Last week we started the story of redemption on my mom’s side of the family. I shared how my grandparents gave their lives to Christ when they were young, but their hearts became hard when they saw the hypocrisy of many Christians around them. We left off in 1945, the year of my Grandparents’ wedding. Today we continue, jumping forward to the early ’60s. I’m writing in the first person as my mom speaking. She calls her parent’s “Grandma” and “Grandpa” when she tells us about them.
Scripture says that there’s a “veil” that covers the minds of unbelievers to keep them from seeing Christ. It’s interesting hearing my mom’s experience of how that veil was removed because it reminds me so much of my experience when it felt like heaven opened over me and joy and peace descended on me.
The Lutheran Church
Grandma rededicated her life to the Lord in the early ’60s, not long before Pugly Bear died on New Year’s Eve, 1963. She told me that if she hadn’t turned to Christ, she would have never been able to handle his death. (Pugly Bear was my mom’s younger brother who died in a tragic accident as a toddler.)
Grandma felt bad that Pugly Bear died without having been baptized, so she took all us kids to the Lutheran church to be baptized.
Grandpa dropped us kids off with Grandma at the church and then he picked us up after. Grandma tried to get him to stay, but the pastor’s jokes about drunks really turned him off. Alcoholism was a secret struggle and a point of pain for Grandpa.
Grandma bought a set of Bible story books from a traveling salesman when I was 5 or 6 years old, so I started reading the Bible and Bible stories at a young age.
Leighton Ford And The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association
Grandma and Grandpa listened to Billy Graham and George Beverly Shea on the radio every Sunday night. Grandpa loved hearing George Beverly Shea sing. The Shea’s were family friends. Grandpa had gone to school with some of George’s younger brothers, and George’s parents gave Grandma and Grandpa linoleum for their kitchen as a wedding present. Grandpa was really cynical about church, but he liked Billy Graham. He also watched “This Is The Life,” a TV program by the Lutheran Layman’s League. It featured dramatized stories of struggling people turning to Christ.
My brother Burt was a big bully. He used to imitate Billy Graham’s voice. I was never sure if he was mocking Billy or just trying to be funny. However, books such as “The Power Of Positive Thinking” by Norman Vincent Peale sparked his interest in Christianity. He soon gave his life to Christ.
Leighton Ford, an associate minister with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, preached in Rochester in 1972. I was 12 years old. I went with my brothers Burt, Art, and Noel. I went down with Art and Noel when they gave the call to come for salvation. To us it was the “thing you’re supposed to do.” I think Burt had already given his life to Christ before the crusade, but I’m not sure.
The crusade worker prayed with me and gave me a “decision card” that I could sign and date. I prayed but I didn’t sign it, because grandma had always told me “Never sign something unless you’re sure, and be careful to read the fine print.” I knew the Bible stories. I prayed and read the Bible, but I also thought “How do I know there’s really a God? Prove it. How do I know that Islam isn’t the right religion, or Hare Krishna, or that the world evolved and there is no Creator?” It was the time of the hippie movement, and these questions were becoming common in that era.
After Burt gave his life to Christ he would throw his fists up in the air and shout “Joy! I’ve got joy!” He and Art were always giving out gospel tracts and had loads of Jesus paraphernalia like Christian button pins.
God Is Real!
Later that summer I was in the side yard with a neighbor, trying to hit a ball. I felt so frustrated because I was missing every time. Then someone came up and said there was a phone call for me. I thought “For me? Who could it be? I never get phone calls.”
It was the counselor from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. She asked how I was doing, talked a little, and then prayed a blessing over me.
I went outside and something had changed. Everything was different. It seemed like the sun was brighter and the grass was greener. I hit the ball every time.
When I left to eat I thought “Your real, God! I can feel you. Now i know.”
“Don’t Put It Off!”
A year later I decided to scrape all the wallpaper in my bedroom and paint the room. I was listening to Kathryn Kuhlman on the radio. She was a little eccentric and she started “This is Kathryn Kuuuulman…and have you been waiting for me?”
As Kathryn talked about salvation she said “Don’t put it off! Don’t put it off ’till tomorrow! Tomorrow may be too late…” I thought “Yes. Why put it off? Why should I wait to commit my life to Jesus?” I got down off the ladder and opened my Bible to Psalm 40:1-2 “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.” I prayed, got the old decision card out of my dresser, and signed and dated it “July 11th, 1973.” It was my father’s birthday.
To be continued…