It was 1993. We were quickly changing nine-year-old Caleb Colley (3rd grade) from his traveling shorts and t-shirt to a plaid coat and navy pants, blue saddle shoes and a big-boy-tie, right there in the Presidential Lobby parking lot in front of the Opryland hotel in Nashville. He had his Bible, marked and in hand, ready to go to a conference room and read his scripture. (We had no clue how many hours in our lifetimes we would spend wandering around looking for our destination in that hotel!) He was more nervous than he ever gets now even answering cold questions from the floor. But it was his beginning in Lads to Leaders. Later that weekend, he would lead “Victory in Jesus” in a boiler room where we all strained to hear what any of the boys were leading, and he would deliver a five-minute speech from memory in a science classroom on the campus of David Lipscomb High School. It was the good old days before there was a Delta in the hotel (but there was a giant theme park next door!), before there was an app to help you find your way, before there were hospitality suites or even Staxx burgers, when many events still had to be held off-site, before there were yellow and green divisions of Lads in Nashville (much less a white division for the big years) and before there were other Lads conventions anywhere! People who knew the importance of encouraging a little boy to hone his leadership skills for the glory of God had made road trips to hear that five minute speech. That little speech was the genesis of a preaching life that would influence people in lots of places to His glory. (His glory is the whole purpose.) That weekend, for our little family was a small “victory in Jesus.”
And Hannah was five. She was just beginning her little pre-school trek on that amazing Lads to Leaders journey. When we, as a family committed to earning our first “Centurion of Scripture” well before Hannah was able to read, little Hannah said to me one day, “I do not wike this game!”
I replied “Hannah, why do you not like this game?”
“…Because I cannot wead.”
It was hard for a little girl to learn 100 verses when she couldn’t study them in the pages of her Bible. And, thus, Hannah’s Hundred was born. At first, we just made up catchy little tunes with which Hannah could memorize her verses. But soon, others wanted copies for their kids. Before we knew it, we were in a tiny radio station sound room singing into microphones and we were traveling to a little production company to have hundreds of copies on cassettes, then CDs and finally digitally transmitted copies. They are cheesy little tunes that will get stuck in your head. They certainly required no talent. But they get stuck in your kids’ heads, too–along with the words! You can find the digital copies here: www.thecolleyhouse.org/store
In this process, Caleb and Hannah came to know and love Dr. Jack Zorn, founder of the greatest youth leadership program in America (https://www.lads2leaders.com), and his sweet wife, sister Frances Zorn, too. Caleb imitated brother Jack’s signature thumbs-up and he could impersonate his familiar “NOW!” whenever he asked anyone to do something immediately. Hannah rushed to get her yearly photo with him for her Lads scrapbook. As teens, both kids developed teen study programs for Lads to Leaders, called GIFTS (the girls’ program) and GUARD. When Hannah went to that board meeting with her new GIFTS program to seek approval, she was a nervous 16-year-old. But her friend, Dr. Zorn, was there. He was the ultimate Barnabas for her. Caleb and Hannah had a little part in developing the Keepers and Providers programs and both attended Freed Hardeman University applying scholarship money awarded through the program. Lads just became very central to their spiritual development. The impact the program had on both Caleb and Hannah was and is yet, profound. Through the years their appreciation of Brother Zorn deepened as experience and maturity taught them the value of those early, nervous years in Lads to Leaders.
Both Caleb and Hannah now have children in the program. It’s a privilege for Glenn to serve on the board of directors and it is so much fun to encourage churches to launch their programs and mentor kids in our home congregations. We had no idea that day as we entered that grand lobby that we were walking through a life-changing door. We are thankful for the tool that Lads to Leaders is to our family and to thousands of families seeking to secure their tribes on the Rock of Ages! It’s clear that Lads cannot mold kids; it takes homes to do that. But it can facilitate that process in tangible ways.
Sister Zorn’s last trip to an area congregation was when she traveled to the congregation where Hannah’s family worshipped to meet our first grandchild (with her daughter, Rhonda, who cares deeply and serves with great dedication.) Hannah was humbled and encouraged that she was there in this, yet another, genesis in her life.
But the envelope that Hannah got in the mail last week was just about the sweetest piece of mail of her life. Rhonda and Halo Fernadez, the caretakers of the Zorns during their final years, have been patiently settling the estate and paying the bills from brother Zorn’s checking account. (I might add that this account was not always bulging through the early lads years. I think brother Zorn ended up mortgaging his home on more than one occasion to make the convention happen.) At the end of the laborious, but sentimental bill-paying and settling, the remainder in the account was $213.65. This last check in the account of Dr. Zorn was made out to Hannah Giselbach, in the amount of $213.65. Not too many of us will have “last gifts” from any of our greatest heroes in this temporary world; especially from heroes who have already gone on into the permanent pavilion of bliss and rest. But I’m telling you this: There was no greater, more needed, more hugely encouraging gesture in this whole world than what that girl found in her mailbox that day. She’s so touched that she doesn’t know whether to frame it or cash it! (She’s hoping the bank might let her do both!) This was a complete surprise from friends (Rhonda and Halo Fernadez) with whom Hannah had no conversation about any trial, whatsoever. She did not even know that Rhonda knew she was struggling in any way. But she wept and then she wept some more. (And Rhonda later told her she could buy shoes with the money. Notice the pic!)
I will reiterate. There are no better people on the planet than those in the body of Christ. There’s no better support group than faithful Christians in the lives of your children. There’s no better parenting tool than the Lads program. There’s no more valuable encouragement in dark days than the amazing compassion of humble Christians who “get” the words of our Lord in Matthew 25. When you become “the least of these, my brethren” (and really, all of us are) you know the power of compassion. I want to be better. I hear a lot about “eyes wide open” these days. It usually refers to political and social awareness. I want to be better about keeping my eyes wide open to opportunities to be “on the right” in the Matthew 25 way. I want to be a sheep. I’m profoundly thankful for the sheep all around me. The righteous will answer in that day “When did we see you hungry, thirsty, naked, sick and in prison?” It is the King who will answer them and his judgment words will be ” Come ye blessed and inherit the kingdom prepared for you.” I want to hear that sweet voice. That’s the one inheritance that’s even better than the one in the mailbox!
You can watch Hannah’s first little speech here: