Throughout these Shepherd Chronicles I have alluded a few times to the fact that Shannon and I were engaged when I began as pastor at Lantana Road Baptist Church. My first day at LRBC was Oct. 13, our wedding date was set for Feb. 1. Before I move too far along in the story, I should back up a bit and talk about how I met and married the greatest part of me.
At the time Shannon and I attended Tennessee Temple University, it was an independent Baptist college with strict, independent Baptist rules. You could not wear shorts or blue jeans. You had to wear collared shirts in Jesus name. You could not swim in the same pool as a member of the opposite sex. They called this “mixed bathing.” I cracked up laughing anytime someone used the term. To top it all, commandment #11 was that you could not date without a chaperone until you were 20. When Shannon and I met I was a Senior, she was a Freshman. If we were to date, we needed a chaperone.
The ironic twist in the story is that even though I knew Shannon we did not date one another until 3 months before I graduated. Though she was not my girlfriend, there were a few times that she was my chaperone! To make a long story short, our first date was a church event on a Wednesday night, Feb. 1, 1995. We were married exactly two years later. I married my chaperone. There is a ton missing from this paragraph. If you know my wife, ask her about the whole story. I’m sure she would love to fill you in.
We lived in the same town only 3 months of the two years we dated. While she was home in Charlotte I was either in Ringgold or Cartersville. While she was at school in Chattanooga, I was either in Louisville or Crossville. I drove a lot for love. The good thing about long distance dating is that it forces you to talk. I am not a great person to person communicator, especially on the phone. Yet somehow I said enough to make her love me.
I knew I wanted to marry Shannon way before I ever asked her. But when you’re a penniless student, a part time youth pastor, and a mower man living next door to Ostriches it is hard to pull the trigger. Frank Cox, pastor of North Metro Baptist in Lawrencville, GA became the catalyst for our engagement. Frank was preaching a revival at Atco. One night before the service began Bro. Wayne, Mrs. Joan, Frank and I were sitting together talking marriage. I was asking questions. They were telling me how big a fool I was that I had not already asked Shannon to marry me. “What’s the problem Frank said? What’s the holdup?” At the time I had enrolled at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (for the first time, more on that later). I explained that I did not think with school bills I would be financially solvent enough to also be married. Frank looked me in the eye and said, “If you’re school bill was not an issue, would you marry her?” When Frank asked me that I had no idea that he had established a scholarship at NOBTS in his late wife’s honor. “Absolutely, no doubt about it”, I replied. “Done, I will call the school tomorrow, your tuition will be paid.” Game, set, match. I was about to be engaged.
Side note: I enrolled in NOBTS with a full ride scholarship. I never went. I was a seminary dropout for the second time.
In a matter of a few days I had the approval of Shannon’s father and a ring. The only question remained, how exactly would I make this a #1 romantic moment that would sweep her off her feet? TBS is to blame for how the whole thing went down. “Say Anything” is one of those sappy, lazy Sunday afternoon movies that help you fall asleep. It is a film that holds your attention just well enough that you eventually become too tired to turn the channel. In the film is a scene where John Cusack attempts to win back his lost love. He pulls up in front of her house, and stands by his car with a big boom box playing a very ’80’s Peter Gabriel song, In Your Eyes. It is the signature scene of the film. Before there was Leonardo and Kate on the bow of the Titanic there was John Cusack with a boom box. I would soon be Shannon’s John Cusack.
I convinced Shannon that I was going to Atlanta to buy Sunday School literature. I had never bought Sunday School literature a day in my life and even if I were in desperate need of it I would not know where to go in Atlanta to find it. I called Shannon’s roommate Sarah and told her the plan. Her responsibility was to make sure Shannon did not leave her room during a pre-arranged period of time. She was to also convince Shannon that they needed to have their dorm room window open. Sarah accomplished the mission, but she also let every girl in Demoss Hall know I was coming. When I pulled up to the front of the dorm I wanted to see Shannon in the window. Instead I saw a sea of coeds in darkened windows poised to watch the whole thing.
I parked the Nissan. Walked around to the passenger side, and just like John Cusack I held up my boom box, but instead of Peter Gabriel, I played Otis Redding, These Arms of Mine. Shannon is a sucker for old love songs.
I had a scholarship, a job at a golf course, part time job as a youth pastor, and an Ostrich for a neighbor. Now I also had a fiancee.
Thank you John Cusack and Otis Redding.