My story (the importance of the early years)
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. 1 Peter 3:15
Over the years, I have been asked to share my “testimony” (my journey of faith, God’s story in my life) on many occasions for many different audiences. Each time, as I prepare, I give consideration to the venue – is it a church on a Sunday morning or a coffee shop? I also think carefully about the audience – will I be preaching to the choir, so to speak, or will I be talking to non-believers? Finally, I have to consider time constraints – do I have one written paragraph to tell of God’s good works in my life or an hour to speak about it? One thing I have discovered is that the Lord reveals different things to me about my story every time I tell it. And in so doing, I grow to better understand what He’s up to.
Over the next few posts, I’ll give you the 15-minute version of God’s activities in my life.
The foundation of my upbringing was loving parents. This was critical since my youth could be tumultuous at times. My parents divorced when I was young and my brother and I moved a couple hours away not too long after. We lived with my mother during the week and weekends with my father. By no fault of their own, Mom’s house was all schoolwork and chores while Dad’s house was fun and pizza and movies. As a kid I didn’t recognize that this was simply because of the timing of where we were staying. To me, it felt like Dad was the fun one and Mom was the spoilsport.
Although we heard about God on occasion from Mom, we didn’t attend church regularly and received no real spiritual training. Church was where you went at Christmas and Easter, and God was the name you invoked when life was a burden. Rules of morality – lying, stealing, watching rated R movies – were handed down as an arbitrary list of restrictions. Christianity, as far as I could tell, was about not breaking the rules and angering God, who was just looking for a reason to squash me.
As a single mother trying to raise two adolescent boys in New York, she did the best she could. She worked full time at a steel plant to keep food on the table and shoes on our feet. But eventually, my father, who had a solid career and a stable new family, wanted to take a crack at raising us boys.
By the time we moved in with him, Dad had a new wife, a step-daughter, and a sweet new baby girl. I was in middle school and my brother was in high school, and finding our places in this new, young family wasn’t easy. Picture the six of us sharing a house, the kids ranging in ages from 1 year to 14 years old, practically strangers, and the adults, practically newlyweds themselves. It was a recipe for trouble. And we found plenty of it.
One of the best things to come from that move from Mom’s home to Dad’s, however, was the opportunity to attend Catholic school (McQuaid Jesuit High School, the same school as Charlie Lowell and Matt Odmark from Jars of Clay). Despite not being Catholic, we were given the best education possible in the region, setting us up for success later in life in so many ways. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for that.
But two regrets I have from my Catholic school days. First, McQuaid is an all-boys school, so I never learned how to interact with members of the opposite sex. I fumbled through my dating years and my wife will tell you that I can still be an obtuse ninny at times. Sorry Honey, I blame the Jesuits. (Sorry Father Joe, you can just blame me.)
My other regret is not learning more about the Bible or what it meant to follow Christ. I took theology classes every year, but I think the assumption was that we were all being raised attending mass and going through confirmation and so on, and that the basics of the Christian faith were obvious. But they weren’t, not to me. I came away with a vague notion of a God who expected something from me. But that was about it.
Within a couple of years, the friction between the two halves of this blended family became too much for my brother and he moved out, living with other families and friends until he could graduate from high school and join the Navy.
By the time I finished high school, two years after my brother had left for the Navy, our blended family had dissolved and the only people that remained besides me were my father and 4-year-old half-sister, Aimee. But now it was my turn to move away. I think she’s still feeling the sting of all of us leaving her within a couple years’ timespan. It wasn’t your fault, Aimee.
Take-home point: Each of us has a story to tell.
Take-home verse: 1 Peter 3:15
Questions for thought
How did your childhood impact your faith for better or for worse?
Are you able to recall a time when you did not know or believe in God?
How did the Lord take you from where you were spiritually in your youth to where you are today?
Heavenly Father, you alone are holy. You alone are perfect and you alone are good. But your plans for us include drawing us nearer to you with each passing year. You have been calling to each of us since our youth. May we hear your calling on our lives today. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit amen.