Does Jesus make a difference? I suppose it depends on your relationship with him. We all have stories. Stories of family, stories of faith, even stories of joy and tragedy. In each of these stories lies a deep need to connect with something bigger than ourselves. Here is my story.
My family was typical of the 1950s. Mom and dad, three boys and a dog. My father was a Sargent in the United States Air Force. My mom was a nurse. My dad didn’t have any religious affiliation and my mom was raised in a small town Methodist Church. They were products of a religious moral society, at least on the outside. They believed in a God, in family, in their commitment to one another in marriage. They loved us boys as best they could and hoped for the rest.
My father spent most of my childhood stationed oversees, leaving my mom to cope with three rowdy boys. She went through a depression, and unlike today there were no support groups. She took her frustrations out on my oldest brother. I remember her dragging him by the hair, he hadn’t done something right. In return he took his anger out on his two younger brothers, I being the youngest.
There was always this undercurrent of anger in our home. My brothers turned to drugs, my mom to drinking, and I poured myself into materialism. There was strength in possessing what others wished they had. My brothers always came to me for money, and I could trigger their kindness or anger. When it came down to it we were all lonely people looking for something.
As a military child, who moved about every two years, the one thing we longed for and lacked were relationships with our peers. As an adult, military personel were able to form quick bonds and release them as quickly when they left. For me it was another reason to isolate myself. Why make friends if they wouldn’t last. And even the friendships I did make were shallow and self fulfilling.
After several confrontations with the law, drugs, and errant children my dad decided to retire. He wanted to spend time with the family, but it was too late. In the end he died from a heart attack, 55 years old and an alcoholic. Years before his death, mom had asked if anyone wanted to go to church with her. It was an intriguing proposition. I had toyed with mysticism, atheism, and Christianity. Since she was going, I thought. I might as well.
Over the course of a month we visited a Methodist church, Presbyterian church, and a Southern Baptist Church. They were all the same and reminded me of the military services we seldom attended. It was the Southern Baptist Church where the Youth Pastor came to visit. He was a nice man with a thick southern drawl. He invited me to attend their youth group. I politely said I would think about it.
There was no good reason for me to go. I didn’t know anyone. Christian teens at my school were weird. I had a girlfriend and my self-serving lifestyle was doing alright for me. But I went, and the girls were cute and friendly. And it was because of them that I kept going back. There was nothing special about the program. We sat in a circle and Pastor Larry taught out of the Bible. Afterward we would go get ice cream. If I was looking for a church with a lot of pizzazz, that wasn’t it.
There was something different about these kids. They genuinely loved each other, and they showed it to me. When I didn’t come I got a call. When I did come I was greeted like a prince. In this group I received something that I deeply longed for—real friends. I was starved for authentic relationships. I had a girlfriend who was already planning our wedding. But our relationship was shallow. It eventually ended.
Then one day it clicked. It was as if scales dropped from my eyes and the darkness that had blinded me was gone. I could see for the first time why my life was shaped like it was. Sin had trashed my family, and I felt it on the outside. My life was marked by my sinful attitude and lusts. I needed a savior and the father sent his son. I needed a family and God gave me the church.
I was never a terribly bad individual. Unlike my brothers I didn’t do drugs, drink, womanize, and run the tight edge of the law. In fact, when I became a Christian my behavior didn’t change that much. What changed was how I saw the world. I understood the root of my family’s dysfunction. I knew that it would never change on its own. And I knew if I didn’t get out of there I would end up like them.
So, one day I went to brother Larry’s office and asked what I needed to do to be saved. From that day on I poured my life into the church. I learned what forgiveness meant, what real love is, how to deal with anger and confess when it boiled to the surface. I have been a Jesus follower now for 43 years, married to a wonderful women, three boys who love the Lord, their wives and their children. There have been rough patches, questioning roads, winding paths, but never have I ever doubted my faith in Jesus. He changed everything for me, and I will always be eternally grateful.
Sounds likes a dream come true, but life is always about the day after “happily ever after.” Tragedy tests our faith. Four nephews and one niece all died before they were twenty-five. Drinking and drugs can take a terrible toll on people. They shatter lives and destroy families.
My youngest son developed type 1 diabetes, and that changed our lives. My glorious entrance into the church eroded as I found that people are messy, everyone needs a savior, and that the road to the Kingdom of God is fraught with dangers and pitfalls. As I get older I wrestle with health issues, aches and pains that will be with me for the rest of my life. Yet, through it all Jesus has made all the difference. Hope is powerful. Hope in an all powerful, all loving, all caring God is life changing; life sustaining. I’m just saying.
From the book, “This Changes Everything.”