Thursday, August 16, 2012

Working As Unto The Lord

Have you ever had one of those days when everything you did seemed to go wrong?  Sure you have –probably many times over the years.  But did you ever have a string of years, not just a day, but years when everything you touched somehow resulted in blessing upon blessing?

Just around the time Janice, Michelle and I moved from the Sudbury area to Elliot Lake, I had been reading the story of Joseph, son of Jacob.  Carlyle B. Haynes had entitled his book: God Sent a Man.  It made such an impact on my life; I was never the same again!  If I were to sum up its message to me, it would be this: The more fully a person surrenders their lives to God in service to Him, the more fully He will use that person to His glory and bless all others within the circle of his influence.  Like Joseph, even the worst experiences will result in unexpected good.  Everything you touch, as it were, will miraculously turn to gold.

I remember Hermel and I walking into the offices of County Contracting, a construction company.  Another Adventist gentleman had worked for them and just recently left for New Mexico.  He had left a key with Hermel to return to this contractor and we decided to use it as a way of introducing ourselves and asking for a job.  Being nothing more than unskilled labourers, we were prepared to do the most menial tasks if necessary.  And so it was that we were hired and sent to a location in town where they were building townhouses.  The general foreman immediately put us to work digging a rather large ditch for conduit pipes.  We had it in our minds that whatever work we were given to do, it would be as unto the Lord.  As such, we wanted it to be perfect.  We didn’t bother with coffee breaks; lunch would be satisfactory enough.  I remember the foreman coming by to check on how we were doing and telling us to slow down as we would wear out.  It had an opposite effect and only managed to increase our determination to be the best we could be.

We worked long hours for a mere $4.25 per hour.  Keep in mind that Hermel had just left a mining job that paid huge salaries and thousand dollar bonuses each month.  The courage it must have taken to make this switch in his life could only have been brought about by God.  I, on the other hand, was making big money in comparison to what I had just left behind.  We felt like we had just struck gold.

One day, we decided it was time to ask for a raise.  The foreman agreed and gave us a 50 cent increase in pay.  About a week later, he approached us and asked if we had had a raise since coming to work for him.  We looked at each other with what must have appeared as confused expressions on our faces and assured him that he had just given us a raise a few short days past.  He quickly responded that he would be giving us another raise; and so he did.  In the five years that I worked for this company, we were never refused a raise.  It seemed that whatever we set out to do, however humble the task, God blessed us.  Before long, we were placed in charge of crews doing whatever was required.  We learned much about the construction business, how to operate various heavy equipment machinery, lead a team of men, basic carpentry, and above all else, how to work hard and efficiently.

The best part of this experience usually happened in the evenings when Hermel and I would go out on the town knocking on doors and conducting religious surveys.  I often would feel uncomfortable about meeting strangers and talking to them about religion, but Hermel would keep insisting that we do it.  After urging me to join him, we would arrive at someone’s door and he would knock, take a step backwards and then say, “OK, you talk because you’re better at it than I am.”  That always went over well in my mind.  But somehow, the Lord blessed.  

Before long, we were about a dozen or so meeting for church.  What was really neat was the fact that everyone met for Sabbath School and Worship Services without exception.  Everyone was invited to someone’s home for lunch or inviting someone to their place.  Everyone showed up for prayer meeting.  And even for Ingathering, (soliciting funds for people who suffered through some disaster ie: flood, earthquake, etc.) all would show up to do their part.  When the Conference eventually heard of us and told us that they would be sending us a pastor to help out, we were happy for the news, but did not feel that this would necessarily change the course we were on.  We were prepared to do the Lord’s work—pastor or no pastor. 

When I think of our churches today and our dependence on pastors, I am saddened at our helplessness if a pastor isn’t at the helm doing most of the work.  Congregations in many parts of the world are growing by leaps and bounds because the members are doing the work while the pastors’ responsibilities are primarily of a training nature.  I suspect that if our members were to adopt a similar model, the impact of our witness would be quite noticeable.

Getting back to the construction business, something that I felt was rather odd was the day the owner asked me to come in his office.  He had made arrangements for me to meet with himself and his office manager.  He then announced that he wanted to pay to send me to school to acquire an education on the construction business.  I was totally blown away by his generosity!  I had no idea this was even an option.  In any case, I had for some time been thinking that I didn’t want to do this for the rest of my life.  I wanted to somehow work more directly for the Lord in areas of direct evangelism.  The ‘self-supporting’ world was also becoming a great attraction to me.  A stint at Woodland Park sounded very good and I hoped that there might be room for us there.  Just around that time I called Frank to see what the possibilities might be.

