I grew up in the suburbs outside of Buffalo NY. My parents were good people, they loved each other, and they loved their 4 kids. We attended a mainline church that had lots of professors from the University of Buffalo. I didn’t care much for church or anything that it stood for. I went through a confirmation class at this church and I recall a group discussion with one of the pastors and the question was asked about the parting of the red sea. The pastor responded that it probably took place at the shallow end of the red sea and it was a strong wind that pushed the water back.
I didn’t get in a lot of trouble in High School but I wasn’t a strong student either. By my senior year, I was a regular pot smoker even during the school day. on the weekends, we were drinking beer, smoking pot and messing around. Attending a lot of Rock concerts. I would refer to this time in my life as fun but also headed nowhere full speed.
My Dad transferred to Western NC with his work, and to this day I’m not sure why I went to NC with my family and didn’t stay in Buffalo. I mentioned I was not a student so College really wasn’t something I was interested in. I found work in N.C. with Magnavox in their plastics and molding plant. The job was incredibly boring and after 6 month they laid me off. I went to work for a temp agency loading tractor trailers and that was worse than working at Magnavox. I was beginning to realize that my choice of not attending college was going to probably be a bad one. I looked at several schools in NC but didn’t have the grades to go to NC State or Carolina, so I ended up at UNCG. I have always been introverted and I thought that 7 girls to every guy might work in my favor.
In college, I continued to major in beer drinking, pot smoking and I minored in chasing girls. My senior year I met a girl at my job at the university center who I really liked and so I slowed way down on some of my bad habits because she didn’t care much for them. We dated all three semesters of my senior year but she was a junior and I was focused on starting a career. She wanted to know about “us” and all I could say was “I’m going where the jobs are”. I ended up finding work in Greensboro working as a sales rep for Sears Business systems in their new computer store. While at work I received a phone call from a businessman in Greensboro who knew my Dad and he invited me to a luncheon to hear a speaker talk about his business success and how he had achieved it. I was very focused on business and being successful so I said I would be happy to attend. At that luncheon this attorney did speak about his business success but he also talked about the mistakes he had made during his life. He told how that each of us seem to chase money, power, sex, prestige etc. as if we are trying to fill an emptiness the we have inside. He went on to say that the problem is that the emptiness inside of you and me is “God shaped”. Trying to fill it with anything other than God doesn’t work. He explained that God had made a way for us to have a relationship with him and it was through his son. His son had taken all of the bad stuff that I had ever done or would do and he paid the penalty for me. I could get connected with God by acknowledging what Jesus had done. I didn’t fully understand this but it did sound like a really good deal. Kind of like buying fire insurance just before the forest fire reaches your house and burns it down. So I said a simple prayer, something like “Jesus I really don’t understand all of this, but if you really did this for me I want to know more about you and I want you to be in charge of my life”. There was no flash of light, no peel of thunder, just me feeling a bit foolish and wondering if this guy was selling me a line. A few days later two men came to the office and talked with me about meeting one on one to look at the Bible and answer any questions that I might have. They had a small booklet with about 5 chapters and would I be willing to go through just this one book? I said I would and began meeting with Cecil about every other week. I still remember chapter 1 of that first book and the question. “What have you learned from your reading that you didn’t know before”. My response was “it isn’t painful to open the Bible”.
I was still dating the same girl from my senior year and I had even bought her an engagement ring. We hadn’t set a date because she was planning on going to optometry school. January 1985, she calls me and tells me that she thinks she might be pregnant. A day or two later she confirms that she is definitely pregnant. A few days after that and I’m driving to Cary to speak with her parents about why we need to get married in the next 6 weeks before she starts to show. We were married in late February 1985 and the out of town family scrambled to get there and didn’t ask a lot of questions. FYI – 6 weeks to plan a wedding solves a lot of problems with decision making.
After our honeymoon, Victoria and I were visiting my family in Charlotte for the weekend. My parents and all my siblings had become Jesus follower’s during the previous few years and although I was beginning to understand I still wouldn’t consider myself religious. We were telling my Mom that Victoria had her first OB appointment on Monday at 3:00 and she asked if I was going to go. I said no that I had to work and I couldn’t get off at 3:00. Monday morning my Mom called the house and wanted to speak with me. She begged me to please go to the appointment. She said I don’t know why but God told me that you have to go. We debated on the phone for some time and she even said that she wasn’t going to let me off the phone until I agreed to go. At the OB appointment, we were told that our baby had died. There was no explanation given other than “it seems kind of late” for this. The loss of this baby was devastating for my wife and painful for me as well. Yet in this situation we could see God’s hand. My mother’s insistence that I be present at the appointment. God using this pregnancy to change both my wife’s plans and my plans for our future. And then Gods providence in knowing that we had a lot of growing up to do before we would be ready to be parents.
As a result of the luncheon and my involvement with my Bible teacher I became an active member of CBMC in Greensboro. You might say I got busy “working for God”. It wasn’t that I didn’t recognize the value of what God had freely given me but I thought that my job now was to be a good worker. So I was busy inviting people to luncheon’s and meeting one on one and teaching other men what I had learned. I didn’t really know much about my new Christian faith but I knew a little more than the people I was meeting with and their questions drove me to dig further and learn more.
About 9 years into my Christian walk God used some rather difficult circumstances to help me to recognize that it wasn’t my efforts that were important but His. It began with discovering that my bookkeeper had been embezzling from me and had drained my bank account and my line of credit. This meant that Victoria needed to stop home schooling our kids and come to work for the business as our bookkeeper. She didn’t want to do this and it created stress in our relationship so much so that during a heated argument one night I punched the refrigerator and broke my hand. Within the next few months I ruptured a disk in my back, had two ingrown toe nails, and my mom was diagnosed with and passed away from liver cancer. God used all of this to show me that I wasn’t strong enough to handle life on my own. I like to describe this 16-month time frame as something that I wouldn’t wish on an enemy but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. During this time, I reached the point where; if my wife left me and took the kids, if my back never stopped hurting, if I lost the house and the business. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I could still praise God and thank him for his love and mercy. At the end of this time all I had was God, and that was all I needed. In my brokenness, I had learned to trust Him completely with my circumstances. I knew that no matter what happened He had my best interest at heart and we both wanted the same thing. We both wanted me and my life to look more like Jesus, and if that took the fire of refinement I was OK with that and so was He.