Friday, December 20, 2013

Bookends of Loss and Letting Go: My 2013 Perspective

The New Year represents new beginnings, new possibilities, and second chances. For the first ten days of 2013, this was the case for me. On January 11, all of that changed with the news that my dear friend of 30 years, Rick Stilwell, passed away very suddenly. Out of the ashes of this terrible loss arose a #LiveLikeRick movement, encouraging people to love their families, work hard, work your passion, and "Crush It." The loss of my friend was devastating, but it has inspired me to live better, love deeper, laugh harder, learn diligently, and leave the world better than I found it.

Some other major highlights of 2013 included the graduation of my twin daughters from high school, and their matriculation to out of town Universities. My return to full time ministry and teaching were also high points. Reconciliation and reconnecting with precious friends, a move, and growing deeper in love with my wife every day were also some great moments of 2013.

As the holiday season approached, there were some incredible reunions with lifelong pals and the ability to take Laura to see The Nutcracker as well as our annual Christmas Party at Midlands Tech. Our church had a beautiful candlelight service and "Thankful Christmas Dinner." We also added an amazing Youth Minister to our staff and ministry is both exciting and challenging as always.

As I was frantically creating spreadsheets, grading papers, and entering final grades on December 17, I received word that Pastor Don Davis, my pastor since 1983, had entered into the glorious presence of the Lord. Amid the busyness of the week, I barely had time to process this great personal loss. Today, I have some quiet time, and I would like to pay proper tribute to my pastor and friend.

I am pretty well on record as to how much of an influence Rick Stilwell had in my coming to know Jesus on April 11, 1983. Two weeks later, I was baptized by Pastor Davis. I was a little nervous about going under the water, and Pastor Don was reassuring and comforting as always. During my actual baptism, my feet came up from under me and I got scared. Immediately I felt Pastor Don's arm grab and hold me tight as he brought me up out of the water. That was the moment I knew he was and forever would be my pastor. I knew that anytime my feet slipped from underneath me, he would be there to catch me. He lived up to that ideal for thirty years for me. I had never had a pastor before Don, and I count myself as truly blessed to have had him.

Over the years, Pastor Don was there for me more times than I can count. It would take a lot of words to recount each time. Suffice it to say that for the eleven years that he was my pastor, he was a part of every significant moment of my life, the good ones and the not-so-good ones.

At the age of sixteen, I went on a visit with Pastor Don. He offered me a ride home, but asked me if I could go on this visit with him first. It was there, that night, in the home of Rick and Janelle Green, that the Lord issued the clarion call to ministry on my life. I shared that with Pastor Don and he rejoiced and from then on, sort of took me under his wing and mentored me. I didn't always heed his advice, and I would later apologize to him for this.

Years later, I had the privilege of serving with Pastor Don on the Executive Ministry Team of the Lexington Baptist Association. Being a pastor made me realize how much of an influence Pastor Don had on everything I do. He told me on more than one occasion that he was very proud of me. To hear those words from such a man as he was no small honor.

In 2004, I went through the most difficult time in my life. Many people turned their backs on me. Pastor Don did not. He counseled me. He prayed with me. The last counseling session we had was the most precious memory I have of him. He prayed for me, not as a pastor, but as a father would pray for a son. He wept as he prayed. He loved me so much. He loved everyone so much. We stayed in touch off and on over the years and I always had a special security just knowing he was always there if I needed him.

The last time I saw Pastor Don was at Rick Stilwell's memorial service. I had the chance to talk with him and share how grateful I was for all he had done for me. We also marveled at the number of us who God called into the ministry under his leadership. He told me again how proud he was of all of us and how blessed we were to be together during the formative years of our faith. I saw him tear up again, for only the second time in my life. I gave him a big hug and said goodnight. He looked fantastic as always. That is how I choose to remember him, the way he looked that night, before his health declined.

There are not enough words to pay adequate tribute to this great man of God. He never sought to be great. He never displayed career ambition. He was simply a servant of God who loved the Lord and loved others...deeply. He was one of the last of what I call the "Greatest Generation" of pastors. So many pastors today are career-minded and competitive. They are more interested in greatness than in magnifying Jesus. Pastor Don made much of Jesus. Whether he was in the pulpit, at home, at the gym, at a restaurant, or at a pastors meeting, he embodied the meekness of Christ.

