“A Narrative of the Not Many’s” is the title of this blog series. These blogs will draw primarily from the words of the apostle Paul to the Corinthian church. It is as though Paul asked the little congregation at Corinth to look around at their fellow believers. What would they see?  Paul explained! “For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption— that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the LORD” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31). It is my goal to weave the truths contained in this passage throughout the rest of this narrative.

The Bible hints that the world is headed for a collision with a totalitarian megalomaniac dictator. Satan is a fallen angel; he is a creature. Unlike God, he is not omnipotent (all powerful), nor omniscient (all knowing), nor is he omnipresent. Unlike God, he cannot be everywhere at once, though it may seem like it at times. He does have his minions, his demon army, who left the service of God to follow him in his rebellion. And he positions them all over this world. It is Satan’s plan to disrupt and defeat the plan and purposes of God. His major plan is to keep the message of the gospel from the ears of God’s lost sheep in this and every generation of man. Satan is busy blinding their minds, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ who is the image of God, should shine unto them (2 Cor. 4:3-4).   

The Puzzle

Did you ever buy a thousand-piece puzzle motivated only by the beautiful picture on the front of the box?  What a beautiful picture most are! Eye catching! But just a small shaking of the box is an audible reminder that the picture is broken up into a thousand small pieces of thick paper, having all kinds of edges, rounded, squared, pointed, and in all different colors. So, all you have to do is pour all the contents of the box on an appropriate table and get into a comfortable seat, and then start discovering where every piece fits with precision; probably beginning with the obvious flat edges and rounded or square corners.

Sounds easy enough. As you work your way around the flat-edged part, precision becomes the order of the day. The goal is to make sure that every piece fits perfectly. In other words, you cannot just cram a piece in a space that looks close and somehow make it fit. It has to be the right piece for the right place. Then, when the last piece is put in place, the beautiful picture appears. How hard could this be?

This is a strikingly accurate illustration of what happened in my life before I was born into God’s forever family. My life began much like a piece in that puzzle. I felt that I fit in God’s plan somewhere, but I was not sure where.

The First Piece is My Story   

In all my books, articles, and blogs, I have not written much of my own story. So, hang with me for a minute. I was born in Yazoo City, Mississippi, on December 24, 1944, Christmas Eve! I was one of ten children – seven sisters and two brothers. An older brother died mysteriously of what is called today “crib death.” My dad, having battled through the depression, worked in oil fields in and around Oil City, Mississippi, where we lived. He had been struggling with tuberculosis and alcoholism and died suddenly when I was four years old from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. I retain small bits and pieces of childhood memories of him. Even his body leaning against that barbed wired fence was etched in my young mind. This truth has been a most difficult part of my life to explain and something I never talked about! My mom was overwhelmed with it all but had the support of a loving church. Shortly after my dad’s death, we moved to Texas to be near family. Most of my sisters had married and moved to the Texas gulf coast where there was work in the oil industry and chemical plants.

I was fast approaching five years old when we moved. A particularly memorable moment occurred during the move. We had tied our dog, a large German Shepherd named “Dice,” on the trailer with a rope. Not wise! Somewhere along the way, I think in Louisiana, we lost him. Mom said I sobbed for a long time.

We moved to a Baytown, Texas, located on Galveston Bay near the Houston ship channel. With the help of a brother-in-law, we found a home in the Sam Houston Courts (a housing project called “the Jects” back then). These government subsidized cookie cutter brick apartments were in the poorest part of Baytown known as “Old Pelly.” Electricity, water, and trash pickup were included. Thanks to my sisters, we put together beds, an old fridge, washer, a couch, some chairs, a kitchen table, and we strung up a clothes line. My brother-in-law gave us a push mower, not the kind with a motor. 

We had very little money – my dad’s pension – but mom was a gifted manager. She only used the bank to cash the pension check then did her own banking from the safe confines of under her mattress. She was a good manager, made a budget, and lived by it. My mom learned quickly. She was truly an amazing woman. We did not have a television, but a neighbor, an elderly lady named Mrs. Little, had one.

