Angel's Rest Pearisburg Virginia

Angel’s Rest Mountain, Pearisburg, Virginia

I have written this post before. I have hated it every time.

August 1, 1978 will forever be the worst day of my life. Even worse than hearing, not once, but twice the words “you have cancer.”

I was traveling with a ministry team from Asbury University (formerly College). We were in Michigan and had a few days off before heading to Pennsylvania. They had been difficult days, but that’s another post, another story.

The phone rang where two of my friends and I were staying. On the other end, I hear my home pastor saying “your father passed away this morning.”

I hurriedly flew home and we went through the funeral rituals that all southern families go through. Again, there are stories there, but not for this post.

I recently read Sean Dietrich’s Will the Circle Be Unbroken? He writes about coming to terms with his father’s suicide when he (Sean) was just a young boy. While the circumstances of my Dad’s passing were far different, the feelings, the challenges, the struggles, that Sean went through resonated.

This weekend, I read Steven Pressfield’s Put Your Ass Where Your Heart Wants to Be. He explains in this case that “ass” means “commitment.” Although he does speak a good deal about the act of physically moving your behind to where it needs to be to follow your dream.

So, in my ongoing quest to figure out what I want to be when I grow up, I have wondered if having Sean’s or Steven’s words to guide me some forty-four years ago might have helped me figure some things out a lot sooner.

Truth be told, being a good little fundamentalist at the time, I probably would have been offended with the word “ass.”

On a side note, I do love them side notes, I have a fond memory of looking over at notes my drama professor had written when we were preparing for Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He’d made a note to ask the administration about the use of that word. It simply said “ask about ass.” In the context of the play, read it it will do you good, we were allowed.

I digress.

After graduation I headed to Arizona and New Mexico and spent the summer working as a missionary on the Navajo reservation. In my heart, I knew I would be back. I even bought the “Hike the Canyon” t-shirt. I never returned.

Later in the summer I returned to Kentucky where my plans were to attend seminary prior to returning to the mission field, or obtain an education degree to supplement my Bachelor’s. I did neither.

Instead, in an emotional weekend at my home church, I got some bad spiritual advice, again a story for another book, or perhaps not, and I moved home to Southwest Virginia.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my hometown. I love my home county. But the opportunities there are not limitless. This was pre-internet so any research was limited to word of mouth or what I could find at the library.

I had a couple of shining opportunities there. I interviewed with a local television station for a reporter position. I did not get the job but the producer asked if I would be interested in camera work. Like a fool, I declined.

Instead I stayed home, got stuck in a mediocre job, and felt trapped by an unhealthy church relationship. And it all pointed back to the guilt laid on me that emotional weekend.

It took me three and a half years to get out. I did and started an unlikely career in politics and government…that was thirty eight years ago.

All along the way, I’ve wanted to write, to do art, to perform. I’ve had some incredible opportunities to do that in recent years.

I can’t help but wonder if, at each of those turning points, what would have happened if I’d made a different choice.

More than that, what would have happened if I had my father there to offer some guidance.

I write this knowing that I can’t dwell on the what ifs.

I can’t dwell on what might have happened.

And I can’t blame those who I believe gave me bad counsel…and oh, there’s a book there if I ever have the guts to write it.

On this day, the anniversary of the worst of all days, I ponder those things.

Please don’t misunderstand. In what has turned out to be my career I have had some incredible opportunities. I had eight years of being able to travel all over the country spending someone else’s money. And I’ve had incredible opportunities since moving back to Richmond.

I have a family that I love and that, most of the time, I think loves me. I get to travel to the beach, I’ve done theatre, I’m writing and publishing books, I’m wearing the red suit.

It’s a good life.

But as I continue to realize that the road ahead is far shorter than the road behind, the what if will always be there.

Right next to the sting.

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.[c]

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the Lord has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields[d] with fire.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Psalm 46

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