Hence, a move in the very near future was about to be realized.

And the journey continues…  Part VII  

Monday, July 16, 2012

A Stint In Boot Camp

I've never been in the armed forces and so what new recruits are subjected to in boot camp is something entirely foreign to me... at least, I think it is.  Nevertheless, when I think back to that first year trying my hand at selling Christian books, I can't help thinking of it as going through the most grueling boot camp training ever .  It wasn't like I didn't have occasional good sales or wonderful experiences meeting people in their homes, but for the most part, it was blood, sweat and tears.  Robert can sell ice to Eskimos: I couldn't sell them firewood with matches, if my life depended on it.  Like I said, it was wonderful to be in someone's home, seeing the excitement some folks exhibited at the display of health books and the kids drooling over the pretty pictures in My Bible Friends.  At times, when I could see that the folks were showing a sensitivity toward spiritual things, I would offer to pray with them before leaving.  They were always moved by this: it isn't every day that a traveling salesman prays with them, asking God's blessing on their homes.  I always knew that I had made new friends.  One man, who was the manager of an insurance company, even offered me a job.  He bought The Bible Story series and even contacted me again several months later in the hope that I would change my mind.  I couldn't have been that bad of a salesman.

 I did see my fair share of miracles.  One week, I received a commission that added to all of $20.  At the time, I drove a Mustang with a 351 V8 engine that gulped down gasoline like water flowing over a fish.  That's where I spent a lot of my money just so I could travel the countryside and sell my wares..  I remember buying a loaf of bread and a head of lettuce with the little that I had left and yet, we somehow managed to get by.  One time, just when we needed it most, the church gave us a check for $200.  That was big money back then.  On another occasion, our pastor's wife asked us to drop by their home after prayer meeting.  She began to explain how she had "inadvertently" purchased more groceries than they had room for in their cupboards.  We would be doing them a tremendous favor if we would take all these excess bags of food off their hands. Of course, we were very much aware of what they were doing.  At first, we refused to take the food.  We thanked them kindly, but felt it would be wrong for us to accept their charity.  She was prepared to teach us something we've never forgotten.  Her reply to us went something like this: "The Lord is wanting to give me a blessing in giving you these groceries.  Please do not take away my blessing!"  As strange as that may sound, there was a lot of truth to what she said.

I remember Frank, Janet and the kids came and spent a weekend with us.  If I recall correctly, I didn't have any commission coming to me.  No sale, no check and no idea how we were going to feed everyone.  After church on Sabbath, we even invited the Mainvilles to join us for a meal.  We had a wonderful time together.  How we managed to feed everyone is a mystery to this day... well, sorta.  The Lord never let us down.  This kind of thing happened time and again.  " ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." Matt. 6. 33. 

But, like I said, for the most part, I struggled.  Every door was a battle for me to knock on.  It was the same with collecting funds for Ingathering or ADRA.  I could be more successful than the rest in our group, but I had this aversion to asking people for their money that I couldn't shake off.  I'm still the same to this day.  Then, one day, Hermel and Sue told us that they were thinking of buying a health food store in Elliot Lake.  Hermel was making big money in the mines back then.  But he and Sue wanted to work for the Lord and they were prepared to sacrifice all for the sake of the Gospel.  They figured this would be the way to do just that.  This is when Janice and I wondered if we might not want to join them in this little venture.  After all, Hermel would have to find a paying job while Sue would run the store.  The business wasn't successful enough at that point to provide them with a reasonable living.  How would Sue manage a health food store and care for their children besides?  Wouldn't it be better if we tagged along?  This way, one lady would work the store while the other took care of the kids and vice versa.  Meanwhile, the guys would find work somewhere in town.  Our friends needed us! and with that excuse, we left the world of colporteurs and entered a new adventure altogether.

Did we know that the Lord was leading us? not really.  Did we live with a twinge of guilt? I certainly did.  It haunted me considerably, but never enough to stop the ball from rolling forward.  The last few months trying to sell books with very little success had been disheartening to say the least.  I no longer had the courage to continue.  Yes, at times, I wondered if I were like Jonah, running away from the Lord, but I couldn't face another door.  It was time to try my hand at something different.  Besides, I had a family to feed and I was tired of living constantly on the edge.  Little did I realize that my experience as a colporteur would serve me well in years to come. I may not have been great in the world of sales, but it did give me valuable insights in how to visit with people in their homes and share with them God's incredible love.

