Mindy Pittman (Sundquist) delivered this powerful tribute in honor of Pastor Don Pittman on his funeral in August 2006.
August 7, 1982, I made one of the best decisions I would ever make in my life, I married Don. I was 18 and he was 21 and even though everyone thought we were too young to marry or understand the commitment we were making, we both knew God had divinely led us together.
At a very young age Don knew he was being called to preach and I, too, felt compelled to pursue a life in ministry. It was a match made in heaven. We were young and so much in love and little did I know then what a life changing love that would turn out to be.
On June 19, 1985, I gave birth to our first child, Zachary in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I have never seen any man be more proud than Don was. Don passionately loved his kids. Don accepted his first preaching position in Mt. Vernon, Missouri in May of 1986. We were excited and determined to change the world.
We quickly discovered that not every church embraced our excitement for change. Even though this would mark the beginning of a series of church experiences that would deeply hurt us, it was also the catalyst that fed our passion to pursue God and believe Him for more.
I gave birth to Lynnae, our 2nd baby, on May 5, 1987, in Springfield, Missouri, and it was love at first sight for her Daddy.
We then traveled on down I-44 and I-70 where each time we made a stop, we would have a child I guess we needed relief from the stress of moving!
Our next home was in Sullivan, Indiana, where we quickly made friends that would last a lifetime. The church grew and flourished, but once again to our amazement not everyone shared our joy. On December 30, 1989, Jeremy our third child was born in Terre Haute, Indiana. I have always said that Jeremy was our comic relief to that stressful situation. He always knew how to make us laugh.
After keenly learning that it’s not the members who leave an unpleasant church situation, it’s the pastor, we moved again and this time it was to Indianapolis, Indiana.
Larissa, our fourth child, was born on September 25, 1991, at Methodist Hospital. Larissa was an unexpected, but extremely joyful, addition to our family and she was her Daddy’s girl.
We would end up ministering in three different churches here in Indianapolis. Although we made lots of friends and experienced many wonderful times at these churches, God was calling us to believe Him for more.
No matter how many elder boards that tried to convince Don to be content with the status quo, Don refused to put God in a box. Don referred to this as being “divinely discontent.” Even back then, we both decided to “Never Settle” long before Don coined the phrase. All we knew was that we had a burning desire in our hearts to reach everyone for Jesus. We wanted to be world changers.
It wasn’t until the 3rd ministry experience that God would call us out of the heritage we grew up in and into the deep waters of the unknown. We had a burning desire to reach the unchurched and a call on our lives that would change us forever. We began to actively pursue relationships with people outside of church. We quickly discovered that most people are not uninterested in the gospel message as we had been told. They simply had never had a church experience that took the time to make it relevant to their lives. We fell in love with the unchurched and made it our purpose in life to reach them. God was doing a work in our hearts and He was calling us out of established church work and into church planting. We shared our conviction with the church we were currently employed at and they ended up firing us for wanting to leave them and pursue a church plant in Atlanta, Georgia. We weren’t even discouraged because we knew the seed had already been planted in our hearts.
We decided to start visiting churches, all kinds of churches, no matter what the sign said on the door. We learned a lot and soon realized that most churches are more similar than any one specific denomination would care to admit. Although they were all similar, we found them to be void of passion and genuine concern for the lost.
Then we went to Eagle Church. Eagle was casual and friendly. The music was upbeat and Pastor Kerry’s messages met our deepest needs. We had the “bug”. Eagle was like watching a video in our minds of everything God was calling us to do. We began to study and travel and learn more about church planting. Our journey took us to Saddleback Church in California where we attended many conferences including a “boot camp” for church planters. We met Rick Warren and were never the same again. His Purpose Driven strategy and seeker sensitive services resonated in our hearts and we began to actively pursue planting a church in Indianapolis.
During the next few months Don was working hard trying to make ends meet for our family when he started experiencing some bone pain and extreme fatigue. I encouraged Don to see a doctor and two weeks later he was on the operating table having a softball size mass removed from his abdomen. On April 21, 1999, Don was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, an incurable cancer of the blood. My strong, vibrant, 38-year old husband had a life-threatening cancer. I will never forget what Don said when he first woke up from the surgery. He asked, “Mindy, do I have cancer?” I said, “Yes, baby, you do.” And he said “shoot” and fell back asleep. He woke up again and asked again, “Did you say I have cancer?” And I said, “yes”. He looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, “We have to tell the story.” Somehow both of us knew at that moment that this was bigger than both of us and that God was all over the situation.
The journey began with numerous chemotherapy regiments, radiation, surgeries, clinical trials, remissions and relapses, and two excruciating bone marrow transplants.
