Growing up in a small Iowa town, I learned of God seated nervously next to my mother in church on Sunday mornings, cringing in my seat under the animated rhetoric of a red-faced reverend essentially preaching “turn or burn!” My father used God’s name in vain countless times and so I initially thought that ‘God’ was this fearsome deity who’s only intention was to damn those who were rebellious.
I never prayed to Him as a young boy, but I saw my mother do so on many occasions, mostly when she was left alone by my alcoholic father, to raise nine children. We mostly had what we needed but when we had nothing, well, that’s when I heard His name spoken, with crying supplication. This was a turning point for me I think, an ‘ah ha’ moment if you will and my perception of Him changed, for the better as I saw prayers answered and needs met. A kernel of faith was planted I think, the proverbial mustard seed as it were and I am sure, that it was intended that way, to hasten my spiritual growth.
I remember the first time I prayed to Him, as a young man on my own, it was in the military. I was deployed overseas in Korea and had received a Red Cross message one autumn day informing that my father had been admitted to a hospital with severe heart trouble and that he was to undergo surgery very soon. I remember taking a moment by myself in the barracks to soul search. I recalled the hardship he caused us as children, the abuse my saintly mother took. I calmly and plainly asked God to help me to forgive because I knew my flesh could not.
I saw my father; he came through the surgery a little worse for wear. I could see the fear in his eyes, tears reflecting years of regret and in a bold moment, I forgave him. I left him a week later, said goodbye from a taxi as he waved from a wheelchair under the awning in front of that hospital. A few months later I received another Red Cross message but this time it informed of a, ‘death in the family’ and I remember how I whispered under my breath, “Oh God.” My father was found on the floor of his hospital room, he had passed away in the middle of the night from complications, they said.
His funeral was attended by many; relatives I had never known and his own mother who had practically disowned him decades ago. I was touched by the outpouring of genuine sentiments, I did not ask why, I did not question God’s motives, and I had no ill feelings. And so with the faith of Job, I accepted that life changing event. To this day I am convinced that this was the spiritual impetus that shoved me forward, one of many circumstances that drew me closer to Him, to my God.