This is post number EIGHT of a ten part blog. Check back each Monday for a new submission
My parents over a decade and half ago drove me 450 miles to beautiful North Carolina to enroll at Gardner-Webb University. Previously, on the trip before when I toured the campus as a prospective student we stayed in Shelby, NC at the DAYS INN.
Men are not encouraged to cry much less express fear but that last night before entering at Gardner-Webb University truth be told I was nervous. My mom told me later that she cried all the way home when they dropped me off. I didn’t cry but I felt like I was dying. It was nothing against the school but fear crept in like a tsunmai and waves of doubt crashed against my mind and the raging riptide was begging for me to quit before I started.
When most folks think of RETREAT they have images of quiet not quit. A place of solace not service. Yes, one definition of the word is to get away on a retreat but camping out and cashing in are TWO different things. It has been said: “Winners never quit and quitters never win!” My buddy Josh Shipp says “Sometimes we have to quit the wrong thing to get busy doing the right thing.” In the words of Kenny Rogers with his hit “The Gambler” – you got to know when to hold ‘em and when to fold them.
Despite being nervous, I prayed and stayed and made the most of it eight hours away from home. Gardner-Webb University is an amazing place with caring educators on a gorgeous campus with Georgian architecture and loving community. Gardner-Webb has touched hundreds of thousands of students over the years. Ironically, the past two Southern Baptist Convention Presidents – Dr Johnny Hunt and Dr Frank Page, respectively are both graduates of this great school. College is challenging to say the least but I am glad I stayed.
INCOMING: Opening week of my senior year I got a call early in the morning that one of my best friends in the world had commited suicide. My heart dropped, my mind went blank, my palms began to sweat, my mouth went dry and my world felt numb. How could this be? All I knew was that I had to head home on the first few days of classes to attend his funeral. So I raced home thinking I would be behind a bit but would come back to school the following week.
After paying my respects and trying to pick up the pieces I just knew I didn’t have the desire to return that semester. During the darkest days of my life at that point I passed on returning my senior year of college and was fortunate to get my job back on Capitol Hill in 1995. I thought I would work a semester -save some money and return the following year. I hadn’t been back on Capitol Hill for three months (at lowest point of my life) and God promoted me to my dream job of being appointed floor staff of the United States Senate. I hadn’t even got my college degree and God strategically placed me with an assignment to work for all 100 U.S. Senators on a daily basis.
Romans 8:28 is still true and “God works all things together to those that love God and called according to His purpose.” Ironically, I had already paid the deposit to fly on my senior trip with my college President, Dr Christopher White and 22 classmates to tour the Holy Land and Cairo, Egypt. I was having such a fun time on Capitol Hill I didn’t want to give up my new appointment because I knew a dozen college degrees didn’t open that door – GOD DID!
However, “my plan” or rationale was I would take two weeks leave from work and re-connect with my friends overseas and rush back to Capitol Hill. We had a blast in the Holy Land and it was an honor to retrace the footsteps of Jesus, got baptized in the Jordan River and swam in the Dead Sea, ride a camel in Cairo, see the pyramids in person and check out King Tut’s treasures and last but not least see the EMPTY TOMB of Jesus. On that once in a life-time opportunity on the flight home the college president somewhere flying over Germany left his seat and sat next to me. He said: “Frank, you only have 22 credit hours to graduate. I really think you need to come back to college.” I politely listened but I was having the time of my life at work and knew college started in less than a week.
My mind was telling me that course load was immense. Getting the exact classes I needed would be next to impossible this late in the game, I also knew finding a place to stay would be insane and I still had a job I would have to quit to chase something I wasn’t guaranteed to get. I was reminded it was impossible in the natural but with God ALL things are possible! When Dr. White returned to his seat God began to deal with me about stepping out in faith and RETURN from what I retreated.
By the time that plane touch-downed in America I already knew my answer and assignment. I had to drive at least 450 miles to campus and put myself in a position to see if I could find a place, get my classes and enroll all in 48 hours. WHAT WOULD JESUS DO? What would you do?? What did I do??? Would you believe that God orchestrated the entire thing. I got not only the exact classes I needed but if I could hand pick my favorite professors we got them too! Despite record enrollment God not only found a place on campus for me but the one that most thought was the nicest around. My boss on Capitol Hill not only approved but applauded my decision to return to college. The catch was I had to take not 13 credits (full load) but 22 credits in one semester to graduate!
Home away from home that semester for me was the LIBRARY. I felt like I lived there. Since I had already skipped one semester I felt like an over-due library book. By God’s grace, my grades were better than when I took half the load. However, my last exam in order to graduate I needed a certain score because I struggled big time in science. Yes, I was nervous but I prayed and studied and studied and prayed.
The next day I took my exam and everyone was pushing for me, pulling for me and praying for me. My first roommate at college is George Odembo from Africa and he played previously on the Kenya National Soccer Team. He is one of the most humble, hard-working and Christ-honoring men I know. That day, George asked to be dismissed from his class and would you believe he got on his hands and knees of a bathroom at Gardner-Webb University and PRAYED for me for 30 minutes that God would give me the answers to that exam. Regardless of what some think we still have prayer in schools across America. George knew how far we came, how hard we worked and what was at stake. GOD ANSWERS PRAYERS!
Because of God’s grace, my parents support and George Odembo’s prayers I graduated that semester and ultimately college. Exactly 15 years later I was honored this past weekend at Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, NC. Out of the 106 year history of that historic Christ-honoring college they picked 16 people to be named a 2011 Distinguished Alumni. One alumnus graduated in 1948, another 1955, some in 1961, 1962, 1968 & 1969, respectively four in the 1970′s and my buddy and former Tampa Bay Buccaner (NFL) Shedrick Harris and I were the two named during the 1990′s decade. It really is God’s grace and ALL His doing.
On Friday, October 28, 2011 I had the privilege to reunite with my dear friend, Pastor Ray Hardee. He was one of the first people I met at Gardner-Webb Univ and he is now pastor of the thriving Forest Pointe Church in North Carolina. Ray graciously took time out of his busy schedule and met my family at the Billy Graham Library en route to Homecoming Weekend. Ray is one of the men I admire most in life.
This weekend it was a joy to return to my alma-mater. Before at Gardner-Webb, I lost my dear friend in death but retraced the path God had for me with my amazing parents and beautiful bride, Ruth and son, Andrew. Ironically, we stayed again at the DAYS INN located in Shelby, NC where we first stayed the night before I started Gardner-Webb University. Talk about deja-vu! On Saturday, Oct 29, 2011 they allowed us to watch the football game from the President’s Box upstairs with a catered meal thanks to my dear buddy, Greg Poe, VP of Gardner-Webb and connect with some precious professors and friends. At half-time of our Homecoming game they escorted us on the field and recognized us before the crowd. That night we had a dinner hosted by our college President, Dr Bonner and his incredible team and were honored that evening. I was asked off the cuff to share a snippet of my impression of Dr Billy Graham and you can view a brief clip below.
Standing un-seen to the crowd but next to me, beside me and in my memory this past weekend were the countless friends who prayed, pushed and pulled for me. This weekend I was honored but I honor all of you who deserved it even more. The Bible notes: “Many who are last will be first and many first will be last.” That first night before college I wrestled with fear but on the fifty yard line of homecoming this weekend we won by faith.
Some times we do have to retreat but in life we also have to RETRACE our steps and finnish what we started. I dedicate this post to my parents who opened the door and prayed me through school. We graduated together and all my college friends and teachers who helped me along the way. God bless you and I love you! TO GOD BE THE GLORY – GREAT THINGS HE HATH DONE.