I seem to recall a fairy tale from my childhood days where a certain man, by the name of Midas, turned everything he touched into gold.  In a strange sort of way, we had just embarked on an experience very similar in nature.  It seemed at times that God was determined to give us His blessing, no matter what we put our hand to do.

My Life As It Is continues...   Part VI

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Miracles Continue

Life is filled with apparent contradictions -what we call paradoxes.  We live our lives in pursuit of happiness, searching in all those places that we believe will logically bring us to our goal, and we discover nothing more than a momentary pleasure.  We do our best to hold on to our treasure but try as we may, time runs its course and the thrill slips through our fingers like so many ropes of sand.  We look for it in the making of money, the accumulation of property, the injection of a needle, or in the perfect Hollywood body -all in the hope of 'achieving Nirvana'.  We think we'll find it in our search for power -be it in the world of art, business or politics.  We make a stab at it by writing the perfect novel or by mastering the most powerful speech -all for the sake of being recognized and valued.  We all want to leave a legacy, something to be remembered by -be it by our children and grandchildren, or in the history books as a person of renown.  Yet, the success we all want to experience and which is often so elusive, lies before us in the simplest of paradoxes.  Jesus said it this way: "If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all." Mark 9. 35.  It makes no sense whatsoever in our little world but it is a law of the greater universe out there: The greatest happiness is experienced when we live to bless others and when we submit our wills to the will of God.  It is totally contrary to the natural course of our minds; still, nothing brings a greater sense of satisfaction and fulfillment to a person than the knowledge that someone else has been enriched by an unselfish act of kindness on our part.  The thrill is knowing that we've surrendered our plans and allowed our Creator to work out His plans in us.

If there's anything that I think I've learned and that has brought me the greatest measure of joy and happiness, it is the knowledge that God loves me as though I was the only person in His world.  It is the understanding that His goal for me is to serve a much bigger purpose than simply existing until old age gets the best of me. 

It wasn't long after my little experience in church that I found myself standing up in front of the congregation, either reading a mission story or even offering prayer.  With every little service I found myself doing in front of people, I gained more courage.  One day, the pastor asked me to lead out in the Wednesday prayer meeting, as he would be away.  I remembered Frank telling me that when the pastor asked me to do something, I should take it as a call from God.  And so, with fear and trepidation, I consented.  To my great satisfaction, as I stood before a group who had many more years of experience in the study of the Bible, I managed to hold my own. I couldn't have been happier.

I had a little problem where I worked.  In the Public Works Department of Sudbury, I found myself engaged in a number of different jobs.  From sweeping sidewalks, to installing culverts, I never knew from one day to the next where I would find myself.  Garbage detail was no exception.  On occasion, when a 'Sanitary Engineer' happened to be off on vacation or sick, the general foreman would pick on one of us laborers to take his place.  Believe it or not, I liked it when they asked me to work the garbage route.  It meant I would manage to finish the route in 3 or 4 hours, get paid for 11 hours, have Wednesdays off (rules of our union contract) and an increase in my hourly rate besides.

By this time, I was keeping the biblical Sabbath and trouble was brewing ahead.  While sunset was nearing the 4:30pm mark in the winter hours, indicating the beginning of Sabbath, our day at work wouldn't end until 5:00pm.  I needed to do something quick as I was determined to obey God no matter what the cost.  After a serious bout of praying, I gathered enough courage to talk to the general foreman about  it.  I had hoped he would exempt me from work before 4:30pm on Fridays.  It just so happened that I met with him while he was in conference with the other foremen under him.  Talk about an awkward situation.  He always came across as a rather gruff and mean-spirited sort of individual to begin with. As I tried to explain my situation about the Sabbath and my need to be excused from the last hour of work on Fridays, all of them looked at me as though I had gone completely wacky.  It made me so nervous, I could hardly breathe.  To my great surprise, he told me that he couldn't do anything for me and that I would have to see the department manager.  I didn't know we had such a person, but arrangements were made for me to see the department manager.  Somehow, I found myself more at ease with this man, but the answer was the same.  He showed concern for my predicament, but felt that he couldn't give me what I asked for as it would set a precedent. 

