Janie and I began attending church in earnest about 21 years ago. Our hunt for THE church began when we moved to San Antonio from California and had reached a point where we visited one or two churches a week—sometimes together—often not—looking for the perfect church. Meanwhile, after playing music professionally for 26 years, I was days away from selling all my equipment and immersing myself in the primary constants in my life: family and career. We began attending “Church on The Rock” when, after attending the first time, the drummer walked to the back of the church where we sat (inconspicuously we thought) and asked if I was a musician. I said I was and he said they had been praying for me to come! The next week I began what has been 2 decades of Praise and Worship and decided to keep my equipment!
A few month’s after joining the church, Janie and I were on the second of our twice-daily treks to H.E.B. for “necessities”. It was a cold and rainy evening, unseasonably chilly for San Antonio and barely navigable on streets populated by Texas Jekyll & Hyde drivers—many of whom we had begun to recognize as pew-mates at church. Janie went into the store and I sat in the passenger’s seat, safe from the elements but alone with my thoughts. I realized, in that moment, that while I was going through the motions of being a Christian, I was perpetrating a fraud on the pastor, the congregation, my family, and—in my bleary-eyed well-intentioned ardor—God. Oh, sure, I raised my hands in praise, and wept on cue, and brought the appropriate pathos and enthusiastic applause to testimonies declaring God’s healing power—while secretly chortling to myself and wondering why we were not given measurable proof that “the cancer IS gone”! I remembered, from what little I’d read to that point, the story of the “burning bush”—through which God declared to an insecure Moses His intentions for the Israelites (Exodus 3:14-15).
14 God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’ “This is my name forever, the name you shall call me from generation to generation.
I decided that I too wanted my “burning bush” experience—proof positive of God’s existence. I was broken, insecure, and had been lonely most of my life. I was an island. I had no true friends to speak of—except for Janie—and I had suffered so much for so long.
I began sobbing. Through my sobs, I asked for God to save me—I plead for the healing hand I’d heard so much about in church. “Father, please help me!” I beseeched. “I’ve always been alone”, I cried. “I can’t do this on my own!” Suddenly. There, in the car–with my eyes open—what appeared before me were a series of vignettes from my life, as if happening in real time—in startling detail. I watched—as if suspended from a corner in each room. In the first vignette, while sitting on the edge of my bed, I could hear my mom and sisters being violently terrorized by my stepfather in the next room. After each vignette, as if on a ticker tape, in bold letters, scrolling from left to right were the words “I WAS THERE.”
I saw myself arriving home to a cold dark house—and realizing my father was gone—for good. I WAS THERE.
In another scene, I saw myself stepping into my sister’s apartment and realizing she was using heroin and selling drugs to survive. I WAS THERE.
I saw another sister plead with my stepfather to stop beating me—the power and speed of his blows actually preventing me from falling. I WAS THERE.
Then, I saw myself talking to a friend, who informed me that my youngest sister had succumbed to heroin use and life “on the streets”. Finally, I saw myself sitting bedside with my mom as she took her final breaths. I WAS THERE.
I WAS THERE. After every scene, I was comforted to know that my Father was there—I had, in fact, never been alone! An enormous weight was forever lifted. While this was going on, I looked outside my window, momentarily, to see if anyone bore witness to these amazing visions—afraid to look away too long—for fear of quenching the moment and the lessons I knew it would bring.
This was the first of several—perhaps many—“burning bushes” I’ve experienced in my walk over the years and remains singularly important as I reflect on my life since. My experience in the H. E. B. parking lot was transformative. My life was forever changed.
In his series “The Power of Same”, I was reminded of this event when Pastor Danny said “A greater force will change the direction of my life if I allow it to impact me”. “The power in doing the same things”, he reminded us, “applies to both good and bad choices”. Inertia in our lives sometimes sets us on the path of least resistance. In some things—no harm—no foul. Our lives are peppered by things we do as a matter of routine. We tend to sit in particular seats at church, in school and in theaters. We have favorite chairs, and blankets, and glasses, and cereal bowls! However, what about those things that provide strength, stability and consistency—chief among them Jesus Christ?
4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope. 5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, 6 so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
When God shows us, and we choose, the pattern to follow in all things (Hebrews 8:5), the constants that once defined us are only viable when they further His purpose in us. Some constants, companions for a lifetime—wither and fall away like fruit from a vine un-pruned and bitter for lack of nutrients. Our one true constant is Jesus Christ—“a fixed value that”, Pastor Danny reminded us, “will not change”! .
While I still grapple with depression occasionally, I have not been lonely one moment since that eye-opening evening in the H. E. B. parking lot. I’ve endeavored to honor and glorify God through my music, my thoughts, and my actions. I fall woefully short—too often. Still, one adage I’ve adopted for my life is: “Fall down 6 times—get up 7!”.
Several years ago, almost to the day, my resolve was tested mightily. The middle finger on my right hand became infected and—when all medical interventions failed—it was amputated. I was devastated. I believed I would never play the sax or flute again. One “constant” in my life appeared lost forever. Still, I decided to abide in the power of prayer and the promises of my Father—the One True Living God!
The amputation was on Tuesday. I went to our Praise and Worship rehearsal on Thursday and wept as I opened my sax case and began assembling the instrument I began playing 44 years earlier. I attempted to play and the other musicians pretended not to hear my halting first notes. I made it through the rehearsal buoyed by God’s Grace and Favor in my life and encouraged by the counsel of family and friends who lifted prayers on my behalf. My wife, Janie, a powerful prayer warrior, has been a constant source of strength and inspiration. I began formulating a strategy that night to re-learn the sax and flute using alternate fingering and the palm of my hand. I spent hours each day, including early mornings and late nights playing an imaginary sax with reassigned fingers. That Sunday, five days after the amputation, I played a couple of solos during Praise and Worship at our church and knew, without a doubt, that the set purpose to which God had called me would not change!
“The Power of Same” series served as a reminder that, as Pastor Danny so aptly observed, “Jesus is the true sustainable source . . . the true vine.” As a teacher, I always maintained that our calling required of us around-the-clock integrity—a “constant character” as Pastor Danny described it. Should we, as Christians, settle for anything less? The values rooted in the Bible are time-honored and should serve as a blueprint for our lives and reminder of the true life-giving—soul-saving–power of same—Jesus Christ.
Published by Dean Evans
Photo by Dean Evans