Nigh about the time I left Scott County, Tennessee for Maryville College, my home church got themselves a new pastor. I've never really sat under the man, in church, but--without delving into the details (this time around, at least)--he proved himself to be a true friend of my family right off the bat.
He was commuting into Scott County from Harriman, Tennessee, which is a pretty good little haul, and he says he didn't understand, at the time, why the Lord was calling him to pastor a church so far from his house.
But he knows, now, why the Lord called him, and the reason is this: his daughter found her husband (the father of her sons) in that church. And his daughter's husband, as it turns out, is my brother.
My brother and sister-in-law married fourteen years ago, when he was twenty and she eighteen. Grandad Shafer went to be with the Lord right around the same time, and all of us traveled eight hours north for his funeral. Including my sister-in-law's mom and her dad, the preacher, who ministered to all of us through his presence and prayers.
And I reckon he's been ministering to all of us ever since.
I saved an e-mail he sent me over twelve years ago. (I was living in Dallas, at the time.) The subject line reads: "from a peculiar people in east tenn," and--in the e-mail--Rob talks about the Lord's plan for our lives. My favorite line is the last: "always remember you can't get away from someone who said 'i will never leave thee nor forsake thee.'"
I've found, happily: you can't much get away from Rob, either.
He's sent many encouraging e-mails over the years. He officiated Jim's and my wedding ceremony; baptized my son and nephew (Rob's grandson) by laying them, together, back into the water; and dedicated Jim's and my baby daughters to the Lord. He fellowshipped with (and ministered to) Grandma Blickenstaff.
And then there's this: two years ago, Jim and I found ourselves in a bit of a bind when our former renters moved out, leaving my bitty house in a state of disrepair. Jim was working, and I was busy with Clementine, who was only about seven months old. Rob caught wind of this and e-mailed, offering to drive the eight hours here and spend a few days making repairs to that house, and this.
On the heels of Rob's visit (and very hard work), Jim and I were blessed to find dream renters: people capable of addressing most repair issues themselves, people committed enough to make significant improvements to the bitty house. And every month--when they make it possible for me to pay my mortgage, on time--I offer up thanks to God for sending Rob to the bitty house. Because I know, without a shadow of doubt: as he worked in that house, he prayed excellent renters into it.
But I guess, of everything Rob's done to bless my heart, I'm most grateful for his love of my brother, who very obviously became Rob's son back in 1997. I've seen, with my own eyes, Rob's standing in the gap for my brother in ways that perhaps no one else could have. I don't have words to describe my comfort in knowing that man of God is with my brother, and for him, but there's peace there. And I don't mean just any peace; I mean God's peace, peace that passeth all understanding.
I think it's important to express thanks to those who love us; adopt us and our loved ones; believe that God will keep working in and through us; stand by us in good and bad times, for years, and forever; help us with their hands; pray for us; encourage and exhort us; speak scripture over and to us; offer us the body and blood of Christ, in communion; and carry us--as though we were the leprous man, lowered through the roof--into the very presence of Christ.
So I offer, in this meager way, my thanks to Rob: the family preacher, a vital character in my family's heritage of faith.