What was I to do?  I felt trapped, with no recourse before me.  The following Friday, I was working with a crew on some job which I can't seem to recall.  Just a few moments before 4:30pm came around, the boss had us pack up our things and head for the shop.  All this time, I kept thinking that I needed to be out of there by 4:30pm.  As we turned a corner not too many blocks from where I lived, I told the boss to pull over!  With a rather bewildered look on his face and questioning what I was up to, he nevertheless pulled over and I quickly stepped out of the vehicle and waved goodbye to everybody!  It was 4:30pm.

Of course, I wouldn't be able to pull this off every Friday.  But I didn't need to worry about it.   My Father had a plan.  When Monday morning came around, I half expected to be sent to the office to be fired for my little stunt on Friday, or at the very least, be reprimanded.  Instead, a laborer was needed on garbage detail and I was chosen.  Not only did I work that day on garbage detail, but the entire week.  This meant that Friday, I would be done my work by as early as 11 or 12pm.  The amazing thing about all of this is that I remained on garbage detail the entire winter allowing me to keep the Sabbath and fulfill my work responsibilities.  Every week, one garbage man or another either went on vacation or was sick for a day or two, and I was kept on for the entire season.  Only sometime in the Spring, when sunset was after 5:00pm, did they finally send me back to the shop for a different assignment.  I can only attribute it to a miracle!  This kind of thing just didn't happen!  I had experienced God's leading in a most incredible fashion!

My days with the Public Works Department were  coming to an end.  Other winters were before me and I couldn't expect God to keep the same miracle happening year after year.  (O ye of little faith!) However, there was another little issue that took place that led me to believe my time was up.  A number of times, our pay checks were delayed for one reason or another, and this made the natives restless!  While waiting for our job assignments in the lunch room, some of the bolder individuals called for a show of solidarity by having everyone who  agreed with them stand to their feet.  They were tired of excuses and decided to hold a protest.  As a Christian, I sensed that the manner in which they were dealing with the issue wasn't quite the way Jesus would have handled it.  As His child, I felt I needed to follow His example.  So, there I sat with my friends on either side of me urging me to stand up with them and join the crowd in their mob mentality.  I remained seated and felt totally vulnerable!  Talk about being scared!  I remember thinking that this had to be the end of my days there.   When the general foreman came in the room with his men, the workers refused to go to work.  A lot of bad words were exchanged and I thought to myself, "I don't belong here!" 

Shortly after this, my pastor arranged for me to meet with a publishing director.  I was about to enter the world of colporteurs. The adventure was only beginning!

My Life As It Is... Part V.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Of Heroes and Dreams

Imagine living your entire youth in a world of make believe -of aspiring to be like one of so many comic book heroes.  I'm embarrassed to say, I had lots of those... heroes that is: Thor, Daredevil, Spiderman, even Superman.  It wasn't all bad, since they all gave me a desire to do good and a sense of right and wrong.  Interestingly enough, it wasn't the characters that exhibited the greatest supernatural powers that impressed me the most. I admired Tarzan more than any other  -possibly because his courage and strength seemed more humanly attainable than those gifted with super powers. I wonder how many times all of us have managed to lose ourselves in an imaginary world in order to escape the realities of life?  At times, when my phobia felt more than I could bear, I even contemplated stowing away on some ship to Africa in order to lose myself in a jungle somewhere. I probably wouldn't have survived for more than 2 days after which I would have succumbed to the grips of malaria. Isn't this why so many start drinking? become sex addicts? or get hooked on drugs?... this need to escape from the weight of our responsibilities, or as in my case, from my ever present fears?

I had a friend who once told me that everyone would eventually resort to drugs as the thing to do.  He told me that there was no escaping it.  It was the new thing!  I remember feeling that it was so outside my image of what was cool, there was no way I would ever allow myself to even give it a try.  I was into healthful living, body building, martial arts, etc.  I wanted to be like Tarzan!  Besides, the whole drug scene seemed totally contrary to common sense and damaging to both body and mind.  I never did try it.

There is a drug however, that I discovered and that I frequently indulged in, and yes, got me quite high at times.  The very first time Janice and I visited Frank and Janet at Woodland Park, we got into a discussion about God, the Bible, and other related subjects.  I remember sitting in their tiny little trailer which was couched between what was then considered huge houses, and being gripped by something I had never experienced before.  I wish I had the ability to describe it, but I don't.  I just remember being so blown away by the experience that we left for home with the ...feeling of being high as a kite!  This happened a number of times.  At first, I gave it no thought other than to simply enjoy it every time it occurred.  It wasn't until we had attended a meeting we were invited to in their church that I realized something.  I told Janice on our way back to Sudbury:  "If getting high on LSD or marijuana was anything like this, I can understand why people take drugs!"  Nothing could possibly compare to what seemed to happen to me every time we got into a discussion on spiritual things.

