6. The dawn of the huggers.

Now, I’m not dissing on people that have weight issues.  I struggle with my weight.  As I type this, I am thirty some odd pounds over my ideal number.  I know I need to put down the chicken tenders and the Peanut butter Oreos.  And I will. Tomorrow.

But Brother Marty was huge. Sumo wrestler huge.  I mean HUGE.  He was so massive that I know my eyes totally bugged out when I first shook his hand.  But he didn’t just shake my hand.  No. He wrapped his tree trunk arms around me and smothered me in a big, goofy, grizzly bear hug.  I was stunned…and somewhat mortified.

And within that hug lay an omen. It was the foreshadowing of things to come… the inauguration of the era of the invasion of personal space. In saying fare-the-well to Dr. Mathews and his friendly monkey, our church had apparently closed the chapter on formal handshakes and civilized greetings.

A new day had dawned, and we were now huggers.

Like it or not.

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5. The Meeting of Brother Marty.

I can’t remember when they found him.  Was there snow on the ground or was it Spring?  It was so long ago.  But I remember it happening.

I remember him coming home from the trip.  I remember the smile on his face and how he hugged me.  Hard.  It was as if all of the pressure and torment of the past 18 months had just evaporated with one significantly solid embrace.

He couldn’t tell us anything, yet.  But it wasn’t long before Brother Marty and his family were in town checking us out. They were coming from a small town in Kentucky and this was a BIG move for him.  Geographically and Career-wise.

BIG move.

I remember that Sunday at church…how excited we were. Yet forbidden to act with any extra enthusiasm.  No one could know what was going on.  We were to be seriously secretive and covert.  It felt important being a part of the inner circle. Knowing.  I do remember that.

After church, we sneaked off with the Search Committee and Brother Marty’s family to have lunch.  We met.

He was fat. And he smiled a lot.

I mean FAT and A LOT.

4. Searching for Billy Graham.

So my dad was gone a lot.  I think I mentioned that already.  It was eighteen months plagued with an obsession to find THE best preacher on terra firma. I remember him listening to tape after tape of resume sermons.  He was constantly distracted and it felt as if he were always in meetings or on the phone with someone talking about it.

At first, it was so exciting.  We were on the brink of starting over.  It was electric.

But as the weeks drew on, the excitement waned.  Months passed with no end in sight.  I remember my dad being excited about a candidate, and then after visiting him, trudge back home deflated because of some hold-out who was wavering due to some small nit-picky detail.  Dad really wanted this to be a unanimous decision, so if any one person felt ill at ease, the committee would put that preacher in the “no” pile.

The hardest part was watching my dad have to field questions in the parking lot.  You know how much negotiating goes on amidst parked cars?  And the waiting… People would see us in the car, but just keep talking and talking and talking.  There were times that I wanted to scream!  Get me out of here, please!

It was emotional.  My dad was like a rock-star at church. Everyone wanted his attention. Everyone wanted something from him, and  I could feel the pressure he was under. The pressure the church was putting on him. The relentless expectation.

And the truth of the matter was, my dad was looking for another Billy Graham.  A charismatic, dynamic saver of souls. He’d set himself up for a tragic fall, but he just couldn’t see it.

And during this period, my grandfather died.  My sweet, precious grandfather who lived with us.  Who took care of us. Who practically raised us.  It was devastating.  And the sorrow. So much sorrow.

I cried and I prayed.  I prayed and I cried.  And I prayed.  For relief.  To be relieved.

3. I missed him.

So, my dad was the Chair of the Pastor Search Committee. Subconsciously, I did feel a distinct, vain swell of pride.  Our church was one of the “larger” (but by no means the largest) in our city, and MY dad was going to lead us into a new era.

Oh, how wrong I was.  How wrong we all were.

Well, a committee was formed.  They even put some women on it. Shocker, huh?  At the time, I didn’t feel surprised, but looking back, I’m seriously in awe.  They would never have put a woman on staff, yet they allowed women to be a part of the search.  Huh.

And so, they searched.  And they searched.  And they searched. And they searched.

Which meant he was gone Sunday after Sunday.  They had to go visit other churches….listen to other preachers, all before reviewing candidates.  And then came the candidates, which meant traveling. So, Dad was gone. A Lot. And he missed so much.

He missed me sing.  He missed me cry. He missed me smile.  He missed me throw temper tantrums.

He missed me.

And I missed him.

2. Is church your life?

Is church a part of your life?  Or is your life, church?

Growing up?  Our entire lives centered around the church.  Every time the doors were open, we were there.  Dressed up in our little, lacy frocks for all of the world to see.  Every Sunday morning. Every Sunday night.  Every Wednesday evening.  Sometimes on Saturday.  GAs. Choir. Church Training. Youth Group.  Bible Drill… need I go on?

Twice while growing up, Dad was Chairman of the Deacons.  He was always at meetings.  I hated that time of our lives the most.  Until, our church decided our aging minister was getting too old.  And too boring.

So a big group of them got together and decided it was time for Dr. Matthews to “retire”.  Yeah.  That’s what they called it.  No one wanted to admit that they were just outright FIRING him.  He’d been there for over thirty dern years.  And he was sweet.  So sweet.  When he’d do his children sermons, and we’d all go down front and sit on the steps with him, he’d pull out this monkey puppet…you know, the kind with the long arms and long legs that wrapped around your neck?  And he’d talk to us like we were real people, not just little dummies to program.

Anyway, Dr. Matthews “retired”.  The deacons were such complete bastards, they weren’t even going to give him a severance package.  Nope.  Thanks for the FREAKING THIRTY YEARS. Don’t let the door hit you in the arse when you leave.

So, my dad stood up and convinced them to pay of his house to the tune of $78,000.  I respect my dad for doing that.  At least, he had some cajones.

But with Dr. Mathews gone. That left a hole to fill.

And guess who was elected Chair of the Pastor Search Committee?

Yup.

My dad.