It all began for me in the summer of 1983 with a phone call. The call was from a friend who asked to meet with Ken and myself. He showed up at our little rent house and asked us to consider coming to develop a music ministry at The Chapel on the Campus in Baton Rouge.
I immediately said no. You see, I had worked as a choir director at a local church and had left there deeply wounded after two years of pouring my heart out. A new pastor had come to the church, and he had a problem with a woman as a choir director and I wasn’t wanted. I swore I would never work in a church again. Besides, I was pursuing my professional singing career and Ken was the organist at a large downtown church and had been part of a team working for over a year on the design and building of a new organ to be installed in the next few months. The friend was very convincing and asked us to at least visit the church. And so, one Sunday morning in August I went alone, since Ken had a church job and I didn’t (because I was never going to work in a church again!) I remember sitting on the back row so I could slip in and out easily. The service was very different than anything I had ever experienced. I had been raised in a very traditional church. They called the preacher the cowboy pastor and he had worked with the Billy Graham Crusade before coming to Baton Rouge to start this church on the campus of LSU.
At the end of the service we came to communion and the pastor began to sing a simple chorus -
Oh how He loves you and me…. He gave His life, what more could He give.
Oh, how He loves you, Oh, how He loves me, Oh, how He loves you and me.
I began to weep.
It was so simple, so personal, so tender and the Spirit poured down over my soul.
The communion service concluded as he led the congregation in another song.
All my confusion He understood,
All I had to offer him was brokenness and strife,
But He made something beautiful of my life.
I left the service that morning and told my husband, "I can’t explain it, but I just know we are supposed to be there. You need to go visit." He did and we said “yes.” The pastor's name was Donald Tabb and our “yes” forever changed my life, my husband’s life and the lives of our children. That “yes” began a transforming spiritual journey with the Savior that has molded me into the woman I have become. Ken and I worked in the ministry there together under Donald's leadership for almost twenty years and spent thirty one total years in ministry at the Chapel in two different locations.
What I think I didn’t understand at the time was that it was only in choosing to give that the brokenness in my heart could heal. The Lord knew and He was calling us to give our lives and giftings to the ministry. We had no idea or understanding what that calling would ultimately cost us and more importantly, how much it would bless and transform us forever.
I think that we thought we were going to the church to bring our experience and training to develop a music ministry. We did that. But that was not really why the Lord brought us to the Chapel. He called us there to draw us into a deeper, more intimate relationship with the Savior and His Words of life. One of the most beautiful ways He orchestrated that work in our hearts was to weave our lives together with a man whose hunger and passion for Jesus and love for the Word was contagious. When you heard him preach, you wanted to know the Savior like he did. When you experienced his hunger and thirst for the Word, you wanted to crave the Word like he did. He was a master storyteller and he could craft the stories of the gospel in a way that captured your imagination and your heart for Christ. And so we began our journey with pastor Donald and the beautiful body of believers in that place of worship. Most of our dearest friendships through the years came out of that decision. The wisdom, love and grace of this man forever changed the direction of my life and confirmed my true calling. The love of Christ and a passion for the heart of worship consumed me and I left my pursuit of a professional singing career and chose instead to pour my life into ministry. It's a choice I have never regretted.
On May 2, 2018 my friend and pastor Donald was tragically drowned at the age of 85 in a boating accident at the mouth of the Mississippi River. He was a fisherman in all aspects of the word - like the disciples of Jesus, he was a fisher of men but he also loved to catch fish! His last words to his friend in the boat after it capsized were, “Save Jack.” Jack, his lifelong friend had led Donald to the Lord in college and the two of them were fishing together with another man. That day Donald entered the gates of heaven within minutes of the friend who had led him to put his faith in the Savior. Only one of the three men survived.
What joy for them! But our community and people around the world grieved the loss. His body was missing for four
days and the news was filled with testimony after testimony of how this beloved man and pastor had changed so many lives all over the world for the Savior. Even his death brought the news of the gospel across the headlines.
My heart has been so broken over Donalds’ tragic death as we sought to minister to his wife Mary, his five children and plan a memorial service that would honor Jesus and the life and legacy of Donald. We loved him so.
In the last few weeks my mind has been flooded with thoughts of our years of ministry together. Donald was like a spiritual father to me. My own father died suddenly of a heart attack so young and I remember looking outside my kitchen window that day we came home from the hospital and up drove Donald in his truck. I just collapsed into his arms. How did he even know? But he was there. Through the years he was always there to counsel and guide me.
He even baptized me and our children.
Donald loved the Savior like no one I’ve ever met. His driving passion was to lead others to make the wonderful discovery of knowing Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. He had the heart of an evangelist to save the lost. He preached the Word faithfully and powerfully, but always bathed His message in the love and grace of His Lord. I’ve never known anyone else who could quote Scripture like Donald. The Word just poured out of Him. He was our pastor, preacher, advocate, counselor, teacher, friend, leader, advisor and mentor through all those years. He loved our music, but he also supported me in other pursuits such as teaching and writing.
