"It's a Small World, After All"

He's as old as I am now, but thirty-five years ago Wayne was a teenager in my church in Orlando. On Sunday he was in the area and visited us at First Baptist. Afterwards we went to lunch at Zoe's. Time and distance melted away as we reminisced about those days at Dover Shores--eight great years for Audrey and me. And, apparently, for this man, too.
It all set my mind to thinking....
Sometimes Orlando seems like a lifetime ago and it is hard for me to believe that we actually lived there, in the shadow of Disney World. The city was exploding in population in the 1980's, and our church was experiencing great growth, too. Looking back, these were “halcyon days" for us and the church.
We bought our first home there and graduated from parsonage living. John Mark was born there in 1984. And he was named for the writer of the Gospel of Mark, as I was preaching through that Bible book at the time.
I was sworn in as an honorary sheriff of Orange County and, as we were leaving, the mayor presented me with the "key to the city.”
When our son was visiting us recently, John Mark found some old video tapes and managed to dust off and hook up an old VCR so we could watch them. I wasn't expecting it, so when a tape of me preaching back in 1988 began to play I was taken aback. I looked so young, and there was only a bit of gray flecks in my hair as I confidently preached about tithing from the book of Malachi. It made me sad, to be honest with you, and I asked to turn it off after a while. So much of my life and ministry was still ahead of me then, but I couldn't appreciate it at the time.
"You still walk around the room speaking to people and calling them by name," Wayne said over lunch on Sunday. "I watched, and I realized that you are still doing what you were doing back at Dover Shores."  He attends a very large church in South Carolina now. “I miss that personal touch,” he said.
Yes, I still do that on Sundays. And, together, Audrey and I still do other things that were a part of our ministry in the '80's. Constant entertaining in our home, for example. Audrey started a woman's ministry at Dover Shores, and there were annual beach retreats at Daytona (where we still go!). Vacation Bible School and ...Youth camp.
Wayne was coming along then. And Juditha, too-- now his wife.
I guess I'm just a little nostalgic today, thinking about all of this. This past March we journeyed back to that church to preach for their 70th anniversary. A lot of the people have moved on, of course, like us --to other churches or cities. But so many came back for the day. What a treat it was to see old faces, still strangely familiar, and to call out names never forgotten.
“You folks haven't aged a bit,” I said. Then, pausing a beat-- “Well, as you can see, I've lived in Washington too long. I can't seem to tell the truth.”
Several nights ago, out of the blue, we got a call from Orlando. A group of people-- teenagers from back in the day-- had gotten together and they wanted to talk. On speaker phone we shared memories and gratitude. Eric especially touched me as he recalled lessons and experiences from way back then, things that had stuck with him and still impacted his life now as a middle-aged man.
“You are still my pastor, Don," he said.
Perhaps God was giving me some encouragement, knowing exactly what I need at this moment of my journey. A reminder that my life has counted. That a difference was made in some people's lives.
And then, on Sunday, along came Wayne. Icing on the cake.
Today, at this very moment, is where this was heading all along. In many ways the best, most exciting days of all!  Like Soren Kierkegaard said:
"Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
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