I have no doubt that Pastor Donald Paul Davis is in heaven right now, surrounding the throne of God with all the others who are there because of his ministry.

Today, I live with the reality that Pastor Don is no longer here for me to lean on. I must be the pastor now. I must take what he taught me to my small neck of the woods and wherever the Lord leads me. I must carry on his legacy of loving people into the Kingdom of God by example, and if necessary, by words. Pastor Don gave me many pieces of advice though the years. One that I will cling to is that, "People don't care about how much you know until they know how much you care."

He cared. He cared so very much. So long, for now, my pastor, my mentor, and my friend. I will see you later!

Life Beyond

© Sue Walkinshaw
I feel the warmth upon my face as I enter the land of God's good grace,
Friends and loved ones gone before, waiting here beyond the door.
With open arms they welcome me, amazement in my eyes they see.
They look so well and at their best, beauty beholds them now they rest.

I walk across the grass so green, the greenest grass I've ever seen,
I jump and skip and bounce on air, it's almost like there's nothing there.
A sky of blue, not a cloud in sight, perpetual day no darkest night.
Every flower is in full bloom, undefined colours of every hue.

The streams and rivers crystal clear, no rubbish or decay found here.
The sea is calm and turquoise blue, I long to test it, wouldn't you?
The softest sand beneath my feet, at the waters edge where they both meet.
The warmest waters gently flow, bathing me from head to toe.

A city built of alabaster walls, where translucent light eliminates the halls.
Theatres of music and concerts too, magnificent galleries for all to view.
Amazing sights for me to see, I just wander in, there's no entrance fee.
Libraries stacked with books galore, history, science and many more.

The celestial sun does forever shine, it's a perfect temperature all the time.
Orchards here overflow with fruit, a taste in itself that is quite exquisite.
I'm told it will help my soul to restore, pick what I like, there is plenty more.
This ethereal plain is a pure delight, it's my new home, my God given right.

There is nothing here to cause me fear, the lord protects within his sphere.
An infinity of perfect peace, from the toils of earth I am now released.
I have landed on a higher realm, in perfect harmony to forever dwell.
So believe when I tell you my dear friends, you cannot die, life never ends.

Source: Life Beyond, Spiritual Poem about Death 
Family Friend Poems 

Thursday, August 22, 2013


I knew on July 26, 1995 that someday this day would come. This was the day my beautiful daughters were born. First came Jenna. She hardly made a sound. She weighed 5 lbs and had more hair than my Dad. Then came Katie. She weighed in at 2 lbs, 12 oz. She was gray and not breathing when she was born. The staff were all trying to be positive, but I could see their faces and concern. After two of the longest minutes of my life, Katie let out a scream that I believe was heard all the way to God's throne! She announced to the world that she was alive! She has not slowed down since. Jenna was laid back, just taking it all in. They were premature, so they spent some time in the NICU. Jenna stayed two weeks; Katie stayed for a whole month. Their first year was filled with doctor visits, home heart monitors, and very little sleep.

As they grew, I fell more in love with my daughters each day. Watching them play, listening to them laugh, and cuddling with them were the high points of my life in those days.They were both so much fun! You could tell early on that they would always be close.They did everything together. I have so many stories I could tell about fun times I had with my girls, or "skwirls," as I called them. There were some scares along the way, but I wouldn't trade those days for anything.

This year the girls graduated high school and last weekend they left for college. Separate colleges. It is the first time in their lives they have been apart. Granted they are only about 45 minutes apart, but it is still a milestone for them...and for me. My son Cody is a junior this year; my son Timmy is also in college. But Jenna and Katie are my babies, and now they have officially "flown the nest." 

I am happy for my girls. They have come a long way from the NICU. I could not be more proud. At the same time, I am heartsick. It is a big, cruel world out there. To turn them completely over to the Lord in this way has been a challenge. I have faith that He is with them even as I write, keeping them safe, drawing them into His presence. My prayer is that ALL my children lean on Jesus each and every moment of each and every day. 

This year I decided to do something I have never done before. I have begun writing letters to each of my children for milestones such as this. In the letters, I offer some advice and a piece of my heart. I hope that one day they will treasure them. I also hope that one day this blog will be something my whole family can look back on after I am gone and get a glimpse of who I was. My hope is that they will all see Jesus in me.

