Here’s part II of my testimony in progress:
Eventually I made my way into the Reformed Episcopal Church, originally and to human eyes accidentally because I was teaching school at Good Shepherd School in Tyler, Texas. In fact, it was because many of the leaders of Believer’s Fellowship were connected to Good Shepherd Church in Tyler, Texas that I ended up there. One of my greatest influences there was Ray Sutton, now a bishop in the Reformed Episcopal Church and a man who helped me understand the covenant better and to read the Bible in more creative ways. Also while at Good Shepherd Reformed Episcopal Church, I learned a lot about diligence, leadership, and parenting from Walter Banek.
Much of my life is at Good Shepherd: I taught school there, came into the REC there, was married there, had four of my children baptized there, was confirmed there, and was ordained deacon and then priest there.
Married, you say? Yes, married at Good Shepherd to Jackie, the Wonder Wife, who I consider to be the one miracle God has wrought in my life. There are times when I wish that the Bride of Christ were as faithful and loving to Him as Jackie is to me: He deserves better. I almost didn’t marry her, because I almost didn’t get to know her, because I almost left Tyler, Texas in 1993. I was teaching school and having the most difficult year of my life, physically. I am chronically fatigued, and the 1992-1993 school year was the physical nadir of my life. I remember dragging my body up the stairs to my apartment every day after school, playing my primitive computer game on my old Kaypro, and listening to some Steeleye Span albums.
Through my many years of being sick and tired of being sick and tired, God has shown me His loving purposes in our suffering. More than anything else in my life, save the saints God has put in my life, God has used my chronic fatigue to teach me about Himself, especially about His grace in my weakness.
At the end of the school year, I was all set to retire from teaching and go live with my brother for a year to convalesce. But God (who has been very good to me) had other plans. I was at an end of the year school party at someone’s ranch, when I struck up a conversation with a student of mine named Stephanie Deain. She was this cool (though her peers couldn’t necessarily see this) 10-year-old girl who liked Einstein, Shakespeare, and the Beatles. As I discussed Einstein, Shakespeare, and the Beatles with her that day, I realized that for her sake I wanted to say and teach another year.
And through this “serendipitous” conversation, God persuaded me to stay in Tyler. I had already met Jackie, and after the school year ended, I asked her out and the rest is sweet history. Most of the important decisions in my life have been difficult and drawn out. But not my decision to marry Jackie. We were practically engaged after our first date, unofficially engaged by our second date, officially engaged after a month, and married in November (I first met her in April). Considering how little I had dated and how far I was from finding a godly wife on my own, Jackie is a miracle (in more ways than one!)
I wasn’t a very good teacher at first because what I really wanted to do was write novels like Tomorrow is for No One (that and because I was still Tom Noone I didn’t have a sense of authority in the classroom). After having taught for several years before, I learned to work harder at teaching at Good Shepherd, partially because I had so many different class preparations.
My boldest leap forward in teaching took place in 1996. At the end of having taught school my first year at All Saints Episcopal School (also in Tyler, TX), the headmaster, Bill McGee, called me into his office.
“Charlie, I’ve got a challenge for you. I want you to consider teaching Senior Humanities next year.”
The challenge wasn’t in teaching the Humanities class: Government, Economics, and English Literature: it was in teaching All Saints’ first group of seniors, who had a reputation for making classrooms hell for their teachers. After prayer, I accepted the challenge and spent my summer reading books on teaching and distilling their wisdom into 5 principles. I then distilled those 5 principles into 1: that I was to be a shepherd. The new school year was difficult at first, but after 6 weeks I had had a breakthrough with the seniors, and they knew I was on their side. By the end of the year, I got up at the awards ceremony and gave a speech in which I said a little about what I had seen in each senior. At the end of it, I got a High 5 from each of them! God has been very good to me.
Once I married Jackie and the kids started coming, I made a painful choice: to lay aside my writing that I might focus on my wife and kids. I came across a quotation from John Adams in, of all places, a book of art from the National Gallery of Art. It goes like this: “I must study politics and war, that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.”
When I was Tom Noone, I had a lot of time to write but nothing much to write about: now I don’t have the time or energy to write as I did. But my masterpiece, my Great American Novel is not written on paper with ink but on the fleshy hearts of my children with blood, and of those to whom God has called me to minister.
It was through teaching and having kids that I discerned more clearly the long, slow call God issued to me to be an ordained minister in His Kingdom. But there was a painful lesson to be learned along the way. All of my children have come as a challenge but all have been an incredible opportunity to learn and to love.
