I hung up the telephone and sat down on my bed and started to cry. It was November, 1981 and I had been a seminary student at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas for only three months. My mother had just called to inform me that my father had been admitted into Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, North Carolina for “tests.” I was 1200 miles away from home but I might as well have been halfway around the world. Even though one of my best friends from my childhood was a few doors down the hall from me, I had never felt so alone in all my life. To say that I was homesick was an understatement.
After a few minutes, I did the only thing that my mind told me to do. I went to the closet and reached for my suitcase to begin packing. I was going home. At that moment, I didn’t care if I ever completed my seminary degree. Three years seemed like a marathon. I’d go home, help my mother, get a job somewhere and settle in to a life surrounded by the people who knew me the best. But, as I reached for the suitcase, another impression was placed indelibly upon my mind. I’ve always been skeptical of those who claim to hear some type of audible voice from God. But that night, I can attest that in my soul I heard a very clear impression from the Spirit. In the midst of the darkness of that moment in my life, I was reminded in a clear and certain way of my calling to ministry. And I was also given the impression that I needed to stay right where I was, that returning to North Carolina would be a mistake. In short, I was reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words in Philippians 4:9, “Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” (NRSV)
More than twenty years of ministry have passed since that lonely night in a dorm room at Southwestern Seminary. Looking back over the years I now smile at this episode. But it serves as a reminder to me from time to time, especially when dark clouds gather on the horizon, that God is ever-present in my life and is there to lead, comfort, and sustain me through times of difficulty.