Deuteronomy 1:6-8 – What is Your Travelers Rest Moment?

Posted: November 25, 2016 in 05-Deuteronomy

Deuteronomy 1:6-8

The Command to Leave Sinai


There are certain pivotal events in a person’s life. These are the game changer moments. Like in a football game where there is usually one seminal play in a game that is the play that controls everything that happens after it. It is a play that changes the course of the game. So too, we each have those game changing moments in life. Those fateful decisions that change the course, the trajectory of our lives. What is your game changing moment? For me, as I mentioned yesterday, that game changing moment was when I moved to Travelers Rest, SC from Anderson, SC at age 14 right before going into the 9th grade. Everything else in my life is somehow affected by that decision. If you can trace back to that seminal moment in your life, what would that be?


For me, all the other moves that I made growing up as the son of a United Methodist Church preacher were just insignificant as to the formation of who I am today. Oh sure, the other stops along the way had their moments where significant events happened in my growing up, but none compare to the life-altering momentousness of the move to Travelers Rest (or TR as people in the Upstate call it). Before the move to TR, I was living in Anderson, SC. I went to Lakeside Middle School. I was in the eighth grade before the move so if we had stayed in Anderson another year I would have been a freshman at Westside High School the following school year. At Lakeside, I had become a big man on campus. I was popular. I looked forward to going to school every day because I was part of the in-crowd. One of the cool kids. It was great time to be alive for me. All the girls thought I was cute and I flirted with them all. I was in my element.


It was Anderson where I figured out the politics of fitting in. It was there that I felt connected. It was there that I finally felt at home. I was, as the saying goes, “a big man on campus”, at Lakeside Middle School. But, of course, all of that was to be short-lived. The Methodist Church in South Carolina in its wisdom decided to move us again. We learned of this in the Spring of 1976. I was crushed. Had not the move come along, I would have been going to Westside High School the next year with all of my buddies from the middle school. Why now, God? Why now? That was my cry. It was the lowest of low moments of my life to that point. Finally, I had turned the corner and belonged. Now, it was all being ripped away from me. I was so angry at my dad that I told him that I was going to stay in Anderson and live with my best friend, Donnie. I was very serious about it. That was how important it was to me to live where I felt as though I belonged – for once. But, of course, I was a kid and my desires were not an option.


It was on to Travelers Rest, SC with my parents. My world was over. I lost the life I had developed in Anderson. In Travelers Rest, I was a nobody again. No friends. No connections. Just another new town. Little did I know that it was this town that would control my future for years to come far beyond June 1980 when my parents moved to Charleston, SC. In 1976 though, I needed to rebuild and get connected. I was desperate for the acceptance I had in Anderson.


My dad was assigned to be the pastor of the Travelers Rest Charge, as they call such things in Methodism. It’s when you have multiple churches served by one pastor. My dad served charges for most of his pastoral career except in his later years when he was able to serve what the Methodists call station churches (i.e., a pastor serving a single church). In Travelers Rest, dad was the pastor of Travelers Rest and Jackson Grove United Methodist Churches. Travelers Rest United Methodist was the in-town church and Jackson Grove was the out-in-the-country church. Big difference in those two churches. One was professional families and the other was farmer families. It was there in the smaller church that the direction of my life would be imprinted for a long time. The smaller church actually had the larger more vibrant youth group. So, I ended up deciding to attend more regularly there than at the bigger in-town church. It was there that I met Lisa McDowell.


The first couple of months I was there, including the first two months of school, I was a fish out of water. Didn’t know anybody at school and the girls were not impressed with me as far as I could tell. I only thought I was low emotionally during those summer months in Travelers Rest before school started. Being a nobody again after being a big man on campus in Anderson was devastating and I desperately craved acceptance. It was when Lisa began taking an interest in me that things started to change. She opened doors to all kinds of new people. It made me dependent on Lisa in ways that would affect our relationship for years to come. The mold for any relationship is formed early on and is hard to change once the mold is set. Although I became popular eventually in my own right at Travelers Rest High School. Lisa was the key to it all. She opened all the doors. I became very tied to her approval of me. It would crush me when I did not have her approval. Lisa and I were deeply in love, or so we thought at that age. We dated all through high school. Even after she graduated, a year before me, we stuck with the relationship. It was good in those days. Lots of fun, sex, and parties. We got engaged right after I graduated high school in 1979 and planned a wedding for the next summer in July 1980.


We had a great time together, but I was the lesser in the relationship. Lisa had a very dominating personality. When you combine that with my “why can’t we all just get along” personality and the fact that I was an approval seeker, it allowed Lisa to step into the controls of the relationship. All I did was to please her and to gain her approval. She defined how I felt about myself. When she was happy with me, I was a happy person. When she was unhappy with me, I was an unhappy person. But while all that was going on during our dating years from 1976-1980, we were inseparable and we had great times.


If I had never gotten into that relationship, I often sit and wonder what my life would have been like. There would have most likely been no wedding at age 18. There would have most likely been no Furman University but rather Clemson. There would have been no being tied to Travelers Rest because having to care for a handicapped mother in law. There would have been dealing with the death of her brother in a car accident. There would have been no dealing with Lisa’s violent temper. There would have been no dealing with her drug addiction for eight years after her brother’s death. There would have been no dealing with her affair during her drug addiction. There would have been no raging despair and anger toward her that led me to have an affair of my own that ended the marriage to Lisa and began the marriage to Trena. That marriage was just a repeat of the first with no drug addiction and wacked out behavior but with my kids vs. your kids issue, a new ingredient in the recipe of marriage. The patterns of behavior of approval/disapproval, doing whatever it took to keep a woman happy and have access to sex was the same though. That same pattern of approval and disapproval eventually led to rebellion on my part of saying enough is enough to my entire previous life since moving to Travelers Rest in 1976.