But the hardest lesson of all was the death of my sweet daughter Veronica Marguerite on May 4, 1998. She died, aged 5 ½ weeks, of SIDS. When we were in the emergency room, waiting to see if the doctors could resuscitate her, God gave me the words of Job to give to Jackie. After Job’s family and household had been stricken, “Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped, and said, ‘Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.’ In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.” After Job’s body was stricken, Job said, “What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this did not Job sin with his lips.
After her memorial service, I asked to speak to my extended family and spoke of what I knew: that God was still loving and good and that Veronica’s death couldn’t change that. I mentioned a very simple song called “God is So Good,” and that is the song of my life.
On May 5, 1999, a year and a day after Veronica died, God gave us our son Calvin. Around that time, I heard God calling me, through the voice of my friend, former pastor, and now bishop, Ray Sutton, to pursue a Ph.D. in Religious Studies. Through this difficult decision, through the selling off my worldly possessions and moving to England for a year, and through the serving of my own personal Uncle Laban for 7 years, I have finished my thesis on the future of orthodox Anglicanism. I can’t even begin to tell you all the Lord has taught me about faith, perseverance, and religion (not to mention John Keble and Anglicanism) through those 7 difficult years.
There is not time to mention St. Chrysostom’s Church in detail, the sweet parish at which I was a rector for 5 ½ years. But you should know that I’ve never been at a more peaceful and kind place – due to the people that dwelt there. If it were not for that degree of peace, I would not have finished my Ph.D., and Give Us This Day would never have been begun. It’s interesting how you get places, because I never would have ended up at St. Chrys if God had not first called my twin brother, Danny, to Little Rock, which made it easier for me to want to move from Texas to Arkansas.
But I will say one final word about Give Us This Day. In spite of being in the throes of finishing my thesis, I discerned God’s call to begin writing a daily Bible devotional based on the lectionary. I had experimented with different kinds of prayer during my time in England from 2000-2001, and from time to time had kept a journal of my responses to my Bible reading, as well as a spiritual journal.
In January of 2006, I spent a little time in the home of Bishop Alex Dickson. He spoke very sincerely about his daily practice of reading the Bible every morning using the lectio divina, and God grabbed me and made me listen. Later, in the summer of 2006, God began to tell me that now was the time to begin writing Give Us This Day.
“But I’m too busy. I’m too tired. I’ll never be able to keep it up.”
“But can’t I wait until the new church year and Advent?”
No, was the answer. Start now.
So on the 7th Sunday in Trinity of 2006, I began writing Give Us This Day. And here we are, together.
It’s funny how God uses every bit of your life, if you offer yourself as a whole burnt offering. As I was about to finish writing my thesis, thinking I would give myself a year to listen to what God wanted me to do next (I always thought it would be at St. Chrys), I received an e-mail out of the blue from Bill Dickson, the rector of St. Andrew’s Fort Worth. I’ll always remember the Subject title of the e-mail: “Would you consider this?” The “this” was being the Director of Student Ministries at St. Andrew’s. By the time I received this e-mail, I had already been asking what the Lord intended for me next, and so He showed me, as difficult as it was to leave St. Chrys. What made this interesting was that I knew Bill from All Saints Episcopal in Tyler, where he had been the chaplain. That’s what I mean about Jesus allowing nothing to be wasted!
I don’t have time to explain the many ways that God has taken what I was by nature and by His grace slowly sanctified me and metamorphosed me into a new creature. What strikes me is how slowly and patiently the Lord has worked with me. To see God in my testimony, you almost have to play my life back at high speed, so you can see me over time. It’s like that video on YouTube where the man took his picture every day and you can see him age.
What strikes me is how very good God has been to me.
When I see myself thus reflected in God’s eye, I see God in me. I see how His people, the Body of His Son, have shaped and kept me. I see how things never make sense now but always do later. I see a miracle unfolding in extreme slo-mo. I see the conversion of St. Paul, but in the way God has ordained for Charles Erlandson. I see the incarnation of God, not just into Jesus Christ or St. Paul, but into myself, sinner though I am.
Prayer: Father, I thank You for fearfully and wonderfully making me, and for knowing me before I was in my mother’s womb. I thank You for sustaining me, purchasing me with the blood of Your Son, and coming to me through Your saints and the experiences of my life. As I remember Your love and faithfulness to me, may You fill me with thanksgiving and inspire me with knowledge of Your grace, that I may sing Your praises in Your house all the days of my life. Amen.
Point for Meditation: Write down or rehearse your testimony. What is God revealing to you through it?
Resolution: I resolve to give thanks throughout the day to God for His grace in my life.
© 2016 Fr. Charles Erlandson
Category: Give Us This Day