I was born “a few years back” to a Lutheran mother and a Southern Baptist father. I was baptized as an infant child in the Lutheran tradition. My parents were young and marriage is tough. They didn’t make it. As a result, I was raised by my grandparents on my father’s side for a few years while the two of them dealt with the hurt of divorce. My father and mother decided to try and make another go of it. Again, it didn’t work. My mother decided to move and take me and my new baby brother to live in another state. I was raised in my mother’s home from then on and went to see my father and my grandparents for extended visits in the summer.
As a young Lutheran boy, I don’t remember anything about God other than you couldn’t take communion because “you weren’t old enough.” Obviously, it was more than that, but to a young kid, it was pretty much an age thing.
It was the same thing in my father’s church. From a kid’s perspective, at that time, it seemed no different. They dunked people in tanks instead of sprinkling them, but other than that and as a kid at the time, there didn’t seem to be much difference.
Over the years, I went to church with both of them. With my mother when I was with her – with my father and grandparents when I was with them. I went to Sunday school at both parents houses in my youth.
As I got older, church became less important to my mother and she stopped going. She would go every once in a while and on holidays, but other than that, she stopped going. My grandmother would take us for awhile but even that stopped as she was having to work all of the time too. A friend at school invited me to go to church and said they would give me a ride if I didn’t have one – which I didn’t. They said if I would come, I could have some “sheep” cake as a reward. We were very poor and this sounded really good – and it was!!! I started going to this Baptist church with my friend on the bus and trying to get my other friends to go too because for every friend you brought, you got another slice of “sheep” cake as a reward. One day I got 5 pieces!!!
On my dad’s side, he would go when he didn’t have to work but he was a car salesman and Sunday was a big day. My grandparents would take me when my dad couldn’t. To my dad’s credit, when it was time to get my first powder blue polyester 3 piece suit and burgundy patent leather shoes, he was there. I was growing up, and to go to church, you “needed” to have a suit like this – or so I thought at the time. I was so proud! I was a Christian!
My mother started dating a Catholic. We started going to mass with him. That didn’t last long because he was a heavy drinker and hung over a lot on Sunday.
I was a mixed up kid – I was in the gifted and talented program and I was a troubled kid. Divorced parents, abusive step-father, – the list of contributing factors is long here. I was in counseling. I ended up going to live with my uncle and his new wife. His previous wife had died of cancer – it was terrible for him!
He tried to give me discipline, but I was very headstrong by this time. It was a test of the wills. More counseling – more rebellion. To my uncle and my mother’s credit, they saw that it was time for me to take catechism so I could take communion. I don’t remember any of it except being excited that I got to be like the “adults” and take communion. After all, I had a certificate! My uncle went to church sometimes, holidays mostly. With all of this, I was still rebellious and tired of all the battles – first with my step-dad and then with my uncle so I ran away. Me and my friend were going to live in the mountains of Colorado and live like mountain men. We planned it carefully and had knives, bows and arrows, food and my dog. We made it several hundred miles to the border of the Colorado before we were caught – We were 13 years old. I was a mess!!!
I moved back in with mom – she was a Charismatic now. A speaking in tongues church where many in the congregation said the same thing week after week and in the same way. I used to mimic them and get in trouble. I had all of their “routines” down to a art. My step-father was worse and I ran away again. A couple from the church let me live with them – real weirdos! They were always nice to each other – not like my house! The wife was always singing church music during the day and she wasn’t even in church! They didn’t speak harsh words to each other. The man let me ride his snowmachine by myself and I broke it. He didn’t hit me – he didn’t even punish me! Nobody was this nice! Nobody!!! I moved back in with my mom. My step-dad was beating her up one day when I came in. I took off running and found a police officer. I brought him back to the house and these two “Christians” lied and said I was making it up. I’d had enough. I told my mother that I wanted to go live with my dad. She said no. Not long after that, my step-father was beating up my younger brother. I grabbed the biggest knife I could find and headed up the stairs. My mother pulled me back down the stairs by my hair and begged me to hush. My step-father heard my objections and came down the stairs ready to “teach” me. I made it simple –
You are bigger than me but you can’t keep your guard up all of the time. One day you will let your guard down, maybe it will be after you drink another gallon of wine and pass out. I will be waiting even if it takes a year or two years. . . and I will plunge the knife in your heart or neck all the way to the handle!
I was so full of hate for this man! Two weeks later, I was on my way to my dad’s house. I had been taught to raise my brother and had been responsible for him my entire life. The look of fear in his eyes that day as I abandoned him to face that monster on his own is still more than I can handle without tearing up – even as I write this. In retrospect, I should of stayed for him – I should have stayed to protect him. I didn’t – I was trying to survive the best way a mixed up 15 year old knew how at the time.
