Dave’s birthday is today. I can’t help but feel a little ticked at Dave—like hey, man, how are you having your birthday party in heaven and celebrating without us?
But I’m glad he’s in God’s presence, feeling the fullness of peace, joy, and love like never before. Maybe he’s a good dancer in heaven. Maybe he’s dancing with our little niece Rhea or telling jokes to our Grandpa Nolen, Uncle Stanley, cousin Timmy, and Pop (our great-grandpa who lived with us for 7 years), making them belly laugh the way he would make Dad laugh. I bet their laughs sound similar to Dad’s laugh—that Kentuckian Nolen laugh! Grandpa Nolen passed away a few months after Dave was born, so maybe this is a really special birthday that they finally get to celebrate together.
So I guess I’m jealous that I don’t get to be there with them today. Jealous that I’m still here trying to figure out life with its various burdens. But I’m reminded again that God’s gift of life to us is so precious. Every single one of our lives is important. My family has been so blessed by the gift of Dave’s life—that the gift of a son and little brother came into the Nolen home back in 1991.
At Dave & Stephanie’s wedding shower, my sisters and I gushed as we all told the story of the day David was born. I want to gush again today and share it with you all.
The story actually starts before Mom even knew that she was pregnant with Dave. She hadn’t had any symptoms of pregnancy yet, but she felt that God told her she was pregnant with a little boy. Mom had already had 4 daughters, so this would be a surprise for the whole family. A few years ago at a Thanksgiving dinner, Dave found out that Mom and Dad hadn’t planned to get pregnant with him. He was shocked at this news, and he looked at Mom like he felt so betrayed. Mom laughed and said, “I wanted you all the same!”
Back to the day of David’s birth… It was a Sunday morning, January 6, 1991. My dad was getting ready to go preach at church. Mom knew that her labor was progressing, so she told Dad that he needed to take her to the hospital instead of going to church. When they got to the hospital, the staff asked Mom what number of pregnancies this was for her. Her contractions were so intense that she couldn’t speak, so she lifted up her hand to show 5 fingers, indicating that this was her fifth pregnancy. The nurses jumped into action when they realized that this meant she would likely have a quick delivery. They put Mom in a wheelchair and got her to a room.
Soon Mom gave birth to David, and my parents gave him the name David Gerald Nolen. My parents had always known since their early years of marriage that “David” would be the name they would give a son. In the Bible, King David had a heart after God’s own heart. My parents wanted to name their son after King David’s example of worship and prayer. For those of you who knew our Dave during his twenties, you know that he certainly developed a heart of worship and prayer to connect with God!
“Gerald” is my dad’s middle name. My grandma was excited for this new grandson to have her son Hubert’s middle name, and my parents agreed. So Dad and Dave share this middle name, which is fitting because Dad and Dave have always had a close relationship.
My parents had not discovered the gender of this baby before he was born. Mom knew in her heart that he was a boy because God had told her, but this was an exciting surprise to everyone else. Our church family was still in the service at church that Sunday morning when Dave was born, so when they got the news, someone got a sign that said, “It’s a boy!” and ran up and down the aisles in the sanctuary with the sign as everyone clapped.
My parents love all their children and wouldn’t want us to ever say that they loved Dave more, so I won’t imply that. But I will say that Dave made Mom and Dad laugh more than any of their other children. Because he was their fifth child, they were more seasoned and relaxed as parents and just really enjoyed the funny things he did. We often joked even as Dave was a teenager that he was our parents’ “baby boy.” Sometimes we used it as his nickname:
“Mom made Mac n cheese for ‘Baby Boy.’”
“Dad’s making ‘Baby Boy’ mow the yard.”
We were explaining this to Dave’s wife Stephanie, and she said, “Yes, I remember one time that we were talking about asking your mom to help us with something. Dave said, ‘Of course, she’ll help us. I’m her ‘baby boy.’”
Throughout David’s life, Mom believed that the fact that Dave was born on a Sunday morning during church service was a wink from God that Dave would go into ministry like his father. But as Dave was beginning college, he did not want to pursue working in ministry. My parents never pressured him to do so. Dave was interested in working in business. I always said that Dave would be a good salesman. He had worked as a cashier at a grocery store during high school, and he had fun being charming to all his elderly women customers. Those older ladies sure did love him!
But when Dave was about 21 years old, he experienced some disappointments in life, and he began praying to God for new direction. One night he was at home praying, and he believed that God spoke to him. He told us that God had said to him, “David, your dad has had the goal to plant 200 churches. Why have you not wanted to have anything to do with that?” Dave said he had wondered before if he should go into ministry, but wasn’t sure if that was that was simply the haunting of being a pastor’s son. But on this night, he knew for sure that he should go into ministry. He walked to my parents’ bedroom and said, “Dad, God just told me to help you in ministry!” This brought so much joy to my parents’ hearts.
I’m reminded that even before Dave began working with Dad to cofound the Hope Center, he served in ministry in different ways. He led a bible study for middle schoolers on Wednesday evenings at our church, and then he began leading a small group of middle school boys at youth group on Sunday evenings. He started helping at the Yeshua Society, which was a ministry that served people living in impoverished conditions in Indianapolis. Dave also coached JV basketball at our high school one year, which showed his heart to want to be a good influence for young boys. Dave also went on two mission trips with Dad—one to Brazil, and one to India. There he was able to travel with Dad as they preached and prayed with people. As I think about each of these ways that Dave committed to serve and influence others for Christ, I think about how God sees when we are faithful to follow through with an assignment, whether it is a few weeks or a few years. Each of those areas of service were important to God because Dave was being faithful to share the love of Christ at those times and in those places.
Then in 2016, when my dad stepped aside from his position of senior pastor at Brookville Road Community Church, my brother joined him in seeking God for His vision for the Hope Center. David wrote a blog post about his first day of going to the campus that they would soon create to be the Hope Center. I encourage you to read it. He entitled it “Day 1. Overwhelmed & Excited.” David also shared his perspective of getting started at the Hope Center in a video interview that you can watch.
Today in the midst of feeling sad and missing Dave, we try to look up and thank God for the gift of eternal life that he gave David.
Happy Birthday, Big Dave! I love you so much!
Mary works at Brookville Road Community Church, where she leads children's ministry and women's ministry. She is the author of She Won't Shrink Back: A Story of Building & Believing.