Nip this, Tuck that, clean this, bake that. At the end of the day and all through life, we make ourselves feel so inadequate. We need to be thinner, prettier, smarter. But for who? For what purpose? Once we tackle one ‘goal’, once we get that golden trophy, the items that we thought for SURE would make us happy, we still have that empty hole. That huge house on the hill, that brand new SUV….we finally got it! But, why…why aren’t we happy? Still feeling unfulfilled? We aren’t happy because there is a huge hole missing where faith should be, where love should be, where family should be….where the Lord should be.
I have had this reflection a few times in life. I even had this weeks blog all planned out (because that is what OCD brains do)…but then my hubby dropped a truth bomb last night and it was amazing. Things do NOT always go your way. We loose friends, loved ones, and parents. I can’t even imagine. Sometimes it takes you 30+ years to process things, too get them to make sense. I have been thru some crappy stuff in my adult life and I pray some day I will be as brave as this man is to be able to give his full personal story of faith. Until then, I will be real as I have promised to be.
I encourage you to take a few minutes and read his words below.
Today in church our pastor, Rev. Ashley McGuire, urged us to write our personal story of faith. So here goes.
I was born, 1973, in Alexandria, LA to my mother Susan Johns Peyton and father Rev. Thomas Bridgers Peyton, III. As the son of a passionate Methodist minister I recall even my earliest memories revolving around life in a church. My father, “Da-Da”, took my ever present “blankie” and I to all things church related. We were in Alexandria until 1976 when we then moved to Dallas, TX and my father was the minister of worship & arts at First United Methodist until 1979.
I have only a few memories from Dallas. During that time my father was diagnosed with colon cancer and I have vague memories of hospital visits and his I.V. that I named “Charlie”. Oddly enough, one of the memories that does stand-out was a hit and run incident where someone sideswiped my dad’s car on the street and I ran with him to the front passenger seat and we took off in hot pursuit (no seat belt I’m sure – what was I, 5 years old??) – the only real thing I remember from the event was seeing a rubber band underneath the accelerator pedal (funny the things that stick in your head…). There was probably some profanity involved in the sideswiping incident. I recall sleeping with sticks and bats in my bed because I was afraid of witches and I was ready for them if they came for me! And there was the time I was playing on a construction pile across the street in sandals and I stepped on a rusty nail which when through my foot – I remember the nail and the tetanus shot thereafter – NOT FUN! In the church daycare we had all kinds of good things going down – my best friend & I sat on the sink in the bathroom and broke it off the wall and flooded the daycare room. I “fixed” the record player by placing a soaked tissue on the AC cord and sticking it in the wall blowing the fuse for several rooms. my “girlfriend”, Frederique, and I would sit on the playground and kiss each other – her dad was a French chef at a fancy restaurant. Good times.
My dad was an avid piano player & opera fan (my mom not so much on the opera) – I remember waking up in the a.m. to the sound of piano music. I recall helping to assemble church banners – some of which are probably still hanging somewhere. When dad was not around I recall my mom being very attentive – an enduring trait to this day.
Unclear on the date, but I recall going to a Methodist retreat with just my dad & I. There was a lake and a lady with a Polaroid camera and I was fascinated with the flashbulbs – it was the coolest thing. I ran all over that place and that night I was so tired that when I woke up the next morning I remember my dad saying: “Jonathan you were so tired you didn’t even move – look at the bed!” – the sheets were practically untouched.
And while I am putting all this history out there, my mom will contest this fact to this day but at some point in my childhood I was in a field with an Indian – it was cold and there was coffee involved – if it didn’t happen I had a vision or something along those lines. True story.
We moved to Shreveport in 1979 and I became best friends with Jonathan Ford who was my same age and lived directly across the street on Pennsylvania. Shreveport was good – I spent a tremendous amount of time with my grandparents & cousins. My grandfather had a ladies’ apparel store – “Peyton’s” – lots of great memories there – mainly building enormous bows in the wrapping machine and of course all the ladies in the store paying attention to me. We would travel over to Monroe on a regular basis to see my other set of grandparents – CeCe & Roy – two fine individuals.
I think overall by the time I was 6 years old I had received all kinds of good programming – old school family values from grandparents, aunts, uncles – and at least a hundred thousand trips to church & Sunday school (or so it seemed).
Coming back to Louisiana from Texas put me a year behind so I repeated one of my earlier grades – I think it was pre-K or K. School was fun but man did I have an active imagination – this is what they called probably every modern-day diagnosis back then – “active imagination” – and I got in trouble in those early years – a few times pretty good – especially when I “locked” myself in the classroom bathroom and claimed I could not escape, throwing myself against the door screaming “Superman!” – classmates were loving it; teacher – not so much…. Pretty sure I remember a visit to the head of school office on that one.
I can’t recall who came and got me that morning in January 1980 from Jonathan Ford’s house – we had a sleepover the night prior, but I remember walking across the street to our house and sitting in the backseat of my grandparent’s blue Oldsmobile and crying uncontrollably when I was told my dad had died.
