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My Daddy's Difficult Day: Pausing Personal Sorrow in Order to Lead

A few days ago, I was reading 2 Samuel 19:1-8 again. King David was in deep mourning over the death of his son Absalom, so much so that the men in his army, who had been victorious in battle, were not celebrated. Instead, they returned home and tiptoed quietly to their homes so they wouldn't disturb the king. They behaved as if they had been defeated because their leader was inconsolable. David's righthand man Joab saw what happened and summoned the courage to tell David that enough was enough. He had to get a handle on his emotions or else his men would possibly desert him.

2 Samuel 19:5-8 -- " Then Joab came into the house to the king, and said, “Today you have disgraced all your servants who today have saved your life, the lives of your sons and daughters, the lives of your wives and the lives of your concubines, 6 in that you love your enemies and hate your friends. For you have declared today that you regard neither princes nor servants; for today I perceive that if Absalom had lived and all of us had died today, then it would have pleased you well. 7 Now therefore, arise, go out and speak comfort to your servants. For I swear by the Lord, if you do not go out, not one will stay with you this night. And that will be worse for you than all the evil that has befallen you from your youth until now.” 8 Then the king arose and sat in the gate. And they told all the people, saying, “There is the king, sitting in the gate.” So all the people came before the king.

For everyone of Israel had fled to his tent.

David, even though he was brokenhearted, had to make his own emotions secondary in order to lead his people properly. The statement and question in the Community Bible Study guide was: "Absalom's death left David with a choice. Would he grieve like a brokenhearted father or lead like a victorious king?"

All of this reminded me of one of the hardest days in my own daddy's professional life. To be sure, his saddest days personally were the death of my mother and then almost exactly thirty years later the death of his second wife June. But during his career with the Alabama Baptist Children's Home, July 12, 1970, stands out as a true test of his ability to lead under crushing circumstances.

My family became involved in the work of the Children's Home in 1960 when we moved to Troy for Dad to be the Assistant Superintendent. By 1968, the decision was made to expand the work to North Alabama, land was purchased on 16th Ave. in Decatur, and Dad was tasked with overseeing the building of a campus there with cottages for children, an administration building, and a superintendent's residence. My family moved from Troy to Decatur in the summer of 1968 just as I enrolled at Samford University.

Dad carefully watched every phase of construction, got to know all the Baptist pastors in the area, interviewed potential houseparents and social workers, AND obtained a master's degree in guidance and counseling from Athens State University in his spare time. As buildings were completed, children and houseparents began to move in. Office personnel were in place, and my parents and siblings were able to settle into their new home as well.

By the summer of 1970, the landscaping, paving, and a tennis court were complete, and everything looked fantastic. People (primarily Baptists, of course) from all over the State of Alabama were invited for a big dedication and open house on Sunday afternoon, July 12. I was in school that summer and never had a car during my college days, but a friend offered to drive me from Birmingham to be there for the big celebration. We arrived in time for the morning service at Oak Park Baptist Church. The church's property was adjacent to the Children's Home campus, and the children and staff attended there.

My dad gave me a quick hug but seemed distracted. I chalked that up to the anxieties and grandness of the day. However, something else entirely was going on. My Aunt Margie, who had driven over from Athens to help my mother greet and serve all the guests, took me aside to break some horrible news. My dad's sister had gotten up that morning planning to come to the open house. She was going to bring dad's mother. Instead, the mental illness she had battled for many years overcame her, and she committed suicide. My poor daddy, who had worked tirelessly and was going to show hundreds of Baptists the results of their offerings, received some of the worst news a person can hear. Aunt Margie told me to keep the news quiet and not say anything to Daddy. He was determined to proceed and do his best to postpone his grief.

The occasion was a huge success. Many people came. The weather cooperated -- hot as all Alabama days in July are, but it didn't rain. Dad's speech and the speeches of others were exactly as they had been planned. All were thrilled with the results. In any other setting, it would have been a career highlight. Somehow, by God's grace, Dad was able to block out his grief until the last visitor's car pulled out of the parking lot late that afternoon. Only a handful of people had any idea what had happened. I walked into the superintendent's residence to be with my dad and witnessed the most gut-wrenching scene of my life to that point. I had never heard a man cry that loudly or with such anguish. All of the emotions of the day were spilling out of him. He had summoned the courage to be a leader, but now he was a broken-hearted, distraught brother. I'll never forget it.

If you want to read more about the history of the Decatur campus of the Children's Home, click this link. I love seeing the photos of dad in his younger, happy days, and I find it especially fitting that the writer titled the section about him "Another Proven Leader."

To read my Aunt Ruth's obituary, click here. She was only 45.

To read my dad's obituary, click here.

Dad walking me down the aisle at Oak Park Baptist Church eight months after that difficult July day.

I will always be proud that Tom Collier was my daddy.

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