For now, I am the father of FOUR college students. ::faints::

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Movie Review: The Three Stooges Movie (2012)

My review of the Three Stooges reboot can be summed up by a play on Curly's famous line, "Yuck, yuck, yuck!" I debated for months whether I would even watch the film. I honestly think it should never have been made. I have been a fan of the Stooges since childhood. My Dad introduced me when I was five. I introduced my own son to the original Stooges. The Three Stooges didn't need a reboot. The classic Stooges have stood the test of time, five US wars, and fifteen US Presidents. The new movie, just as I feared it would, cheapened the legacy of the original Stooges.

Will Sasso stood out for me as giving proper tribute to the original Curly. I was pleasantly surprised to see Sean Hayes as Larry. That is, until the movie started. Hayes' portrayal of Larry Fine was more like a stoner with clown hair. The original Larry was the heart of the Three Stooges. He was the connective balance of the act. When they needed someone to play violin, Larry was the guy. When they needed someone who could play ANYTHING on the piano, they turned to Larry. When they needed someone to fetch the tools from the truck, Larry was on it. Moe and Curly were both very strong characters, and Larry brought the needed balance to the act. No one else could have done it better. Curly was replaced four times. His character, while legendary, was not irreplacable. Joe DeRita and Joe Besser did okay. Shemp was brilliant, of course, but even he was replaceable. When they tried to replace Larry (following his death in 1975) with Emil Sitka, Moe died shortly thereafter.

The new movie started out okay. There was the expected slapstick, which made me laugh out loud. Larry David as a nun didn't hurt the film for me at all. Then it just got weird. Moe (played by Chris Diamontapoulos) ends up on a reality TV show, and the movie just died for me at that point. It was here that I regretted watching the film at all.

Let's face it, there are some legends of Hollywood that will never be duplicated or rebooted. The Three Stooges are at the top of that list for me. They are followed by Johnny Carson, KISS, Elvis, Michael Jackson, and Al Pacino's "Scarface (which I just heard is in talks about a possible reboot)." Hollywood, why don't you start pitching new ideas and creating new legends? You don't reboot Pacino; he reboots you. Leave it alone!

As for Moe, Larry, and Curly, the chemistry they created in 1925 has sustained itself for generations. The Farelly brothers took something legendary and cheapened it. This is a movie that I believe wanted to pay tribute to the legends, but if Hollywood had any honor at all, they would have left well enough alone. Maybe a big screen biopic would have been a better idea.

My allegiance is to the original trio, whose legend lives on and will live on. I look forward to watching "Disorder in the Court" with my grandchildren one day. If they ask me about the 2012 Stooges and why we don't watch the movie, I am prepared with my, "Sometimes grown ups make really bad mistakes..." speech.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Monday Meanderings For Your...Uh, Monday

I have never been very good at titles. As a writer, it is hard to publicly confess such a flaw. Even my sermon titles could use a little more zing. Sometimes it comes, sometimes I have to dig deeper and deeper until the "zing," ummmm...zings (see what I mean?)?

I used to crave more "zing" in my life. As a child, I was never satisfied. As a young boy, I strived to be the best at everything. As a young man, I made good money, and despite some mistakes along the way, turned out successful by the world's standards. After a few more mistakes, I lost it all. I am beginning to understand what the Apostle Paul meant when he said, "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want (Philippians 4:12)." When he says, "I have learned the secret," the literal rendering in the Greek is, "I have been initiated."

In my freshman year of college, I pledged a fraternity for band geeks like myself. There was an "initiation" period during which if a "brother" asked you a question and you flubbed the answer, you had to write the Greek alphabet 1,000 times or some other such punishment. If you failed to call them "brother" or "sir" during the initiation period, the punishment was more intense. I decided not to pledge after all. I felt that between a full load of classes, band practice, and football games, I had enough on my plate. Those who passed the initiation had the privilege of becoming full-fledged brothers of the fraternity, with lifelong benefits.

Paul passed his initiation by accepting Jesus Christ as his savior and Lord. When his mission to the gentiles was clear, nothing stood in the way of his sharing the gospel. Poverty or wealth are irrelevant when one is compelled by grace and purpose in sharing the gospel with the world.

