In the fall of 1999 I drove onto the campus of Lee University in Cleveland, TN as a freshman student. I lived in Hughes Hall that freshman year and made lots of awesome memories over the next few years. A few years into my college experience I agreed to move away and take a full-time ministry job.
Though I wasn’t done with my degree, I convinced my parents and my future wife that I would enroll in distance learning classes and complete my education. I moved a few months ahead of Corrie, and after our wedding that December she joined me in Alabama. After being married 3 months we found out we were 3 weeks pregnant, and finishing school started getting pushed further and further down the list of priorities. I would take a few classes along the way, and was committed to finishing, but it wasn’t really until we moved to Mt Paran North in 2007 that I began to gain traction in my pursuit of completion. Over the last 4 years Pastor Mark, our Senior Pastor, has been gracious to allow me to add school to my endeavors here at the church. Also, Pastors James Byrd and Kirk Walters have been a constant source of encouragement and provided support throughout.
Education was a highly important value for my maternal grandfather, Paul Lanier. And as my uncle Rusty reminded me recently in a letter, that value was transferred to my mom. It was her desire for me to finish college and “walk the line”. She never made me believe that a piece of paper would add one bit of value to who I was as a person. However, in her opinion, finishing what you started and “studying to show yourself approved” were important traits for any minister.
When mom got sick I was determined to finish and have her there when I “walked”. The last 2 semesters I completed 18 and 17 hours, respectively, while juggling family and ministry responsibilities to make sure I was done this Spring with her still with us. Sitting in mom’s kitchen during the Christmas holidays she talked about how great it would be to sit at graduation and celebrate with me the finished product of this long journey.
Unfortunately, mom wasn’t able to sit with them. Saturday morning, just before the sun came up, I went and spent some time at her grave and talked about this journey. It was extremely emotional for me, but oh so satisfying, just as mom said it would be, to know that I finished what I started.
Now, in keeping with “Peepaw” and mom’s value on education I’m jumping right into a Master’s program. Starting later this summer I will begin pursuit of a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.
By doing college in this way, I realize I chose the harder route. I also caused more people to be involved in the process. My wife deserves as much credit as anyone in me finishing. She watched the kids, shouldered an unfair burden of the load while I was at coffee houses early, libraries late, or sitting next to her at home typing a paper, etc, etc, etc. My kids also deserve some credit. Though they may not remember it all because they are still young and I tried to limit the impact on them, there were times, especially toward the end, where I was working on school instead of doing something with them. I am glad they were in attendance at my graduation. I want the value of education to carry over to them, and I hope watching me walk helps set the stage for that. Lastly, my dad. He followed a similar path as me (or I followed a path like him, I don’t know). He left Lee in 1978 to pursue full-time ministry and nearly 30 years later completed his degree and walked the line. In my own journey he has been extremely supportive, and Saturday he stood in support of me, and in honor of my mom.
It was a great day, even with mom’s absence, as I was finally able to say (to my undergrad work at least)…it is finished!