For a number of years now, I’ve been talking about writing a book about the life and times of my great grandfather, the Reverend Daniel Thatcher Lake. You see, about fifteen years ago my mother’s cousin, Emogene Mize of Greenville, Texas, sent me the memoirs of Great Granddaddy Lake.
What makes this so interesting is the fact that the Rev Lake was born in 1828 in Tennessee. He was self-taught, becoming a school teacher in the East Texas area around 1850. It was shortly after arriving in Texas that he had a conversion experience. So thorough was the change in his life that he soon felt God calling him to preach. He was licensed as an “exhorter,” whereupon he began to preach in various churches, finally being assigned as a circuit rider in the East Texas Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. By definition, one who exhorts “uses words or arguments to incite to good deeds.” It was commonly used years ago as a synonym for preaching.
I became enamored with his story, written in the last couple of years of his life. He died in 1891. I can only deduce that he either had an incredible memory, or else he had maintained a journal throughout his adult years in which he had recorded copious notes. I knew when I first sat down to read these memoirs that I had something very valuable in a literary sense. Allow me to explain.
Great Granddad had two families. His first wife died in 1872. He remarried in 1874, fathering several more children, one of who was my mother’s father, Jesse Allen Lake, born in 1884. From the time my great granddad died until my own conversion experience in 1972, there were no people in the family who followed the call of the ministry. As kids, my brother and I used to hear our mother lament how nice it would be if there was another preacher in the family. Ha! Fat chance, we thought.
Well, God has a great sense of humor!
Even after I surrendered my life to Christ, I had no intention of going into the ministry. The truth be told, I was just happy to be saved! I didn’t believe I was cut out for the role of a pastor. With the decadent manner I had been living my life prior to coming to faith in Christ; I figured there was no way I could even consider such a lofty position. At the time, I was only vaguely aware that there had been some ministers in our family somewhere back there on our family tree. It wasn’t until Cousin Emogene sent me the memoirs that I was able to come face-to-face, as it were, with one of those ministers.
As I read through his experiences, I began to see the numerous parallels between our two lives. Both of us moved away from our places of birth early in our lives. He lost his father, being raised by his mother, and later, a step-father. My parents were divorced when I was five, raised by my mother, then my mother remarried. Both of us came to a saving knowledge of Christ in our early twenty’s. Both had the call to preach. And we each have had circuit riding ministries. His was the old fashioned way, riding on horse-back, or mule, or even on foot. I, however, have enjoyed a different kind of circuit riding ministry. As a Navy chaplain, I have traveled from ship-to-ship at sea either by helicopter or Zodiac (a rubberized boat), and at other times traveling with the Marines visiting their many commands to provide ministry. He served in the Civil War, and I have served in the Vietnam War and Iraqi War.
I was fascinated with Great Granddad’s ministry, particularly when he served in Whitfield’s Legion, Patterson’s Brigade from East Texas during the Civil War. After his wounds forced him to return home, he resumed his circuit riding ministry until ill health forced him to retire in the 1880s.
There are so many stories to share from Great Granddaddy Lake that it truly needs to find its way into a book. One of my dearest friends and fellow writer, Lynne Thompson, recently met me for lunch to see how I was doing on my book. I confessed to her that I haven’t been able to make any headway because of a barely controllable schedule. Lynne was having none of my lame excuses. After confiscating some printer paper from Gayle, my secretary, Lynne spread about ten sheets out on the floor. Then, armed with a pen and a pad of sticky-notes, we began to put a book together. Chapter subjects were written on each of the sticky-notes and placed arbitrarily on the sheets of paper lying on the floor. There we were: two grown adults on our hands and knees, getting excited about a book in the making.
You see, Lynne has heard me tell the stories of my Great Granddad’s sojourns. Ever since I returned home from my current time of active duty in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Lynne has been pressing me hard, relentlessly prodding me to get started on this book. The other night I received an e-mail from her challenging me to write a certain number of words every day. She, by the same token, would write an equal number of words for her current project. In this way we would become accountability partners.
So that’s the deal. Each of us will write our predetermined word count, and then have to check in by e-mail with the other each day. By the time you read this article, I should have my first chapter written, and be well into chapter two.
I read in Great Granddaddy Lake’s memoirs that he didn’t really see why he should write his life’s story. After all, he thought, he hadn’t done very much that would be of interest to anyone. He was asked to write his memoirs just after he turned sixty years of age. Fortunately for me and my family, he finished them before he died . . . . at age sixty-three.
I want to publicly thank my friend, Lynne, for holding my feet to the fire. I will get this book written.