The day finally came when we began to attend the Seventh-day Adventist Church.  Frank and Janet and the kids came to spend a weekend with us and invited us to church Saturday morning.  We consented to go and I found the study period to be so interesting, that I felt I had to be there every week.  Janice was more hesitant, but eventually joined me after a while.  I remember the Pastor teaching the lesson and I would sit in the back pew, hoping he wouldn't notice me.  I was scared out of my mind that he would ask me to read a passage, or worse yet, offer prayer.  But as frightened as I was, I couldn't stay away.  I kept coming back week after week and lived with the dread of being exposed to some embarrassing situation.

Somewhere in all of this, we were introduced to Ron and Gail Jones.  They quickly latched unto us and we found ourselves developing a friendship.  One Sabbath, on a beautiful Spring morning, Janice, Michelle and I walked into the church, and Ron, who happened to be standing by the front door, greeted us with his usual big smile and handed me a slip of paper.  Thinking that he had a passage of Scripture that he felt impressed to share with me, I gave it no thought and proceeded to the front of the church and sat somewhere near the front.  Once settled in, I opened the paper and discovered a text of Scripture.  When I found and read the 3 verses from a Psalm, which I cannot to this day remember, I thought it rather strange that he would have wanted to share this with me.  I didn't know what it meant and it just seemed a strange passage to share with someone.  I turned to look back and there was Ron, looking at me with this big grin, and so, I returned the smile with one of my own, wanting him to know that I appreciated the thought (though I couldn't for the life of me figure out its meaning), and without so much as a thought, I unconsciously put the slip of paper where my Bible had been left opened and immediately closed it.

Soon, Gail came marching up the ail to the podium and began the Sabbath School program.  She opened with a song, a passage of Scripture and prayer.  After a few preliminary thoughts, she then proceeded with the following: "All of you who have received a slip of paper from my husband, I would like you to stand when I call out your passage, and read those verses."  This is when pandemonium broke loose! My body began to go into convulsions!  My heart started pounding so hard, I was sure everyone could hear it! I began to shake so much, I could hardly hold my Bible!  Fortunately, I still had enough presence of mind to think that Janice would be able to read this for me, and with that in mind, I handed her the Book.  By the way, the slip of paper I had been handed, allowed for my Bible to open exactly where the verses were.  I couldn't possibly have found it otherwise, I was shaking so badly.  To my utter shock and dismay, Janice refused to read the passage for me.  She, of all people, knew that I couldn't read out loud in front of all these people -I even reminded her of this fact, but still, to no avail.  At this juncture, I began to look for a way to simply walk out of the church.  Had I been able to leave, I would never have returned -out of shear humiliation and embarrassment.  When I looked at the crowd behind me, I felt too scared to walk out.  I looked for a side door in the front and there were none!  I was a mess and in serious trouble!

Meanwhile, Gail had been calling different passages of Scripture and different individuals stood up to read.  (Might I add that their verses seemed rather short and sweet in comparison to the three I was given to read!)  Now, she was calling my verses and looking everywhere to see who had it.  In the meantime, Janice and I were in a reverse tug-of-war, fighting for who was not going to read in front of all those people.  Back and forth, back and forth with the Bible until finally, I realized that I was doomed to be sacrificed to the gods of my worst fears!  By now, Gail had called out the passage 3 times and still looking for whoever the lucky person was who would read.  I slowly found myself getting up to my feet, trembling and sweating profusely.  I remember whispering the briefest prayer I have ever prayed: "Dear God, now I will see if you really exist, because if You don't help me now, I will never be a Christian!"

As I began to read the first verse, I realized that I was shaking so badly, no one could possibly understand a word I said.  But I continued.  Previous to this, I would have very abruptly chocked on my own words and been unable to continue.  But I did continue unto the 2nd verse.  By now, I was realizing that something totally unusual was happening.  Even with all my trembling, I was still going.  Let me pause a moment: Have you ever felt what it's like to be drowning? but someone has come from behind you just in time to lift you up, and just high enough for your nose to barely cross over the waterline?  You're not out of trouble, but somehow, you've been held up just enough to be able to make your way to shore!  That's what was happening to me.  I had never experienced this before.  Something completely out of myself was keeping me afloat as I read through the 2nd verse and unto the 3rd.  Some outside power had taken hold of me and was seeing me clear to the end!  I quickly sat down and could do nothing but whisper praises to my God!

