It was early spring of 1980. Doris and I were living in a mobile home in Augusta, GA, furnished to us by the church where I was serving as youth pastor. We were enjoying one of our rare evenings at home with nothing on the schedule when a knock on the door surprised us. That knock changed so many things in our lives and opened us up to a lifetime of experiences and memories that were not even remotely on our radar.
A young man, a few years younger than me anyway, stood on our concrete stoop when I opened the trailer door, and with a quirky kind of smile stuck out his catcher’s mitt size hand and said, “Hi, I’m Marc Arnette. Treva said I should come see you.” Treva was a girl in our youth group, now a freshman at Georgia Southern University, where Marc was a senior. They were in a Bible Study group together. He was desperate to finish his college required student teaching in Augusta and needed a place to live for the 5 months that it would take. We talked for a while. I sent him to talk to Brother Earl, an old, single guy in the church that might let him stay there, knowing that it would be a terrible fit, and, while he was gone, Doris and I agreed to let him live with us if he wanted to. Marc came back about 11pm. He wanted to. And the rest is history. But a pretty amazing history.
Marc Arnette was about as eccentric and unique a person as I have ever met. He was unbelievably confident, almost to the point of being cocky, but with a boyish innocence that made that completely acceptable. He had habits and patterns that were on the verge of obsessive. He had some very clear things he believed, and as a new Christian, some of them challenged my own still-forming dogma. And, by the way, he was an all-American golfer at Georgia Southern, destined for the PGA tour, where he would play and set records under the name Dewey Arnette.
The next few months were some of the strangest, and most fun in our lives. I would work at the church each day and Marc would student teach. About 3, we would meet at the driving range where he would practice and give me golf lessons. (The same lessons that he would later be paid $300-400 an hour for by some of the best-known golfers on the PGA tour.) After golf, we’d go home to Doris’s supper. He loved her cooking and lavished praises on her every meal. Then off to the local putt-putt place to play video games. I was a master at Space Invaders and it was the only thing I ever beat Marc at. In the middle of that, we had great Bible discussions, listened to Keith Green, and taught each other new ways to look at our faith. He made me far more open to a Holy Spirit experience and I, I think, helped him with a depth and discipline that gave his spiritual exuberance roots.
We also met Patti during that time, his beautiful, tall, professional ballerina fiancé’ who seemed to provide the perfect balance of grace and gentleness to Marc’s “bull-in-a-china-shop” approach to life. They were both from Jacksonville. We made trips there. Patti came and stayed with us. She would stay in Marc’s room (in this 2-bedroom trailer), Doris slept in our room, and Marc and I would sleep on the floor in the church fellowship hall. We ended up singing in their wedding. The day before the wedding I played golf with Paul Azinger, Davis Love III, Jody Mudd (ask your golfing buddies) and my team won a scramble because they gave me 30 strokes.
And the stories just started with that. We visited Marc at PGA events. He and Patti and their 3 kids, Jon-Christian, Shannon, and Brianna, would stay with us at the parsonages where I pastored. Every few months he would send me a new set of Ping golf clubs (Ping was his sponsor) and he became a hero to my two sons. He and Jacob especially were kindred spirits and Jacob continued a relationship with Marc even in his young adult years.
I traveled places, met people, played on golf courses, signed autographs (that’s another story), and had meaningful conversations that I never would have had if I hadn’t answered the knock on that trailer door 40 years ago. And while in the last few years we did not have much regular contact, there were always those surprising moments when Marc or Patti would call and the stories and the laughter would start all over again. On Monday, Doris and I were talking about them and saying, “It’s about time to reach out again to our friends and see how they are doing.” On Wednesday night we got a text from Patti. Marc was diagnosed with a very aggressive kind of cancer in December and he passed away on March 26. He was 62.
Over the last few days, I have been interested in my own response. I am not sorrowful as I would be if this were a family member, a brother, or even a very best friend that I talked to every week. There instead has been a sweet sadness, a mixture of thankfulness for the joy and specialness of our relationship and regret that we will not have another talk about what it was like for him to play Augusta National and why speaking in tongues is not the only evidence of being filled with the Spirit. I am hurting for Patti, and Bear, and Shannon, and Bree, and almost gleeful thinking about Marc, with his confident, cocky self, engaging Saint Peter, arguing with the Apostle Paul, and sitting at the feet of the Jesus that he adored. My mind has been filled with a hundred memories of the things we did together, and a thousand thoughts of the courage he inspired in me to be different in my faith.
Here are the 4 lessons that have welled up in me since the news of Marc’s death:
- We often have a far greater impact on people than we ever imagine, and they have a far greater impact on us. I don’t even play golf anymore. Tennis has taken its place in my sports passion. But there is hardly a month that has gone by over the last 40 years that I have not read a passage of scripture or listened to a worship song and thought about how Marc and I would talk through our beliefs about that.
- There are connections and affections that last a lifetime, even when time and space greatly separate us. Marc was the Director of Golf for some very exotic, high-dollar, jet-set places around the world. I sit most days in a counseling office in Murfreesboro, TN. Yet stories and memories and new thoughts come up regularly that have their roots in our friendship and experiences together.
- Life, at its best, is fragile and temporary so it has to be lived intentionally, with purpose and passion. Not only on the golf course or in the bible study but everywhere, all the time, the relationships that we have must be valued, cherished, appreciated. I cannot afford to take for granted that there will be one more conversation, another supper at Fuddruckers, or a late-night text exchange about where Tim Tebow should rank in the great college quarterbacks.
- Finally, heaven is such a wonderful and precious hope. I have no idea how we would navigate the sorrows and the losses of this world were we not assured of the rejoicing and reuniting of the next. Paul says, “If we have hope only in this life, we are of all men, most miserable.” (I Cor. 15:19) There is much life to be lived here and much work to be done. I don’t want to be so heavenly-minded that I am no earthly good. But the sweet anticipation and assurance of that day when Marc and I tee it up on a heavenly golf course is a joy that is almost beyond description.
So, the moral of the story…when somebody knocks on your trailer door, open it. And don’t forget to affirm someone today.