Dad had done much of the work building our new house. The rest of us had pitched in some, too. It was a much larger house than the one I had grown up in which we had rented from my grandparents for something like $50 a month. (Of course, $50 was a lot more then than it is now.) Whenever anyone came to see us at the new house, mom proudly told them the story of how dad had built it. That had been the case that evening, too -- when the preacher and his wife had come to visit.
As mom told the story, we walked through the living room and kitchen and down into the family room. It was a tri-level house and the family room was partially underground in the lower level. It was kind of odd spending a lot of time in a half-basement. It always reminded me of the notorious Treglias who had lived outside the very small town I mentioned earlier. They lived in the basement of their house for years because they never got the upstairs finished. In fact, as recently as just a few years ago, I heard that they were still living in the basement of that house.
Our family room had multi-colored green shag carpeting. (This was the 70s, remember.) Once we were in the family room, I ended up sitting on the floor. I was pretty small for my age then and the chairs were all taken by the adults, as well as by my sister who was three years older than me.
We had not been going to this particular church very long. Up in Lima, we had attended a fairly large church that seemed to be attended by "upper end" folks. That category did not fit my family but, at that church, many of the attendees were business owners and seemed to have a few bucks. In fact, they had built a very nice modern church just shortly after we moved away.
In Sidney, we had hunted for a church and eventually ended up at a church that had a bit of a gospel country twang to it, if you know what I am saying. It was considerably different than the church I had grown up in but it was full of good people, my mom always said. And, indeed, she was right. A large part of the decision to attend this church, though, was that my sister's best friend and her family went there. My sister, very musically talented, would have opportunity at this church to play piano and organ.
The pastor and his wife were good people, about the same age as my parents. They had kids about the same age as my sister and me. Ron was a soft spoken man but he would get passionate about God. His wife was a petite woman who had been born in Quebec. Her name was Jean Marie. She was petite but she was strong.
I never knew quite what to expect when a preacher visited. I can't say I expected anything bad but yet a certain nervousness seemed to fill my body and even our house in the days leading up to his visit. This was the first time that this preacher had visited us. The visit started with a lot of normal chit chat. I was sitting on the floor listening somewhat but also wishing that the television could be on.
And then it happened ...
Jean Marie asked me if I was saved. Wow. Turns out that this was precisely why I was nervous about the preacher visiting!
This was a sensitive issue for me. You see, several years earlier, my sister had accepted Jesus and it was a big thing in our family. It was a time for celebration and happiness. I was pretty young at that time and, frankly, didn't care for much of anything that celebrated my older sister's life. She picked on me a lot and pretty much took the limelight wherever we were. I didn't really have a problem with that, though, as I was naturally pretty quiet. But, on the other hand, I didn't exactly revel in the great things that happened in my sister's life either. I was ... indifferent.
So, here I was ... the question had been asked. It was out there. In front of my whole family. All eyes were on me. Was I saved? And I thought to myself, "Am I?"
Fact is, quietly and a couple of years earlier, without the fanfare that accompanied my sister's salvation, I had said my own prayer of salvation. But my family didn't know that. There had been no public proclamation. And, to an eleven-year-old mind, to now tell my family that I was indeed saved when they'de never heard me say that before, I'd be fibbing ... I'd be revealing something that no one would believe, so to their ears, it would be a lie.
So, then, I said it. One word. "No."
"Would you like to accept Jesus as your saviour now, Todd?" Jean Marie asked.
"Yes," I replied quietly.
And then she led me in a prayer. I don't remember the words I repeated after her line by line. It was pretty short and simple really.
And then, there I was. Publicly saved.
But I didn't feel any different. And there was no fanfare. Don't get me wrong, fanfare would have embarrassed me. But there was no fanfare.
And life went on. I didn't feel any different. I didn't do anything different. And no one paid attention to my newfound salvation. Life. Went. On.
Nothing changed. Well, one thing changed. Somehow I got it into my head that I was supposed to be a preacher someday. Maybe that had actually been in my head even earlier than this. I don't remember for certain. But I do know one thing -- I never told a soul. But then as I got older and in my teens, I saw several preachers leave the pulpit forcibly or in some disgrace. Including Jean Marie's husband. He was found to be speaking in tongues, something which was wrong in the eyes of his chosen denomination. I didn't understand then nor do I now why a church would consider a spiritual gift to be worthy of expulsion but they did. By the time I was in my early 20s I had also seen preachers step down due to having affairs and alcohol addiction.
Life seemed very unfair to preachers. There seemed to not be any recognition that they were human. So I stuffed down the feeling that I was supposed to be a preacher. Over the years, I have come to reconcile that God has me where He wants me today. I may not be a "preacher" but I am still in a personal ministry and I pray that I can still have an impact for Him.
I was always bothered by the way I was "saved" though. I was bugged by the way I felt under the gun and actually fibbed, leading to my being "saved again" if you will. That really should not be a youngster's introduction to grace and salvation.
And then, history repeats itself.
When Evan was about five or six, he told his grandma that he had asked Jesus into his heart. We praised him for this but we also didn't make any huge fanfare. Like his parents, Evan is easily prone to embarrassment and we try to be sensitive to that.
About a year and a half after that, we took him to a Power Team presentation. These are really big guys who break boards and blocks, bend frying pans, and destroy phone books -- all while trying to convince kids to accept their salvation. They did an altar call at the end. During a prayer, they asked everyone to put their hand up if they wanted eternal life and then they asked those who raised their hands to come forward. Evan raised his hand. I know that he faced the confusion of wanting eternal life and not knowing if he had to re-delcare that or what. It wasn't exactly the same confusion that I had faced some 30-some years earlier but it was similar.
Nervously, Evan went forward. Lisa and I accompanied him. Going forward actually made me feel like I was being saved for a third time, which was kind of odd -- bringing back a flood of October 1975 memories. But I was there for my son whom I love very much and want only the best for.
History repeats itself. I know that somewhere in his mind, Evan replays that night with the Power Team just as I for many years replayed that night in the family room with the green shag carpeting.
But time goes on. The memories are still painful. Especially when history repeated itself. But grace and salvation are there regardless. And that makes all the difference.