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Sunday, June 9, 2013

The story of how my life changed


I can't remember if I've written in the blog my story of how everything changed in my life. If I have, it hasn't been lately, so it's a good time to do it, again.

I was born in a rural area between Grand Rapids and Muskegon, Michigan. My parents were farmers, and, as I only came to understand as an adult after my dad passed away and my mom was close to that time also, they were not particularly successful at it. My mom didn't get along with other people very well, and my dad was a Masonic Lodge chaplain (that means he had the Masonic funeral ritual memorized). They were honest, moral people, but didn't specifically bring me up to know what it was like and teach me the importance of following Jesus. When I was about 8 years old, they decided to drop me off at a church about three miles away just before the service ended, so I could go to Sunday School. Afterwards, I would walk a couple of blocks to a diner, where my dad was waiting for me.
I can remember that my mom would turn the tv to Billy Graham specials, when they were on. There was one from Jet Stadium in Columbus, Ohio when I was about 9. Near the end, Rev. Graham, as he often did during the altar call, reminded anyone listening that we have no assurance as to the length of our lives, and that this might be one's last chance to accept Jesus and Savior. That particularly caught my attention for the first time that my life, as every living thing's, is finite, and will come to an end. The part about Jesus and salvation didn't register one way or another at that time, just the idea that I would die someday.
My parents struggled financially, but I had an aunt and uncle who had no kids themselves, but both had been teachers, and later a school administrator and librarian. About at age 12, they invited me to stay with them for a week during the summer, and they took me to places my parents could not, both financially and because, as farmers, they needed to be home every day and night to care for animals. They took me to places like the Musuem of Science & Industry in Chicago and Tiger Stadium in Detroit, from their home in Kalamazoo.
In the summer of 1968, they came one Sunday afternoon, and I expected to go with them to their home. History now, and even then, referred to it as “the long, hot summer”, not so much for the literal temperature, but because anger in the inner cities of the U.S. Seemed to be boiling over with regard to how blacks had and were being treated by the overall society. When my uncle got to our house, he told us (and I have never seen this in any historical writing) that these riots were being caused by a group of individuals overtly fomenting the riots in one city after another. He told us that the local police had told him that they had gotten information that this group was to start a riot in Kalamazoo that evening, so aunt and uncle wished to postpone my visit for a couple of weeks. Usually, when they visited, they would leave for home in the late afternoon or early evening, but this day, they wished to stay until the 11pm CBS News came on (at this time, CBS had a national newscast at 11 on Sunday evenings). Sure enough, the lead story was an inner city riot breaking out. The city wasn't Kalamazoo—it was Detroit, and history would record it as being the largest of that summer's riots, lasting for eight nights. There was some spill over into Grand Rapids. Since I lived only 20 miles from GR, I could see the sky lighter to the southeast from my home, but due to the arson going on there, the light was much brighter in that direction for a couple of nights.
About two weeks later, I got to visit my aunt and uncle. Since my uncle's vacation week was the week originally scheduled for my visit, he was back at work that week, and we didn't go as many places. We went to the first Detroit Tiger game after the riots. Since old Tiger Stadium was in the inner city, and there was no planned parking for that facility, we walked past blocks of smoldering rubble to get to the stadium. Inside, there was a feel that what was happening was more than a ball game, but a first sign of a community coming back to normal. The years and decades to come would show that feeling to be an illusion.
Since we weren't able to go as many places as before, and because I grew up being taught by example that paying attention to the news was important, I watched a lot of the big news event of that week, the Democratic National Convention, which was in Chicago. This was during the Vietnam War, President Johnson had previously announced that he would not run for re-election, but as the majority party in Washington, many in the U.S. Who were against the war aimed their protest at this convention. There was rioting in the streets, and the eventual trial of the Chicago Seven would spin out of what would happen in the streets that week. We would learn only decades later that certain events in the streets would get covered up, as the reporters were not impartial on this subject.
The next week, I was back home. I no longer remember whether it was Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, but around noon, I started mowing the lawn. The little push lawn mower was making enough noise no one could have spoken to me if they tried. While mowing, I was thinking of the events of the previous few weeks. I realized that, on many problems in the news, commentators would discuss possible solutions to problems—we now know that sometimes these were planted by politicians as “trial balloons”. If others poked holes in the ideas, no politician would be mocked with saying an idea so silly, and if the idea was spoken about as being reasonable, someone soon would publicly say the idea to get credit for it in the public eye. I noticed that there weren't any such ideas being floated about how to stop the rioting, or correct the underlying problem, or to stop the war protests, or deal with the underlying problem of why the war was dragging on.
A statement came into my mind. It wasn't audible, but was more real than if it was. “It's not the radicals, or the politicians, it's Me.” I knew this was God speaking to me. He doesn't need to introduce Himself. I couldn't do anything about these other problems, I could only deal with that there was sin in my life, and what I could do was give myself to Him. I had heard the teaching in Sunday School, and on tv, but suddenly it was not only important, but the only thing I could think of.
Many years later, I would read Pilgrim's Progress, where there is the story of Pilgrim climbing a hill with the heavy load on his back. The rest of the day felt like that for me. I did the things I normally did, but suddenly sin was this heavy load. Night came, and I went to bed. The head of my bed was right below a window, so I could look up into the night sky. Looking up into the sky, seeing the stars, and knowing how very far away they are, and how vast that area is, and realizing that God was caring for me such as to burden me with the decision I must make about Him, I felt so small, yet simultaneously feel that I am important to Him to have this happen right then. I rolled over and cried into my pillow. That was my prayer asking Jesus to be my Lord. I sensed a change from my toes slowly up to my head. Then I could sleep.
The next morning, I woke up, and, while everything looked the same, everything had changed, somehow. I was now aware that there was a spiritual war, and that I was on the other side, God's side. I knew my parents wouldn't understand, and didn't. I wanted to know how to live to please God, and He started revealing that to me. Because I wasn't the kind of kid to be in trouble, I may not have looked different to others, at first. In fact, maybe I got in more trouble after becoming a follower of Jesus, as I no longer followed the status quo. That's ok, I'm on the ultimate winning side, even if I've lived a life that looks like an underachiever to the world's way of doing things.

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