I found out later there was a newer Pelly being built close by with newer shops, better streets, a movie theater, and some small restaurants. Going to the movie was a rare Saturday happening. It was there that I was introduced to the Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, Zorro, the Cisco Kid, and John Wayne. I learned the names of some neighborhood kids, and they became friends. I remember a few of their names even today. Their stories were very similar to mine. I roamed the streets of Old Pelly, surrounded I am sure by alcoholics, drug dealers, and sexual perverts. I was too young to perceive any of this as being dangerous, and mom knew pretty much where I was most of the time. I always seemed to be within range of her very shrill long, loud call, “Dickeeeeee” that would reverberate through the neighborhood. I found that its high pitched notes would even reach the Big Chief grocery store – a block away. That call would embarrass me if I was with friends. It seemed that someone would always say, “Hey kid, your mother wants you,” as if I needed the information.

But many times, the call would result in some of the best pinto beans and rice one could want. My mom could cook because she knew how to use spices. While in Baytown, I endured the childhood diseases of the measles, whooping cough, and several colds and sore throats. But I never had the mumps. These diseases would obviously get me out of school for a while, so much so, that I tried at times to fake it. But my old part-Cherokee mom was pretty savvy. She would take my temperature. No temp and it was off to school for me. And if I did seem to pull it off, she made me stay inside near the bed all day. Boring! So, the fakes were few and far between. 

My mom signed me up at Sam Houston Elementary School which was a few blocks to the East where I entered the first grade at seven years of age. I walked back and forth to school every weekday, passing the Big Chief grocery store and a Texaco gas station along the way. These businesses became navigating landmarks for my early years. Mom encouraged me to do my homework, but what homework I did was because I really liked my teachers, and they asked us to do the work. I recall with fondness my third-grade teacher, Mrs. Polson. She taught me English, among other subjects, and encouraged me to memorize all the being verbs and I can still quote them today.  She would also read adventure books to us, like Silver Chief, The Call of the Wild, and Moby Dick, to name a few.

I talked extremely fast and sometimes with a stutter that subsided a bit with age. I was pretty social, and enjoyed recess, and especially playing softball. I worked my way up from being the last one picked to be on a team to becoming one of the first. Sometimes on Saturdays, Mom would give me a quarter which would buy me a chocolate sundae at a local drug store in downtown Old Pelly. That was a short walk and a memorable treat.

Somewhere along the way, I came in possession of an old hand-me-down bicycle. I can’t remember where it came from, but I kept it in fair shape. When I got a hole in the tire, I bought a little bicycle tire patch kit and patched it myself. I would find the leak, and mark it, use the lid on the kit (made for this) to rough up the tube enough to hold the glue, and then apply the patch. I would sometimes burn the glue for a short time, blow it out quickly, and stick the patch on the tube. Someone taught me to do that, and it worked better. I would remove the wheel and take it to the Texaco to get it aired up. When something major broke on that old bike, maybe the chain, I either fixed it, knew someone who may help, or walked for a while until it was fixed. The old bike gave me mobility. I could really explore Pelly and even ride down to the shore of Galveston Bay to watch the huge ships go back and forth from the Houston harbor and out past Galveston to parts unknown. I learned a little about tugboats, and their job, the freighters, and the tankers. Sometimes I would ride out on one of the train trestles and back, to get a closer look, totally oblivious to the danger. I spent my summers making my own kites, bows, and arrows, go carts, or playing sandlot football and baseball with the neighborhood kids….and did I mention climbing trees. My mom said that I spent more time in those pecan trees than on the ground. I had my favorites.

In the seventh grade, I attended Horace Mann Jr. High, which was north of where we lived. It was a new location and a longer walk from the Sam Houston Courts, but in a different direction and through different neighborhoods. I had to walk past an Assembly of God Church on the way and soon met some of the staff and a few of the kids. Through the school year, if I attended church, it was there. I also became a member of the Boy Scouts that the church sponsored and even played some on their church softball team.  Every third Sunday, I would go with mom to a Primitive Baptist Church that she was a member of in Texas City. That church was several miles away. We would catch a ride with the pastor who was from Houston almost every third Sunday.

I liked sports and went out for the Horace Mann Junior High football team. I made the team, which sounds impressive until it became known that almost everyone who went out made the team. I played defensive end, which I learned later was the easiest place to play and the easiest place to coach. I actually started and played most games on the eighth-grade team. The eighth-grade team played on Tuesday afternoon during school, best I can remember. 

