I am not a self-made man, nor have I ripped myself from the primeval rock. I have not sprung full-blown onto the stage of life, reciting lines of which I am the author.
I am the sum of all who have invested in me. And the debt, entirely unlike the man, is monumental.
I am the aggregate of songs sung sweet and low, of motherly melodies that circle through the hard, dark nights when grief and hurt and woundedness might make a man believe he was really, finally alone. I am what yields from a thousand, thousand stories told to me on long drives through the Smokies and crisp walks through the frozen Massachusetts hills.
At some receding point of memory, there was a Sabbath School teacher—no, 10 of them—who poured the gift of faith into a boy more interested in broken laces on his shoe than the love of Jesus in his heart. There were schoolteachers—brilliant, focused, and yes, some of them just average—who got up day by day to earn a subpar paycheck for the joy of firing imaginations more attentive to the recess game of “capture the flag” than a grasp on things eternal.
And then there were the friends—often older, sometimes wiser—who told me candid stories of their own: how God in love looked down on broken, drug-addicted lives like theirs and pulled them from the Slough of Despond, and set them down in places where faith had at least a fighting chance. They prayed with me; they prayed for me when I was just a bundle of adolescent insecurities, teaching me to overcome that native fear that makes us wary of telling all the truth, even to another believer.
Christ so designs the circle of His church that there is no other starting point than Him. And only He will close it.
Colleagues, pastors—Adventist and otherwise—crowd close in now as memory sorts and weeds the thicket of the past. I bless the men who gathered around me in a high-woods cabin on one frigid January day to lay their hands on me and pray, not once or twice, but for a goodly, godly hour until they were certain that the peace of God had found a lodging in my heart. I praise my God for pastors—men and women—who have understood that sharing silence is sometimes the most healing act when loss is great, or when I struggled to even hum the song.
How could I calculate what I have learned, how I have changed and grown and been reshaped by 35 years of marriage to a godly woman? No part of who I am today could ever be without her touch, or her deep gifts for empathetic laughter and understanding tears. And which of us has not learned fully as much from our children as we have ever taught them? When faith grew up in them, it somehow became more true to us, who now admit to needing reinforcement, even from our kids.
Christ so designs the circle of His church that there is no other starting point than Him. And only He will close it. When we, at last, tell all the truth, we freely own how little of our faith is actually the result of upright choices that we made or insights owing to our genius.
We are each a tale of mercy;
We are each an act of grace.
My faith today is both my own and still the gift of all who shared it with me. And if I do not miss my guess, you know this story too. In your better moments, you too bless the many who sang the song that brought you to the One.