Today I got a call from a long time friend. He is involved in a home business that has been very lucrative for him, and he wants me to be a part of it. It is multilevel marketing. Twenty years ago, I'd have jumped right in. The potential to make a fortune versus making a living used to appeal to me. I read Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich, as well as many other "how-to-get-wealthy" books. I had a dream of being wealthy and never worrying about money again. I just don't feel that way anymore. I don't care about getting rich anymore. If I were wealthy, though, I would give more away than I would spend on myself. At least I hope I would...

My desires are simpler now. I just want to be the best husband, Dad, pastor, teacher, and writer I can be. Even if it doesn't make me rich, that is all I want. I don't need a boat or a vacation home. I need the love of my wife and children. I need my students to be impacted by my example. I need my church to be a hospital for sinners. I need Jesus to be glorified and magnified in my life. I need Jesus to increase, and I must decrease.

I realize how trifle and cliche' this sounds. Unlike so many of my peers, I no longer wish to become SBC President or grow the largest church in the world. I don't need a TV ministry. I don't need my name on the marquis and I don't care if I get paid or not. I used to want all of those things. I honestly don't anymore. I am really just thankful to have a loving wife and family and a pulpit of my own.

Maybe, like Paul, I have been initiated. I regret that I have been a slower study than the great Apostle, but I have found the ability to be content no matter what, and I like it.

All that rambling, and I still have no decent title. Sigh...

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Annual Sappy, Sentimental Father's Day Post

I am a blessed man. I am blessed because I am a Dad. I am blessed because I have a Dad. The unfortunate part of all of this sentiment is that I didn't realize what a wonderful Dad I had until I became one. I always get a bit melancholy when Father's Day rolls around. Okay, sappy.

My biological father abandoned us when I was about 12 years old. We didn't see or hear from him for many years. To this day, I really don't know why. He never told me. I never asked. It was what it was. The last time I saw him was in January 1992. We had a nice visit and took lots of pictures. 35 days later, he was killed in a freak car accident. Whatever explanation I would get from him went to the grave. I fell into a deep depression.

All my life, I defined myself by the failure of my father to be what he was supposed to be. On August 17, 1993, all of that changed. My son was born. He was the most beautiful thing I had ever laid eyes on. I was a Dad. Now I had the chance to be to my son what my father wasn't for me. I have four children now, and they are all grown and going to college. I adore each of them. I wasn't always perfect, but I love them and I know they love me.

Somewhere in the midst of all of this I had a rather humbling awakening. I was never fatherless. I mean, I know my Heavenly Father has always been there. But I am talking about Jerry. Jerry has been with my Mom since I was 9 years old. He is technically my stepfather. The truth is, he has been more of a Dad to me than any man on the face of this earth. He has always been there for me. He loves me even when I am not at my best. He accepts me no matter what. He loves me like a father loves a son. He is one of the sweetest, most genuine people I know. He is also very intelligent; he can converse about anything! Most of all, he loves the Lord Jesus and he has loved my Mom for all of these years.

So I would like to offer this meager tome as a dedication to Jerry Shealy, my Dad. I love you with all my heart and I always will!

I am so very blessed. I have a Dad.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

