One of the hardest moments in my journey was the day I realized that so many of my most beloved mentors, men and women whose fingerprints are still on my life, would not be comfortable with who I am. It would cause them deep concern or even grief.
And yet it was so many of the gifts they gave me that helped bring me here. The truths they taught me, the love they showed me, the lives of faith they modeled for me.
One of those mentors died unexpectedly this week.
Wayne was my pastor after college, when I first stepped outside the walls of fundamentalism. It wasn’t a step very far in retrospect – to a conservative Southern Baptist church. But Wayne’s preaching was steeped in grace, cool water to my parched soul.
A couple of years after I’d first come to the church, through a random series of events, Wayne and I discovered that my father had been his best friend at the military boarding school they attended together for one year of high school.
Daddy died when I was three, and I had spent years trying to find the men whose names were in his high school yearbooks, longing for someone who could tell me stories and help me know him. But even after visiting the campus, I’d not managed to track any of them down.
The Sunday evening after church when Wayne realized I was my father’s daughter and learned of his death, he must have hugged me a dozen times. We both cried, and I remember him saying, “Oh, Honey! I got your Daddy into more trouble!”
That night he gave me his unlisted phone number to call if I “ever needed anything,” and a relationship began that was one of the sweetest gifts of my life.
As he travelled the country speaking in churches, Wayne would tell his friends about the discovery of “my other adopted daughter.” When they’d come to the conferences we sponsored at the church, I’d barely get myself introduced before they’d exclaim, “Oh, Jennifer! Wayne told us about you!”
Every couple of months he’d take me to lunch, and we’d talk about life and his ministry and Daddy. Wayne was the only person in my life who ever sat across a table from me and exclaimed, “That look is your daddy all over your face! He used to give me that look all the time!”
Those looks, from both Daddy and me, were in response to Wayne’s outrageous stories and antics. I’ve never met someone so irrepressible, and so fond of practical jokes. A part of Wayne never outgrew the ten year old in him, and we loved him for it.
There were stories about Wayne plotting chaos at the full-dress parades where Daddy called the orders, and about Wayne showing up for inspection, standing at attention half naked and covered in fire extinguisher foam. “I could hear that deep base chuckle your daddy couldn’t keep in down the line.”
After Wayne and I had both left Chattanooga, I’d drive down to a church in small town North Carolina for his meetings there every year. We’d sit in the pastor’s study for an hour or two before the service and catch up.
One of the last conversations I remember having with him was an affectionate tussle over the “inerrancy of Scripture.” I’d begun to question the usefulness of the term at the least, and if it really reflected what God gave us in the Bible. Wayne listened and thought with me, and held to inerrancy.
That didn’t surprise me. It also didn’t change the way I heard his message that night, continuing to persuade people that it’s God’s grace that does the work of transforming our lives.
I’ve known for years that following Jesus has taken Wayne and me down different paths – paths that sometimes look to be in conflict, even. I can’t explain that away and I won’t discount the real differences.
But Wayne taught me to trust Jesus, and he showed me a glimpse of the delight God has in us.
The delight God has in me.
I do my best to trust Jesus in both of our journeys. I still hold the gifts Wayne gave me. They’re in me every time I preach or study the Bible. I wish he could be proud of me.
Maybe today he can be.
And I cry, because I miss him.