Monday, February 16, 2015

Pay It Forward

In the first year of our marriage, Cathy and I faced one of those challenges that can leave you clueless about what to do and how to do it.  I left my young bride and flew off to Fort Ord, California, to take Army “Basic Combat Training.”  After about nine weeks, I completed that training and was assigned to stay on at Fort Ord for a second round of preparation for future duty.

There was to be a new level of freedom in that second training phase.  We were told, “Your Company Commander may or may not allow you to live off post with your wife if she is here.”  All I heard was “MAY.”  I don’t know what caused me to be so positive about the the possibility, but I was.  Cathy and I started making plans for her to fly out, with high hopes that she could stay.

On the night of BCT Graduation, I was checked into the Silas B. Hays Hospital at Fort Ord, with a severe case of influenza.  I was spiking high fevers and was admitted until we could make sure I was okay, plus I’m certain the medical people wanted to find out if I had something more serious.

We graduated on a Thursday morning.  Most of my unit spent Thursday night on the town before they were shipped off to other Fort Ord units and other Army posts on Friday.  Since I was in the hospital, Army procedure was that I be held over until the next Friday or until a Friday when I was well and could move on to my next training phase. It turns out that I was well enough to get out of the hospital on Sunday morning.

It was too late for me to get a ride to church that morning, but I had met a man who offered me a ride should I ever need it.  He attended a church which I had attended once or twice.  I got in touch with him that day and he offered to pick me up for the Sunday evening service.  Elated, I rode with him into town.  Upon arrival, I talked with the pastor of the church.  In the conversation, I told him that I had been studying music in college and believed that God had called me into the ministry.  He asked if I could sing that night during the service.

After I sang, the pastor explained to the church that my wife was coming in the next day (Memorial Day) and that we would need a place for her to stay for a few days until we found something we could rent.  After the service was over, we had two offers.  One was from an older couple who had a spare bedroom.  The other was from a couple about our age. It turned out that the young man was a Military Policeman at Ford Ord.

Something about that young couple struck a chord with us.  Cathy arrived on the evening of Memorial Day and we spent the night in a motel.  The next day, I caught a taxi onto Fort Ord and Cathy contacted the young woman with whom she would be staying.

The next few days flew by.  I was able to go to our new friends’ home in the evenings, where we played cards and started developing a friendship.  That Friday, I was shipped across Fort Ord to a new unit to begin my next training level.  It turned out that the new unit was right next door to the company where my BCT buddies attending the same school were assigned.  It also turned out that my new company had a Commanding Officer who set a stern policy, then allowed me to live off post with my wife.  The unit where I would have been assigned didn’t make any such allowances…three days in the hospital had made it possible to stay with Cathy.

It has taken me a few minutes to tell this story because of the way it became a part of  one of the most important friendships of our lives.  That young couple who opened their home and their hearts to Cathy and Me over forty years ago?  That was John and Rhonda McMurran.  I wanted to share this with you because their kindness to us became a part of our own “Pay It Forward” adventure.

The McMurrans welcomed us because it seemed like the right thing to do.  They had no idea the way God would use their simple act to tie our lives together.  This May will be 42 years since we met.  During those years, God has used John and Rhonda over and over again to bless our lives.  I don’t think that they did any of it to “Pay It Forward,” but God obviously had a plan and a gift to give to us all.  In the succeeding years, I ended up on the staff of that church where we met; the McMurrans ended up as leaders in the church.

Later, I was pastoring a church in Phoenix and the McMurrans decided to move there so that John could finish a ministry degree.  It was once again a way we could work together for a while.

In the early 1990s, almost twenty years from our original meeting, the McMurrans came to visit us in Yuma.  Their hearts were open and they wanted to move to the Southwest, out of the Oregon cold.  John was able to find a job that opened the door for them to move here.  Within a couple of years, we had an available position on our staff, where he served with excellence for twenty years until retirement.

I will always love how they Paid It Forward and how God opened doors for us to share our lives with them!

One reason I think we love "Pay It Forward" stories is because they originated in the heart of God.  The Bible is full of accounts of how He has Paid It Forward for us.  The ultimate “Pay It Forward” story is relived and cherished every year at Easter.  We begin our deliberate movement in that direction this weekend.  I am more than a little excited about this series, especially because Stone Ridge has a great opportunity for you and I to once again “Pay It Forward.”  It’s called 50 For 50 and I can’t wait to share it with you this weekend at Stone Ridge Church.  Can’t be there?  Catch the podcast!