I was raised in a Disciples of Christ church family on the Illinois Prairie. I enjoyed the love and nurturing living in several small towns and enjoyed a somewhat idyllic life similar to Huck Finn and Richie Cunningham of the television show “Happy Days.” The major difference was that my father was the local Minister, and being the only son, I had a proclivity to living up to the reputation of a “PK” (preacher’s kid). I’ve always had a bit of an ornery streak and back then was a bit of a hellion. As one of the elders once said, “His halo is held up with devil’s horns.” This was not the best of affirmations for an eight year old, but it was fairly accurate.
Through college and into the first ten years of my professional business career in marketing and sales, I perfected the art and science of an individualistic lifestyle. Career, travel, and sports were my priorities. Somehow, some of the harsher social misfortunes escaped me as I perused my need for personal fulfillment through advancing in my career. Looking back, I believe the farming work ethic, an athletic background, and two loving parents held fast. I advanced in my career through competitiveness and graduate studies for an MBA leading up to being recruited, transferred and promoted to Los Angeles in 1987. Yet, this was not enough.
I began to search for personal growth through business empowerment and leadership trainings. I even helped start and co-owned a human resources training company. I became involved in seminar trainings to help others’ personal growth and even expanded my own development by becoming active in community service projects with non-profit agencies. It was then I began to realize that maybe I should think about going back to church to grow spiritually. I still believed in God as I did as a child, but come Sunday morning, I never found the drive to make it past the football game. So I did not go. Little did I know what lie ahead for me five years later would cause me to come running back to be the prodigal son.
In 1996, when I told my mother in Illinois that Donna, my wife, and I had given much prayerful consideration over my pursuing the ministry, her first words were, “I’ve known that you would do that for years.” Somehow I wish she would have spoken earlier--it would have saved us some sleep! My only sibling, my sister Debbie, was a bit more surprised. Although she commented that she saw my transformation begin during my father’s death, she had the impression my spiritual growth had peaked at my marriage to a good Christian woman and my church leadership.
The complete story of my calling begins with my father and the influence he had in my decision. He was a Disciples of Christ minister for 35 years; and let’s just call it typical P.K. rebellion, but, I always said I would never follow in my dad’s footsteps. I was raised with and kept a firm belief in God. I just left the work up to my dad. It was his business. I was going to become successful at my own business. My actions for God were limited to being kind to others and respectful of God, but I never really bothered to know who he was. Looking back, I simply relegated Christ to my back pocket like a spare twenty. I never knew when I might need Him, but it was not today. That day finally arrived when I got the phone call.
The call came to me at my office and it hit me hard. I was told that my dad just suffered a severe stroke and was going into a coma and the Doctor was asking me to fly back to Illinois because it “Didn’t look good.” Reeling from the shock, the only thing I could do was close my eyes tightly and pray to “Hang on Dad, I’ll be there soon!” Well, it wasn’t just one day when I really needed God; it was actually five days at the hospital when I began to earnestly and humbly seek Christ. I did not realize how powerful Christ’s promise of salvation was until later.
I prayed for my dad’s comfort and for my own as I braced myself for what I thought was going to be the worst experience of my life. I was struggling with the tearing at my heart those five days knowing I would be without my best friend. He was supposed to be my best man at my wedding; we were going to go to baseball spring training, and many other dreams were supposed to come true. They never would. I was having a lot of trouble letting him go. It was not until the last night of our bedside vigil, as the family calmly planned his final arrangements, when I came to understand what going home to heaven really meant. I realized I was being selfish. As much as I was going to miss Dad, I had not thought of how much he had already missed his own father. After all, they had not been together since 1936 when my Dad was a boy of eleven years. It struck me like lightning!
One of the many profound meanings of salvation--being reunited with those we love.
My heart and my tears began to wail from the pent up struggle and pain. I helplessly let go of my dad into God’s hands, knowing that I would see him again very soon, according to Christ’s promise. After my weeping had subsided, I placed my hand on my father’s heart and repeated his favorite benediction, Numbers 6:24-26, ‘May the Lord bless you and keep you: May the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you: May the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace. Now and forever more. Amen.
My father died two minutes later, March 26, 1991.
At precisely the same moment Dad passed, I felt a rush of heat around my heart and an overwhelming feeling of exuberance and peace. I was enraptured. The rush that overcame me emotionally and physically is still awkward and difficult to explain, but it was wonderful! Instead of being painfully sad it was the happiest moment of my life. I was filled with so much joy my jaws hurt from holding back the smile so I wouldn’t offend my family. I wanted to bust out shouting! But all I could say as I held up my mom and my sister was, “Dad’s in heaven.”
There it was. A very simple statement. “Dad’s in heaven.” For me it’s a double entendre. The only way I can repay either of them, my earthly father or my Heavenly Father, for what they have done for me is to serve Christ with all that I am. And I’m not about to face either of them without giving all of my talents to the One who paid for it all!
And so my call began.
About the Author:
Dennis is the Lead Minister for the Hope Christian Church in Fairfield, CA. He lives with his wife and four daughters (God's penance to Dennis) north of the Bay Area. http://www.hopechristianchurch.net