At Times It Was Really Funny

My heart is simply shattered as I write this piece. I buried one of my very best friends on earth yesterday, Rick Stilwell (aka. Rickwell, aka. @RickCaffeinated). His sudden death on January 11, 2013 has not yet fully registered with me. It has been an incredibly surreal weekend. I cannot adequately describe the void that Rick has left on this earth. Nor can I adequately describe how much of an influence he was on my life. My heart goes out to his wife and college sweetheart, Vicki, and their two wonderful children, who now have to grow up without him. My heart simply aches for them. Yet I cannot ignore the reality that my heart aches for me, too. He was my friend, brother, and my rock in so many ways. For thirty years, I was privileged to know and love this man.
It all began in 1983 in Coach Payne’s P.E. class at Airport High School. I and my lifelong pal, Jay, were hanging out together as always, trying to be cool (I was trying...he was succeeding). The next thing I knew, this skinny kid with huge glasses started hanging around with us. I don’t even know where he came from. I was able to determine that his name was Rick. There was never a formal introduction. One day he was just there!
Jay, Frog & Rickwell, 2006
Wherever Jay and I went, he was there. To be honest, I was a little annoyed at first! Ha-ha! It wasn’t long, however, before we were all fast friends. We called ourselves, "Jay, Frog, and Rickwell." At the time, I had no idea that he would be one of my lifelong best friends. I also didn’t know that I had a date with destiny that Rick would unwittingly orchestrate. 
Right away I knew that Rick was a Christian. He was never shy about it. I had always sort of believed in God, but I saw a passion in Rick that I had never seen before. He invited me to church many times, and I politely declined each time. He was very persistent, however, and offered to pick me up at home and drive me to church. I finally agreed. To make a very long story short, it was at this church that I discovered Jesus and invited him into my heart on April 11, 1983. In this same church, Trinity Baptist, I made some close friendships that have lasted to this very day. I found a family of believers who loved and discipled me and a Pastor, Don Davis, who I adored and still do. I eventually received a call into full time ministry. I was ordained in 1997. Rick participated in the service. I have since pastored three churches and seen hundreds of people come to the Lord, here in the US and abroad.
All because of this skinny kid with glasses from P.E. class.
Rick was so much more to me. He was a steadfast friend. In nautical terms, he was my rudder. The rudder is the part of the boat that keeps it on a steady course. Rick was that for me in many ways. I have veered off course a few times in my life. Rick was always there to offer a word of encouragement, or, if necessary, a rebuke to help me get back on course. Sometimes we would “chat” online, and one of his favorite replies to me was “::smacks Todd on the head::.” If he was really trying to make a point, he would add, “::jumps out of chair and smacks Todd on the head::.”  He had his softer side, too. When it became public that my marriage was officially over, he sent me a text message that read, “It doesn’t matter to me who is or isn’t at fault. What I want you to know is that no matter what, I am on YOUR side, friend.” That meant so much to me at that time in my life.
What I loved most about Rick was that he was real. There was nothing showy or fake about him. He was who he was, and that was enough for him. He worked hard at loving and providing for his family. He was an upright man in every way. His example spoke as much about him (if not more) than anything else he said or wrote. He was a teacher and a discipler. It gave him such great joy to pour himself into others. Rick Stilwell made me want to be a better husband, father, friend, teacher, and writer. I owe so much of who and what I am (online and off) to his friendship. He would reply, “Bunk” to that statement. He never wanted attention or credit. It is true, nonetheless.
Rick was a forward-thinker. He didn’t think “outside the box.” Rick believed there was no box. He met each challenge as an opportunity to improve the world around him. He did a lot of this through social media. I can honestly say that Rick had definitely found his niche. He would be so proud of the now viral #LiveLikeRick movement that has risen from the ashes of his untimely death.
Finally, Rick was a deep thinker. For years he kept journals and blogs. I have never read his private journals. I am sure his family will treasure them. His blogs and other online posts will be greatly missed. He was all about connecting with others, either face to face or online through Facebook or Twitter. He lived for the conversations. Rick believed that it was more important to listen than to simply be heard. In this day where so many are rattling their sabers and raising their angry voices, perhaps a #LiveLikeRick lesson is in order.
For my fortieth birthday, Rick gave me my very first moleskine journal. In one of my recent moves, I had misplaced it. I rediscovered it recently, and I plan to use it to the full, or as Rick would say, “Crush It!” May we all strive to #LiveLikeRick, for in doing so, we will #LiveLikeJesus.
Rick, my friend, saying goodbye to you today was the hardest thing I have ever done. I just can’t believe you’re gone. No more coffees and chats. No more dinners at DeLucca’s or D’s Wings. It isn’t fair! No more of your infamous snark and wit. For over half my life, you have been a major part. I make this promise to you, sir. I will keep living. I will look after your family. I will finish that novel, and, like it or not, you will receive a dedication! I love you, and I can honestly say I have never had a friend like you, nor will I ever again. Thank you, sir, for a lifetime of hilarious memories. Thank you for introducing me to Jesus and all of our dear friends. Thank you for always believing in me and for choosing to call me friend. I will not say goodbye. I cannot. Instead, I will employ one of your favorite lines of old, “It’s been real, it’s been fun, and at times it was really funny.”
I will see you later, my friend. "A friend loveth at all times..." Proverbs 17:17