I was Employee of the Year for the City of Bedford in 1993. As I stood before City Council, my family, and my friends, on January 12, 1993, to accept the award, I never ONCE acknowledged the God I KNEW was responsible for MY very being. I've always regretted that I never said, Thank You Lord for allowing me this honor. I was baptized into The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) at 12 years old, but never truly lived a Christian life. I wasn't a BAD person… My main doctrine was I'm not THAT bad, I'm just not THAT good. I basically thought, one day I'd die; and just before I did… I'd ask for God's forgiveness for all I'd done wrong, and He'd welcome me into heaven with open arms.
Six days after receiving the Employee of the Year award, my Mom called me from Bedford County Memorial Hospital. She said they had "found something" in her blood they didn't like, and I should go by her house, pack her a bag, and meet her at Roanoke Memorial Hospital. My Mom was an angel. She was a Registered Nurse for 35 years, who devoted her WHOLE LIFE, to helping others. It was said at her funeral, that she "bridged the gap" between all generations. She was as comfortable with the MTV crowd, as she was with her favorite, Pavarotti. As well as being my Mom, she was my rock, and my best friend. The "something" they found in her blood, turned out to be Acute Lymphacidic Leukemia, a disease primarily found in children. My Mom had just recently retired "again," and her next conquest in life, was to be a cruise to The Bahamas in February. That night at RMH, as the Doctor spoke to us as a family, he used strange new words, like “chemotherapy, radiation, and quality of life”. As he spoke, Momma badgered him, asking over and over… "Can I go on my cruise?" I remember praying that night, "God, HOW could this happen to us? Mr. Employee of the Year… the good guy... the one who wasn't THAT bad, I just wasn't THAT good." She never made it on that cruise… As my Mom became sicker and sicker, she began to "share" things with us. One day, she said, "you know? One day, they'll take me to Roanoke in that rescue squad, and I won't be coming back". It surprised and scared me, to hear my Mom talk this way, but we soon realized, she WAS right. We realized that one day; if something doesn't happen here, real soon, she's not gonna get better. My wife and I had been married almost 13 years at this point, but had never been able to have kids. But almost to THE day we realized momma wasn’t getting any better; that was THE day my wife got pregnant! My mom's theory behind the whole thing was it was going to nearly kill me when she died, so God allowed us a child, to give us something to occupy our time. She also shared with me one day, words that broke my heart. She asked, "you know WHY God hasn't allowed you to have any children, up until now?" I said, "No, I don't have a clue." She said, "up until now, you weren't fit to be a father." BOY did those words ever hurt… but since then, I can see now, she was right.
My Mom struggled for 6 months, and on July 27, 1993, she went "home" to be with her Lord. She never got to see my daughter, born December 23, 1993. At the hospital where she worked for so many years, my Mom, Geraldine, was “just Geri” to her co-workers, so our daughter IS NOT Geraldine, she's named after her grandmother, and she’s just Geri. We brought her home from BCMH on Christmas Eve, and Cheri swears Grandma Dill (as she was affectionately known) was here, when she rocked her to sleep in our living room that first night. I didn't doubt it then, nor do I doubt it now.
You would think that raising a child would be enough incentive, to make you want to try and straighten out your life, but I guess I'm hard-headed? As Geri grew, I still lived a life I KNEW was less than pleasing to God, yet I was afraid to try to change. We began to "want" so much for Geri. Things that we had, when we were growing up, that’s what we wanted for Geri. We wanted her in Sunday School, and Bible School... all things we soon realized (a divine intervention?) we didn't "want" for ourselves. You see, we had slipped away from church over 10 years ago, and never bothered to go back.
Something really strange began to work in our lives about this time. I didn't realize it at the time, but now I know, it was God's Holy Spirit. After losing My Mom, I needed a role-model in my life so badly, and we began to lean on my Father-in-Law Jerry. Jerry was one of THE kindest, most giving people I'd ever met. He was brought up under staunch rules concerning the church, because his Daddy was a Baptist preacher. I began to go to church, and would take Geri. Cheri was at a point she wasn't interested just yet, so I would take Geri alone. After about 6 months, on Easter Sunday, I told her I was going to join HER church, with, or without her! I had begun to experience a calling I had never heard before. As the people began to accept me, it became clearer God was calling.
