Dean, Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources
Dr. Greene’s faith story – In 1994, my wife and I were both tenured professors at the University of Georgia with careers successfully launched in academia. That spring we welcomed the arrival of our son to our home. About the time that he was born, two very close friends, John and Lellie, learned that they were also expecting a child. Our son came three weeks early, forcing the rescheduling of a planned baby shower for us. The shower was held about five weeks after his arrival. He was old news by then. Everyone at the shower was talking about the new arrival that our friends were expecting. John and I stood on the back porch of the home where the shower was held while he told me that they had just learned they were expecting a boy. He had just told me what they planned to name the child, when a terrifying scream came from the front of the house. We found Lellie lying lifeless on the dining room floor. A valve in Lellie’s heart had collapsed suddenly. She had fallen to the floor in mid-sentence while talking to one of our friends. Her life and that of their expected son ended in that dining room.
My world was thrown into utter chaos and confusion. One of my closest friends with whom I worked had just seen his beloved wife and the start of their family abruptly and tragically die in front of his eyes. During the following days, we all rallied around John and showered him with love while sharing his grief and confusion. I had the added burden of feeling particularly guilty since I still had my wife and son. John had neither. None of this was fair or made sense. Scarier still, I realized that the roles could have been reversed several ways. That could have been my wife and son. Or it could have been me. Was I ready to review with God how I had spent my life and used the gifts and opportunities that he had so generously blessed me with?
I grew up in small towns in south Arkansas, north Louisiana, and east Texas. Life in our home was centered on the church. My family attended church every Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday night. I really have no memory as a child of doing anything on Sunday except going to church. I grew up with Bible stories from Sunday school, seeing prayers given before each meal, and hearing adults comment over Sunday dinner about the sermon that morning. About age 10, those Sunday sermons began to make me uncomfortable. I started to realize that those sinners the preacher was talking about included me. I realized that I had a very important and very personal decision to make sometime in my life. I knew that I sometimes did things that I should not do and that I often had thoughts that were not those of someone who lived their life as the Bible taught. I realized that while I might be a good human, I was not capable on my own of ever being good enough to earn eternal life. When I was 13-years-old, I admitted all of this to God in a very serious prayer. I told God that I accepted Jesus’ sacrifice to pay for my sins and that I wanted to follow his teaching in how I lived my life. After this prayer I felt a great sense of relief because I knew that God had forgiven my sins, but I also came to realize that living a Christian life was a daily journey of maintaining a relationship with Christ. And I quickly learned that it was not always easy to do.
While a student in college, I wandered away from living my life as God taught. I rebelled at the self-disciplined, Christ-centered life that my parents and church had raised me to live and insisted on doing things “my way”. While my lifestyle was comfortable and often gave me pleasure, I found it to be a short-term, temporary pleasure. I carried some guilt and shame because I knew that I was not living my life as I should to follow Christ. This continued after I became a professor. While I was successful as measured by the academy ñ publications, grants, invitations to speak at meetings, etc. ñ there was always something deeper that was missing that kept me from having true inner peace.
As I followed the ambulance to the hospital while driving John’s car that awful day in 1994, I once again came face to face with God and the decision I had to make about my life. Was I going to follow Him or keep trying to make it up on my own? Making it up on my own seemed to work fine until times like this, when I realized that He was much bigger than me. I begged God to save Lellie, but we lost her. I realized that if it had been me, I would have been ashamed to face my Maker and account for how I had lived my life. I had only thought about me. I had not used the gifts that God had liberally given me to help others or share his good news on this Earth.
Before this tragedy occurred my wife and I had already begun talking about returning to church so that we could raise our son in the faith we knew as children. This tragic episode in our lives made it clear that we needed to again make Christ the center of our lives. We started rebuilding our relationships with Christ with regular church attendance. We soon added regular Bible study in small groups and helping with a variety of church outreach and service programs. Our relationship with God and the fellow Christians in our community keeps growing as our faith walk continues. Our family life now revolves around our faith and the loving, supportive community of people in our church and other faith communities. We are all still sinners but we continue to ask for God’s forgiveness as we strive against our own humanity to live each day as Christ would have us live. My life still has ups and downs, but I now have inner peace thanks to the love of Jesus Christ.