My “Da-Da” was gone.
Still hard to think about even now. There is not one scene of a movie or a TV show about a dying parent talking to their young child where this entire scene does not replay – even 38 years later. I wish I could recall a final moment with him – I’m sure there is one deep down, and if I had to guess I know it was filled with his love. Last night we finally watched the final episodes of “This is Us” – it’s literally been on pause for weeks now because we just couldn’t muster the courage to watch Jack die. That was difficult to watch for me – probably a lot harder than Kellie realizes – I am all covered up in blankets on the opposite end of the couch with my heart torn out and Kellie is thinking I’m falling asleep… It’s hard to be emotional and vulnerable – I’m not the only person reading this that understands that truth. There is some divine power involved in the timing of all of this with Ashley’s call for stories of faith today – I have no doubt.
At 6 years old I don’t think you have a lot of things figured out. For me, I recall having a whole lot of questions for God and Jesus about why my dad had to die. Honestly, I don’t think things started to come into perspective until many years later when I had my own child – more on that later.
My dad typed his own worship service. A short excerpt: “In this service I have attempted to reflect through scripture, liturgy, and hymnody my personal affirmation of faith. The central ideas are: the eternal presence of God in our lives; the joy that the knowledge of that presence brings; the power for victorious living that faith in God brings. The dominant mood should be one of JOY. It is my firm belief that death is not final, but a natural part of life that brings one to the greater fulfillment and purpose in God’s kingdom. While grief is real, and words of comfort and assurance can be spoken, it is, finally, the eternal presence of God that should be affirmed at a Christian funeral. Therefore, I desire no eulogy, no trappings of despair; rather there should be a joyous celebration of the on-goingness of life under the gentle and loving guidance of God, our creator and sustainer. – Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Later that year we moved to Alexandria. I started 2nd grade at Alexandria Country Day School and made friends that I still have today. We attended church regularly at First United Methodist Alexandria on Jackson Street. Most Sundays consisted of me kicking and screaming over wardrobe and about 1,000 church bulletins converted into origami spaceships.
In March of 1980 the church arts festival was renamed in my father’s memory to the “Tom Peyton Memorial Arts Festival.” As a kid I attended the festival on a regular basis but other than acknowledging the namesake and the artwork it never connected to what the show was about. Later in life I’ve become more involved with the festival and am proud to be associated with such a unique ministry. In my father’s words from 1975 “The arts are about people – persons responding to another person’s creative spriits… a celebration of the commonplace. We are all ‘artists’ in the sense that our lives are an expression of the ideas, feelings, and images which we project through our work, our speech, our actions, our play. As men and women made in the image of God we must acknowledge the ‘creator’ that is part of us. To affirm life is to be part of the creative process.”
Every April the arts festival is held at First United Methodist Church in Alexandria. The hallways of the church are filled with beautiful and though-provoking artwork. Periodically a pastor will pick one of the permanent pieces as a focus for the weekly message and that is always very special to me. At some point in my life I am going to create a volume on my personal interpretation of each piece of artwork -there are so many good and thought-provoking subjects! If you are in the area I encourage you to visit.
Moving on… ACDS wrapped up, I moved on to Brame for 7th & 8th grade, then ASH, did some college at Centenary and LSUA and then started working. Fast forward 24 years with just some minimal attachment to anything spiritual – church on Easter & Christmas on a good year and that was about it.
During those 24 years I spent so much time trying to understand why my dad had been taken – I don’t think the average person that knows me understands how much time I spent on this.
This is where my story of faith begins.
In January 2004 John Thomas Peyton joined us and has been a shining light in my life ever since. I’ve tried to set a good example, offer guidance and wisdom, teach the power of forgiveness, love, helping others, and much more. His journey is ongoing; I pray that he will lead a life of service and compassion, while making good decisions along the way.
While there are plenty of positive and fortunate milestones in my life it seems like I’ve spent the most time focusing on the difficult ones. Our prior pastor, Donnie Wilkinson, preached one of the best sermons I’ve ever heard on the nature of the human spirit to focus on the ink-spot on the piece of paper. I’ve actually used this in a number of situations as it is indeed a truth of our humanity – we gravitate toward the small amount of bad when we are surrounded by an abundance of good.
Shannon and I separated in September of 2006 – I remember walking out of our house in a total and complete daze not fully understanding what was going on. John Thomas was taking a bath in our bathroom – the image is just burned in – I remember him all smiles and playing with bath toys – no clue what was happening. The next few months were very challenging for me – I was sad, angry, confused – my entire world just got turned upside down – why was this happening?
