Whenever I come to the end of another year, I often find myself in reflection. Today, I came across some old emails and files from my first church, Cornerstone Baptist Church of Pearland. As I began to reflect, as I sometimes do…I can have a mixture of emotions. Most of them good, some not so good. For the most part, I am the one who would take responsibility for the not so good parts. Today…I likened my pastoral experience to my experience as a Dad. I’ve pastored 3 congregations. I am the father to 3 sons. My first church (Cornerstone) is somewhat like my eldest son Kai. When I think about Cornerstone, I think of how (as with my son Kai) I didn’t know a thing about pastoring. I was so green, naive, dumb and inexperienced. As I look back and reflect, it is humiliating to even think of my silly ways. Now for me, these foolish things did not consist of any kind of scandal such as indescretions, embezzlement and the like. I refer to things like time management, dealing with people and their problems, pastoral care, communication, temperament, patience, financial decisions, diplomacy, leadership and the like. Even in preaching – I go back and read some of my notes and ask, “Why did I say that?” I remember once doing a series on relationships. I discussed everything from Affair-proofing your marriage to Keeping the Fire in your marriage burning. Sounds good? Maybe… But I didn’t even think to consider having childcare available so that the adults could safeguard their children from the topic. Just dumb. It sounds very logical now; but I didn’t learn the lesson, save through trial and error. I could go on and on. But in the same way, I parallel my first church with my eldest son, Kai. I was 28 in 2005 when I began pastoring my first church; but I was only 24 when D’Ani gave birth to Kai, my and our first child. We had been married only 3 years (at 21), and here I was in seminary, barely able to support a wife; and here is Kai. I fell in love with him at first sight. But I had no idea what to do beyond that. Some of it came naturally, because I had a great example in my father, and D’Ani seemed like a pro. But I was as nervous and confused as all get out. Kai had nothing to reference, so he didn’t know any better. But I was struggling so much with a job on staff at a church, trying to make it through seminary; and learning how to manage finances as the head of a household…I look back and wish I had savored more moments with my boy, when it was only he and I. Again…it may not have been anything dramatic (such as abuse, neglect, etc), but it was big to me. Now that he is 13, I look back on that time, as I do my first church…and know that if I knew then what I know now, I would have been a better pastor and father to them both.
In 2011, I became the pastor of Mt. Salem. Boy…that was a sweet time. Seminary was over. I’d survived the rough years of trying to learn Cornerstone. I was completing a Chaplain residency at Harris Health, in Houston; and finances were quite a bit better. In fact, the year was so good, we traveled to Disney World in the summer with the boys, and then to the Chicago-area for my brother’s installation and then to Hawaii in the fall. The financial struggles, as it relates to church-life, were somewhat in our rear view mirror. I shifted from doing a little bit of everything at Cornerstone (cleaning, running off the bulletins, etc) to Mt. Salem, where they had learned to function a year without a pastor. Mt. Salem continued to grow steadily; they were okay with my commute; D’Ani was just fine with my commuting there for mid-week; the boys saw it as a field trip on Sundays; and everyone was happy. Because of my trials and errors in trying to learn a new church and young people at Cornerstone (predominantly young adults), my greatest joy and challenge was learning a 140-year old congregation like Mt. Salem. Because Mt. Salem had been through her own storm before I arrived, and I had challenges at our first church – we pretty much appreciated one another. Mt. Salem was simply a breath of fresh air. I cannot think of a time I pulled up to Mt. Salem and didn’t smile. I loved it; and fell in love with the people. I was 33…so a little more laid back than I was at 28. Because I was so ambitious and the young adults in my first church had much more energy, I appreciated the laid back persona surrounding Mt. Salem. I absolutely loved it. I literally saw how everything I had experienced at Cornerstone, prepared me for Mt. Salem. Of course, like any older congregation, there were challenges with moving the church forward… But I have always assumed I was pastor; and because of my wisdom (along with being more patient than in my 20’s) there were things I was just not led to do or change. I now know why-that wasn’t why God called me there!!! Ultimately, I would not have even appreciated Mt. Salem, had it not been for my first church. In like manner, when D’Ani gave birth to Kaden (our second-born son), we were 28. I had started back at seminary after taking a semester or so off. We were still fledgling as a church, at Cornerstone. But overall, things were okay. I’d learned a little bit about fathering, so Kaden had it a little better. Of course, Kaden was a force to be reckoned with; and still is. His temperament was nothing like Kai’s. Kai needed only a television or a video game. His love language was and is gifts. You can put him in a room with things or gadgets and he was fine. Kaden? He needed someone in the room with him; and his love language was and is quality time. Just like any given church, every child is different. And in like manner, I learned things with Kaden that were diametrically opposite of what I learned with Kai. Fortunately, all of these things worked together in harmony, to simply make me a better father and spiritual leader.
