(#56 in a series of people who changed the course of my life)
I’ve been in church for almost all of my life, ever since the age of 4, when my mother, Gloria, started raising me–excluding a dark, six-year period when I would abandon religion entirely. Growing up, preachers (that’s what we called them) were the authority on all things moral. In this blog, I explore three preachers from my less recent past who were deeply formative in making me the person of faith I am today.
I don’t remember the pastors of my childhood too much but I also don’t remember ever not loving Jesus. I do remember a song leader at the Tolar Church of Christ–Doug Johnson–who would, with relish, lead Jesus Loves Me when I was a little boy because he knew it was my favorite song. (If we had had YouTube then, I would have been a sensation.) That deep love is what led me with great urgency to be baptized there when i was nine or ten–Lloyd Lee was who it was? Many Sunday-school teachers would teach me about the love of Jesus and why it was important to “be good.”
Later, we would begin attending the Granbury Church of Christ where I would come into contact with a few preachers who greatly impacted my life. Three of these I remember with special fondness. They were always kind to me and would become close friends to our family.
Don Vinzant–what a man. He and his wife Carol–what a precious woman–moved to Granbury during my formative teen years and I remember being in awe of how well he knew and loved the scripture but also how very much joy he had in his smile and when he preached. He was so very kind–to everyone–and I can still see him smiling at me when he would hear of some accomplishment I had made or when the Bible bowl team I was on–with his daughter–placed high in a competition. I remember how he just talked to us from the Word; you could feel his zeal and his passion and his joy. I know that he knew I was different from the other boys and, during an era when it would have been tempting to try and “fix” me, he would nurture the gifts and talents he saw in me even then. To this day, I remain grateful for that interest and leading.
Later, a young preacher and his young family came to Granbury. Stan Reid would become a significant member of our lives and church experience for several years. Stan would inform much of my beliefs and growth during my time as a young man and parent. Stan felt compelled to help men–particularly us young men–really dig in and discover what it meant to us as “men of God”–what we should be doing, how we should be living, how we treated our wives and children, how we could grow. We became close to his wife–who was one of our son’s favorite teachers–and children and shared in their joys and pains as well. When divorce tore apart our family’s life, he and his family took special care of us–and would do so for years afterward. He would be the one to stand and bless my marriage to Pam–and our family’s “merger” into the incredible family unit it remains today; I remain grateful for that enduring blessing. Out of love–not judgment (and there is a difference!)–he would facilitate and support my entry into “ex-gay” therapy because he loved me and our family so much; for that, I bear him no ill will. Stan always spoke with integrity and sincerity and although our last words spoken after my coming out in 2006 remain a sore spot in my heart, I doubt neither his love for me to this day nor his commitment to the Word and teaching others to bear it with that same integrity.
During the time between–I think–these two preachers was another: Chris Frizzell–one of the most loyal, faithful men I know. He was (and probably still is) the constant conscience of that church during a lot of change and growth and difficulty. Along with his precious wife, they nurture lives with zero fanfare or controversy. In fact, as a couple they embodied to me then and to me now what humble love and service to a church and to a faith should look like. When Chris spoke to us, he didn’t preach to us, he taught us. Any gift I have today for teaching has been influenced greatly by Chris. During another particularly difficult period in my family’s life, Chris supported me, offered me forgiveness and acceptance, and modeled grace for me in a way that shapes who I am today, still. I know my coming-out grieved Chris and his wife; borrowing my dear Aunt Becky’s words, we had been “laborers for the kingdom” alongside them. Yet he never spoke harshly or judgmentally toward me; if he disagreed or didn’t understand my choice, he never made me feel judged or hated. In the years that have followed, we haven’t spoken much but when we have, he has always been kind and gentle. When mother passed on to her reward, Chris would be the one by our family’s side–visiting her during her decline, in the room with us when she passed, and offering his trademark compassion and words of comfort at her memorial and graveside services.
I think one of the great challenges for people of faith is allowing faith leaders to have too much sway over our beliefs–carte blanche if you will. I know my mother never once challenged what one said and for decades, I myself would never question their authority; in many ways, that wasn’t healthy–for me at least. And yet, these three men in particular, were good stewards of the trust I placed in them. In teaching me and through relationship, they each passed on a passion for the good in scripture and for doing good with it.
My mother had a specific hope for me–one that I wouldn’t really remember until the last year or so (in part because I think I had blocked it out) and one that I have shared with only a few people: she wanted me to be a preacher and always tried to make me one. She would be proud if I were to have turned out like any one of these men. In many ways, each of them has a part in making me who I am today and in me being receptive to the path before me. I hope my work, in some way, honors theirs and that I can be a good steward of the “good news” as they were.
55. they have my back