On this day, seventy nine years ago, I was born in Nashville. Tennessee. I was an ‘unwanted child’, you might say an accident. Don’t smile; you may have been an accident too. Mother and Dad already had six kids. Dad was an avid amateur boxer, I was named Jack after his idol, Jack Dempsey, the great prize fighter. Mother made a different agreement with God. “My seventh child will be a male; he will be red-headed, born in Nashville Tennessee, a hot-bed of the church, his middle name shall be Hardeman, after one of the great preachers of her day, for my seventh child and fourth son will be a preacher of the Word all the days of his life. The doctrine of predestination is a teaching in dispute – Mother destination is a sure thing. As young as I can remember, Mother would introduce me as her ‘preacher boy’.
At the age of six weeks, I was moved with all my family to Miami, Florida. Dad accepted the position as District Manager of a major Life Insurance company. All nine Exums boarded an old Essex automobile so heavily packed that only the driver’s door was functional. We arrived in Miami five days later. Mother was stone deaf all of our lives. She never heard any of us speak or laugh or cry. Mother was a great woman. She stayed the course with Dad in bringing up the brood.
In time, all my brothers and sisters graduated from Miami Edison High school. We were present at all church services, and you could set your watch by the entries of the Exum family during the singing of the third song. We were always late. The decision was made in my junior year of school to send me to a boarding Bible school in Dasher Georgia.
The following summer I met a girl named Ann on a blind date. She was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen, much less dated. My approach to ‘smooching’ was simple. At the movie I would always allow my date be seated first As I sat, I would scratch my ear and drop my arm behind her seat. Looking straight ahead, I would casually move it up into position and gently touch her shoulder. Without exception, they would wiggle a bit my way and snuggle into a position more acceptable for my next move. Ann was different. She took my arm from around her shoulders and looked me square in the eye and said in a rather loud voice, “DON’T! Numerous ones around me snickered, giggled and pointed.
I was sitting on my neck and looking up at the profile of this gorgeous girl and I thought, “How did she do that?”. I thought I was the Lord’s gift to women and born with a natural pucker. Who cares about the movie anyway? My conclusion was quick and responsive. She’s reserved, shy, and conservative, and probably a republican. Be patient and wait till we are in private. No woman could possibly resist my marvelous charm. We parked beside the canal, under four pine trees. It was close to town but still private. We all had an equal view of the water where we could see the ‘submarines race’ (!). After trying numerous ways to get a kissing activity going, Ann said, “Jack, if being with me is not good enough, TAKE ME HOME“. It made me angry. She has ‘dethroned the king’. She humiliated me, and shamed me, and embarrassed me. “I’ll make you pay”, I thought. I’m going to marry you!” Why didn’t I think of marrying the other girls I dated? They were ‘fun’ to be with, and after a few dates then we would passed them on with ‘recommendations’. They just weren’t the marrying kind.
After three years and college behind me, we were married. June 25, 1948 – what a marvelous day that was. With $200.00 in an old ’31 Chevy, we went to our first place to live and preach. That was 59 years ago. Ann is still the most beautiful woman I know. She was the one that showed me the real Jesus. She was the one that cleaned my heart and filled my mouth with good words. She was the one that has stood by me when tragedy struck and hard times prevailed.
So today on my 79th birthday, I look back over the moments, and hours and days and years and remember the words of the Apostle Paul who wrote, “For we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to them who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). It’s been a wonderful life, all because of one named Ann who showed me the living Christ.
We had three sons and adopted three daughters. The family tree has grown in the passing of time. The count now stands with 15 grandchildren, 9 great grand children and a lifelong career of speaking the Word in all 51 states and many foreign countries. It all began when two teenagers met on a blind date.
I can truly say with Paul, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto salvation, to everyone that believeth, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:18). “Happy birthday Jack”.