Years ago, Helen Hatcher, an 89-year-old missionary to Portugal & Brazil wrote this phrase in my Bible, “God often writes straight with crooked lines”. She followed with Jeremiah 29:10-14: “He knows the plans He has for you, plans to bless you, plans to bring you prosperity and not a disaster, and plans to bring about the future you hope for….”
Her words were prophetic in that my path in life has taken some unusual twists the last 25 years. I have encountered many blessings and as He had promised, He was always present during good times and bad.
The blueprint for my life began in a small factory town of 22,000 people in Northeastern Ohio. Massillon was known for two things, some said "two factories", Republic Steel and a high school football program that was a football factory, producing 22 mythical national scholastic football championships.
The Massillon Tigers & their rival, the Canton McKinley Bulldogs, became a feeder system for such schools as Ohio State, Michigan, and Notre Dame. We played in the shadows where Jim Thorpe, Paul Brown and numerous future All-Americans and Heisman nominees competed every fall.
I had the privilege of playing at Fawcett Stadium (After 76 years it was recently renamed Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium), annual host of NFL’s ‘Hall of Fame’ game. As a youngster, I recall going weekly to the "Big Game" where many of my high school idols would years later become collegiate and professional stars.
There were a lot of wonderful memories of things we did and places we went as a family but unfortunately, what I most vividly recall were countless memories of a very demanding father, who was a perfectionist, filled with rage and a need to always be in control. The heart, mind and soul of my mother, sister and I took more beatings than a punching bag, during a "Heavyweight Champion's" workout in the gym.
Most of my memories of my father were NOT good ones. He was never pleased with my performance. No matter how hard I tried or whatever I accomplished, it was NEVER QUITE good enough! He tended to lose his temper a lot and him never quite understood how to love us in the manner we desired.
One summer I attended a local church's Vacation Bible School. A common experience for a lot of children but for someone whose parents had NO spiritual upbringing and one whose father would later become an atheist, it was quite an undertaking. There were many positive things I recall about VBS but the most memorable occurred when I was given a Bible, in which someone had marked ONE PARTICULAR PASSAGE with a bright yellow highlighter.
Whenever there was turmoil in my home, which was quite often, I felt compelled as a youngster to pick up my Bible and leaf through the pages until I found that highlighted passage, which was Matthew 6:33 ---
I found comfort in THE ABOVE VERSE though it was years before I put it in action.
My father's career success led to a continually upgraded lifestyle, consisting of bigger and more luxurious homes, more property, and more and more toys for him and us. A product of an extremely dysfunctional childhood himself, it was a wonder he achieved as much as he did in his life!
At the same time, there NEVER seemed to be a day where there was not some form of turbulence in our home - yelling, screaming, swearing, plates being thrown, threats, abuse and so on. To this day I still gobble down my food in a matter of moments because I wanted to leave the table as quickly as possible, to avoid another confrontation - there was always -something to argue about!
The hardest part of this was not only done it affect my parent's marriage but my sister and me personally. In my case I felt like I was " TRAPPED ” inside a glass bottle, EVERYTHING, I did was visible to others, EVERYTHING.
At every sporting event I participated in I could hear THE VOICE OF MY FATHER. Every report card was scrutinized - even if I made the honor roll, it still was never quite good enough. Eventually, his discontent turned to anger, and then his anger turned to violence. My mother, sister and I lived in constant fear of “What would he be like tonight?”
Again, the extent of my spirituality during my childhood could be described as “non–existent”. Church attendance was very rare (if we attended an Easter service bi-annually, we were doing very well). I could count on one hand, the number of times I attended Sunday school in ten years. I recall attending 3 worship services as a child that made me feel good but raised a lot of questions in my little mind.
When the Catholics spoke of Holy Water as you entered the sanctuary, I wasn’t sure if I should drink it or sprinkle it on my forehead, so I did both. I remember being very moved in my young heart when singing the hymn, Holy, Holy, Holy during a Lutheran service but disappointed when I saw a mother grab her young child and shake him in the parking lot.
My 3rd experience was equally confusing. The people at the Baptist church were friendly and seemed happy but I could never hear what the preacher was saying because they kept shouting, "Amen, Brother". Although just a small tyke, it seemed to me that a lot of churches were not "scratching” where people like my family were “itching"! Needless to say, I never got a blue star for perfect attendance at church during those years.
As my teenage years quickly approached, the highway I would travel leading to adulthood would contain numerous curves, a lot of speed bumps, several pot holes, and some unexpected detours. My life was definitely heading off course, soon and very soon. Figuratively speaking, I had my foot on the accelerator, traveling at a high rate of speed through my adolescent years, with no idea of where I was going. Little did I realize that I would soon be involved (literally and figuratively) in a head-on collision, which was lurking around life’s next corner?
LIKE MOST TEENAGERS THEN & NOW, I GOT MY IDENTITY FROM THE FOLLOWING:
- WHAT I DID
- WHAT I HAD
- WHO I HUNG OUT WITH
- WHAT I LOOKED LIKE
Northeastern Ohio, as previously mentioned, was a mecca for high school football. I got my identity by " WHAT I DID " - playing in stadiums with seating capacities as high as 20,000+ fans.