I recall one afternoon after lunch walking into the sanctuary at First United Methodist Alexandria and sitting in the pew where it seems I had been connected for my entire life. I hung my head down, cried, and prayed to God for help. It would be awesome at this point to tell everyone that I heard God’s voice speak to me or Jesus appeared on the cross, but nothing of the sort happened. But if I was not spoken to, I was compelled to act. I knew I had to move forward and I could not do so harboring resentment toward my son’s mother. In forgiveness there is strength, in hatred there is weakness. Things didn’t improve immediately – things take time to heal, but people when an olive branch is extended and forgiveness is genuine I can assure you things get better for all parties – please think about this if you are struggling – I’m happy to discuss this with anyone in need. I’m not a religious scholar or evangelist, but looking back 9 years after this moment I believe God was there for me when I needed him – he provided a path and hope.
In May 2009 Kellie & I met and 90 days later we were married. We joke that it was like the red & the white ninja in some cheesy Kung-Fu-Theatre flick – two people just drawn to one another. We are a couple like any other, trying to plug along through life, making mistakes here and there, loving each other, arguing (I mean communicating sometimes loudly), dealing with kids, work challenges, and a million other things. I’m proud of her compassionate giving, and artistic spirit. Kellie’s son Matthew is like my own son and I pray that he will find a peaceful place in life.
Kellie, Shannon, and myself are in a good place and we would all agree that this is the best possible scenario when it comes to providing an environment where children can move forward. I came home the other day and Kellie had Shannon on facetime asking questions about the new pressure cooker (strategic move here – get the same pressure cooker the ex-wife has, instant resource available for troubleshooting and recipes).
This past Thanksgiving, we all celebrated lunch together, myself & Kellie, Shannon & Doug, John Thomas, Tucker, and Doug’s children. This meant something to me – it was not superficial or fake, not a big lavish gathering, just a genuine celebration of thankfulness. It was good to see Tucker (Shannon’s son) – he has remained in a special place in my heart and I wish him success and happiness wherever life takes him. God’s hand is in here somewhere.
My mother-in-law, Mary Wilson, is about the most humble and persevering servant of God you will ever meet – a pleasure to be around and unwavering Catholic faith (well it may waver from time to time in the presence of lizards -she’ll probably have to answer some tough questions someday on her declaration of war on small green reptiles and their mass genocide at her hands…).
Throughout everything my mom has been there for me. If anyone can remember the story, “The Giving Tree” – I can most directly relate my relationship with my mom to that story – she’s been there for me through thick and thin. I’ve helped her, she’s helped me. She would give me anything I asked for without regret or hesitation. I love you mom.
At some point throughout all of this I came to realize that in all my years of searching for answers, I was asking the wrong question. I shouldn’t have been selfishly asking “Why did my dad get taken away from me?” – I should have been asking “Why was my dad here in the first place?”.
Had I been asking God the right question earlier would he have given me answers or compelled me to act sooner? – I don’t’ know I can’t answer that question. What I can say is that when I frame the question up as “Why was my dad put on this earth?” – that answer is crystal clear: To embody faith and validate our creation and creator.
The answers were written down in 1975 by my own father as it related to his own personal affirmation of faith: “The eternal presence of God in our lives; the joy that the knowledge of that presence brings; the power for victorious living that faith in God brings.”
Countless times I’ve heard “Your dad was so special – he impacted so many people” – he was 33 when he died – I’m now 11 years older than he lived to be and it seems that his legacy was a lifetime. But isn’t that one of the most important elements of faith? – Eternity? Some things are timeless.
Personally, I find it challenging to be faithful all the time. It takes effort – and when I think about this I find myself listening to the same advice I give my own children: “It’s easy to have a hard life, it’s hard to have an easy life.” I’m a big believer in that mantra – I haven’t researched the phrase to see if it’s original, but as far as I’m concerned it makes perfect sense and I’ve come to realize that through 44 years of trials and tribulations. I think faith falls into that category because there are so many distractions and situations in the world that make us question things. We find ourselves having to be intentional and deliberate in our faith and that takes effort. I think for the 24 years or so that I was just going through life without any defined path that effort was actually “easy” but if I had to classify the quality of life I would definitely say “hard” – and that’s the whole point of the saying – it is hard to have an easy life, but if you slack off and take it easy life gets very hard on multiple dimensions. Total transparency, this is an ongoing challenge – there are plenty of days where I fall short or miss the mark.
As I reflect on my life and the people around me, their actions and the impact on others, I have no doubt there is a God and He is working daily to right many wrongs and lead us all to salvation. Ask yourself today if you choose the path of the righteous and bring the light to those around you through your actions and your words. Live in His way, set yourself and others on a course for immortality.
Jonathan H. Peyton – February 25, 2018
p.s. – Ashley this is like super extra bonus points. In all seriousness, thank you for your service!
This man. We almost crossed paths so many times over the past 25 years missing each other by minutes. It wasn’t our time. 2009 it was time, we were ready for Kung Fu Panda. He is my rock and I pray that everyone that reads this finds some hope, strength…and spreads some LOVE! Relationships take effort, work, patience understanding and compromise. We aren’t Stepford wives and this isn’t a Stepford life. This also isn’t my typical blog post, but this hasn’t been the typical past few days…and I told you, this blog was going to be REAL.
However, me and Frederique…got a bone to pick with her. #HesMineNow 🙂
Cheers & Peace