As insignificant as this may appear to someone reading this, to me, it was the greatest evidence of the existence of God I had ever experienced.  I felt that ten years of my life had been ruined and destroyed by a fear that I had never been able to overcome.  But the God of all creation proved Himself to me in a moment that I couldn't possibly ever forget for the rest of my life!  He came to my rescue when I least expected!  A new life was about to begin!

Interestingly enough, during the Worship Service, Pastor Orpana called for people to share a few words of praise to God, and I found myself rising to my feet once again, praised God, and quickly sat down again.  I had not had the courage to do this since before my days in high school.  Life would never be the same!

Sometime later, I realized that every super hero, produced by the wild imaginings of men, were no match for the infinite power of a God whose only interest is to have a personal relationship with each one of us -a God whose only desire is to have each one of us attain to an existence that is far beyond our craziest dreams!

"Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart!"  Psalm 37. 4.  I dare each of you to dream the impossible.  No matter how outrageous your dream, it will never measure up to what God has in mind for you... if you let Him!

My Life As It Is: Part IV

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Battle Continues!

This was pretty exciting stuff for everyone –me especially!  The very first niece in our family was about to be christened and my big brother chose me to be the godfather!  Maybe that has a lot to do with why I have always felt a special bond with Angie.  Had I known then that someday in the distant future, I would be the one to officiate at her wedding -that would really have blown me away!  In any event, I remember being in the kitchen with Mom the evening before and talking about the ritual that would take place at the local parish church.  And this is when she made sure to remind me that I would be expected to either say a few words, or repeat some religious lines after the priest.  Please keep in mind, this was smack dab in the middle of my stage-fright crisis –and you guessed it, panic set in at full throttle!  All I could think about was how to get out of it.  I was totally convinced I would never be able to open my mouth in front of all my family and friends in that church without making an absolute fool of myself.

I knew what I was about to do wasn’t going to be any less humiliating, but I couldn’t see any way out.  I went to my room, and with closed door, I began to write this long letter to Frank and Janet, apologizing for my desertion.  The next morning, I handed it to my Mother to pass on to them.  Before she had a chance to say anything, I walked straight out of the house and headed for the bushes.  That too, was a very long day.

If I had been a teacher,…  You have no idea how often I’ve had that thought run through my mind.  If I had been a teacher, I would have looked for every conceivable way to help those kids overcome their fears.  I would have shown them that I was on their side.  I would have worked patiently with them and cared for them through their anxieties.  I would have ….  Truth of the matters is, I probably wouldn’t have done any different.  We are often so oblivious to the misery other people are going through.  My English teacher decided it was time for his students to practice oral speeches.  I’m sure all of you remember that class, and not all that fondly.  For me, well I have no words to describe what it did to me.  Here was another reason for me to visit the great outdoors along Witson Creek.  Finally, the teacher came up with a novel idea: “Any kid who missed out in oral speech, be advised!  Sixty percent of your English exam will consist of your marks for oral speech.  You miss out on oral speech and you lose an automatic 60% of your final exam for the year.”  I’ve often thought afterword, “Now there’s a solution for a student who couldn’t do anything about it, even if it counted for 100% of his exam!”  One thing about this teacher, he was true to his word.  I ended up with less than 40% for a final grade.

By the time I reached the 11th grade, I had had enough.   On the first day of class, I remember sitting in one class room where the teacher had each one of us stand and say our names.  I did manage to do that, but the effect was always the same.  I knew I couldn’t go on like this anymore.  At lunch time, I returned home and told both my Mom and Dad that I would not be going back to school, ever again, it didn’t matter what they thought of the idea.  They never said a word.  They seemed to understand.

How did I ever manage to get married?  That too, was an adventure in itself.  Fortunately, the girl that I was madly in love with loved me unconditionally.  She agreed that we would have a very quiet ceremony.  Everyone would be asked to not come to the church for the ceremony except for Robert and Yvonne who stood as witnesses, the organist and the priest.  We would meet with the rest of the family later at Janice’s parents’ home just a few blocks away.  Everyone agreed, except for Aunt Alice who was determined that nobody was going to keep her from attending Mass!  Janice and I were so happy that day, we really hardly took notice of her.  Our family and friends were incredibly patient and gracious.  No one gave us a hard time.  They just wanted us to be happy.  God gave us so many loving people in our lives.  I can’t think of anything more important.

