BY ETHAN FOWLER
HE BASEBALL GAME STARTED AN HOUR LATE. Frustration built within me. Here it was Sabbath morning and I was stuck covering a dud of a game.
Fauquier County's district champion team for 16-year-olds (in Virginia) had advanced to the Southeast Regional tournament, only to get pounded. They were beaten, 13-1, in five innings by a strong team from Sarasota, Florida.
During the game I frequently asked myself, "What am I doing here?"
Although the baseball game went fairly quickly, I ended up missing all of the church service that day. And for the first time, missing church for my sportswriting job really bothered me!
I had struggled without hearing God's word, or praising the Lord through song and prayer. I missed catching up with church friends and getting my warm hug from the greeter--something I always cherish.
Sportswriting--a career I had enjoyed immensely for the past nine years, and which included working as sports editor for two weekly newspapers, writing for national magazines, and mingling with Olympic gold medal winners, professional athletes, and many top high school athletes and state championship teams--started to not mean as much now.
Honoring my faith--honoring the Sabbath--meant more to me than covering sports.
Less than two months later, and after lots of prayer, soul-searching. and conversations with friends and family, I resigned as The Fauquier Citizen's sports editor after 21/2 years on the job. Friday night and Saturday sports events were always a conflict to honoring the Sabbath, and I needed to make the tough decision to leave sportswriting.
Cementing this decision was my wife Mardene's pregnancy with our first child. More than anything, I didn't want Mardene to have to one day tell our child, "Daddy works on the Sabbath, but we don't."
Now I must confess I didn't expect it to take eight months, 300 re´sume´s, and an endless stream of rejection letters for God to bring me a new job. I certainly expected God to bring a new job before the baby arrived, but He didn't. I never intended for Mardene to have to work so very hard during her pregnancy to be the sole breadwinner. And I definitely didn't want to have to take a job waiting tables after our son, Kincade, was born. But that was exactly how things went.
There have been times of incredible discouragement. Our finances are not what we would wish. We even had to have our beloved cat, Charlie, put to sleep because she was losing her fight with cancer. Grief and uncertainty have been constant companions for Mardene and me on this journey.
Yet I have not looked back at sportswriting. God has blessed us. He has taken care of us, just as He promises to do in Psalm 121. Mardene helped me find the scripture, and since then the passage has helped me overcome my anxieties.
I look up to the mountains--does my help come from there?
My help comes from the Lord, who made the heavens and the earth!
He will not let you stumble and fall; the one who watches over you will not sleep.
Indeed, he who watches over Israel never tires and never sleeps.
The Lord himself watches over you!
The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade.
The sun will not hurt you by day, nor the moon at night.
The Lord keeps you from all evil and preserves your life.
The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.*
The last line particularly speaks to me. "The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever." This line has helped me gain perspective and understanding. It explains how God has rekindled the flame that once burned brightly before life got oh so serious for me and my family about 13 years ago while I attended the University of Washington in Seattle.
Finding the Flame
You can lose the flame when your two oldest brothers die and your parents divorce in a three-year span by the time you're 20 years old. My oldest brother, Emery, Jr., died of AIDS at age 29. My second-oldest brother, Eliot, died in a car accident at age 25. He had been married just six months. My parents, who had seven children--six boys and one girl--divorced after 31 years of marriage when my father intentionally disappeared without a trace. Many months after he left, the police found him for us.
After going faithfully since the age of 10--by myself--to a Baptist church three doors down from my house, I started questioning God. I pulled further and further away. My mom and brothers and sister were also devastated, and to this day they remain bitter and angry with God. And with all those tumultuous experiences, I didn't attend church for about four years.
But then my future wife came into my life. We met simply, on a regular evening during one of my routine stops to visit my friend Shem. Mardene was visiting Shem too, and I immediately liked her smile and personality. Even though she had graduated a month earlier with a theology degree from Walla Walla College, Mardene never pushed religion on me. She accepted me. She and her parents prayed for me. Soon I asked if we could go to her church together.
After first thinking it was weird to attend church on a Saturday, my long-troubled heart reawakened. Soon I started asking questions about the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which I had never heard of before.
Mardene explained to me the Sabbath, and how the Catholic Church changed it to Sunday out of convenience. She told me about resting and not doing ordinary work on the Sabbath. She shared with me information about healthful living and avoiding eating meat.
The meat part I'm still working on, but I sure relished this day-of-rest stuff! Before I met Mardene, I routinely worked seven-day weeks. Although I liked the idea of taking a whole day to honor God, I have to admit that what I really liked was not having to do chores, taking guiltless naps on a full stomach, and getting lots of time to chill.
