Mom said that you could throw a cat through the side of the house where I was born. It was that cold and drafty. Of course I don’t remember anything about being born at home, nor about living in these cold conditions. I must have survived, I’m still here.
I had lived at nine different domiciles by the fifth grade of school. During these moves there were some scary events, and these were way before the suicidal attempts of the parents.
There was a black and white cow behind my bed at the tender age of five. There was the ‘Voyeur’checking out my sisters, while hiding in the attic of the farm house when I was six. There was a Water Moccasin that tried to drop around my neck at the age of 10. There was a very spooky house, sitting on top of a hill, where the brutal January wind didn’t stop the wanderings of a ghost. (There were other stories of ghosts shared between Mom and my aunts)
When I was 12, there was the tornado that came straight at the farm house, then suddenly made a zig and then a zag around it continuing on to wreak some havoc to the farm. At 14 there was the humiliation of dad catching me in the swimming hole with me in my underwear, with the neighbor girl in hers.
See what I mean? Is it any wonder that I wet my pants two times at school, both in the 3rd grade. (I had three different school districts in the 3rd grade of school.)
Anxiety and insecurity were normal for me.
Then around 12 I had the Bible and Billy Graham experiences, which would spur me to my quiet times of contemplating the beauty and mystery of it all.
Dad wanted to throw one more curve-ball to me, so he moved the family once again to another school district for my senior year of high school. This move gave me my eleventh address for twelve years of schooling.
This moved changed my life as well as my personality, or at least the experience with God did.
This is where I met the mother of my children. She and her family attended church. Her folks owned a small business. They lived in a nice modest modern house. They were all polite and courteous to one another. There was no talk of suicide. I was in awe.
I had lost all of my friends from my old school and here was this young lady trying to fill the void. I was mesmerized by it all. This was bigger than any combo meal from McDonald’s. Church, above average income, modern living, and the female charm, and all for under a dollar! At least it started out that way.
Here was a young man who was accustomed to harshness, being ordered around, and convinced that he didn’t measure up. I never even had indoor plumbing until my senior year of school, and now I am being thrown into a modern world with lots of attention. Everyone in this world is gentle and normal. I was hypnotized.
The new girlfriend led and I followed, all the way to the altar. I am forever thankful for my three kids from this marriage, but I could have done without the rest, well some of it anyway.
I had never seen a group of people get so excited about going to church and then when they got there, to clap their hands and sing with such enthusiasm. It was intimidating at first, then I began to get the hang of it finding myself joining right in.
Then to my surprise, everyone at church was kind, gentle and loving too. Everyone was hugging everyone and I was totally just soaking up this attention without harshness!
I had lived seventeen years without getting into trouble with drinking, or partying with the wrong crowd. I never had sexual relations until after marriage. I was pretty naive with all of that.
I was kept pretty busy on the farm and always worked to help bring in the crops for other farmers. I only got to play basketball a couple of years, with the condition of coming straight home after the games, so there wasn’t that many opportunities for trouble. (I didn’t have my own car till after graduation-so I walked the three miles to and from school for the games; yes in the snow too, but not barefoot, although there was a couple of small hills.)
I had a few girls at school who tried to be my girlfriend, but I was too shy and unsure of myself. There was even one who offered to take me for a walk into a patch of woods just off the school grounds. I later learned that she was one of those ‘loose’ women. (No, I didn’t go-it was nice being asked though)
The guys I hung out with were mostly farm boys who had chores to do before and after school. So outside of school, there were few hours free for just playing with the neighbor boys. We were too busy working or hunting or doing chores.
At church I was soon baptized, along with my brother, and to my surprise my parents starting attending too. Now this was different. We were praying over meals. I was kneeling at my bed saying prayers before going to sleep. There was Bible reading and attending church services three times per week, sometimes more.
In my trips to the altar I found a powerful experience with the Holy Spirit that has stayed with me all of my life, even in my darkest days.
I turned 18 right after graduation, so I had to report for an examination by the Selective Service Board. There was an awful war going on in Vietnam. My Uncle Sam was anxious to get my paperwork out of the way so he could send me to kill my fellow man.
I took my physical at Fort Hayes in Columbus. I had to strip naked and have all my orifices checked. Somehow, in the sound booth, I must have guessed at hearing the proper number of tones, as they ignored my hearing problem and stamped my papers 1-A.
So I returned to my job at the local grocery store, where I bagged groceries and helped cut up cows and pigs as a butcher apprentice, while waiting for my orders to report for duty.
In the meantime, I was receiving another ‘Call’ from someone higher up the chain of command. In one of my trips to the altar I was in deep intense prayer when I felt God’s Spirit draw near and speak to my spirit.
When I had my first experience with God at the altar, it was like I could ‘feel’ Him lift me and set me down on His lap. I was just flooded with feelings of ‘Love’.
This may sound silly to you, but remember I was ‘love-starved’. Mom was warm and gave hugs, but dad never did. He never told me he loved me, nor ever set me on his lap. He showed his love in other ways, by teaching me how to work hard and how to hunt and trap. (It was fun watching dad get hugged by the men in the church-it took him awhile to get used to that.)
Then, after being qualified by Uncle Sam, God began showing up again. Only this time I heard Him speak in my spirit. He said, “I want you to preach my Gospel.”
It is difficult to describe this experience in natural words. We ‘talk’ to ourself all the time, sometimes out loud. We ‘hear’ ourself think all the time, sometimes we do this out loud. (If you do this often enough, you end up in a special home, so it’s best to do this when no one can hear you.)
Well, when God speaks to you, it is not like this at all. You know that it is not your thoughts and you know that it is not your voice. You know it is not another human’s voice. God’s voice has a resonance to it that is not earthly. It is powerful, yet gentle. It is full of authority, yet full of love. It is not condescending, but uplifting. It is not fearful, but full of assurance. It is difficult to describe with earthly words, but when it happens, you know it is Him. (Ask George)
The experience brought peace and joy. The ‘call’ brought fear and trepidation. I was the boy who hated giving book reports and participating in spelling bees. My knees shook. My stomach churned. My mouth dried up. My voice and my eyes told the story. Somehow I survived all of this in school and was very good with spelling and literature, although you can’t tell it now!
I felt a little like Moses must have felt, when he began to say, “I am slow of speech, and by the way, can’t you send my brother?” So, I made my way to the pastor’s office and began to tell him what I was experiencing and feeling about the ministry. To my surprise, he already knew! Imagine that?
To be continued…