During seminary, we lived off my meager salary as a travel agent, what Karen earned until our daughter Anna was born, March 15th our first year at school, and mostly off the generosity of others. It astounded us how time and time again, God came through in the eleventh hour to pay bills.
One spring semester I walked to the business office a week before school was due to begin. We had decided I would take a semester off since we were out of funds.
But when I got there, I was staggered when told, “You have lots of money in your account for this semester.”
“Are you looking at the correct account?” I asked.
“Yes,” she responded.
“How?” I asked.
As it turned out, a friend who served as a missionary in the Maldives had sent $1000! Back then, $1000 was most of what I needed to pay for a full load. We lacked $200 to pay the rest of that semester’s bill. On the next Sunday, now the day before the beginning of school, a woman we did not know walked up after worship. She handed us a check for the $200 and said, “The Lord told me to give you this.” There it was.
For four years we had relied upon God’s surprising generosity. We lived frugally as God built our faith. So, when we learned I would be paid the amazing sum of $1100 a month as a starting salary in San Jacinto we felt remarkably rich.
Bob McDole was the treasurer when I arrived in San Jacinto and was a guy I treasured. You could not dislike Bob. A bit stocky in his late 50s, Bob’s round face and brown eyes shone with joy and love for all the world.
On my first day in the office, Bob dropped by. He sincerely wanted to get to know me, his new pastor. He claimed and welcomed me as his pastor but cared for me like a son. We worked closely together in the realm of finance and budgets. Constant in encouragement, he would personally deliver my paycheck every two weeks with a hug and a smile.
The night I turned 30, I opened the front door on March 22nd to an 8 pm knock. There stood Bob beaming at me. “Happy Birthday!” he declared and began to sing enthusiastically offkey, “Happy Birthday to you…” He was joined in his song by many other congregants crowded together on the lawn behind him. There he stood singing, holding a big cake and balloons. I stepped back laughing and amazed as they all marched in, singing and laughing, festooned with presents, balloons, and party favors.
It was a room full of grandmas and grandpas there to love me and Karen, Anna (4), and Grace (1.5). We ate cake, laughed, and talked for some time. That evening was such an embrace and Bob had stirred the congregation to it.
One Sunday during the sermon several months later, while sitting in his usual spot next to Elaine, his wife, Bob died. His heart stopped. The color left his face and he slowly slumped against his wife, Elaine. I stopped speaking, rushed down from where I stood, and the church went into action. We laid him out on the floor, laid hands on him, praying all the while, and someone called 911. Before we could even begin CPR, Bob’s face turned from blue with white lips to his normal color. His heart had started. His breathing resumed. He opened his eyes from there on the brown carpet in the center aisle, as we all huddled around him, and said, “Now, now, what’s all this fuss about?”
The paramedics arrived at this point, having missed all the excitement, checked Bob over and took him to the hospital for more tests, leaving us to give thanks!
Bob lived more years with a pacemaker. He was an ally in every storm and would have spoken wisdom into my impatient foolishness had I asked. I experienced so much of Jesus through his love.
Many Sundays, Karen would take the kids to an early service at DP (Dwelling Place) City Church about three miles from our house. This dynamic, prayer-filled congregation’s worship fed her soul, while the children experienced a great children’s program before they returned to the more sedate worship, where Karen was the children’s program, and my greener preaching at our church.
Bob and Susan Beckett led DP City Church.
Bob, lean, tall, and full of the Spirit with deep wisdom did most of the teaching. They had arrived to plant themselves in Hemet for life, so bought grave plots in the community cemetery.
I met with Bob often for coffee, joined his dynamic pastors’ group, and was tutored in intercessory prayer unlike I had previously experienced. It was not uncommon for many supernatural experiences, dreams, visions, and miracles to come in response to Bob’s and these pastors’ prayers.
Bob involved me in a move of the Holy Spirit birthing a heralded transformation in the community. (The linked webpage’s video partly tells this story.) This long-sought revival occurred a year after we moved away.
God used Bob to encourage, strengthen, counsel, and direct me through the myriads of emotions that characterized my heart. He was a man who demonstrated how a godly man looked and acted.
Seven years prior to arriving in San Jacinto, in 1981, Karen and I had attended a weekend winter retreat. The worship leaders were Lynn and Don Hales, some of the most dynamic witnesses of the love and presence of Jesus we had ever met. We fell in love with them.
Now it was the fall of 1988. We attended our first, midweek evening service at DP City Church together. When asked to greet those around us, who should turn around from in front of us but Lynn and Don. Our shouts of recognition and joy resounded. Twenty years our senior, they became dear friends, gave needed counsel, prayed for and often with us. When our third daughter, Susanna, arrived, they came to the hospital with us and became her godparents.
The abuse memories began to return while pastoring in San Jacinto. With them came the recognition of how absent my dad had been in my childhood, my doubts in my own masculinity, and my desperate need for male affirmation. They exposed what felt like a waterless wilderness within me.
One night at their house, I shared what this emptiness and void felt like within my heart. Don, a kind of gentle giant, sat in an armchair across their living room from me. As soon as I finished sharing, he stood and came toward me. Standing before me, he said, “Stand up, son.” The terminology struck a chord as he enfolded me in his big, strong arms and held me close. He smelled fresh; his body pressed into my own comforted my little boy’s heart as I felt his heart’s steady rhythm; tears wet my cheeks as he released me.
Like Mt. Everest, this hug stands out in my memory. It was a hug that started my healing.
One day, last year, my daughter said, “Do you remember Zack, the younger brother of my friend?”
“Sure, a bit,” I told her. I had met him but once some 6 years prior to this conversation when Zack was 18.
“Well,” she said, “he told me today the hug you gave him when you met him ranks as one of the ten most important moments in his life.”
I had briefly given him a goodbye hug that night after dinner at his parent’s house. A single hug had become a highlight in his life. Remembering Don’s hug, this still staggered me.
You and I might never know how our lives, like instruments in the hand of a generous God, could bring healing and blessing to another’s life. But we can live aware of the possibility. This tends to make me grateful.