I have no doubt that as you grow up, the Lord will put people in your life at key times to help you along the way. He certainly did that for me. Let me tell you about one of the most influential couples in my life. Let me tell you about Jimmy and Vicki.
As you know I did not grow up in a Christian home and did not ever enter the door of a church until I was about 14 years old. I started going to the First Presbyterian Church youth group in Aiken, SC at the invitation of my neighbor and best friend Chuck England. It was there that I first met Jimmy and Vicki. They were about four years older than me and by the time I was a junior in high school they were married and serving as leaders in the youth group.
They were the kind of leaders who loved to hang around with students. Over the next several years and on into my college summers me and my friends would spend many a night just loafing at their house, playing games… and watching. They didn’t know that they were teaching us about what a godly marriage looked like.
Jimmy was a runner. Still is 45 years later. He got me into running and even though it was not something I was ever passionate about – fact is, I didn’t really enjoy running – still, I ran. And because I was running when I met Nona in 1979 she started running. And it WAS something she became passionate about and ran for 35 years until I convinced her to start walking with me as we were moving into our older years.
In 1976, I went off to college in New Orleans after high school to study Biomedical Engineering at Tulane University. Soon thereafter Jimmy and Vicki headed to Massachusetts to attend Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. During my junior year in college I sensed the Lord calling me to vocational ministry and right away they started recruiting me to come up to Gordon-Conwell when I graduated. Which I did. But they didn’t just invite me to come up to the school, they also invited me to come and live with them In Gloucester, MA. I spent one semester with them and their golden retriever Sundance ( and Mary – remind me to tell you about 90 year old Mary and her bathroom song).
Now why do I even mention Sundance? In 1969 a movie came out entitled “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Hanging out with Jimmy and Vicki I grew to love Sundance in particular and goldens in general. Nona will tell you that we had a prenup when we got married that stated that we WOULD get a golden retriever and that it WOULD be named Cassidy. Which of course we did. And of course she loved Cassidy as much as I did.
Jimmy and Vicki introduced me to a lot of the first Christian music that I listened to. Artists like Dogwood, Don Francisco and Keith Green. And it was because I loved Keith Green’s music that I even met Nona.
When it came time for our wedding on 8/1/81, we asked Jimmy to officiate and because I had no sisters, we asked Vicki to be a bridesmaid. Jimmy was not yet ordained so he could not pronounce us man and wife but we had him to conduct a lot of the ceremony. We then spent our first year of married life in Raleigh before going back up to Massachusetts to finish my degree.
The Lord was putting a lot of the pieces of our puzzle together as only He could. Because I went to Gordon-Conwell (due to Jimmy and Vicki’s influence), Nona and I started attending Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh when we got married (the pastor was a GCTS grad.) And that is where I spent 10 years as a student pastor and began my 40 years of pastoral ministry.
So as I mentioned, Jimmy and Vicki influenced and impacted my life in many ways – spiritual growth, marriage, music, dogs, exercise, and career. They are now living in Black Mountain, NC in their retirement years. Just last week we had a chance to again spend some time with them as they introduced us to one of their favorite hikes – Lookout Mountain in Montreat, NC. You can tell from this picture that none of us look like we have even aged over the last 42 years.
So be on the lookout for people who will have the right kind of influence on your life. I am very grateful for the way that God used these friends to shape and influence me. But maybe even just as importantly, be on the lookout for people that need YOU to be the right kind of influence in their lives.
Never forget that you are very loved,