O God, stamp eternity on my eyeballs…
My birth place is Fargo, ND; date, January 1st, 1974. Never lived there long but in my younger days always considered it a place to return to recapture the sense of home. From the Marines my dad moved us, when I was four to Rogers, AR for work as an Engineer for Union Carbide. After conversion to Christ through a local ministry that sheltered homeless boys and girls my parents’ moved fully into that community forsaking dad’s high paying job. It was in this Ranch that my fondest memories originate. We participated in the community; ate together, worshipped together, shared money, life and work in an intimate way. Eventually, Real-Life Ranch would erode into cultish and dangerous ways and harm many of the folks involved, both young and old. I, on the other hand, by GOD’s grace was preserved from harm and have only fond memories from my upbringing. It was here that I learned farming: naming and raising my own bull before selling it for meat, waking early to milk the goats and cows; It was here that I learned gardening, plowing and weeding the garden; It was here that I learned to fire a rifle, ride a bike, hunt, fish and be a man, even before being a man was on my radar; It was also here that missionary Bruce Olson (Bruchko, as he is also known) came to preach and under whom I said a prayer of salvation to Christ. Often I wonder if he still has the hymn, I’d Rather Have Jesus, which I scrolled by hand and gave to him before he left.
Any salvation experience I had at this young age of eight or ten was wrought with much confusion and doubt. My own mother and father were instrumental in pointing me to Christ, giving me my first Bible and teaching me, disciplining me in the fear and admonition of the Lord. The biggest confusion was understanding how Jesus comes to live in my heart and if He really had done it. There were nights, weeping in my bed, that I would cry to Jesus to come in and save me. It was both a tender yet very tumultuous time. One night, my mother found me weeping and comforted me by teaching me what faith was. After that night I was relieved of any discomfort or angst about Jesus coming to live in me. I am not sure this was such a good thing.
Another recollection I have is of a deep and profound week-long experience of singing in the spirit. This wasn’t a heavenly language, per se, but a wonderful time of spiritual joy and ecstasy, nothing erratic, just a simple boy walking in the spirit singing. I even recall seeing the music ascend unto heaven. I cannot confirm if it was audible nor can I tie it into any timeline. All that I remember of this experience is that it was a week-long song of joy in worship to GOD and I don’t remember why it ended.
Struggling to keep up with devotions, which were strongly encouraged if not demanded, I found myself preferring to play. GOD was to some extent in my thoughts. We would spend Sabbath afternoons lying in the grass, resting and would stare at the clouds discerning their shapes. During these early days I had a dream in which I heard the trumpet voice of the Lord as a lion’s roar. So loud and powerful was this voice that it awoke my favorite stuffed bear and he ran away in terror. Icicles melting in the spring time brought with it fresh vividness of GOD’s grace.
Many days, after the school term ended and on weekends, the older boys would be assigned to one of the men to work with. It was almost like a draft pick, but certainly there was no sense of favorites. However, I preferred to work with my father and longed to ride with him to the work-site or just spend time with him. He suffered from numbness and tingling in the hands due to his years as a Marine A-4 pilot and would ask me to massage his hands to help. This I longed to do and can still remember those tender moments of a son with his father. So, all-in-all, these days were instrumental in forming a work ethic, relationship with my father and urgings to worship my Heavenly Father.
After roughly six years the whole Ranch picked up and transplanted to Pittsburgh, PA. My family spent about eight months there before heading to Columbia, SC so my dad could attend missionary and ministry school at Columbia Bible College. We spent two years in SC before setting out to mainland China for missionary work. During this brief stay I don’t remember anything spectacular spiritually. We had a radio on top of the fridge that always played Christian radio, programs such as Unshackled and other greats. This was instrumental in framing my mind up in spiritual matters.
So far, my only recollection of preferring spiritual things was when it was offered. I don’t remember seeking GOD on my own or praying without ceasing throughout the day or striving against sin. When a radio station was on, or sitting in church or made to sit and read my Bible did I really engage and find some interest in it. I don’t remember initiating anything along these lines; I only remember a great struggle to maintain anything consistent.