We hadn’t been married very long when life took a sudden turn –one that would forever change the course of our lives.  Frank and Janet got religion.  And we wouldn’t be too far behind.  We were about to witness the hand of God in ways we would never have imagined possible.  Deliverance was at hand… in more ways than one.  Part III

Monday, June 25, 2012

Hopeless and Helpless

I had no idea what this would lead to as our first grade teacher gave us each a note to pass on to our parents.  Celebrations for Mother Superior's birthday were scheduled for the next morning and all the students were to come to school in their Sunday best.  As such, Mom dressed me up in... can you believe it? a suit, complete with jacket and tie.  I have to confess, I was oblivious to everything until I arrived in the schoolyard and started noticing some of the other kids staring at me.  Yup, as far as I could tell, I was the only kid wearing a suit.  It became even more uncomfortable as I walked down the hall to my classroom.  Teachers, walking by or standing in their class doorway would look down at me with these rather suspicious grins on their faces.  I remember feeling very uncomfortable at my predicament.  I don't know if this is where I started being overly self-conscious, but it's been a curse ever since.

As I walked into my classroom, my teacher took one look at me, got up from her desk and with another grade one teacher escorted me back out in the hall all the way to the other end of the school.  As I was ushered into what I remember as a small room adjacent to the principle's office, I noticed one of my schoolmates standing there with a huge bouquet of roses clutched in her arms.  This is when one of the nuns gave me a handmade birthday card and they escorted both of us to the school gymnasium.  To my great surprise, the entire school was assembled there.  We were both marched to the front and turned to face Mother Superior sitting on the front row.  At this point, we presented our gifts to her, which she graciously accepted, and quite frankly, I can't recall another thing after that.

The way I like to say it is: "...and so began my career in the limelight!"

Now, don't get me wrong!  I wasn't the limelight kind of a guy.  But that didn't stop my teachers from roping me into some kind of role in what I recall to have been every school concert ever after.  Whether they had me in a choir, a play, a skit, singing solo, or whatever, there was no escaping it.  I want you to know, and this is not a case of false humility, I did not for a moment like being up front for anything.  But try as I may, there was no getting out of it!

Something rather strange began to happen by the time I reached the 7th grade.  While I had always had fairly good grades to this point, my marks were gradually declining, and with them, so was any confidence I may have had in myself (no doubt, a blessing in disguise).  Even then and the year after, I was still involved in front stage activities.  My Mom maintained that on the last day of my 8th grade, my role in the closing concert on the last day of school was to sing "Bridge Over Troubled Waters"... alone... all by myself.  By this time, I had such a healthy dose of stage fright that I must have blanked it completely out.  I cannot for the life of me recall any such thing.  But, who am I to question my Mother?

High school would prove to be my worst nightmare!  Each day began with an offer of prayer, usually the Lord's Prayer, after which all the students would head for their first class of the day.  Our class however, was somewhat different.  While our teacher was English Protestant, we students were French Catholics.  As such, we preferred to say the Hail Mary.  Not being a particularly religious individual, he didn't care if we had recited the American Declaration of Independence, just so long as he could be rid of us to make room for his first class.  Now, here's how he had set this up.  He would start with the first student in the front row and have him recite the first half of the prayer while the rest of us would chime in with the last half.  Then we would head for our first class of the day.  The following day, the next student would recite the first half of the prayer and the rest would finish it off.  This way, every student had his turn to lead the prayer and we'd start back with the first student all over again.

For whatever reason, the first time I had to do it, I got unusually nervous, so much so, that I even felt myself shaking and struggling to get the words out.  I was totally unnerved by my own reaction.  As such, the next time my turn was anticipated, I began to fear the same thing would happen long before my turn arrived.  And when it did arrive, I was a total basket case.  My heart pounded uncontrollably and my lips were shaking so badly, I could barely be understood by anyone.  I was devastated!  I couldn't understand why this was happening.  What made it even worse was following this very humiliating experience, one of my fellow students caught up to me in the hallway and asked: "What on earth happened to you?" which only deepened my utter embarrassment. I was so impacted by this state of affairs that for the first time in my school life, I planned to skip out of school the next turn around.  Talk about a long, boring day, stuck in the woods with absolutely nothing to do but wait for school to be out so I could go home.  A couple of times like this and the teacher got wise and when I did come back to class following my wilderness wandering, he asked me to pray, and of course, the same thing happened again.  Now I found myself having to skip two and three days in a row before returning to class.

