In June of 1969, a young, vulnerable, soon-to-be single mother and her two daughters (11 and 9) arrived in Waco, Texas, seeking safety and peace and comfort. They were emotionally spent, confused, and afraid of what the future might hold. Their lifelong nest in Carthage, Texas had been ravaged by the fiery anger of alcoholism. Aunts and uncles rallied together forming a loving circle of support and protection around them. They loved on the young girls and dried the mother's rivers of tears.
The mother quickly found a teaching job, and, she and her girls moved into a tiny wood-framed house on South 25th Street. There were 3 small bedrooms, a tiny bathroom, a cozy kitchen and a living room. The girls shared a double bed in one of the bedrooms. The mother slept on a twin bed that doubled as a couch in the living room. In the kitchen, they ate their meager meals on loaned dinner plates at a card table with metal folding chairs. This house was a far cry from the lovely home they left in East Texas, the only home they'd ever known in a sleepy little town where kids rode their bikes everywhere and played outside until the street lights came on. Waco was a huge metropolis to them with its left turn lanes and overpasses and fancy, schmancy Lake Air Mall.
Almost immediately after settling into the rent house, the mother and her girls began visiting churches. Churches and churches and churches - until, at last, they found First United Methodist. There was a young, dynamic pastor in the pulpit who spoke powerfully about living life abundantly in Christ. He referred to the church members as the "church family." His precious, loving wife sat near the front of the church hanging onto his every word. There was a light in sweet Lois Marie's eyes that shone for this man, her husband. The church family was warm and friendly. At last, the mother had found a church home in which to raise her girls.
Dick Freeman was the pastor's name. Over the next few years, he was instrumental in facilitating healing for the woman and her daughters. I know this to be true because one of the daughters was me. And, through my teenage and college years, Reverend Freeman earned his place on the Top 5 Most Influential People in the Life of Carolyn Lackey. To this day, I still call him that. Reverend.
Reverend Freeman led our youth group's Bible Study every Wednesday night. The church parlor would be filled with teenagers, Living Bibles poised on their laps, soaking in his every word. It was a world of the Rolling Stones, The Who, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and polyester pantsuits. We faced the Watergate Scandal, war in Cambodia, and the breakup of the Beatles, for Pete's sake. LSD and cocaine use was rising. We needed this man, Dick Freeman, to help us navigate the waters. He was there for us. He always had time for us. Always. To us, he was a giant among men.
During my freshman year at Baylor, I was feeling confused about whether or not to stay in a long term relationship with a basically really great guy. I sought out Reverend Freeman's wisdom. He sat and listened as I poured out my heart and tears. "Break up with him," he solemnly advised. A huge weight immediately lifted from my shoulders. Then, he told me something I'll never forget.
"When you find the man that you respect and admire more than anyone else, he will be the man. All the rest will follow."
These words grew inside of me until 9 months later, I met a cute Baylor boy who was majoring in Accounting. He sat in Penland Cafeteria wearing faded and frayed overalls perusing the newspaper stock exchange page over a brick of vanilla ice cream (yes, I said "brick") topped with crushed saltines. He had invested some of his summer savings in a few stocks. He was a polite, respectful, hard-working, romantic West Texas boy. Our first date was the Sunday night service at my church. Reverend Freeman officiated our wedding and blessed our marriage on December 15, 1979.
When my estranged father died, his graveside service was held in tiny Sour Lake, Texas with about 5 people present. The afternoon before he was buried, I was sitting in the viewing room of the funeral home alone staring at the shell of the man who had turned from a fun and loving father into a furious-screaming-until-his-veins-popped-out-of-his-neck old man. The funeral director came into the room and told me that I was wanted on the phone. I assumed that it was my mother or my sister, Kathy, calling to tell me when they would be arriving. No. It was Reverend Freeman. He knew the pain I was feeling. He knew that I was mourning the loss of the father I wish my dad had been. He reached out to me and prayed over me. Only a week before, Reverend Freeman had officiated Kathy's wedding. A few years later, he preached at her funeral and pronounced the benediction over her grave.
During my senior year in high school, a girl named Sharanda sat behind me in home room. She had kind eyes framed with smokey black eye shadow and liner. Her voice was low, soft and deep. One day as we were sitting waiting for the bell to ring, she tapped me on the shoulder. "I didn't know that you came from a broken home," she said with sadness in those big, brown kind eyes. I wrinkled my brow and tilted my head. I couldn't quite figure out what she was saying. "Someone told me that your parents were divorced," she continued, "You don't seem like a kid that comes from a broken home." Ohhhh, that kind of broken home! I sat there for a minute thinking. My home did not in any way feel broken. "Oh, Sharanda, my home isn't broken. It's very, very 'fixed.' We left a broken home six years ago when my parents divorced. God's love and grace helped us 'build' a wonderful home here in Waco." I can remember the conversation like it happened yesterday because it opened my eyes to the progress the mother and her two little girls had made with the help of aunts, uncles, a loving church family and Dick Freeman.
Reverend Freeman passed away a couple of days ago. Tears have been streaming down my cheeks. He was my pastor. He was my teacher. He was my guide during troubling times. He helped my mother become more than she ever thought she could be. He helped her build a home of love and laughter and Jesus for my sister and me. At his memorial service no doubt every single pew and folding chair in the church will be marked “reserved for family." Dick Freeman made everyone he ever met feel like family.
Today, I honor you with words of love and admiration, Dick Freeman. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Say "hey" to Kathy when you see her.
And, now, I'm going to download the original soundtrack to Godspell and curl up with my ragged, beloved copy of The Way. Pre-e-e-pare ye thuh way of thuh Lord!
Lois Marie, Kirk, Karen, and Kelley, you are loved so much by so many. You are in our hearts and in our prayers.