Don miraculously survived that first year and we felt an urgency like we never had before to start our church. With no money, no support, and no building, we stepped out on faith, formed a group of ten adults, and on October 1, 2000, Higher Calling Church was born.
Don created an atmosphere where people felt accepted and loved. The casual atmosphere, awesome band, and Don’s relevant, inspiring messages, but most of all his love for people, began to draw a crowd.
We shared Community Connections, mailers, the Bridge Easter service, Run the Race series, Shake it Off and Step Up, the Classic Rock Cafe, Carnack and finally the Never Settle Series. What a ride it has been!
Don had two great loves in his life. First his family. There has never been a more devoted, passionate husband or father than Don. Don was relentless in his love for me and the kids. Don never allowed me to pump my own gas. In recent months when Don was too ill to get out of the car to get gas, I would start to get out, and he would order me back into the car. He then would hang on to the car for support and make his way to the gas pump to serve me. I told him I was happy to do it for him and he said, No, because as long as I have breath, I will honor you. Last night with any of you, we celebrated our 24th and final wedding anniversary together here at Don’s visitation.
His second love and his heart was Higher Calling Church. He let people know that it didn’t matter where you had been or what you have done, you are welcome here. He inspired people to “discover and experience God’s higher calling for their lives.” He measured his success by lives being changed and he changed many. Don was a man of purpose and passion and vision. He was an authentic leader. His never failing trust and belief in God stirred the hearts of all who knew him.
As Don’s body was failing his determination to beat the cancer intensified. He refused to get in a wheelchair or surrender to hospice even though the nurses all encouraged him to do so. The last visit to the hospital where he would get blood, he argued with a nurse about sitting down in a wheelchair. He told her, “If this cancer gets me, it’s going to have to do it with me standing up because I refuse to give in to it.” Oh that we all had that tenacity and courage.
In I Corinthians 9:24 the Bible says, “Remember that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize. You must run in such a way that you will win.” Don ran the race well and he ran it to win. He never settled and he finished strong.
In the last week of Don’s life he suffered greatly. His white blood cell count finally registered at zero, and his platelets were only 2,000 even while receiving transfusions every day. His pain was unbearable and the sepsis forced so many toxins through his brain that he became unable to form speech or have a coherent thought.
Don wasn’t making sense and he would yell out random words, letters, and numbers. One thing he said over and over and over was “tres”. I thought it was just another unrecognizable word but he became agitated trying to get me to understand. The day before he died I finally said, “Are you saying trust?” He said, Yes! Yes! I said trust what? He said, Trust Him! He must have said that 150 times. In all his agony and confusion Don said clearly several times, “I love Him, I trust Him. I hurt so bad, but I trust Him.”
That speaks volumes to the character of this man. Although he desperately wanted to continue his life with me and the kids and pursue his vision here at Higher Calling Church, he was able to say at the most trying moment of his life, I trust Him.
As Don died, close friends, family, elders and staff sang to him How Great Is Our God. Don loved this song because he loved God and he couldn’t wait for all to see how great our God is when he was healed.
The last thing he heard was the words to that song and me telling him he finished strong.
After we left the hospital, a dear friend had made arrangements for me and the kids to go to a hotel. On my way to our room Larissa and I were standing waiting on the elevator. I was aware that there were 5-6 people standing and waiting too although I couldn’t tell you their sex or race. I was in a fog and in shock and I noticed a man that appeared homeless. I felt sorry for him because I realized we were at the Hilton and someone homeless wouldn’t be there but then I realized he wasn’t homeless; he was sick. I didn’t want to stare but I felt drawn to him. I looked at him again and he turned his face toward me and his skin was yellow and his mouth was drawn and looked very much like Don’s mouth had just looked when he died. This really got my attention and by now I knew it was the Holy Spirit nudging me to look again and he turned his face toward me and leaned in toward me and started humming the first four lines of How Great is Our God. I completely lost it and then the elevator opened and I was crying uncontrollably. Zac walked up and saw me crying and leaned over me to protect me from people staring. The man got on the elevator and was in the corner and I leaned from around Zac’s arms and he smiled and winked at me and then got off the elevator. Zac was unaware of what happened but Larissa saw everything I did. I really think God allowed Don to give me this message to know that God really is great and everything we believe in is true.
All of us have some area in our lives where we choose to settle. It might be our job, finances or a relationship that get in the way of us living up to our maximum potential. But no matter what it is the choice is always yours to embrace the status quo or choose to leave mediocrity behind and never settle. Don’s story of influence can be yours if you the choose the road less traveled and decide today that you will never settle for anything less than God’s very best in your life. Once you commit to that, you will never be the same again.