Leon Sexton wasn’t at Big Johns Liquor Store, Bro. Porter wrecked his car, and God took the opportunity to transform my life. Leon was a mid-30’s single man, with a drinking problem, a smoking problem, but a guy with a great heart. Leon had tried to walk away from alcohol but no success. In the summer of 1971, Leon tried again, this time immersing himself in church work. Leon became my “project”, I picked him up every morning, assigned him a task, ate with him, I saw to it that no alcohol touched his lips. Leon even came to my ball games, after each game we went to his Mom’s for snacks. From May to July Leon was “all fine” and I was the benefactor of a very good tennis coach. Leon taught me to play tennis, we played often, kept our equipment in my car, it was a fun time.
Then, early in August, I went by to pick up Leon, he wasn’t there, a tearful Mom, Clara Herron, told me that he didn’t come home last night. Wow, “all-points bulletin” – Leon was missing, everybody feared the worst! It was true, the worst, Leon had caught a ride to Lousiville, began a drinking binge, two weeks later Clara was visited by a police officer, Leon was found dead in a hotel room. My “project,” my success story of May- July had fallen prey to powers much stronger than my plans, the plans hatched in the parking lot of Big John Liquor Store. I had failed, my friend was dead, I just knew I could have done more!
For the next few weeks, I struggled to keep in balance Leon’s death and God’s love. I blamed a lot of stuff, including alcohol, but kept coming back to my failure to anticipate Leon’s fall and keep it from happening. Damnit, Leon was dead because I failed.
Then God, what wonderful words, God began to reveal His plan. I began to play tennis with guys from the college, youth from our church, even played a few times with one of my most admired ladies, Margaret Bertram, with whom I shared some of tennis coach, Leon Sexton’s, tips. I think Margaret’s daughter, Kathy, and I played a few times. In the late 1970’s, Carlton Dodge, Pastor Jim Pace, and others shared the tennis court many times. Tennis became a great tool for relationship building.
I still have Leon’s tennis racket. It sits, in a frame, ready to grab, ready to serve. Sometimes, I pick it up, swing it a few times, and remember how God took my feeble plan, to create a new Leon, and created a new me. God taught me that I did not have the power to transform a life, I could be used to love a life, to grant grace to a life, and to accept people for who they are not what I wanted them to be. Tennis became a tool for relationship building, an opportunity to take Leon’s teachings to a new level. Many of the friendships, strengthened on the tennis court, remain today. All because, Leon Sexton for a few months in his life, gave of himself to make my life more rewarding How good God is to us “all the time.”