan Dolio. For the most part, the entire trip was a reminder of that, – and perhaps it’s not a good idea to get on cruise immediately after a mission trip – but louder than the amazing music was God’s calling that it was time to make more room for Him by saying goodbye to one of things we love so much.
The Rest of January
Yes, there’s more for the month (and thank you for sticking with me this long). Coming back from TRB, we crashed at my friend’s house in Miami for a couple of days. This culminated in a fun Super Bowl party at his house and an impromptu drive to the Florida Keys. Lee had never made the drive to the Keys, and although we didn’t make it all the way down to Key West, the excursion was a new adventure for both of us to share, and we caught an amazing sunset in Key Largo.
In February we took in the State Fair (can you say ‘deep fried everything’?), and were fortunate to attend a fund raiser for John and Katie Zeller (Executive Director of SCORE International and his wife), at which we met the legendary Lou Piniella.
In March we did something completely different and took some time off to attend the 12 Hours of Sebring. Again partnering with our cohorts Jeff and Lindsey, we camped for four days next to the track in an RV, drank way too much beer, and just had a fantastic experience.
April and May saw us celebrate a milestone birthday for our close friend Ashley, another successful home rehab project through our church (be sure to check out the video), and my daughter’s soccer team winning a state title.
In June we we had the wonderful fortune to take my daughter to Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. for the FIFA Women’s World Cup. It was an amazing trip, and we fell in love with both cities. From museums to aquariums to stadiums and our first every Uber experience, the trip to the Pacific Northwest was once in a lifetime. We took in three World Cup matches, as well as a Seattle Sounders game. We got to see Abby Wambach play in her final World Cup, visited the original Starbucks, and went to the top of the Space Needle. It was an early 16th birthday gift for my daughter, and it created memories that will last a lifetime.
We celebrated the 4th of July on the East coast with Jeff and Lindsey, and our other dear friends Jeff and Ellen, who also share with us the same journey in Christ. Throw into the mix Nikki and David, Daryl and Kristi, a couple of boats, fun time on the water, and an excellent fireworks show, and it was one of the most memorable Independence Day celebrations of recent years. July also saw Lee travel to Eutaw, Alabama, to take part in a domestic mission trip organized by SCORE International.
We wrapped up the year with a couple of concerts, a great Q&A with Kevin Smith at the Improv in Tampa, and a camp experience with our favorite band Sister Hazel. Being able to take part in Camp Hazelnut with so many of our close friends was a great way to kickoff the Fall, and it allowed me to (partially) conquer my fear of heights as I made it to the top of the climbing tower.
I went back to school at Trinity College to pursue a degree in Christian Ministry, and we got to share Christmas services with Jeff and Ellen at both our church and their church. Being with loved ones during the holidays really made the season that much more memorable.
A Painful Passage 2015 was not without its hardships. In addition to her love for music, my wife has an incredible affinity for all things cats. We started the year sharing our household with four fur-babies (as my wife would call them). Unfortunately, we lost three of them in the span of three months, two of them in the same week.
In March we had to put our little Monkey to sleep after she developed a growth in her abdomen. At the beginning of June, after treating him for lethargy and lack of appetite, we had to do the same for our beloved Peppy. This was extremely gut-wrenching given Peppy was Lee’s special Angel-kitty, and he would always comfort her whenever she was not feeling well. Not more than five days after putting Peppy to sleep, we came home from dinner to find Boo in distress and agony (exactly what we wanted to avoid with Peppy). After a trip to the after-hour veterinarian, the only humane option was to put Boo down as well.
Devastating is such an understatement for what we experienced, and I know Lee put on a brave face in the weeks that followed. She battled every day to overcome the feelings of depression as well as the broken heart she was carrying, but I do know the experience brought her closer to God. As we search for answers to the things that make us cry, we inevitably turn to Him with our questions and burdens. The experience was a reminder that God works according to His timetable, our faith in Him does not remove us from the pains of this world, and we’re called to grow in Him when times are tough.
On the human side, we had more doctor’s visits in 2015 than we care to admit. Daniel broke his finger and required surgery and rehab, Natalie sprained the MCL in her right knee and also required rehab, and Lee had surgery to fuse her L5 and S1 vertebrae. Even I, as a result of a sudden (and temporary) loss of hearing in my left ear, required an MRI of my head and several follow-ups.
