Thursday, February 01, 2007

29 Years Old This Month

It's snowing today in Statesville, NC. The snow is sticking some, but not much. There are patches of slush and it can be just a little messy. I'm fighting a cold. But the precipitation has reminded me of snowier days. The blizzard of '78 in Ohio was great time to be a kid. I remember even the graders were snowed in so that school was canceled. Mom was a school teacher and I remember going with her when the teachers were called back to prepare the school to reopen. Between the drifts and the piles of snow made by the graders, the school had to be accessed initially through second-story windows.

While these memories are nice, it was actually the start of a whirlwind year and a half that marked the beginning of my life in Christ. I already touched on my failures as a young adult earlier, but I recently considered the turmoil my family went through in this short amount of time and was astonished to realize that it had never occurred to me before. It had always been to me a series of unconnected situations that I had always treated simply matter-of-factly.

The winter of the blizzard, Mom and Dad had decided to follow my aunt and her family south to North Carolina. Dad had been back home from medical school a few years, had done internship at the Brethren Home and had been working for an orthopedic surgeon in Versailles. However, he had looked and found an orthopedic surgeon to work for in Statesville, NC. While he was down there, the car came in need of repair and mom took the car to the dealer. The dealership was perhaps a mile east of home and mom walked home in the snow. As she walked, he leg began to hurt. She went to get it checked out and the doctor discovered cancer.

About this same time I had been quickened to accept Christ while listening to a preacher on the radio one evening and had asked my mom about baptism. She took me to speak with our pastor, Rev. Dearing, and I was baptized in February in our church, Cedar Grove Church of the Brethren, in the country near Palestine. That was 29 years ago, hence the title.

My aunt Wilma had come up from North Carolina to stay with mom, my brother and I while she began treatment. However, it was hard for two families to be spread out so in this situation. We had planned to move after the school year, but now needed to move earlier. We moved into Wilma's basement in Lexington, NC and into a new culture. The people in North Carolina were - and are - wonderful. The scope and sequence of school curriculum was a year or two behind that of Ohio. I was already a top student, so school was nothing. I focused on learning the culture instead. We also started attending my Aunt and Uncle's church in Lenoir, the Church of God of Resurrection Hope. At my Aunt's house, I slept in a roll-away next to the sump pump. I still remember looking across the basement at where my mom slept and seeing her remover her wig before she went to bed. She would never grow hair again.

That summer, my Aunt's family and my family bought a house in Statesville big enough for all of us. Some of the members of our church in Ohio built a massive trailer and brought all of our stuff from the house in Ohio. We enrolled in yet another school that fall. Not long after school started, on a Saturday morning, Mom was taken home. We had a viewing here in Statesville and took her back to Ohio to be buried at our church there.

With medical bills piled up and a bad sale of the house in Ohio, we were not well financially. I thought nothing of it because we had been on a shoestring budget before when Dad was in medical school. However, I remember growing out of my clothes and wearing high-waters with patches and holes to school. Mom had made clothes for us before. At school, most of the kids were kind enough, but some were not. I also learned what racism was. I had no idea before. Greenville, Ohio, at the time was racially homogeneous at the time and I had never met anyone who wasn't Caucasian. However, I knew there were people who were not. One of my favorite cartoons was Fat Albert. In Lexington, most of my teachers were of African heritage and all the kids got along well with each other. The only problem I had was with a white bully who picked on me just because I was the new kid. Even in Statesville, I had friends that were white and black both and didn't think anything of it. Some of the kids were wealthier and they ignored me, which didn't really bother me. However, the one instance I learned about racism was when one silly black kid asked where I was from.

"Ohio," I replied.
"Hawaii!?! You ain't from Hawaii! You're Puerto Rican and I'm gonna beat you up!"
"No. I said 'Ohio', not 'Hawaii'."
"I don't care. You're Puerto Rican! Meet me in the cemetery after school so I can beat you up."

Well, I didn't show up. I didn't want to fight him. He called me a coward later, but never pursued it. I'm not Hispanic, but I am a mostly-Caucasian mutt. There's only one race anyway - the human race. I had a crush on one of the rich girls for a time, but ended up good friends with this sweet black girl named Carla who I sat with in math class and sang with in the glee club.

My dad had his own romantic inclinations. Not a few weeks after mom died, he started dating. He would bring his dates to meet us. He ended up dating my future step-mom who was going through a divorce. (She wasn't unkind to her ex-husband and we even took up with him some. He died indigent from health problems a few years ago and my dad and step-mom had an open-door policy with him. He gave my wife and I a coffee maker for our wedding that we still use today.) They didn't marry right away and we moved into her apartment with her and her son, who was only a few months younger than I. After the school year, my Dad's boss bought a house that he rented to us and we moved yet again - and changed schools yet again - and changed churches yet again. We joined my step-mom's church, St. John's Lutheran Church in Statesville.

So, the tally in one and a half years: One birth (my spiritual one), one death (my mom), four moves, four school changes and two denominational changes. A mess. Like the weather. Actually, it's starting to melt - and raining a bit. The forecast is for it to freeze. We'll see. The snow eventually melted from the blizzard and the events of that year and a half stabilized. However, the effects of both have changed who I am today.

"For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God." 2 Cor 4:15

"...always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father" Eph 5:20

"And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." Rom 8:28

My wife grew up at St. John's Lutheran Church. I was in youth with her older siblings. She was only 3 when I first saw her. Years later, after I returned from the marines, we fell in love and were married at St. John's. My parents are still members there. My wife's parents are still members there. Had it not been for all the turmoil of 1978-79, I wouldn't have the wonderful family I have today. I tell my kids about the grandma they will never meet on this side of eternity and consider that they wouldn't be here if she hadn't died.

My wife and I have moved on to a church that has a system and practice of theology we agree with and through which we can minister. I still fill in as the minister of music at the early service at St. John's on occasion. However, because of the experiences of that one and a half year period I have not been constrained to allow ecclesiastical distinctions to cloud my theology.

The snow is all but gone. Such is winter weather in the south. God is good. And 29 years later, I can declare that He is faithful to fulfill all that He has promised. He has formed me, melted me and used me in the crucible of this fallen world, and He continues to do so even today.


But I still have a cold. I hope I can sing Sunday.

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