Looking back over 2009, this has not been a good year. I lost two men that were extremely dear to my heart, men that were both friend and mentor to me, yet neither of which I ever got a chance to really express my love and appreciation to.
Wayne Joiner, Jr. actually passed from this life in February of 2008, yet not having seen or heard from him in a long time, my search for him (including the internet) increased, ultimately leading me to the painful discovery of his death almost a year previous. I met Wayne 20+ years ago, when I was a cocky little 21-year old who just thought I could play the piano. After hearing Wayne, I practically swore off, stating that I would never touch a piano again. Fortunately, Wayne was kind and gentle, never arrogant or condescending, and he took me "under his wing" and shared with me many of the tricks, runs, hot 'licks' and styles that he had developed through the many years he had been playing professionally. Although I last saw him in Nashville, TN in 1991—shortly before my departure from the military—I kept the thoughts of Wayne close to my heart, and his music close at hand. In the time that I had known him, I considered him one of my dearest friends; I always considered it one of the highest compliments when folks, after hearing me play, would ask, "Did you ever know a guy by the name of Wayne Joiner? You play just like him..."
Rev. Carlton Watkins opened his heart and his church to my family and I back in 2001, when we were bruised and bleeding from a disastrous first pastorate at a notorious "family-owned-and-operated" church in north Texas. He never attempted to correct me through discipline or harsh words, but he loved me and accepted me as I was, understanding that God was in the process of molding and shaping my life. He was my Pastor, in my eyes, yet he always treated me as a peer, as a man, as a minister, even when I wasn't displaying the character of a man of God. The internet can be a source of much information, but it's not the place you want to discover that you have lost the man you always turned to in time of trouble and heartache. Reading a "tweet" about Bro. Watkins' untimely death was shocking to me, and when I called his cell phone—frantically hoping to prove someone wrong—and Tommy Craft answered, I broke down into sobs; if Bro. Craft understood a single word that I tried to say, I don't know how, but he acted like he did, and offered his consolation. I didn't know then, and still don't know, whom I will turn to when I need a Pastor, or a shepherd, to speak to, but I always took comfort in just seeing "Carlton Watkins" there in my cellphone name/number list.
As silly as it may seem to many, the pain increased with the loss of my sweet little KitterKat, the furry little darling who had been with me for over 17 years. I know guys aren't supposed to get this attached to animals (especially cats! for some reason, guys are always expected to be a 'dog person', never a 'cat person') but this little sweetheart had been with me since before I married and had children. She was not just a "pet"; she was a member of the family, almost like another child (although certainly less trouble!). My wife and I still laugh (often through tears) at how predictable we had become in our routine: KitterKat knew when it was coffeetime every morning, she knew when it was time for us to watch our Netflix shows in the evenings, and she knew when it was time for bed. She would often lead the way, and if I stayed at my desk past the time when I should have been going to bed, she would often jump up and parade back and forth between me and my keyboard, looking at me as if to say, "Umm, I believe it's your bedtime; you wanna turn this thing off, now?" Not only would she inform me when it was bedtime, but she would follow us to bed, and wait for me to turn out the light, before circling around my head, then nudging the covers with her nose. When I lifted them, she would slip down under the covers, curl up against my stomach, and would spend the night there sleeping against us. Several years before she passed, we purchased one of those self-cleaning litterboxes, the automatic kind that churn noisily after the cat uses it. It was always funny (and still is, when we allow ourselves to think about it) to hear three predictable flushes right at bedtime: first, when my wife used the restroom, then when I did, and the third "flush" was KitterKat's litterbox running its cleaning cycle after she used it.
It's been a...painful...year, albeit with some new friends and wonderful memories made. We were blessed, miraculously, to get a week-long vacation in Jackson, Wyoming at the home of some friends (a dear young lady whom we'd known for years, and her husband whom we'd never met). We also met a precious church family who become "our" church family, although we're miles apart. Bro. & Sis. Neal, and the Star Valley Apostolic Church of Alpine, WY, have become wonderful friends, and I feel that a connection was made that, hopefully, will last for many years to come.
We came home from our trip to Wyoming feeling as though God had given us clear direction for the future of our life, and even went so far as to start packing the house for what we thought would be an immediate move. Unfortunately, God's timing is not ours, and we still sit here in Austin, TX, waiting on God to open all the doors. He has told us He would do so, however, and so we know it is merely a matter of being patient, and waiting on His timing. In the meantime, stacks of U-Haul boxes sit in the garage, waiting to be moved to a much nicer climate (sure, it's a bit chilly there right now!) and unpacked, hopefully for the final time.
"There are many adversaries..." This was prophecied over my wife and I some eight years ago, in December of 2001. I believe the portal has been revealed to us, and I believe that, as Paul stated, it is a "great door, and effectual" to what God hopes to accomplish in me. However, the adversaries have been many, and they have railed against us continually, almost from our arrival back here in Austin, after our trip to Wyoming. I confess that I have fallen; I have failed; I have stumbled; I have been wounded in the battle, yet time and time again, God sends an encouraging word telling me to rise up, and I hear the cry, "To the battle yet again!" Do I ever think of giving up? Of course; I am human. But God is supernatural, and He is Almighty, Omnipotent, All-Knowing, and "able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all that we can ask or think". It is not my battle unless I choose to make it so; if I lean on Him and allow Him to guide my hand, my eye, my sword, I will win this fight, and I will be an effective minister in His Kingdom.
Yes, it's been a rough year. My blog is proof of that, for the scribbles in my heart have been few. It seems the well has run dry. But God will anoint me, and will pour in His Spirit of refreshing, and I will continue the battle.
I will run the race.
I will finish the course.
There is laid up a crown for me, but before I reach that eternal crown, I believe there is a task, an opportunity, a field, a ministry, that will be effective to many, and will be effective in the Kingdom of God.
For God has said, through the mouths of multiple witnesses: "Beyond your greatest imagination..."
And I believe God.