“The time has come,
For closing books and long last looks must end”
Last Thursday around 8:30pm, I flew into Fresno after four weeks in Austin, Texas. It was the end of a long day of flight delays, rushing through airports, hurrying and waiting. It was also the end of four weeks in which I drove from Fresno to Austin, set up our next temporary home, started my new job, and began the next chapter of our lives. Flying into Fresno was….comforting. Flying in really felt like coming home.
As we approached I looked out the window of the plane and saw a well lit Fresno on a Friday night. The night lights of a city- any city- always mesmerize me from above. I soaked in the view when to my surprise I recognized what I was seeing- the neon lights of Edwards Theater in River Park. I was excited to see something I knew; excited to have my bearings from above.
Knowing where I was, I let my eyes move down Nees Avenue…to Fresno St…to Save Mart at First St….to the isolated lit building on Millbrook. My church.
“But how do you thank someone, who has taken you from crayons to perfume?
It isn’t easy, but I’ll try”
“My church.” That was the exact phrase that went through my head- “there’s my church”. I was excited to see it; excited in ways that continue surprise me in the depths in which I love this church. My church.
I first came to Woodward Park alone on September 13, 2009. I knew no one; no one knew me. I was a very lost sheep- a believer who chose his own path for 18 years and who was in need of a church home. I had researched many churches before that day and knew the Church of Christ was where I needed to be. I also knew that Woodward Park was where I wanted to be. I couldn’t have dreamed what awaited.
Some have heard my story before- my first day there was a memorable one for the church. Jim Gardner gave a wonderful lesson on family and responsibility and taking care of ones parents and…tendered his resignation. Day one and the preacher quits. This really shouldn’t be the affirming entry into a new home, and yet what I saw was a church body that was unified in purpose, dedicated to why they exist, and greater than the voice on Sunday morning. Over the next months, from when Jim left and before Tim arrived, I saw the church thrive and grow. A church that would continue to grow. A church that has a solidity of faith, stability of leadership, and certainty of purpose. A church of which I am proud to be a part.
“The time has come,
For closing books and long last looks must end,
And as I leave,
I know that I am leaving my best friend”
I started this journey alone, but soon I had my traveling companion on my journey- my son. It was easy to come on my own; when I brought Ian I became committed to a much more important journey. I became committed to his education and conviction. There was nothing harder on my journey than leaving my son in class- him sitting there not knowing anyone. But he was never alone. In class he was embraced, loved, and taught by some of the most wonderful women I have ever known.
I cannot stress this point enough- without the love and affection shown by the teachers in his class when he started coming, we would not be here today.
They didn’t minister to only him- they ministered to me as well. To paraphrase scripture- the actions that were done for my little boy were done for me. I vividly remember the day Shelley Lane brought Ian out of class crying because he forgot to give me a hug. Such a simple gesture, but yet one that means the world to me years later. This church family has cared for my family, nurtured them, and welcomed us without reservation.
“A friend who taught me right from wrong,
And weak from strong,
That’s a lot to learn,
What, what can I give you in return?”
When I showed up I knew no one. As I leave for new frontiers I leave a multitude of people that I love dearly. People who have lifted me in fellowship, strengthened me in faith, and redefined me in purpose. I’m a better man for knowing all of you. I’m a blessed man for learning from and worshiping with you. I’m a grateful man that our lives have crossed.
One cannot say goodbye to one’s home. Your home is always your home; your family will forever be your family. All of you are still a part of me- guiding, encouraging, challenging, reminding. I have no doubt we will see each other again.
So fare thee well everyone until we meet again.