What do you want to be when you grow up?
It’s a question every child is asked at least once, if not 100 times in his adolescence, if you will forgive the exaggeration. I’m sure I was no exception, although I don’t remember anyone specific posing the question to me as I grew up on the south side of Oklahoma City initially, and then later when we moved northwest.
Being a typical red-blooded American boy, I harbored dreams of being a professional athlete; however, once visions of myself gracefully roaming the outfield and chasing down fly balls as the center fielder for the Cincinnati Reds or delivering bone-crushing tackles to opposing running backs as the middle linebacker for the Green Bay Packers vanished as quickly as the dew on the grass in the hot Oklahoma sun, the answer to that ubiquitous childhood question went unanswered.
How does the third child—and middle son—of a single mother struggling to raise four children on her own in the late 1950s answer such a query? Having no father figure in the house as a model to look up to didn’t help, either. No, he wasn’t dead; he and my mother had been divorced, and I just didn’t have that much contact with him growing up.
But, I did have a heavenly Father—although I wasn’t acutely aware of Him until later—and He had instilled within my innermost being certain stirrings, urges and desires that began to surface as I matured. You could call them talents, I suppose, although some would argue the point, even to this day.
God had given me the desire to be a storyteller!
As I write these words, I approach the end of a 41-year career as a journalist. It’s amazing to even watch my fingers hit the keys that form those words. Four decades of newspaper, radio and public relations work! The last 18 years have been dedicated to sharing in the pages of the Baptist Messenger what God has done through the lives of Oklahoma Baptists; what a blessing!
As I look out my window on the third floor of the Baptist Building on N. May Ave. in Oklahoma City, I can see Northwest Classen High School—from which I graduated in 1968—Taft Junior High (Now middle school) I attended and the towering steeple of Oklahoma City, Northwest, where I finally came to know that God of Whom I wrote a few paragraphs earlier, on a personal level, when I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.
I guess I’m just a home boy at heart.
But, what all of this is adding up to, if you will pardon the pun, is math is not my bag. Words are.
For some reason, God gave me a desire, and the talent, to use them. He has allowed me to use the 26 letters of the alphabet, and the basic punctuation marks that allow those who attempt to communicate using the English language, to accomplish that task.
But, first, he gave a strong desire to read. I was insatiable; I devoured books like a horde of termites feeding on a frame house. To build an edifice, one has to lay a foundation, and then construct upon that. Reading begins with the ABCs, of course, and while I was in junior high, my mind was like a sponge eager to absorb all of the words it could.
I recall reading as many as three books at a time. And as a result, spelling became a forte; a skill that has served me well through the years. Sentence structure and punctuation came hand-in-hand.
The Lord gave me the desire to write as well. I didn’t know how that would play out until later, but I dabbled with poetry and short stories through high school.
My love of sports never left, however, and I was a bench warmer in football and baseball at Northwest, never thinking of working on the yearbook staff or the school newspaper. While I never made it in school sports, I found my swagger on the softball field. While I had trouble hitting a curve ball in baseball (And, who didn’t?), I had powerful arms and quick wrists that helped me send many a pitch over the fence in slowpitch softball (Hey, at least it was something!)
It turned out to be a lifelong sports love affair for me, something I enjoyed well into my late fifties.
But, suddenly, high school graduation day came in the spring of 1968. That Fall, I was enrolling as a freshman at Central State College in Edmond, and looking to fill out my first semester’s list of classes, I noticed a class called News Reporting 101. Intrigued, I figured I’d give it a shot.
And, the rest, as they say, is . . . well, not history, anyway.
My first professor, Kuyk Logan, who also worked as City Editor for The Daily Oklahoman, impressed on us wide-eyed, wanna-be journalists to “Above all, be accurate” in our reporting; something I have never forgotten, although, being human, I sadly admit I have missed the mark on occasion.
Between working through college and getting married to the most wonderful woman in the world—Glenda Kay Jones—of whom I will write more later, I crammed four years of work into six and graduated in 1974. Using the intelligence God gave me, I impatiently obtained a job as an assistant service manager with Curtis Restaurant Supply near downtown Oklahoma City.
