Jan. 29, 2008 — The events of the past weekend bring to mind a poignant story from the life of David, told in 2 Samuel 23:14-16. Hidden from hostile Philistines in a cave at Adullam, David longed for a drink of water from his hometown well at Bethlehem, just five miles away. Overhearing this, three of David’s bodyguards risked their lives to obtain it for him. Overcome with emotion and respect for his men’s courage, David refused to drink the water but “poured it out to the LORD.” To the person blessed with an idyllic childhood, there is something almost holy about one’s hometown. I am still enjoying in memory a brief return to mine — Athens, Alabama — last Friday through Sunday.
The occasion was my mother’s 85th birthday, for which gathered her six children with spouses and some grand-and-greatgrandchildren (from Tex., Ala., Calif. and Fla.), two stepchildren and families (Ohio and Tenn.), foster child (Ky.), one brother (Tenn.), two sisters (Miss., Arizona), other relatives (Calif., Ga.) and a host of friends from 1943 onward. We celebrated in Founders Hall at Athens State University (pictured above), which was built before the Civil War. Words cannot express the joy of seeing all these kin and close friends, and especially of preaching twice about Jesus on Sunday morning at my brother Henry’s church in Huntsville, Ala., where the usual attendance of 20 was tripled by 20 of my relatives plus 20 gracEmail subscribers from Alabama and Tennessee.
Sara Faye and I enjoyed visiting with dear friends Whitts and Williamses, and spending two nights with Joe and Vicki Curtis. Joe is a preaching pastor at the vibrant Seven Mile Post Road Church near Athens and a financial planner with Merrill Lynch. He and I have been best friends for 55 years, were college roommates, neighbors for 10 years and I performed the wedding for him and Vicki. While we three couples were eating out on Friday night, in walked another family who had been in our barn church during the 1970’s (read about that in The Sound of His Voice, previously titled Beyond The Sacred Page) whom we had not seen since. Sara Faye and I drove past the house in which I grew up (how the yard has shrunk!), the house we built and in which we raised our children into elementary school (the oak and magnolia trees Sara Faye’s dad had lovingly planted are now 40-60 feet tall) and the barn in which for six years we once gathered as church (now empty and falling down but forever precious in memory).
During Mother’s wonderfully-successful reception on Saturday, we reunited with a host of friends, some of whom I had known and loved from earliest childhood. It was a whirlwind trip and we returned home to Houston on Sunday night physically exhausted but spiritual and emotionally charged. With King David, I agree that water from the hometown well is sweet beyond description, and I thank God for a childhood enormously wealthy in all but money, which itself was never lacking for basic needs. Thank you, Father, for allowing me this return to my roots. May your spiritual planting in me, now for 25 years transposed to Texas, continue to bear good fruit to your glory and for the welfare of others. I ask this in Jesus’ name and for his sake. Amen.