Now…early in 2016 I was happy. I had absolutely no complaints, on my end. Other than the wear and tear on my vehicles, we were okay. Unlike 2011, in 2016 I was no longer a resident at Harris Health, but a Staff Chaplain with a nice salary and full benefits and retirement. One of my uncles had mentioned to me an opening at Shiloh in Fort Worth, a church I knew nothing about. I had only known of their pastor, Dr. Albert E. Chew, Jr.; and had met him only once when I was a teenager at a winter board meeting; and knew of his recent retirement and passing. My uncle said that it was ‘a great church’ and suggested I send in my resume and biography, something I didn’t do often (Mt. Salem nor Cornerstone ever saw a resume!). I did; and left it at that. After all…in some sense, I had sort of ‘arrived’: Nice incomes, D’Ani with a great job that she loved; wonderful anniversary every March; and a church family that we loved. All was well! Fast -forward, after a national search…I was eventually called to Shiloh in Fort Worth. Totally unexpected!!! And I honestly believe that this is my last stop. I’m not moving anymore…Lord willing! I’ve discovered that SHILOH IS THE GREATEST CHURCH IN THE WORLD (no joke); and we have fallen in love with the people!!! Now that I am done with seminary, am 38…been married for almost 2 decades, pastoring over a decade and the like – I am much more patient, considerate, pastoral, responsibile and the like. I can see, just as before…how the young days of Cornerstone and the experience of Mt. Salem balanced me out to lead the people of Shiloh over the next several decades. Like Shiloh, our baby Karter was totally unexpected. Between Kaden and him, we had lost 2; and had concluded we were probably done. We were thanking God for 2 healthy, vibrant and smart boys! But God had other plans!!! We can pinpoint the days of conception with our first 2; but Karter? I just know he is mine; and he wasn’t planned!
Here is why I’m sharing all of this. As I look and see how affectionate, patient, considerate and expressive I am with Karter, I can sometimes be taken aback and saddened by how I was a little rough, non-affectionate, inpatient or non-expressive with Kaden and more with Kai or with Cornerstone and Mt. Salem. Life has just slowed me down. I’m a better man now. I’m more prayerful. I’m in less of a rush. I’ve learned what can wait and what cannot. I’ve learned how to choose my battles and when to proceed with caution. I’ve learned how to give people a hug and tell them I love them and when to wisely tell a person who is toxic in our church to shape up or get out. I’m literally a sharper cat. And then I think – it was all of that (including Kai, Kaden, my losses, struggles in seminary and the like) which prepared me for who I am NOW, in this very moment! And then I’m grateful…that while I think I’m getting older (almost 40)….God used all of that and has brought me to a special place in my life at 38. Romans 8:28 comes to mind – that God uses all of these things as a ‘working together’… Nothing is wasted; and God can use even our trials, tests and experiences as treasure to propel us to our next level of purpose, greatness and His pleasure.
It is my hope and prayer that those who read my blog can see the good that emanates out of all of the trials of your life, and specifically 2016. That when He brings in the unexpected, we will not only appreciate what He brings; but rejoice over what He gave us before – and know that it was all apart of His ultimate plan. God bless you and keep you. I am convinced that, if I do my part, the best I is yet to come. I pray and believe the same for you!