As we grew closer to God, life began to get harder at times for us. In the fall of 1995, our family called us to Bedford County Memorial Hospital. Jerry (my Father-in-Law) had surgery the previous Friday, and according to his Doctors, was failing fast. They would move him to The University Of Virginia Hospital, but there was only a small chance that he would survive. As I watched them load him in that helicopter, I did something I'm not proud of. I lashed out at God. As I screamed through my tears, I asked once again, "HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO ME???" Remember me? The guy who isn't that bad, I'm just not that good? Mr. Employee of the Year? I've heard people say all my life, “God spoke to me.” But up until THAT day, I can honestly say, I'd never heard God say ONE WORD to me. But the words he said that day, reminded me strangely, of the words my Momma had said. As I raged, it was as if God turned his back, and he walked away. But then He turned and looked, and asked "Rick, who ARE you?" I used to know you… and I had SUCH a plan for your life… But now, I hardly even know you. I said, “Don’t you KNOW me? I'm the guy who's not that bad… Mr. Employee of the Year? You know me?” So as I watched the helicopter take off, I did something you're not supposed to do, but I did, I asked God, “what IS IT you want from me?” and He simply said, “I WANT YOU!” So I bargained for a bit… Then I said, “You know you got My Mom... But not Jerry, not now anyway... Please don't take him now, I'll do anything.” So ever since that day, God's been opening doors, and I've been trying to follow His lead.
They moved Jerry to UVA, and the Doctors said, “The BEST we can do, is get him patched up, and into a rest home somewhere.” He was in a coma for 17 days. They said he was unresponsive, but we could "feel" in our hearts, he was okay. An army of angels were praying, and after 17 days, they dropped his meds, and he woke up. PRAISE THE LORD! We brought him home, and instead of living life, we began to savor it. Jerry lived a little over 2 years after that first illness and we were able to cherish every second that God gave him back to us. He told me so many things about "how" to conduct myself. But THE most important thing he ever said to me was, “to NEVER stop serving God.” I can honestly say, my father in law was one of THE greatest men I've ever known.
The rest of my testimony is unwritten. I had been “THE life of the party” for so long, it was hard for many to accept that I now serve Jesus. The missions change from time to time, but the battle is always the same. We began a walk into ministry that now seems as clear as walking up a flight of stairs. First it was Sunday School Teacher, then Deacon. There has NEVER been a ministry yet, that the devil hasn't told me, Rick you’re not worthy. But God (and some folks at Trinity Baptist Church) had other ideas; I began singing almost as a joke, and God had His hand in that also, all the way from Ginger, Rick, and Dan (GRD Music Ministries), to my first little karaoke machine, to this trailer full of junk out here in my driveway. It took awhile, but now I know, this is GOD'S ministry, not mine. In 1998, I was in Charlotte NC, at a Promise Keepers event, to lift up our Pastors. During one of the exercises, a Pastor announced, "If you have anything to say to someone in your group, that you've been holding back, turn to that person and say it now." My Pastor, my friend, and my mentor, Wessley Patterson, turned to me, in an auditorium full of 3000+ men and said "if anything ever happened to me, you know you could be THE next Pastor of Trinity Baptist Church". This church; is the church they had Dale Earnhardt’s funeral at. It IS BIG! And that February day in 1998, I felt like I was the smallest dot in the universe. Later in the year, I had a vision, while mowing my lawn of all things. I could see me, pastoring a little church in Tennessee. I came in, literally in tears, and explained to Cheri what I had seen. Then the clincher was at the annual Living Cross Play at Hyland Heights Baptist Church, Easter 1998. (The Living Cross is a depiction of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, with many glorious songs, and pageantry.) Because we have a close friend who sings in the choir, we had seen many of these services, and always were moved, but not like this one. This particular play, there was a scene depicting Simon of Cyrene, as he carried the cross of Christ to Calvary. As he sang, "Oh Lamb of God, so pure and humble. Divine yet man..." I began to realize, Jesus died for MY sins. As he finished the song, the spot lights zoomed in to his hands, and the actor said, "WAS IT ALL FOR ME?" I felt closer to God at that moment, than I ever had before in my whole life. I knew then what must be done, if I was to please God. I had fooled myself into thinking that good people go to heaven for way too long. But as I realized that night I am not perfect, and I’d never be “good enough”, but I too realized for once, I'm forgiven. You see, sometimes satan will lie to us and tell us we're not GOOD enough to get saved or to serve Christ. But oh, what a lie that is! God says, “Come… just AS YOU ARE.”
If I have any regrets in my life, it would be the 20 years I wasted, not serving Him as I should. People who knew me "before", know I'm a passionate guy. I pour myself into whatever project I have at the moment. I only wished I had been passionate my whole life for Christ.