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Lessons from my father-in-law

Wayne Croswhite and his wife Lorraine, parents of Janet Denison, pose for a photo at their grandson's wedding at Possum Kingdom Lake (Credit: Taylor Lord Photography) "As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord" (Joshua 24:15).

A plaque proclaiming these words hung on the dining room wall in the Croswhite home in Houston.  I saw them when I entered their home for the first time.  Their middle daughter, Janet, had transferred to Houston Baptist University when her family moved from Los Angeles.  I had finally gotten a date with her, and came to her home to pick her up.

Moments after reading the plaque, I met the man who put it on the wall.  Wayne Croswhite was an executive with IBM.  He moved to Houston to become IBM's representative to Shell Oil, a very prestigious position.  He was so successful that he would retire from IBM several years later at the age of 53.  He would then build his own farm in Arkansas, doing the plumbing and electrical work himself.

I didn't know all of that when I first met him.  What I did see immediately was his joyful, positive, compassionate faith.  We went out to his garage, which contained more tools than I had ever seen.  I learned that he did all his own car and house maintenance, and always had several woodworking projects going.

Very quickly, he turned the conversation to me.  I'm sure he was checking out this guy who wanted to date his daughter, but there was something more—he genuinely cared about me, from the first time we met.  Janet used to say that her high school boyfriends came to the house to see her father more than to see her.  While I seriously doubt that, I could understand his popularity.  I had never met a more upbeat, caring person.

The Croswhites soon became as involved in our church as two members could be.  Wayne served as deacon, then as deacon chairman.  He led the finance and property committees.  Lorraine was active in Bible Study Fellowship, Sunday school, and a variety of church ministries.  They were in church every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night.

My father and I did not have a spiritual relationship.  Dad was a Sunday school teacher before he fought in World War II; his wartime experiences were so tragic than he seldom attended church again.  While he and I were very close, we could not talk about my faith, which had become the most important commitment in my life.  Mr. Croswhite soon became the spiritual father I had never known.  He encouraged me, followed my growing ministry, and became a voice of wisdom in my life.

My father died in December of my senior year in college.  I had just asked Janet to marry me the week before.  The last time I saw my father alive was when he drove across Houston to give me money to help buy her engagement ring.  While no one can replace a father, Mr. Croswhite's role became even more important in the months to follow.  When Janet and I married, he helped us buy our first house.  He inspected it personally, even crawling under the foundation to make sure it was solid.  He was my go-to source for all things mechanical.  (Janet says that when I pick up a power tool, she starts praying . . .)  Wayne and Lorraine quickly became Dad and Mom to me.

In the years to come, they would "retire" to Arkansas (though Dad was busier there than in Houston), where their home and barn became a favorite vacation destination for our family.  Dad taught my sons to fish on the ponds he dug on the farm and took them riding on his tractor.  Trout fishing with him on the White River was an event I looked forward to all year.  We still have the rope our boys used to lasso tree stumps on the property.  Thanksgiving and Christmas on the farm were holidays we'll never forget.  I never made a major decision in life or work without asking his advice.

Years later, Mom and Dad moved to Longview, Texas when his health worsened, then to Dallas as his health concerns increased.  Less than a month ago, he was diagnosed with very aggressive cancer.  His wife and three daughters were with him Tuesday night when he stepped from death to life, from time to eternity.  Now he is home and he is well.

Great people plant trees they'll never sit under.  It is our family's responsibility and privilege to continue the commitment to Christ modeled so well by Dad.  He lived the words on that wall plaque every day that I knew him.  Today I am renewing my commitment to do the same: "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."


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