China came quickly and with full surprise. At this point I was twelve years old and really unable to fathom the distance we were from ‘home.’ It seems like it happened so fast that the next thing I knew – I was in China – learning the language, trying to learn a foreign culture, and watching Dad help build a business and Mom a home. I loved playing and soon learned of another love that would encompass most of my time – Basketball. We were there with about eighty other American, New Zealanders and people of other nationalities. It was during the next six years that I would experience and appreciate a liking to girls, to secular movies, books and music; I would even take part in voyeurism, smoking for the first time and cursing quite rampantly. A steady decline would take place: my family life seemed fragemented. My dad seemed distant, intent on some far-out dream. There were few joyous occasions but overall dad seemed glum, separate and mom was just along for the ride. I cannot recall any richness in spiritual dialogue or a teaching in the home for a love of the Scriptures, or true worship in prayer and song given daily – it just did not exist. I’m not sure what else this can be contributed to – we simply responded as best we knew; my older brother busy with art lessons and building his muscles, my younger brother floundering to fit in (he was two years old when we arrived in China) and myself, dreaming of the NBA. We responded as individuals doing individual things.
Our race back to America to find our long-lost dream couldn’t have come soon enough. It appeared that this was the break the six long years in China pointed to. Dad got a job in Charlotte, NC with the business tied to the China mission. This was not missions business but a joint-effort with Motorola making cell-phone antennas. I got busy trying out for senior year high-School basketball and resigned to play church-league. This year was a blur but I do remember the sense of hypocrisy in the church I attended. Somewhere there was a quiet call in my soul and a keen discernment of un-reality, but a strong tug to experience what I had been deprived of for several years. At this point may I suggest that if asked, I would answer that I was a Christian. It would be several years later that I would learn painfully this was not true, my confession would not hold up before GOD or man.
An intense search for where to attend college ensued. My first choice was Wheaton College. But I would visit several campuses before decision time. A campus visit to Moody Bible Institute proved where my interests lay. While there I volunteered for a street ministry tour – a chance to preach or witness of Christ on the streets of Chicago. As the group stepped off to hit the streets I got cold feet and snuck away, scared. After two failed attempts for matriculation into Wheaton College I decided on Trinity College in Deerfield, IL and was able to secure a $1000 scholarship to play ball. On one hand, I had made it to heaven at the other I was in hell! The next two years was a slow decline and exodus to the far-country – a further experimentation into hypocrisy and testing the limits of my depravity. What I did not realize was that Egypt was still in my heart. Basketball became a platform for popularity as I sought after the affections of women and the favor of men. Here I learned about girls, kissing, drinking and partying – there was something exhilarating I was studying.
For some reason I could not decide what major to embark on. I went with full intent on being a youth minister but quickly turned my scope to sports, health and physical fitness. On ruminating, there was always a still, quiet voice – call it conscience if you will – of morality, righteousness, something deeper yet more still and quiet, that remained with me in all these years. Reflection tells me this voice was GOD’s voice prompting, leading and directing me. However, this voice was, by my own will, easily disregarded and disobeyed. Really, I was full of myself and wanting to pursue a degree of my own choosing, a path of my own walking and using the strength GOD provided in my own capacity: I did not desire GOD at all.
When money became an issue at this private, ‘Christian’ school, I transferred to Appalachian State University in North Carolina. The only worthy thing mentioning here is a continual struggle between doing right and doing wrong – that ‘thing’ or quiet voice I mentioned earlier. After nights of partying I would wake up guilty and ashamed and would quickly pray for forgiveness – with tears no less! At one point I got so tired of this still small voice convicting me and the constant battle of confession and repeating the same things I confessed (the issue of hypocrisy) that I prayed to GOD an earnest and honest prayer. My words come back often to haunt me but I told GOD that I was done with confession and prayer and asked Him to protect me while I went and sinned. From that point I had little guilt and felt some freedom to do as I pleased. It was during this time that I met my wife.
