The Mesa building we moved into in 1986.

Thomas Wolfe, famous early twentieth-century author from Asheville, North Carolina, entitled his posthumous novel You Can’t Go Home Again. He was mostly right. If you do go home again after a long absence, home won’t be the same. Time takes its toll. Things change, sometimes in startling ways. If you expect them to be the same, you will be disappointed.

That same building today.

     But that’s not the whole truth. Sometimes you can in fact go home again and find that at least some things are the same. This last weekend Joy and I returned to Mesa, Arizona, where we belonged to Central Christian Church from 1979 to 1999, our longest ministry. So many things were different. When we left, the church had an attendance of about 4500. When we returned, it was close to 10,000. Then we worshiped on one campus; now the church meets in five locations; two are large campuses with multiple buildings. Even the one campus we knew has changed dramatically: new paint scheme, upgraded landscaping, the newest in high tech equipment, remodeled sanctuary, much larger staff, more programs, greater outreach. Lots of progress. And lots more people.

Joy designed the interior of the Mesa building. Its signature was the cross, showing that Jesus’ work on the cross was complete but now the cross is ready for us to carry. It has remained Central’s primary symbol. Here you see it at the corner of the Gilbert campus.

      But we did go home again. The heart of the church hasn’t changed. We found the same loving spirit. We laughed and hugged and as much as possible in a short time caught up on one another’s lives. We found the same concern for the Gospel, the same commitment to meet people where they are and help them find acceptance and healing and hope in a supportive body of fellow believers. We had been away for nineteen years, but they couldn’t have made us feel more at home.

From the beginning the beauty of the campus–now campuses–has been a priority.  This is a view of one small portion of the Gilbert buildings.

      It was a pretty strenuous weekend. Joy couldn’t come until Saturday because of a painting class in Santa Fe.  I flew in on Wednesday evening so I could be on the Gilbert campus by 9:30 the next morning to prepare the video that would be projected in the services I couldn’t get to “live.” On Saturday at 4:00 I preached on the Mesa campus, then at 5:30 on the Gilbert campus ten miles away. That order was repeated at 9:00 and 10:30 on Sunday morning. The Saturday Gilbert service was then recorded for the 12:00 service in Gilbert and the Sunday morning services in Glendale, Ahwatukee, and Queen Creek. How glad I am for modern technology. There’s no way I could have been “live” at every venue.

Queen Creek buildings now under construction. This will be Central’s third major campus.

     The disappointment on Saturday and Sunday was that we didn’t have as much time as we wished to visit with people, but we got to see enough to be reminded how much we love and feel loved by these people.
It wasn’t much of a sermon, I confess. Mostly I reminisced, sharing some lessons the church taught me during our twenty years together. (If you’re interested, you can find the sermon at Click the Watch and Read tab, then Most Recent Message.) I was grateful to Cal Jernigan, who succeeded me (in every meaning of the word!) in 1999 and is still the senior pastor, for giving me the privilege of speaking again to my “flock,” now greatly expanded. We stepped right back into our old bantering routines. I thought maybe enough time had elapsed so he’d treat me with the respect due the elderly, but he didn’t. For which I was glad!

Central has had only two senior pastors in 39 years. It’s amazing how much alike we look, don’t you think? Flattering to see Cal copying my hairdo.

I don’t know how to express what it means to an old pastor to look once again on the people he served for so long, and to be supported in this reunion by the younger man who called to say, “You can come home again. We want you to.” So he invited and we accepted. I’m writing these words in the afterglow of an unforgettable experience.

     A highlight of the weekend was the Velcro Family Dinner on Sunday evening. Several of our unofficially adopted children and grandchildren (and great-grandchildren) live in Arizona. Like Velcro, we all just stick to one another.

Patti and Rich Phillips hosted a Velcro Family dinner party.

Rich and Patti Phillips invited us all to their house for a mini-reunion, treating us to a Mexican dinner with all the trimmings. With us were their adult children J. D., Ashley and Sterling Lloyd, and Chelsea Phillips and Tim Valentin and the four Phillips’ grandchildren; Casey and Jayne Reynolds and their children (and special friends) Emily, Brittany and Ben, and Naomi and Micah; Barbara Domke and her daughter Kat; Laurie and Riley Marcellus, Gary Wright. And of course, Brian Matlock, who has been in the family the longest of this whole motley Arizona gang. Joy and I regularly give thanks that our family wasn’t limited to our blood offspring (who are, of course, also pretty special) but has included these and other loved ones for so long now.

The latest “adoptees,” Barbara Domke and her daughter Karrina (“Kat”).

A word about our Velcro family. A woman in Australia many years ago suggested this name for our “adopted” kids. “Oh, they’re your Velcro children,” she said. The name stuck. With every ministry our Velcro family has grown. We do have standards, though. Not everybody can get into the Lawson family. If you grew up in a normal family, you’re not eligible. We’re all a bunch of misfits who have come from dysfunctional families and have found love and acceptance. When I’m asked how big our family is I have to consult my notes, because the number keeps growing. Our Velcros Velcro! Currently we claim two parents (Joy and Roy), 16 children, 22 grandchildren, 27 great-grandchildren, and 1 great-great-grandchild. This weekend we added two more.  See how it works? Kind of like a healthy church!

