The Story Begins Here: Mi Casa Es Su Casa
Shepherding is largely “a family affair.” And—the elder’s spouse is a key factor. As a shepherding couple, Clois and Betty Fowler represented the best in graciousness and hospitality, especially in the young and formative stages of my wife’s and my ministry. They were like second grandparents to our grandchildren—and to many others. We still reflect fondly on many warm memories of those rich hours around the Fowlers’ table in our Abilene years. Sometimes we just ate, then watched the Dallas Cowboys on TV. We remember laughing there. And praying there. And sometimes crying there.
Besides modeling a warm and welcoming home life for us, Clois and Betty also gave us some “gems” of wisdom we will carry around for a lifetime, like this gem on human nature: “There is always something going on behind what’s going on.” And a gem of caution about taking applause (or criticism) too seriously: “Every preacher is somebody’s favorite preacher—and every preacher is also somebody’s favorite target!” And this gem of leadership wisdom: “Don’t buy the notion that it’s easier to get forgiveness than it is to get permission.”
The Fowlers’ house was always a place of fun and faith and hope and hospitality—and learning. And although Jesus called Clois to heaven some years ago, Betty makes sure that spirit has continued. Their influence lives on at our house, and likely in hundreds more homes.
Another unforgettable shepherding couple is Dr. John Willis (Old Testament professor at Abilene Christian University) and his wife Evelyn. John and Evelyn love God and people and have poured themselves into hospitality all of their married lives. Few elders shepherd more college students than John and Evelyn. For more than 30 years, their home has been filled with students most Sunday evenings (and may still be). What is even more remarkable, is that they also seem to remember the name and the story of almost every student.
Our first granddaughter Andress was born while I was preaching one Sunday morning. By the time I got to the hospital, the Willises were already there. That’s right; they saw our grandchild before I did!! However, this was not unusual; I rarely arrived at any hospital room before John and Evelyn.
Years later, when Andress was a student at ACU, she ate many of her Sunday evening meals at the Willis home, like crowds of other college students. And when Andress graduated from college, we sat with John and Evelyn at the commencement ceremony. They not only knew all about Andress, but they named almost every graduate who crossed the stage. And no wonder—nearly all had often been in the Willis house!
Hospitality at the Willis home was not reserved for students only. People of all ages and backgrounds gather at their place. Though now in their 80s, John and Evelyn still seem to show up everywhere there is need, and bring sunshine with them. Somehow I imagine them to one day be among the welcoming committee in the new heavens and the new earth.
Carolyn and I observe that we have received very little life-shaping shepherding from those whose living room chairs and kitchen tables we have never seen, from church leaders who remain remote from us. When a shepherding couple has no place for me in their home, how can I feel they have a place for me in their hearts? However, when I am welcomed into a shepherding couple’s home, I feel loved and valued by them.
More stories next time.