East Shelby church of Christ

There stands a rock on shores of time
That rears to Heaven its head sublime.
That rock is cleft, and they are blest
Who find within this cleft a rest.

That rock’s a cross, its arms outspread,
Celestial glory bathes its head;
To its firm base my all I bring,
And to the Rock of Ages cling.

That rock’s a tower, whose lofty height,
Illumed with Heaven’s unclouded light,
Opens wide its gate beneath the dome
Where saints find rest with Christ at home.

Some build their hopes on the ever-drifting sand,
Some on their fame, or their treasure, or their land;
Mine’s on a rock that forever will stand,
Jesus, the Rock of Ages.
~Tullius C. O’Kane

Our visit to worship with the East Shelby church of Christ in Tennessee was not our first. Mark and I had come through in 2009 traveling with our daughter, Ashley, and my mother, Lucy, so we could sprinkle my father’s ashes around his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee, and so my mother could see, one last time, all the special places where she spent the first couple decades of her life.

Like a scene from Driving Miss Daisy, she directed Mark to the pretty pink house in Byhalia, Mississippi, where some of her earliest memories took place, and the nearby cemetery in Byhalia where the remains of the Perry / Meyers side was interred. We found in Memphis a vacant field where once stood the church building in which she married my father and I sprinkled some of his ashes where the aisle would have been. We also went to her old neighborhood where her best friend, Cora, had lived across the street with her abusive, alcoholic father. Cora died young and my mother discovered Cora’s 16-year-old daughter, Jaymie, was living in an orphanage, so she brought her to Oregon to grow up alongside us, as one of her own. We stopped by the Peabody Hotel where, during the early years of their marriage, my father worked awhile as a nightman, and we stayed long enough to see the ducks brought down to the lobby via the elevator for their daily swim in the fountain, as is the tradition. We visited the graves of my father’s side just down the street from Graceland and I sprinkled more of his ashes on the graves of his mother, father and sister, Charmaine, in whose honor I was named, then rinsed the remainder of his ashes out into the Mississippi River in downtown Memphis.

It was weird to stand atop the graves of my great, great grandfather and all the other ancestors all the way down to the grave of my mother’s mother. She was an exceptionally intelligent woman, and as a result was among one of the first women to get a degree in pharmacology. She was also so devastated at her husband’s early death that afterward she could bring herself to do little more than chain smoke and drink Coca-Cola on her front porch. So many stories on both sides of my family could be told — some of whom built their lives on sand and others on the Rock of Ages.

To my great advantage, my mother built her life on that firm foundation of the Lord Jesus Christ, and inspired me to do the same. The ironic thing about this more recent visit to West Shelby was that after singing the above hymn, a young man, who is like a son to us in the Lord, now preaches where so much of my family history was written. What’s more ironic is that I spent time in Oregon with this preacher’s maternal grandfather and grandmother, and for almost three decades worshiped with and learned much from his paternal grandfather and grandmother, as well as his mother and father. This preacher, Ryan Goodwin, was one of about seven preachers that my husband Mark trained about twenty years ago.

As we sang that worship song together, I thought about how many people prior to Ryan in his own lineage had chosen to build their lives on the Rock of Ages and all the lasting, immeasurable ripple effects of that wise decision that still benefit Ryan’s extended family today. The same could be said for his wife Rebecca’s side.

Growing up, it came as a shock to me to see so few of the young people I grew up with chose to build their lives on the Rock, but I believe the reason for their poor decision is found in the above lyrics, “That Rock’s a cross”. The Christian life has its moments of heartache and pain that one would not have experienced had they taken the “broad way”(Matthew 7). But looking back on what Christianity has cost those who’ve clung to the Rock of Ages, in contrast to all the wreckage I’ve witnessed from building one’s life on the ever-drifting sands of atheism, hedonism, agnosticism, humanism, racism, denominationalism and such, it’s hard to even look at the consequences of sin that start making the lives around us crumble like houses built on sand. Sin ruins everything. Truly. Virtue, as God defines it, is indeed the answer. A life built on the moral principles that have been effective since the beginning of time, is the only place where deep peace, joy and love can grow.

That rock is cleft, and they are blest
Who find within this cleft a rest.

Ryan also grew up alongside a lot of young people who were also very heavily invested in spiritually by their Christian families. On occasion, we talk about those we’ve loved, but have lost to the enemy of our souls. But here’s the encouraging thing to me — seeing what Ryan and his wife Rebecca have built together to the glory of God on top of the Rock of Ages. They knew where to invest themselves— into learning what God says is wise and living life God’s way by loving Him and His people, and now they are reaping the rewards of all that hard work. Here’s how Ryan put it during the lesson he preached for us:

“... the writer of Proverbs is primarily concerned with the nurturing of spiritual wealth. Wisdom herself is presented as precious and valuable (2:1-5, 3:13-17, 8:10-11, 8:18-21). Other things are similarly framed as treasures that exceed gold and jewels (honor for the Lord, a godly spouse, charitable heart, diligent work ethic, committed friends, discretion in speech, etc.)”

“To its firm base my all I bring,
And to the Rock of Ages cling.
Wide its gate beneath the dome
Where saints find rest with Christ at home.”

To do the work of the Lord in His kingdom is certainly a life where preachers and their wives can say to God “my all I bring”. And when you’ve brought your “all” you’ve grown roots deep enough to grip the Rock no matter what. Those who love the Goodwins have seen them bravely huddled together, metaphorically speaking, in the cleft of that Rock, during some hurricane level storms— the most recent of which was the life and death struggle to save the life of their unborn daughter. This was a victory that required Rebecca to be very still during her pregnancy and Ryan to undertake both his own responsibilities and most of hers, including the care of their three other young children. It was a good thing Ryan cooks like a pro and is adept at anything a household can throw at him. He managed to do it all with confidence, optimism and an attitude of accepting the situation as it was and prepared himself to deal with it accordingly. When their healthy baby was born as a result of God’s grace and Ryan’s sacrifices, Rebecca was so blown away by all that her husband is and all that he did, that she asked him to use the money they had saved for something else, to instead purchase a favored car, so that now he remembers how much she loves and appreciates him every time he drives it.

Ryan made a great point in his sermon in 2 Corinthians 8:9 where it says “...our Lord Jesus Christ...though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.” That is, because Jesus poured Himself out for us, we can now pursue spiritual wealth, and that’s exactly what I see when I look at the Goodwins now. I see a family that is rich in love and all other manner of spiritual wealth, who have everything to look forward to, all because they built their house on the Rock of Ages.

East Shelby Church of Christ
4700 Mayfield Road West
Collierville, TN 38017
(901) 759-1242