Reynolds girls (Naomi, Brittany and Emily) with best friends Micah and Ben. I had the honor of marrying Jayne and Casey Reynolds in England many years ago. These are the consequences.

Another highlight was meeting with the BFF (Best Friends Forever) group at Ona and Ruth Liles’ house. Readers of this blog will remember our sojourn in Makassar, Indonesia with John and Juli Liles and their boys. John’s the son of Ona and Ruth. They left Mesa with their children many years ago for service in East Africa and Indonesia; in retirement they settled back where they started, in Mesa. They aren’t young any more but are both very active in church and community ( for example, Ruth is a crossing guard for the school near the church, Ona’s jack-of-all-trades on the Mesa campus).

Best Friends for Life gathering at the Liles’ home. Guess who’s talking?

They invited their BFF group to spend some time with the Lawsons. What a treat it was to see these old (as in long-time) old (as in “mature”) friends, most of whom we hadn’t seen in a decade or two. Lots of storytelling, lots of laughter, many hugs. It reminded us how blessed we have been to spend our years in ministry. We can’t imagine a richer life.

BFF hosts Ona and Ruth (left) with good friends Gary and Christine Guerin.
David Wheeler was born shortly after we moved to Mesa. We’ve been friends ever since. As the church grew so did he! A gentle giant.


Water feature on the Gilbert campus.
The cross is ready for us to take up.






I have continued to use this interpretation of the cross in my encaustic artwork. This example hangs on the Phillips’ wall of crosses that is behind the Domkes and Lawsons pictured above.

CRUISE DATES FOR 2019. Join us for one or all of them!

January 13-21. Celebration Cruise to Cuba and the Caribbean
See for details. In the Search window, type Celebration Cruise.

January 30-February 21. Holland America’s South America and Antarctica Cruise.          See for details.

October 19-27        EO’s Blue Danube River Cruise – The Hat is the lecturer.
Web page for this cruise is not yet available.  Coming soon. Watch this spot.


14 thoughts on “YOU CAN GO HOME AGAIN”

  1. Oh so close but so far away!! I’m in PS thinking I could drive down IF you’re in one place long enough!! I loved your mention of Bill in one of your musings, Roy! I’ll be on Portland after the first of May. Perhaps we will be able to catch-up for a hug sometime?? Love you guys. Dianne

    1. We wish we could have connected, Dianne. We’re back in Santa Fe now, a bit of a drive from PS. We hope to get to Oregon for awhile this summer. If we do, you can be certain we’ll try to get together. Hugs are long overdue!

  2. It did our hearts good to see you preach Roy and be able to spend at least a little time with you and Joy! Russ and I just kept smiling at all the old stories and memories! We love you both!!

  3. Oh my! What a great post! We have a circle of 6 heroes/mentors in the faith (I’m sure you know who they are) – I have always known why you guys are in there – such quality! That you can go back and love what is now being done – such a great testimony to your love and generosity of spirit. We love you Guys so much! Amazing inspiration! Thank You for your real life example. Much love, always, Chris xx

    1. Your comment made us homesick to see you two again! We’re not certain when we’ll get back to Australia, but when we do let’s see if we can meet somewhere halfway between us.

  4. I wish I had been there to celebrate your homecoming. So many wonderful memories were made with you and Cal. You and Cal are beginning to resemble each other!

    1. I wish you’d have been with us also, Alice. It would have been fun to brag about the exceptional office manager you were! Mike is lucky that you continue to work for him in Financial Planning Ministries.

  5. Dear Lawsons! My daughter Vanessa sent me the link to you blog. She was so excited to have been included in your blog with her best friend Alany. Vanessa is spreading her wings and flying off to far (or not so far nowadays) flung areas of the globe and is privileged to meet up with Alany each year to do some travelling.
    Please know that you are most welcome and have a bed here with us in Northampton, England, If you are ever passing this way.
    Simon and I wish you a very blessed, peaceful and happy Easter.
    With our very best wishes.
    Susan and Simon Wilson.

    1. What a treat to hear from you, Susan and Simon. As you could tell from our blog post, we were smitten by Vanessa and Alany. Thank you for your generous offer for us to stay with you in Northampton. If we can get there, we’ll take you up on it!

  6. What a wonderful read on Easter weekend! With love, hope, and faith we CAN go home again–as you two did in your warmly welcomed return to Mesa and Velcro Central. And as we all can be received into our eternal home by the grace of our loving Lord.

  7. Your blog made me sweetly homesick, I did love that church. Thanks Dad, feeling a bit verklempt. Missing you guys!

  8. What a great job of “going home again!!” So jealous ….wish we had been in town!! I was trying to think of a name for the rest of us ….. close friends who live elsewhere …… maybe “papyrus family” as we are as close as a piece of paper to come here or there to gather with you. We love going on these travel with you!!!!

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