I imagine that my life would be so completely different right now if it had not been for that move to Travelers Rest in 1976. I most likely would not be sitting on my couch right now in Lyman, SC typing this blog as a decoy from beginning the Christmas decoration operation. I do wonder though if I would have met my wife now of almost 7 years, Elena. How would I have met her, the calming influence on my life, the normalcy that she brought to my life. She took this raging, angry horse and whispered to him and settled him down. She calmed the beast in me. She was able to bring the un-ride-able horse into a sense of calm and peace. Would I have met her if it were not for the changed trajectory?


Sometimes when I ponder the thought, I think of that movie, The Family Man (with Nicolas Cage and Tea Leoni), where Nicolas Cage’s character finds out what his life would have been like if he had made a different decision at his critical moment. That decision point was whether to go to London to pursue an internship after college or to stay with Tea Leoni’s character. He gets to see what his life would have been like if he had not gone to London. He ends up longing for the life that he missed. I too sometimes wonder what life would have been like if I had not moved to Travelers Rest in 1976. It was there that the path of my life turned down this road that has led me to Lyman, SC in 2016, some forty years later.


It was that seminal moment in life that changes everything that I thought of this morning when I read through the passage for today, Deuteronomy 1:6-8:


6 The Lord our God said to us at Horeb, “You have stayed long enough at this mountain. 7 Break camp and advance into the hill country of the Amorites; go to all the neighboring peoples in the Arabah, in the mountains, in the western foothills, in the Negev and along the coast, to the land of the Canaanites and to Lebanon, as far as the great river, the Euphrates. 8 See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land the Lord swore he would give to your fathers—to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—and to their descendants after them.”


The first thing that you notice here is that Moses’ summary of Israel’s 40 year journey begins at Mount Sinai – not in Egypt. Why did Moses leave out the first part of the Exodus? He was summarizing the development of the nation of Israel. They were not a nation before that point. In Moses’ mind, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the nation of Israel began at the foot of Mount Sinai. For it was at the foot of Mount Sinai that God gave His covenant to the people (Exodus 19-20). Along with the covenant came the knowledge and responsibility of being God’s chosen people. After the people chose to follow God, they had to know how to follow Him. Therefore, God gave them a comprehensive set of laws and guidelines that stated how He wanted them to live. The people could no longer say they didn’t know the difference between right and wrong. Now that the people had promised to follow God and knew how to follow Him, they had a responsibility to do it. It all goes back to Sinai. All the wanderings and meanderings of the past 40 years hinged upon Sinai. It was there that everything changed. The Israelites would be a wandering rabble of nomadic people if it were not for the God moment at Sinai. That’s where God made them His people. The entire future of Israel and of us as Christians points back to this seminal moment in the Sinai wilderness at Mt. Sinai.


What is your seminal moment? What is that one point in life where everything changed? What is that moment where you can go back to and say, this was the moment that changed the course of my life? It was Travelers Rest in 1976 for me. Everything goes back to that moment. It was out of that move to Travelers Rest in 1976 that my entire current life flows, forty years of it. It is all actions and reactions resulting from that moment the moving van pulled out of the parsonage driveway in Anderson on its way to Travelers Rest parsonage. However, as I said yesterday, that game changing moment was necessary for the life that God has placed before me. I would not know the joy of my daughters without that move. I would not know the joy of my life right now with these daughters grown and the addition of a wonderful stepdaughter. I would not know the joy of the wife that I have now without that seminal moment of the move to Travelers Rest. Without the twists and turns of my life, I would not know Elena and the peace, joy, and stability that she has brought to my life. I would not know her without all the stuff that I went through without moving to Travelers Rest and living the life that I have lived since then.


Sure, you wonder what your life would be like if the seminal moment would have been different. But it would not be your life. It would be some other man’s life. Not this Mark Bowling’s life. I would not appreciate what I have now if it were not for what came before. The move to Travelers Rest and everything that came after it were necessary for me to appreciate the high, dry ground that I stand on now. It makes me appreciate and honor and love and respect and praise my God more than ever. Without the toils and trials since that seminal moment of moving to Travelers Rest, I maybe would not love the Lord the way that I do now. Maybe, I would be all caught up in the corporate ladder life and living an empty life of things and trinkets.


But without the move to Travelers Rest, I would not know the wonders of the blessings that belong to me now. It makes the words of the old hymn that is just so beautiful that it brings tears to my eyes when it is played straight up (non-contemporary) in the original arrangement:


Amazing grace! How sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost, but now am found;

Was blind, but now I see.


’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,

And grace my fears relieved;

How precious did that grace appear

The hour I first believed!


Through many dangers, toils and snares,

I have already come;

’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,

And grace will lead me home.


The Lord has promised good to me,

His Word my hope secures;

He will my Shield and Portion be,

As long as life endures.


Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,

And mortal life shall cease,

I shall possess, within the veil,

A life of joy and peace.


The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,

The sun forbear to shine;

But God, who called me here below,

Will be forever mine.


When we’ve been there ten thousand years,

Bright shining as the sun,

We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise

Than when we’d first begun.


Amen and Amen.

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