Soon after, I was informed about a sports editor’s job at a small daily newspaper that was vacant, and Glenda allowed me to drag her away from family and friends to a little town along the Brazos River called Marlin, Texas.
The only problem was, I took a huge cut in pay to live out my dream of being a writer. But, my beautiful, supportive wife got a job in a dress shop, and God took care of a young, struggling couple. Meals of tuna casserole and Hamburger Helper are not so fond memories from those early days, however.
Long story short, God has directed our paths from Oklahoma City to Marlin, then to Hereford, Texas, where our two children, Jeremy and Kristin, were born, and then back to Oklahoma City.
The Lord has opened doors for a wide variety of writing opportunities for me—sports, business, medicine, real estate, education, religion—and of course, general news. That has allowed me to gain knowledge from many different perspectives; a valuable asset as I have earned a living as a copy editor and helped to manage news staffs.
God also gave me a love for photography. If the old adage, “The pen is mightier than the sword,” is true, then the expression, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” aptly describes images that
cause a heart to flutter, a mouth to gape and eyes to moisten.
Henry David Thoreau, in “Walden,” said, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Those sad words make me think of my paternal grandmother, who had a wanderlust in her DNA, and that has been handed down to me. “Mom,” as we called her, never got to see much of the world, having lived through the Great Depression and pretty much anchored to the red soil of Oklahoma during those desperate times while raising three sons.
God, however, has granted me the awesome privilege of seeing parts of His magnificent world as I have served Him here at the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma (BGCO); albeit some of it has not been at its original beauty.
Through the lens of my camera, I have documented the wonders of the world. I have witnessed the soul-lifting joys—and the heart-rending sorrows—of mankind.
I have visited 24 countries as a Disaster Relief chaplain and reporter/photographer. Never in my wildest dreams as a child would I ever have traveled to Africa, Asia, Australia or Europe. So, I have not lived a life of quiet desperation.
The Lord has allowed me to shuffle amid the throngs of sightseers along the Great Wall in Beijing and peer into the stony faces of Emperor Qin’s Terra-cotta Army in Xian China; trod the pavement and stare at Lenin’s Tomb in Red Square and the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia; hear the amazing Singing Churchmen of Oklahoma lift praises to their Creator in the Opera House in Sydney, Australia and at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia and tingle with goosebumps as the marvelous Singing ChurchWomen of Oklahoma worshipped in the Amber Concert Hall in Liepaja, Latvia.
Those were among the nice, heartwarming times.
He also has honored me with some great friends. I have traveled the world through the writings of our wonderful columnist, Walker Moore, who has inspired me with his tireless efforts to teach youth to be eternity-changers for God.
And Sam Porter, with whom I personally have traveled the globe to help tell the story of how BGCO Disaster Relief teams have reached out in Christ’s love to help heal hurting humanity after either a natural disaster or man’s terrible cruelties to their fellow man.
I have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with this awesome man of God to pray with, minister with and support as our disaster relief volunteer organization has grown into one of the most respected, if not THE most respected relief organization in the Southern Baptist Convention.
We stood together at the edge of the “The Pit” and worked at the temporary morgue at Ground Zero in New York City after the 9-11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center; walked through the devastation in Banda, Ache, Indonesia and in Thailand after the Dec. 26, 2014 Indian Ocean tsunami killed some 230,000 people; ministered to thousands amid the rubble and heartbreak in Port Au Prince, Haiti following the devastating Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake; and walked together through the responses to other hurricanes, tornadoes, ice storms, and wildfires in Oklahoma and across this nation too numerous to list.
I am not so much a Pollyanna to think that I am liked by everyone. I know for sure, however, that my God, Who loves me more than anyone else, has blessed me with one other who loves me unconditionally, and that is Glenda. She is my rock, my love, my best friend.
And, I believe, that’s the best answer a child can give when he is asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
“I want to be someone’s best friend.”