Go West Old Men: A Travel Memoir. Part 4

Why I Got Derailed

This is Part 4 of the story, follow these links to see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

After being home from my summer missions trip for about a week, I embarked on a road trip, spending the last of my cash reserve.

I drove to Indiana to see a friend who was working on a production of Fiddler on the Roof. I’d also fallen in love with theater while in college and Tevye had become a bucket list role. While I’m writing this, I still haven’t played that part. But that story belongs in another book. And, at this point in my life, probably belongs to another actor. I’m okay with that.

The next stop was back in Kentucky to visit the campus and see some friends there in summer school. I secured a job delivering pizza for Domino’s and told them I’d be back in a couple of weeks. A friend and I rented a trailer in nearby Nicholasville and plans were falling into place.

Scott and I had both signed up to be youth counselors at Indian Springs Camp Meeting in Georgia. There for a week and a half we worked with the youth, helped in the kitchen, and attended the evening services.

Scott tells me that I talked about returning to the canyon and hiking it together. I’m a little fuzzy on that part. At the “missionary service” I announced my intention to go full time with World Gospel Mission.

After Indian Springs, I piled up everything I could fit into my Hornet station wagon. Yes, that was my first car, it was also brown, and drove to Kentucky. I worked for Domino’s, hung out with friends, and re-joined the choir at the United Methodist Church. I also spent a significant amount of money on car repairs.

It’s hard for me to explain to my sons how I lived at that point. A box of Kraft macaroni and cheese, and some tomatoes from a friend’s garden were a luxury dinner. A twenty-five cent ice cream cone from McDonald’s was a splurge. But I was there, and soon my friend would be joining me in the trailer.

I took Labor Day weekend off for a trip home. It was a bit of a celebration weekend at my home church as it was the anniversary of the pastor’s arrival. It was an emotional time with family and friends.

I knew where I was going. I knew what my plans were. But I asked for prayer to be certain that I was on the right path.

That’s when everything changed. Rather than an assurance, rather than an encouragement, the pastor let me know in no uncertain terms that he thought I was making the wrong decisions.

I wasn’t sure he was right, but then he said the phrase that haunted me for years. For the most part, my emotions had evened out since my father’s passing, but there were still moments of intense grief. Reality is that I still have those moments more than forty-five years later.

In the midst of his counsel, he looked me in the eyes and said “You’re Mother is lonely. She still cries in the night. You need to come home.”

Back in Kentucky, I couldn’t get away from those haunting words. I was struggling with money, my car needed major repairs.

By mid-September I was back in Southwest Virginia.

It took me years to get to the point of no longer resenting what the pastor said to me. I think he meant well. I think he was giving me what he thought was the best counsel and guidance.

It just wasn’t the path for me.

It’s temporary I told myself and I started making plans and looking for work that would allow me to eventually make the return to where I thought I belonged.

Suffice it to say that, three and a half years later, I was still there. I became an essential part of the ministry. Without being too unkind, I was being manipulated, I was being controlled. I was being stifled.

In early 1984 I began volunteering for a local congressional race. The husband of my cousin was running on the Republican ticket and one of my best high school friends was his fundraiser.

By mid-summer that year I was making choices and meeting with certain levels of disapproval. I felt trapped in my job, in my hometown, and by the church.

When I realized that I was considered to be having spiritual problems when I chose to spend my Saturday’s working for the campaign and not doing yard work at the pastor’s house, I left the church, quit my job, and joined the campaign full time.

That set in motion at nearly forty-year career in public policy and government. That was never on my radar at Asbury.

By the time the campaign ended, my Mother had remarried. I found myself moving to Richmond to work on another campaign, and later to DC. I spent eight years working for an association of state legislators where I became the convention manager. I traveled extensively in the states, making it to Arizona multiple times.

But never back to the canyon and never back to the mission field. At least not on a long-term basis.


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