The high school in Baytown was Robert E. Lee High School. It was several blocks west from my home. The team was called the Ganders (adult geese). They really had a large high school complete with a big Texas-sized stadium and a good band. I worked there occasionally selling peanuts and popcorn on Friday nights during the football season. They also had an indoor swimming pool that I could use for a small fee when my mother would agree. That was where I learned to swim. At first I stayed in the shallow end of the pool, watching other kids jump off the board and swim under water to the ramp. It looked easy enough. One day I worked up enough courage to try it. I did it! I walked to the end of the board, jumped in, and swam under water to the ramp. Then I repeated that move until I was totally exhausted. The lifeguards never had a clue who I was, what I was doing, and what I had done. But it was a major victory for me and my friends who had gotten tired of running into me on the shallow end.  

I never really understood much about the game of football, but I enjoyed the rough and tumble parts. The junior high team were the Goslings (young geese). The ninth-grade varsity games were under the lights on Thursday nights accompanied by the junior high band. If the team won, they would all wear white shirts to school on Friday. I really wanted to be part of that team, but we moved to Texas City near another sister for my ninth-grade year. I do not remember much about that school or that year.  

My sister, Billie Johnson, knew that I did not have much in the way of supervision and was determined to help. She asked me to come live with them, so I attended Flora High School back in Mississippi my sophomore year. My sister was a member of the local country club, giving me and her son, Wayne, access to the pool just about every day in the summer. Again, I went out for football and made the team. There was only one senior on the team. Because of previous experience gained in Texas, I not only made the team, I started all the games as a sophomore defensive back. I also received kick offs and punts. Fear gripped me all week, knowing that Friday was coming. Sometimes I would get physically sick knowing that I had to field the kickoffs and punts under the lights and run them back. Most coaches were just classroom teachers who volunteered to coach. Coaching would not have helped much in receiving the kickoffs. I just wanted to locate the football under the lights, catch it, and I really didn’t much care what happened after that. But I did make some pretty good run backs at times. Not bragging, just fact. I also subbed some at a running back position – both sides.

An interesting side note, I had told my wife about my playing football at Flora and some of my adventures. Much later in life, I pastored a small church in McCool, Mississippi. While there, I ran into a man named Earnest Tanksley. It just so happened that he had played football on that same Flora High School team with me. In fact, his brother had started at the center position. Later his brother came to town for a funeral. As God would have it, this former classmate told my wife the rest of the story of my football career at Flora. He said that I was the fastest man on the team. I think he was stretching that a little bit, but it was good to see him.  

Following my sophomore year, we moved back to Texas. My sister Geneta Fielder and her husband Carley lived in a tiny bump in the road called Jones Creek outside of the larger city of Freeport, the shrimping capital of Texas. We moved a small mobile home behind my sister’s house in Jones Creek. My brother-in-law and my sister were very kind to me. It was there I learned to drive and got my Texas driver’s license.I entered my junior year at Brazosport High School. Brazosport was so named because it was located where the Brazos River entered the Gulf of Mexico. 

Naturally, I went out for football, but I had not learned much in life, especially in the social graces. But I had learned how to quit. In fact, I became one of the best quitters I knew. I think it was because I did not have a father that I had no one to be accountable to, to hold my feet to the fire, to set a pace for my life.  I had no one to help me think through the decisions I would make or to encourage me to finish what I started. God placed emphasis on fathers bringing up children. “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).

Having no secure goal in life, I began to walk down many paths only to quit when things grew a little tough or boring to me. My life had a major hiccup when I quit football at Brazosport High School. I felt like I had been beaten up enough weighing in at 160 pounds. There were many days when I was too sore to even answer the telephone. I did not mention quitting to any coach, I just didn’t go to practice one day. As I was hitchhiking back to Jones Creek at the Brazos River bridge crossing, a strange car pulled up. To my surprise it was one of my coaches. He asked me where I was going and why I was not at practice. I told him that I was quitting football. He asked why. I stammered and stuttered some excuse; I had no good answer. I remember him telling me to get in the car. Rather than taking me home, he took me to the fieldhouse. He told me that he knew my mom and that I was not going to quit. This was the first time that I can remember being told “no” by someone important to me. You can’t quit! This was at the beginning of my junior year.

The very next year, my senior year, I watched the news coverage of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy while sitting on my sister’s living room floor. I never forgot that moment.

I feel exceedingly blessed to be among Paul’s “not many” class. There are obvious Biblical lessons to be learned from the viewpoint of the “not many’s.” I will attempt to explore a few of these lessons in upcoming blogs.