Donald loved the choir and always encouraged us to bring excellence to the Lord as we sought to lead the hundreds of children, youth and adults whose lives became a part of ours through the years because of the “yes” we said that day. There were lots of fun times and laughter and many feasts through the years too, because Donald was a great cook. He especially loved to cook all that fish he caught for the staff and made delicious homemade biscuits.
As you can imagine, working together in ministry for so long wasn’t always easy. Sometimes we disagreed as we made plans for the services and ministry endeavors. We served through the difficult years of transition and change in worship for the evangelical church in the 80’s and 90’s. Ministry can be hard, and you just have to learn to press through. Donald was there to nurture the faith of a young, strong willed woman, wife and mom trying to find her way and offer grace in this life with Jesus and ministry in the church.
Along with the times of joy, there were also many tears and some long, hard discussions and he was usually right.
But when he wasn’t, there were always the words that came, “Please forgive me. You know I love you.”
That was one thing I always knew about this man of God. He loved me and I loved him.
Donald retired years before we made the decision to leave the Chapel after thirty one years of ministry. We felt so uncertain of our future at that time. Once again, Donald was there to love and encourage us. The last time I saw Donald was Easter Sunday morning. He had come to worship and hear the choir at the wonderful Community Bible Church where we now serve. I remember looking at Donald's beaming face listening to the choir and singing the beautiful hymn that he had taught me. My last vision of him is singing...
Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.
Because He lives, all fear is gone.
Because I know, He holds the future.
And life is worth the living, just because He lives.
And then, a month later Donald went home to be with Jesus. We closed out his memorial service with that hymn.
I wish I knew how many funerals and weddings we had the privilege of doing together through the years. Donald preaching the gospel, me singing, and Ken at the keyboard leading worship.
Donald always told me that he wanted me to sing “It is Well with My Soul” at his funeral. When the time came, I wasn’t sure how I would make it through the emotions that I felt.
I loved him and his dear family so much.
I asked so many to pray and the Lord by His grace carried me. As I looked out over the huge gathering of 1600-1800 people, my heart soared with love for the Savior and for those who had gathered for the love of this man, and I was able to sing the glorious truths in this beloved hymn.
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
It is well with my soul,
it is well, it is well with my soul.
My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
And, Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
the clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
the trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
even so, it is well with my soul.
One day…. We will all be together again!
For the service, we gathered a choir together of about eighty people who had sung with us through the years.
They came from all over and we sang....
“To God be the Glory, for the things He has done.
With His blood He has saved me, with His power He has raised me…
To God be the Glory, for the things He has done.”
That same week we had two other funerals and a wedding. It was quite a week! I think there’s a movie with a similar title… Our week could have been titled 3 funerals and a wedding - and Ken's piano students' recital!
It is such a privilege to be a part of so many people's lives during their times of great joy and sorrow. I just missed doing the services this past week with our beloved Donald. As we ministered at each service in recent days, I realized that our lives had become interwoven with these people because of the impact of the gospel that has forever changed us through the love of Donald and the gift of our music ministry. I’m so glad we said “yes.” Of course, it really all began when Donald said "yes" over sixty years ago to the Savior and then to his calling as evangelist and pastor. That decision has changed the lives of thousands through the years, including our own.
Ultimately, the path of our lives comes down to a choice that we have all been given. Jesus chose to die on the cross for your sin and mine. Saying "yes" to Jesus and the gift of salvation He offers will change your life forever. He has a beautiful plan for your life as well....a life of hope, love, promise, and purpose.
Have you put your faith and trust in Jesus as your Savior?
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16
We live in a world where the focus of our culture is “self” and learning to say “no”. And it’s true that we need to learn to discern when to say “yes” and when to say “no”. We can easily over commit to things that are not God’s best for us.
But we need to be careful that we don’t miss saying “yes” to the Savior, to what God is calling us to do and whom He is calling us to be.
That one word can enrich your life in ways you would have never dreamed or imagined!
I’m so grateful that I brought Jesus my brokenness and said “yes” thirty five years ago.
All I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife,
But He made something beautiful of my life!
To God be the Glory,
It is well with my soul.
If you would like to see Donald Tabb Celebration and Remembrance Service you can visit it below.
The service is full of wonderful testimonies about the life of ministry of Donald and just a sampling of the thousands of lives he touched and saved with the love of Jesus. It will inspire you to say “yes.”
If you would like to hear the songs by the choir and myself, they are found at 15:42 (To God be the Glory - choir) and 52:40 (It is Well with My Soul).
Resources: Oh How He Loves You and Me, Kurt Kaiser; Something Beautiful, Bill Gaither; My Tribute(To God Be the Glory), Andrae Crouch, It is Well With My Soul, Horatio Spafford; Because He Lives, Bill Gaither
Coming Next Week: News about Restore Plans for Summer, Fall and Spring of 2018-2019!
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