I remember on one such occasion, there I was, lying on my back alongside the bank of Witson Creek behind our home, staring up at this beautiful, blue sky with white, puffy clouds floating by and laughing out loud at my predicament -wondering why this was happening to me.  I especially liked drafting class and had hoped to be a draftsmen someday.  I didn't want to quit school!  I wanted to make something of myself, but I felt I had absolutely no control over what was going on.  I had never in my life felt so utterly hopeless and helpless!  Since I had never witnessed anyone else struggling with a similar situation, I came to believe that no one could possibly understand what I was going through.  I had no one to turn to that I believed would be able to help me.

Have you ever been paralyzed with fear to the extent that you felt absolutely trapped? and by something that even you found totally silly and ridiculous in nature?  How I wish I had understood then what I know of God today!  How I wish I had known how much He cared for me then as I know now! If only I had understood how much He has always loved me.

"There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one that fears is not made perfect in love." 1 John 4. 18 NIV.

Little did I realize, God was putting a plan together that would forever alter my life.  But that wouldn't happen... at least, not for a while yet.

My Life As It Is...  Part II.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Where To Start.... "

I never thought I would find myself doing this, but as in all things, life has a way of changing when you least expect it.  The thought came to me just a few days ago that sharing my personal life experience with people that have been important to me might somehow be worth something and, might I say, might even benefit someone somehow.  I don't imagine that I am unique or that my experience is special in any sense of the word, but it struck me that I have never shared my journey with the people I most care about.  So, here goes!  Take it for what it's worth.

I had no idea what I was about to get into.  All I wanted was to pick up a baby carriage.  Frank and Janet were in the process of moving to Woodland Park Foundation, a self-supporting institution just outside South River, Ontario.  They had just recently become Seventh-day Adventists and were entering an adventure like no other.  Of course, they were somewhat oblivious as to what the future held for them, as we were with our own.  When I arrived in their home, we engaged in a conversation that soon led to the subject of religion and the Bible's predictions of what to expect for the future.  I had always been very uncomfortable with the new direction their life had taken, but for some strange reason, I ventured to ask them questions.  Remember that all I had wanted was a baby carriage they promised they would sell me.  Two hours later, I left with my purchase and more questions than my poor little head could handle.

When I got home, I brought the carriage in the house with me, and I could see that Janice was somewhat perturbed at the length of my absence.  We sat in the living room together and I told her of my visit with Frank and Janet.  I told her that for two hours, I asked them questions on the Bible and what it contained, and for two hours they told me things that just blew me away.  I remember saying to Janice: "How is it, that we believe we belong to the only true Christian church and yet, live as if God, who supposedly created us, hardly has so much as a passing thought in our minds?  We claimed to have the truth, yet knew nothing concerning what our own church considered to be God's Holy Book?  Frank and Janet knew more about the Bible in the short time that they had been studying then we had learned in our entire lives.Why is it that we had the truth, yet lived so carelessly in so many ways.  We smoked, we got tipsy with alcohol, we thought nothing of using foul language, tell dirty jokes, indulged in sexual innuendo, etc., etc., etc.  Here Frank and Janet were getting involved in some strange religion that couldn't possibly be of God, yet they spoke fondly of Him constantly.  They cleaned up their lives, they knew the Scriptures, and they never seemed so happy.  Yet, we somehow comforted ourselves with the assumption that we had the truth!"  All of a sudden, life didn't make sense anymore and I knew that something had to change.

Now, what happened next wasn't so pretty.  Janice wasn't ready for this, as I am sure I wouldn't have been either had our roles been turned around.  Let's face it, it scared her out of her mind, and she went on the defensive!  Quite frankly, I don't remember all the details of our fight, but somehow in the end, we were able to calm down and talk things through.  We agreed that we would start reading the Bible together, just so we'd be able to know for ourselves what it really said.

And so, began an experience that forever altered the course of our lives.  Do we regret it? absolutely not!  If I were to sum it up in one small phrase, it is this: We discovered that God had set us up for an encounter with Him that we never knew could exist or was even possible for humans to have!  And all this, not via some strange New Age experience or by nebulous experiences produced by some ecstatic emotion, but through an instrument that had been under our noses our entire lives... the Holy Bible.  And so, from this simple beginning, our journey began.

    "Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us,..."  Ephesians 3:20.

Now you have My Life As It Is... Part I.