She was, in some form, a turning point in my life. Her untimely appearance in my life did not make sense. She was like an enigma, a mystery that left me scratching my head. I had just sworn off girls. This was something that worked, like machinery with its intricate gears, spindles and springs – two completely different people put together by chance. Not! Someone was up to something here. So, I set about trying to prove myself worthy of her and that I was in fact a good person. We attended church together, I prayed before meals and opened the door for her – she even opened doors for me. Wow! This was the pinnacle of Christian life, Right?
Hypocrisy abounded in our relationship. We fornicated, drank excessively, smoked weed and broke the law. Under scrutiny we were Bonnie and Clyde in the making. This not for the fact that we did the same crimes as the historical couple but inside our souls and spirits were as filthy rags, wicked and propagating wickedness. This hypocrisy really became clear when we lit up the bong pipe on the way home – from church! Or, having single living quarters availed to us during our dating years but choosing, instead to live together, in full view of the church.
A year before our wedding day we decided, in our own strength, to abstain from sexual intercourse. We still kissed etc. but no more sex ‘outside of marriage.’ And what a compounding of the sin – thinking we could correct the wrong beforehand by a religious, self-centered right on the other hand. During this time my father passed away suddenly to a tragic accident while living in China. This added to the mystery, confusion, sin and doubt in our lives as we groped about trying to find our way. Furthermore, this left my younger brother alone in China who was showing great proof of very dangerous and Hell-bent living. Before dad passed away he (my brother) was granted every liberty to do as he pleased. So, my first thought was to go to China, whisk him away and save the day.
About four months prior to wedding day, I voyaged to China with my mother. While there I was unfaithful to my wife and adulterated/prostituted myself. This was all done in the guise of, “Well, you are not really married, so it doesn’t matter.”
Returning home I came back with much guilt and shame. I’ll have you know, I did pray to GOD and ask for forgiveness but never realizing the true test of forgiveness is whether or not the one sinned against forgives you. Jesus says so in Mark 11:26 and Matthew 6:14. Wedding day came and went without much fanfare. In fact, our pre-wedding bash was full of drinking and smoking. What’s more, I had a friend come in from out-of-town that sat with me during these parties not saying a word. He was a dear Christian friend from China. His presence was a conviction for me. His silence was the loudest indictment and rebuke I have ever received. Our year-long abstinence ended the same way our wedding day came.
Six months later I shipped to Boot Camp and became a Cavalry Scout. While in boot camp I spent what little free time I had reading the bible. Our Drill Sergeants appointed me as Platoon Guide and, as such, I shared a quiet room with my Book Man. The importance of what I was doing became clear to me one night as a noisy private came in to ask questions of me. My roommate defended and said, “Leave him alone. Can’t you see he is enjoying some quiet time reading? This is what he does.” This comment has stayed with me even today.
The next few months were a whirlwind for us as a married couple. I quickly got back to doing those things I gave up for four months – binging on substances. One drill weekend I was picked involuntarily to give a urine sample for drug testing. While standing in line the whole test was cancelled because there were no strips to seal the specimens. Chance?
What soon would befall me I never would have believed if told beforehand. The next step in Jody’s doctoral studies sent us to Arkansas. The interstate transfer for the Army Guard was approved and we were soon on the way to Little Rock, Arkansas. Till now, I have not been able to explain it, but crossing over the state line of Arkansas was some kind of exodus for us, a great deliverance from the land of bondage. We moved into a rental home in Benton and GOD granted a job in a hospital that paid to train me for what I was hired for. Did you get that? Read it again. GOD granted me a job as a Surgical Technician at Saint Vincent’s that paid me to learn what they hired me for. Saint Vincent has to this day not offered the training course again for on-the-job training. For three months before her internship began Jody was immediately struck with conviction while spending time at home. GOD had come. GOD had come. One evening, just a couple days after starting my job, Jody mentioned she had a confession. Laying on the futon in the TV room and not really ready for the weight of what was coming – I was somewhat ignoring the request – out came words I never expected. All I heard was ‘adultery,’ ‘boot camp,’ ‘divorce,’ and could hardly discern which words were hers and mine but I knew in an instance that she had committed adultery with someone while I was away at Boot Camp. In my self-righteous anger I had a biblical right to divorce her, I thought. Slowly I dismissed myself out of the house for a drive. Tears did come, pain leapt up and anger surged. My drive was not very long, but time was not consequential for me at this time, that part gets lost. What I do remember was a song that ‘happened’ to play on the radio. Nicole C. Mullen. Come Unto Me.
