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.
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.
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.
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.
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 www.centralaz.com. 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!
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.
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.
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!
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).
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.
JOY’S PICK OF THE PICS
CRUISE DATES FOR 2019. Join us for one or all of them!
January 13-21. Celebration Cruise to Cuba and the Caribbean
See www.eo.travelwithus.com for details. In the Search window, type Celebration Cruise.
January 30-February 21. Holland America’s South America and Antarctica Cruise. See www.lawsonslooseinantarctica.com 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.