Life with dad was different. We did things together. Dad didn’t go to church all the time anymore. He worked a lot. He read his bible a lot. I would go with him when he did go. I wanted to please him so when they made an alter call one week, I went forward to be baptized. It seemed to make him very proud so it achieved the result that I wanted. My dad had married a very pretty and worldly woman. She would give me pot and even bought me a pipe once. For plastics shop, I made her a bong for her birthday which she lit up right there when I gave it to her. I liked her – we were friends! When her and Dad told me they were getting a divorce, I begged her not to! She went anyway and we moved back to the state with my grandparents.
We went to church with my grandparents each week at their former Disciples of Christ church (as grandad told it – the DOC wouldn’t take a stand of the bible being the infallible word of God or on abortion so they left em). It was not optional not to go to church! They got me in the youth group which also was not optional! The church had grown huge once it split. Grandad used to say it was because the Lord’s work was being done that it was growing. I liked it – it was fun and me and one of the preacher’s sons were terrors. I went to a Halloween lock-in and costume contest that the church was having dressed as Alice Cooper and complete with guitar. I didn’t win, some guy dressed as Moses did – complete with tablets. How lame I thought! We even managed to cover up getting caught hiding in the church smoking pot. Got caught making out in the church library with a very nice girl – church girls were so easy. I was such a mess!
It was around this time during a school break in 10th grade that the church had planned a retreat to Panama City Florida. I wanted to go. I wanted to get away from the constant “where are you going” and “where have you been” that I was getting from my dad and grandparents. With a partial scholarship, I was able to talk my dad into the rest of the money and me and the preacher’s son were off for Florida to have fun. I had a belt buckle that had a hash pipe welded to the back of it. We had quite a few grams of hash. We were going to get high in Florida without anyone giving us grief.
On the way down, I was making out for a couple of hours with a pastor’s daughter on the bus. One of the older guys took a Polaroid of it and handed it to her. I am so ashamed now as I look back on it – it breaks my heart! At the time I thought he was a self-righteous jerk. I shrugged it off and we had no sooner got to our cabin than we snuck out and were on our way to the strip. We got one of the go-kart guys high for free go-kart rides and rode them for hours. We did this for a couple of days.
During this time, this one guy, more so than the others, really creeped me out. He was always telling me that Jesus loved me. I said, “Dude, I know! I’m a Christian, duh!” and I would get away from him as fast as I could because his next line made me real nervous – “ . . . and I love you too!” He had to be gay! One day, we couldn’t go to the tracks because it was pouring a major storm outside. We were bummed, coming down,
The Jesus guy trapped me as I was going back to lay down and take a nap. Same old “Jesus loves you and I love you too!” I was like, “Dude, get away from me! What are ya, a homo?” I doubled up my fist – he wasn’t going to get it for free! I had hitchhiked once when a guy had tried to undo my pants – I jumped out of the car and he took off. I figured it was like this and I was trapped!
This guy told me, ‘Nope, I am not gay. I would just like to read you something. Would that be okay?” I was like, “Ya, whatever!” never letting my guard down – ready to punch him if he tried something. He opened this ratty old leather bible and started reading:
Ephesians 5:1-7 (NIV) 1 Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
3 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. 4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. 5 For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person–such a man is an idolater–has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. 7 Therefore do not be partners with them.
I did NOT want to hear this! I didn’t like the way it was making me feel. Uneasy – angry – scared! He put his hand on my arm and continued reading:
Ephesians 5:8-12 (CJB) 8 For you used to be darkness; but now, united with the Lord,
you are light. Live like children of light, 9 for the fruit of the light is in every kind of goodness, rightness and truth — 10 try to determine what will please the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the deeds produced by darkness, but instead expose them, 12 for it is shameful even to speak of the things these people do in secret.
He stopped talking. I am not sure when. He was just standing there as I was looking down at the floor – silently screaming NO! on the inside of my head so loud that it made my head hurt. I looked up to see why he stopped and realized he was kneeling next to me. I don’t know how I ended up on my knees, but there I was slumped shoulders, kneeling, defeated. The guy next to me kneeling too – he was crying. I wondered why he was crying when I realized that I was crying too and had been since about the time he hit verse 8. He looked me in the eyes and told me:
“Jesus wants to be the Lord of your life! Aren’t you tired of fight . . .”
He didn’t even get to finish the word. I was tired of fighting it. All of it. So I stopped fighting it. I called upon the name of the Lord for my salvation – right there – defeated – never happier in my life!!!
After we had prayed and praised the Lord (the first time I had ever done this), I went to the praise service meeting they were having. I had not been to one yet, I had always found a way to skip it – now, I wanted to go! We were late and everyone turned around as we entered. People started running up to me and some started crying as they saw me. I was crying to. Lifting my arm in praise, my other arm around the 1st Steve.
** I asked to be baptized at that meeting. I told the pastor that I had been baptized before. He asked me why I thought I needed to be baptized again. I told him, as a baby I had no choice. When I did have a choice, I only did it to please my dad. I want to do it now as a sign of commitment to the Lord. He agreed and baptized me in the ocean the next morning. As I went under, I was stung by several jellyfish. I guess you could say I was baptized in water and in fire!