Chapter 2 – The Beginning: Part Deux
It was a late wintery night in January, my junior year in high school. It was your typical run of the mill evening. My older brother was away to college the preceding fall so it was quite a bit quieter in the house. My younger brother then moved down the hall so we both had our own bedrooms. On this seemingly ordinary evening, things unseen were working through my head. First a little back story.
The previous summer I had my first girlfriend. Being your typical high school boy my desires were less than noble. Our infatuation started that May. I’d always been overly nervous around good looking girls, and when I had heard that the girl that I was interested was also interested in me, I did the only manly thing and had a friend ask her out for me. I know…Casanova! Corrine’s mother and father were quite a bit stricter than my parents. The beginning of the summer was a summer filled with rainbows and blooming flowers as we shared our first kiss, went to romantic movies, and learned so much about each other. As young teenagers our passions raged for each other. It was a passion that paralleled Romeo and Juliet or the young couple in the Song of Solomon. Physically we became closer and closer. Our love seemed to be blossoming at an exponential rate, until Corrine put the brakes on. If it weren’t for Corrine’s foundational moral compass, we would have spiraled into actions and outcomes that we were nowhere near mature enough to handle. In a nice, well written, honest letter, Corrine explained to me that she wasn’t comfortable where we were at and what we were doing. She didn’t break it off then, but being the mature and honest man that I was, I did what every teenage dog would do, I quit talking to her.
After Corrine broke up with me I felt like a new man. I had braved the girlfriend world and was now wiser and more attuned to the world of women. I went to more parties and hung out with more friends. I started drinking at the ripe old age of 16. It wasn’t that I really cared for the taste of it, but rather it was what the people I was hanging out with were doing, and therefore I thought it’d be fun. And it WAS fun. We’d go out, I’d get plowed, crawl home after my folks were in bed and then start it all over again next week. In Rural America it seems easy to binge drink for teens. There’s usually someone that willing to buy for teens and there’s nothing else to do. So what did we do? We drank. I had some friends that were into the drug scene, it wasn’t for me. About the time that the fall semester was wrapping up during my junior year, I decided I should start looking at colleges.
My brother was attending a private university in the Twin Cities. I decided to take a “college tour” to where my brother was attending. The silly thing was that my school’s college counselor knew I wasn’t going to visit the college, but as long as I did the college tour and looked at the school she couldn’t do anything. My birthday conveniently landed close to a weekend that year, so that’s when I decided to go visit.
After the college tour was over, and well after I knew that I wasn’t going to attend the college, my brother decided it was time we went out to some parties. It was a Friday night in the big city, it was time to party.
Through some strange sort of coincidence, we managed to hit each party we went to well after everybody had finished all the spirits at the particular venues. We hopped from place to place, all of which were out of any sort of brew. We had a good time, don’t get me wrong, but we were more sober than we were anticipating.
Now I’ve always been somewhat of a people watcher. The only thing I ever enjoy in a mall is sitting on the benches and watching the people walk by, watching the people interact with each other, and just trying to see everything that everybody’s too busy to notice. What I noticed at all of the parties that my brother and I went to were the vast majority of people that were severely intoxicated. Not only that, but they didn’t seem to be having a good time at all. That and the people that were passed out on the couches with vomit dripping from their mouths and piles on the floor. Now I’ve had my fair share of flu bugs, and I can tell you one of the least fun things in this world is throwing up. But yet it seemed to be a common outcome at all of the parties.
Some serious decisions were made after that birthday weekend. The three hour drive home allowed me to think through the weekend’s events. The conclusion that I came to from that weekend is that drinking and partying are not worth it. I made the decision that partying isn’t what I wanted. It wasn’t worth it. I had been drunk before, I had been hung-over before, and I decided that I didn’t want that anymore. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.
My best friend grew up a block away from me. His name is Brian. We were in the same grade and his mom ran an in-home daycare, so he had all the coolest toys. Growing up we’d spend pretty much every free moment together riding bikes, playing baseball, or starting things on fire. His dad would take him across the Minnesota/South Dakota border to buy some fireworks that Brian would then sell to me. We’d spend full days blowing up little green army men and shooting off sparkling fountains in his sandbox. When his mom was busy with the kids inside and his dad was at work we’d sneak some of the lawnmower’s gas and make the sandbox a flaming hell for those army men. In larger cities I’m sure the Fire Department would have been called many times over. But we grew up in a small town that has a volunteer fire department. It’s not that we were any safer, but people in our town had bigger things to worry about. Like who was in church on Sunday and who wasn’t at the café for coffee last week.
