Today is the one-year anniversary of our move from Oak Park to Tupelo. At this moment a year ago, I was sitting in the front seat of a rented truck with Craig Hammond and his son Cuyler as we tooled down I-57. Marlene and Megan drove behind us in our car. As I look back on that morning, I realize that I didn’t feel anything at all. I was mostly numb because so many things had happened so fast over the previous few months, including our boys coming and going from China, Marlene’s cancer, the sudden death of her mother, and everything surrounding my resignation, the farewell party, all the final meetings and last goodbyes, and the long days of packing and getting ready for the move. As we rolled southward in the truck, Craig and I talked about what the future might hold. One thing is now clear. I am not a prophet or the son of a prophet. My vision of the future and God’s vision were clearly two different things, but if you had probed deeply, you would have seen that I didn’t really know what the future had in store for us. I imagined that we would stay in Mississippi for a few months and then move on to something else. But here we are, one year later, waking up in the cabin in the woods. In almost every way that can be imagined, we are much better off than we were a year ago. Stronger, healthier, with clearer minds, strong hearts, better vision, with a deeper understanding of God, and with our faith intact and growing all the time. And in the last year Marlene and I have lived together closely, in a way much different than any other year of our marriage. You can’t see me but I just stopped to smile because we have survived our year together in very close quarters and we are still together and still in love and I think we’re much closer now than we have ever been. We hugged each other tight this morning and we both smiled when I kissed her—or maybe she kissed me. It doesn’t matter who kissed who, does it, just so long as you still kiss each other and then smile.
We are very grateful to everyone who has prayed for us and with us. God has used this year to show us that we have friends in many places who love us unreasonably. That is, they love us much more than they should, certainly more than we deserve, and they love us without limits and seemingly in spite of ourselves. It is a wonderful thing to be loved unreasonably. I don’t think we realized that love or even understood it very well as we were rolling down the interstate highway a year ago this morning. But now we do because God has allowed us to travel from coast to coast (something I didn’t expect), and we have had people we hardly know come up and say, “I pray for you every day.” It’s overwhelming to hear things like that.
Looking back, we have had our share of hard days, times of doubt and uncertainty, and questions about the past and the future. And we have wondered where the road of God’s will is taking us tomorrow. But the blessings have far outweighed those difficult moments. Friends from Chicago have made the long trek to Tupelo to say hello. We have had calls during the day and the night to check in and see how we’re doing. On Christmas Eve we traveled to Birmingham and picked up a five-week-old basset hound puppy. On the way back to Tupelo, we decided to name him Dudley. It is not possible (because I do not have the words) to say how much we love him. He is the best dog ever even though at this moment I have no idea where he is. He followed me to the guesthouse a few minutes ago and then disappeared, which probably means he is playing in the mud by the lake.
In January we traveled to China to visit Mark. In July our whole family gathered for Josh and Leah’s wedding in Vermont. That event was nowhere on the radar screen a year ago today, which just goes to show that God knows what he is doing even when the future is a mystery to us. We are so happy that God brought Josh and Leah together, and Marlene is ecstatic to finally have another female in the family. All of our boys are doing well. Last night I had an IM with Mark in China, in which we talked about this and that, including the awesome Chicago Bears. Nick calls once or twice a week and we talk about everything. We will see Josh and Leah when we are in Chicago in a week and a half.
Marlene’s health continues to be very good. Once a loved one has cancer, life changes and you stop taking things for granted so much. Cancer clarifies, it makes concise, it clears away the cobwebs, it forces you to remember that you’re a visitor to planet earth, not a permanent resident. Life is a vapor—a sweet vapor—that must be inhaled and enjoyed and not wasted or frittered away.
In April God allowed us to start Keep Believing Ministries. He gave us six excellent, highly committed board members, and he opened doors for us to distribute the Anchor book in China. KBM is still a fledgling ministry, but we’re out of the starting gate and moving forward toward God’s vision for us. The Lord also gave us fifteen godly people to serve on our Board of Reference. As I write this, three of my books have been translated into Chinese, and Anchor is now available in Spanish for the first time. In the past couple of months I have finished two more books: “Fire and Rain: The Wild-Hearted Faith of Elijah” and “Stealth Attack: Arming Yourself Against Satan’s Dirty War.” Both books should come out sometime next year.
Along the way I have spoken in Harrisburg, PA, Memphis, TN, Batavia, NY, Beijing, China, Word of Life Bible Institute (NY), Word of Life Florida, Camp Wonderland, WI, Jackson, TN, Minneapolis, MN, Arlington Heights, IL, Aurora, IL, Wheaton, IL, Madison, WI, Miami, FL, Lincoln, NE, Dallas, TX, Tupelo, MS, Colorado Springs, CO, Schroon Lake, NY, Cannon Beach, OR, Word of Life New York, Batesville, MS, Hawthorne, NJ, Kokomo, IN, Columbus, OH, Vineland, NJ, Silver Spur Conference Center, CA, Lancaster, PA and Reno, NV. That’s so far. I still have trips to Lancaster, PA, Schroon Lake, NY, Sebring, FL, Grand Rapids, MI and Schroon Lake, NY ahead of me.
I don’t recall when I said it, but in one of my final messages at Calvary, I quoted what the young people like to say. “It’s all good.” Not always easy or fun or pleasant and often not what we expect, but the Lord is good and he does good, and all his ways are right. I am comforted by the thought that “God knows what he is doing, and he is doing it.” Or as my cousin Barbara likes to say, “God is large and in charge.”
A year ago this morning the future was mostly hidden from my view. That’s a good thing, I think, because most of us would be scared to death if we knew all that was going to happen in the next twelve months or the next five years or the next twenty years. Life always has its share of joys and sorrow because the same Lord who sends the sunshine also sends the rain. He is Lord of all our days, the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, the positive and the negative.
It’s time to stop this bit of reminiscing, but let me say again how grateful we are to you. Yes, to you who read these words. We love you and even though you can’t see us and we can’t see you, we do love you and thank God you’ve been there with us during this year in which God has abundantly answered the prayer, “Lord, do things we’re not used to.” Mission accomplished … so far. But the journey isn’t over yet. In many ways the journey will never be over this side of heaven. Or perhaps we should say that the journey is the destination. If the Lord is with us, what else do we need? If the Lord is with us, we’ve already arrived. Everything else is just details.
A year ago this morning we were not yet to Effingham on our way to Lambert’s Cafe in Sikeston on our way to Memphis on our way to Tupelo. What a year, what a ride it’s been, what a God we serve. Thanks for joining us on the journey.