This Is The Story Of Grace, Part 1

Knock! Knock!

The sound of knuckles hitting our door interrupted our Saturday morning routine. I was watching cartoons and my Mom and Dad were just getting up. I don’t remember how long they’d been up, but they were just shaking off the fuzziness of Friday night.

We lived in what we lovingly refer to as the “little blue shack” at this point in an area of Atlanta called Brookhaven.

The home had been condemned the year before we moved in, and we did not have AC or heat. However, my mom remembers this little meager home as a blessing during this time of our life. The rent was $75 per month.

I remember that this little home shook as my dad walked, and when I slept, I could hear the crickets outside as if they were in my room. In the summer, every window was propped open with box fans to keep it cool. Like you probably did, I used to enjoy talking into these fans because it made my voice sound funny.

The knock at the door was two men from the local Baptist church visiting our home for the bus ministry. 

I remember this day well because it started a new stage of our family’s life.

My parents were good people, but looking back with the benefit of hindsight, they seemed to be wandering. Up to this point, I don’t remember ever going to church. My dad drank a lot, and I even remember drugs around the house.

My dad was a big man. He served for several years in the Air Force and spent a year in Thailand as a mechanic during the Vietnam War. Like so many that came home from the war, he wandered looking for purpose after getting out.
He loved Harley’s and I remembered his Harley being in pieces many times on the floor in our living room. My dad also had a long red beard, long hair, and tattoos up and down his arms—some he put on himself and others he paid to have drawn. He had an imposing presence, and I imagine the two men visiting our home were taken aback when he entered the room.
That was the first time we met Mr. Wheeler. He overwhelmed my mom and dad with kindness. They invited him in, and I remember that for a few moments Mr. Wheeler—who was in a suit and tie—talked to my parents. Then, he directed his attention to me. He started pulling out little toys and trinkets. He gave me one and then told me that the other toys were prizes for coming on the church bus.

That was why I first got on the church bus. I know it’s superficial, but I was about 8-years old. I wanted those toys.

I also remember that it was these toys and prizes that first motivated me to invite my parents to come to church.

My parents grew up in the South, and like most everyone else, they were born to Christian parents. I am sure they went to church when they were younger. But, up to this point, I don’t remember ever going to church as a family.

I’d been attending for about two months, courtesy of the bus ministry, when I started leaning on my parents to come.They finally gave in!I remember waiting inside the sanctuary anxiously watching the main door for them.

That morning, I came early on the bus for Sunday school, and my parents promised to meet me at the church service.

And, they did!

When they arrived, my dad was wearing a long-sleeve shirt to cover his tattoos. He wore his best shirt, and my mom wore her best dress. I was ecstatic!

People were so welcoming to them. After that, the pastor, Larry Stewart, started visiting our home regularly.

Pastor Stewart and Mr. Wheeler started coming by our house often, and I remember clearly that the pastor took a special interest in my dad. I don’t remember the details, but eventually, my dad came to know the Lord. He prayed the sinners’ prayer and was baptized, along with my mom. And, we started going to Brookhaven Baptist regularly.

I remember how my dad started to soak up the Word.

I was there with them for all of this. Like them, I was at church whenever the doors were open, but I never personally became a Christian.

Then the church was shaken-up when Pastor Stewart had a massive heart attack and died. When I think back, I’m amazed at my dad’s response as a young Christian.

My dad believed that the pastor was put there to bring him to the Lord. My dad actually verbalized this as he was coming home from Larry Stewart’s funeral, and he was so thankful they had met.

You see, by this time, my dad’s cancer had returned…

When I was 4-years old, and we were living on an Air Force Base in Oscoda, Michigan, my dad had surgery for melanoma skin cancer. I remember that after this surgery he avoided taking his shirt off because of a scar the size of a hub cap on his shoulder blade. After this surgery, the doctors declared the cancer in remission. But now, it had returned and spread to his head.

After a year, the cancer took my dad in October. 1982. I was 10-years old, and this moment had a rippling impact on my life that still affects me even today.

Honestly, I think it still marks the way I interact with men, and even effects my openness to people getting to know me.

It was a painful time. I remember watching my dad lose his long, thick hair from the chemo, and grow very thin. I remember him singing hymns in his bedroom in the little blue shack because he felt horrible from chemo. He couldn’t get up out of bed, but he was still willing to sing.

And, as painful as this moment was to see, I had no idea how the Lord was going to use it 15 years later.

Because of the shock, I remember not even crying when my mom told me he died in his sleep.

I also remember my mom spending thousands of dollars on psychologists and Bible counselors because she was worried about me.

I was 10-years old and in 5th grade. At first, I was in denial and avoided the subject of my dad all together. We continued to go to Brookhaven Baptist as before, but we let go of the little blue shack, gave away the Doberman my dad loved, and moved in with my grandparents. But, we couldn’t bring ourselves to sell the Harley yet.

Most of the time, there was no problem, but after about two years my mom started to date again and things changed. I was angry and couldn’t sleep. Then the rebellion started and the innocence to melted away.

I was in middle school and this was the beginning of my troubles…

Next week, I’ll continue the story which will include how Leslie and I first met, which is definitely part of the story of my coming to the Lord.
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