Brian is the youngest of three boys in his family. His older brothers are twins so he’d always play the tag-a-long and also the peace maker. In high school, Brian had dealt with the death of a really close uncle. Through it all his faith came alive. Through the turbulence and with an ever vigilantly praying godmother, Brian came through the loss with a new faith and a new outlook on life. It was a faith that was so palpable that it eventually spread through his whole family and even his friends.
Returning to that January night, lying in bed. The girl thing didn’t work out for me. I was way too nervous around them. The drinking and partying thing didn’t work out. Its funny how little you enjoy something when throwing up is the goal. That’s probably why I was never bulimic too. Add in my best friend’s faith that he wasn’t shy to share. All that together leads a guy to do some serious thinking. I have dabbled and tested the things of this world and they all seemed to disappoint. It was that night and largely because of Brian that I decided to make my faith real. Don’t get me wrong, I was a church going kid growing up. My mom and dad had us in church every weekend. There was no reason aside from sickness or death that would allow us to stay home. And even sickness was iffy.
One Sunday morning when I was just old enough to stay home alone I was feeling sick. It was more than likely just the regular morning yuck, but I was for sure not feeling good. I told my mom I wasn’t feeling good and she said I could stay home from church. My family all sang in the choir; so on a normal Sunday morning we’d have to be there at 8:30 for 10am church. So I stayed home and slept in. About 9:30 or so I woke up and was feeling quite a bit better. So I decided that staying in bed would just waste some daylight and decided to get up. It’s really boring on a Sunday morning when everyone’s at church and there’s nothing but televised church services on the TV. So I decided that a game or two of football on our Sega Genesis would help pass the time.
It wasn’t until that January evening that I had given serious thought to faith and Jesus. I had gone through the motions like so many before me and so many after. But that night, lying in bed I knew I wanted something real, something lasting. What I found was God. Only after tasting everything that life had to offer me at that time did I finally find something worth holding onto. And isn’t that just how it is? It seems to take us years and years to finally acknowledge our faith. Even those of us that grow up in the church have a hard time believing. I think it’s almost harder for us that grew up in the church to have a real faith. It’s all so familiar to us and has never really required anything of us accept being in attendance on Sunday mornings. But true faith requires more than that. Real faith requires us to put away the things of the past. True faith asks us to make Jesus a priority. True faith invites us into relationship. I think maybe that’s why so many people are afraid of becoming a Christian. It has nothing to do with the church that they see; rather it has everything to do with what they don’t want to give up. In all reality, Jesus doesn’t require us to give up anything. Generally speaking we don’t forfeit any one thing. When it comes to girls, I’m married now to Corrine. When it comes to drinking, some of the best times I’ve had are with my favorite brew with family and friends. The key is that Jesus asks us to quit trying to find fulfillment in these things. Quit trying to become complete through these things. Before, I was trying to find meaning in life by having fun. When I finally embraced the partying lifestyle I found it didn’t have much to offer.
I think this is the true meaning of the gospel and the salvation that comes with it. I’m not sure if we’ll find complete fulfillment on this side of heaven. But we can get a glimpse of peace and fulfillment with our relationship with Christ. This doesn’t mean that if we accept Christ, all things will be fine and dandy. I think it’s rather the opposite. When we finally take a stand and say, “Jesus, I know you love me, I know you died for me, please help me learn to love you,” that’s when the enemy will try the hardest to intercede. The easiest time to uproot a tree is when it’s small and the roots are shallow. Isn’t it the same with faith? But it’s the people that we surround ourselves with that are going to make the difference. No wonder “Love your neighbor” is so important in the Bible. It wasn’t only by my effort that I was there that January night. It was because of the people that were praying for me, it was because of Brian, it was because of my parents’ efforts to get me to church. It was because of these people and many others and a large dose of the power of God that I was in my bed that night contemplating eternity and faith.