Chilling Out--And Hearing God
But God used that "chill" time well. Over the five years I have attended Adventist churches, my relationship with God has grown tremendously. I pray often, frequently in the car. In the past year I've found myself listening to Christian pop music like Nicole C. Mullen, Third Day, and the Newsboys more than Nirvana, Green Day, and the Beastie Boys.
Popular music has always played a big role in my life. When I was a kid I had the habit of listening to Casey Kasem and his American Top 40 radio program. My brother, Evans, and I would often try to outduel each other in trivia.
But besides hearing God's words in Christian contemporary pop and rock music, I'm now also hearing His words in so-called secular music, too. God spoke to me for the first time recently while I was driving in the rain and listening to one of my favorite songs from last year. The song is called, "Hanging by a Moment," by Lifehouse.
I had heard the catchy tune countless times. But never before had I heard my own message of love to God in the song. The song opens:
"Desperate for changing. Starving for truth. I'm closer to where I started; I'm chasing after you. I'm falling even more in love with you. Letting go of all I've held on to . . ."
I truly believe (and hope this article conveys) that God wants a relationship with us. He wants us to talk to Him. To pray to Him. To fall in love with Him. To fulfill all that He has in store for us.
The main reason I joined the Adventist Church is its strong commitment to completely observing the Sabbath. I've attended Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, and Episcopal churches and none of them have what we Adventists can have.
Many of their relationships with God encompass a mere 60- to 90-minute commitment on Sunday morning. And all the while they're hoping they're not missing any pro football! I've even been to a church where one of the deacons listened, on headphones, to the day's football game.
But we instead choose to get away from all the world. Our observance helps us immerse ourselves in the Lord. We have time to read the Bible. We can take in all the beauty of His creation on scenic Sabbath walks. And we also gain much-needed time with our loved ones.
However, before we pat ourselves on the back too much for a strong Sabbath observance, there's much we Adventists need to do.
For one thing, we need to show how our observance has strengthened our relationship with God, not made us better than Sunday churchgoers.
We also desperately need to be more visible in our own community and country. My parents--who don't attend church--each think I've joined some sort of cult. One even asked if I still celebrated birthdays and holidays.
The ignorance about this church has to stop. I feel that all this church has to offer--a fuller relationship with God, health, and diversity--should be shared continuously. The joy I have in my heart and the reality that the world's end is fast approaching should make us more diligent.
Recently I've been praying a lot that God would use me as His instrument. But you know what? God uses us already as His instrument daily, whether we know it or not.
I found this out one Saturday prior to Sabbath school. I had arrived at church about 9:10 and no one was there yet. I decided I'd drive around the residential area surrounding our church and started down the street.
Suddenly, I saw something lying in the road. A medium-sized, golden-haired dog had just been struck, and apparently killed, by a car.
Now I have a weird confession to make: When I see dead animals on the road in daylight hours, I pull off to the side. With my hazard lights flashing, I shovel the animal off the roadway and into a nearby dirt embankment or under a tree. I want to give the animal "death with dignity," rather than it being smashed into oblivion on the unforgiving asphalt.
As I made my way to the dog with my snow shovel, a woman appeared from behind a fence from the adjacent home. She shrieked in horror when she saw the sight. As she started running toward me, one of her sons came out of the front door. The two raced to the scene. They asked me, "Did you hit our dog?"
"No!" I answered. "I just came up on it."
With her voice starting to waver, the woman asked me, "What should I do?"
Thrust in this situation for the first time, I stammered, "Maybe we could pray?" She didn't move. I said, "You could kneel down and talk to your dog."
She took the advice and got on her knees. Breathing hard, she whispered, "Oh, honey, I'm so sorry. I love you!"
At that moment I noticed the dog's tail wag slightly. It was the last movement the animal made.
The woman asked her son to get a large plastic bag, and she asked me, "What should I do with the body?"
"You could call your vet or you could just put her in your backyard," I replied. "That way you could spend more time with her and call for arrangements after."
The woman and her teenage son thanked me again and again for my help. I told them if they ever wanted to come to my church that we met up the road every Saturday, starting at 11:00 a.m.
We don't always know what's ahead of us.
Just as I found out with the dog, we don't always know what God has in store for us. We don't always know what our actions, words, and presence can do for others.
But I do know God has a plan. He has now brought me to a town and a job I could have never chosen for myself. And among the ups and downs of life, I remain interested to see where He will lead from here.
*Scripture references come from the New Living Translation.
Ethan Fowler is the features editor of the Albany Herald in Albany, Georgia.