Are you looking for someone to be gentle
With your broken heart your shattered dreams
Are you searching for someone who’ll be faithful
To you no matter what life brings
Well I know the maker of the storm the sunrise
He is both the Lion and the Lamb
He is strong enough to shake all earth and heaven
Yet meek enough to take me as I am
He says come unto me
All who are weary
And I will give you rest
Bring what hurts bring your scars
Bring the load that you carry
And I will give you rest
Are the clouds above your head oh so heavy
Bursting with showers of despair
Do you struggle under more than you can carry?
Has life given more than you can bear
Would you like to trade your failures in for victories?
Like piles of ashes in for piles of gold
Can you fall down like a child who is helpless?
So He can pick you up and make you whole
I remember pulling over and mouthing the words, “Yes, I want someone like that.” It was as if a switch was turned on. I was a wretched sinner, unable to save myself and needed a Savior. It was as if Christ became real and said to me, “while you were a sinner, I died for you.” He was real. He is real. But for me, in that moment, Christ came and revealed himself to me as the perfect and just atonement. It was as if I had been brought to the end of myself, my fervor, my zeal and failed attempts and wicked righteousness. It was easy to do what came next, almost natural. There was not going to be a divorce and I was not to reject Jody and cast her out, something I deserved from Jesus. I resolved to ‘keep and cherish her’ through the rest of our lives through good times and bad, just as Jesus had done for me that “while I was a sinner, Christ died for me.”
The next morning I wrote her a note saying “I forgave her” and pointed out Deut 24:5 which states, “When a man takes a new wife, he shall not go out with the army, nor be charged with any duty; he shall be free at home one year and shall give happiness to his wife whom he has taken.” The context of the passage lent me proof that leaving her so soon after our wedding day was not right. Three days later, I sheepishly asked my wife how she felt when she confessed her grave sin to me. Her response led me to then, in turn, confess what I had done in China before our wedding. Instantly, she granted me pardon. It took me by surprise. What! No backlash or anger, I thought? This was a grave sin as well? Yet, when the remedy of Christ has been availed to the soul, no degree of sin is too great for forgiveness.
Several details have been left out up to this point. My boss at work was a believer and after work the next day after Jody confessed I told him everything, the thing she had done and the things I had done. There were some marvelous things happening all in sync as if somebody was coordinating, working out practically things for our good and restoration. Jody and I also spoke with the pastor of the church we had attended. A few weeks later we purchased several sessions from a local church counseling ministry. Two of these counselors suggested healing would take a long time. But somehow, both Jody and I refused to agree. Everything in Christ suggests a quick forgiveness and instant healing. Three days later from Jody’s confession we were together intimately. In December which was three months after our confession at a Christmas special at church, we gave our testimony. In January, Jody and I were baptized together.
So many details that fail me even now to mention. Ah, the Sovereign and gracious work of GOD. It goes past figuring or explaining: Such vast love and mercy towards us miserable sinners. We cannot begin to fathom His immensity in all things until we understand and accept our wretchedness and misery. We cannot begin to understand the blessedness of heaven until we confess we are deserving of eternal hell.
What can be said from here? Not much but that life has seemed almost a dream, like it’s not really me living. No, this is not a state of denial but a place where bitter memories exist all being redeemed by GOD’s grace. How can one’s personal story become GOD’s history? Only by recognizing our sinfulness and sickness, plunging into the cross of Christ, being buried with him in death will we be raised to new life – the life of Christ. Ah, the redemption of man is a prize even angels cannot fathom. We have the testimony that all the angels of heaven never cease to praise GOD who is a consuming fire. As humans we have hardly started praising Him rightly…