We blew through our flexible spending account half-way through the year, but the moral of the story is the blessing of having an FSA to begin with, and having the resources in healthcare to tend to our family’s issues as they occurred. The blessing is paying only $25 per office visit as opposed to the alternative. In looking at the bill for my son’s surgery and comparing it to the amount for which we were responsible, I was flabbergasted to think how people go through life without any health insurance.
365 days ago, as I was ready to ring in 2015, I had no idea of how differently my life would be in one, short year. There were several other low and painful moments in the year, as well as tons of super-awesome moments I’ve failed to mention in this recap. Life is like that; ebb and flow, up and down, hot and cold. Yet through it all, the one constant in all our lives is the love God has for us. We meander on earth while He remains steadfast and faithful in Heaven.
In looking back at the tough times, I am able to see the blessings. In reliving the good times, I am able to feel His love for me. In looking ahead at the goals and dreams I pray align with His will, I do so without fear and in the confidence He will provide no matter what.
2015 was filled to the brim with blessings. These blessings, in turn, lead to surrender. Surrender, coupled with obedience and discipline, leads anew to continued blessings from God. And in that cycle is exactly where I want to be heading into 2016.
Thank you for enduring this verbose year-in-review, and I pray you have a joyous, happy, and safe new year. May God’s grace guide you in all you do.
A week ago I attended the graduation of my wife’s nephew. Headland High School (Alabama) honored the graduating class of 2014, and it was an excellent ceremony.
There were speeches by the salutatorian and both co-valedictorians. All were filled with hopeful, encouraging words as well as their fair share of Bible verses. It was very refreshing to see all three young men so well rooted in their faith, and not at all embarrassed to proclaim to their classmates their love for Christ. As a Christian, it was inspiring.
The assistant principal of the school also addressed the body of graduates. His address, by comparison, left me scratching my head for a couple of reasons. I’ll start with the secular one.
The AP mentioned to the graduates, “Some of you are leaders and some of you are followers.” He proceeded to spell out the qualities of leaders and followers, and their respective roles in our society. What bothered me about his message is that, in my opinion, it further promoted a problem that is rampant in our nation as a whole. Class-ism.
We live and operate in an environment in which the gap between the haves and the have-nots is ever increasing. The phrase ‘class warfare’ is thrown around flippantly and over used, but there is truth to the concept. You against him. Us versus them. It’s a zero-sum game and you better get yours. That is the sad environment so many of us experience on a daily basis, and it’s not the message we should be communicating to our graduates given they’re the ones best positioned to fix the problem. The reality is we all possess leadership qualities. We all possess the ability – and need – to be followers as well. Times and circumstances dictate when we flex our active muscles versus those when we’re better suited being a bit passive.
What needed to be communicated to the hundred plus young adults receiving their diploma last week is they all have the ability to succeed and excel. They are all capable of reaching their proverbial mountain top. Sometimes it will require them to lead the way. Other times it will mean following someone else’s example. Most importantly, if they approached it from a perspective of collaboration – working together as peers, as a community, as brothers and sisters – instead of a point of view based on competition, the end result could indeed be world changing.
But that’s not what left me wincing in discomfort.
I mentioned earlier how proud I was to hear the young graduates fold a message of faith into their respective speeches. By comparison, I recoiled when I heard the assistant principal reference God in his. He mentioned how the graduates were called to live good Christian lives (I’m paraphrasing), and he threw in a couple of Bible verses himself.
I graduated from a Catholic high school, so seeing faculty reference scripture in an address to students was my norm. But to see a staff member of a public high school, an employee of the county, intertwine his personal religious beliefs into a school function – in a venue called The Civic Center, no less – was appalling.
Now, I understand the address was made in the heart of the Bible belt. I understand why the parents and other relatives in the audience applauded the speech. Personally, I thought the message itself was inspiring. Nevertheless, it was still grossly inappropriate, and here’s why. At the risk of being overly-hyperbolic, I would say torches and pitchforks would have been wielded had the assistant principal of Headland High School began his speech with the words, “As it says in the Qur’an…” Imagine if halfway through his address, he would have exclaimed, “Praise Allah!”
My point is, there’s no room for an individual’s religious beliefs when he or she is acting as an agent or representative of the government. The Establishment Clause in the First Amendment not only provides us all freedom of religion, but it also guarantees us as individuals freedom from religion in the context of government representatives. This point has been argued ad nauseam, most recently in relation to Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney.
I am not sure many Christians, myself included, would be very comfortable if the assistant principle of our kids’ school referenced a deity other than our own. We owe the same courtesy and respect to all audiences of public events.
We all have vastly differing faiths and beliefs, but in the end, we are one society.