Since my father was a very successful businessman, our lifestyle was affluent. Our recreation room had a full-service bar, shuffleboard court, piano, bowling alley, ping pong and pool table. We owned three pieces of prime real estate. When judged on " WHAT I HAD ", it was impressive. We lived in a beautiful home, in the right neighborhood and as a teenager I was driving a hot looking, super-fast, and brand new, luxury convertible.
Obviously, "What I Had" was appealing to the type of girls I wanted to date and allowed me to hang out with a popular crowd (jocks, cheerleaders, majorettes, hoods and class officers). " WHO I HUNG OUT WITH " was important because it either enhanced one’s self-image or ruined it.
The final measurement was how good looking the guy or girl you were with that night appeared or simply stated “ WHAT I LOOKED lIKE ". Those four measuring sticks made up the superficial environment that I and most teens (and adults) lived by and still do.
The final ‘ Status Symbol ’ was one’s accessibility to Alcohol & Drugs. To see and be seen at a party where nearly everyone was cutting loose made you special, REALLY SPECIAL. Unfortunately, I never realized at that time, that what was considered cool on a Saturday night was an embarrassment on a Monday morning.
My life came crashing down faster than a row of dominoes bumped by a frolicking puppy. A series of setbacks soon followed which destroyed my self-worth. I experienced 3 consecutive wake-up calls during this time in my life.
My 1st Wake-Up Call was when I was involved in a car wreck totaling my brand new shiny convertible with five of my buddies along for a ride. Even worse, I severely injured another man. I had caused him to crash into a telephone pole, nearly killing him. It resulted in a gigantic lawsuit. I received the media recognition I was craving but for the wrong reasons.
The 2nd Wake-Up Call occurred weeks later when a friend of mine, Dee Dee Marsaconi was found dead on her apartment floor in a puddle of blood and alcohol!
The 3rd Incident occurred when several of my classmates were involved in a drunken brawl involving alcohol and a switchblade at a party, which I and several of my fellow football teammates, had crashed. This horrible but memorable evening concluded with hundreds of students scurrying to flee arrest. All of the above, occurring in an affluent, and normally tranquil neighborhood.
Our Major Concern Was To Keep Our Names Out Of Tomorrows’ Paper. Moments before the above took place, I had witnessed two of my fellow teammates get in a fight with a 24-year-old dropout (who had bought several bottles of booze but kept more money than he should have, which resulted in a heated discussion) pulled out a switchblade and started swinging it.
One of my teammates tackled him and pinned him to the ground while another proceeded to kick open his skull until a mixture of blood and a green substance came gushing out. That night I witnessed the depravity of sin, what mankind is capable of doing to one another. I never said one word, during the next two hours, as we drove aimlessly around town, before heading home for the night.
The Above Incidents & Others Led To My Pursuing The Only Option Available, To My Way Of Thinking At The Time, Was To End My life. As I saw it, there was no hope or purpose for me to live. Life was empty. I was empty. The people I hung with were empty. My family, my friends and their friends all seemed to be living lives that seemed useless. As I looked around me, I saw no one whose life was worth imitating.
I saw people spending lots of money, to purchase things - they did not need only to impress people they did not like. I did not want to chase that elusive dream, so I did the only reasonable thing I could think of at the time. I attempted to end my life. After a failed attempt at suicide, I felt angry, bitter, confused and disillusioned. I had failed at life’s greatest failure; I could not even succeed at suicide.
WHY WOULD I WANT TO LIVE? I TRULY BELIEVED LIFE HAD NO PURPOSE OR MEANING!
Months later, I attended a Fellowship of Christian Athlete’s summer camp at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, where a QB from the Chicago Bears shared how I could have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Our conversation lasted from 10:00 pm till the wee hours of the morning. My life began to change in many ways as a result of hearing about Jesus’ love for ME!!!!
I Now Had A Purpose In life, as spoken about in John 10:10; Acts 1:8; Acts 18:24-25. I had found my calling in life (I Timothy 4:11-16) which was to tell others that the Son of God loved “THEM” and had a wonderful plan for their life.
You’d think my life got better, right? I felt better than I ever had in life but the circumstances in my life did not get better, they got worse! My struggles went from difficult to impossible but now I had somebody who promised He’d never leave, He’d always be my "Bridge over Life’s Troubled Water".
Accepting Christ Into My Heart, Antagonized My Atheist Father So Much, He Ripped My Christian literature To Shreds. Eventually, he attempted to kill me several times. Even during those moments when my life literally hung in the balance, I was able to persevere and find peace in His presence. For the first time in my life, I had found someone who loved me just as I was (like He had promised me years ago in Matthew 6:33.)
I was on top of the world UNTIL I returned home and learned from my mother and sister that my father’s harassment had now become relentless and endless. We received upwards to 50 phone calls a day, stalking & numerous death threats on a weekly basis. It was in the midst of a winter storm that he tried to break into our home. I was forced to subdue in the midst of a snowstorm ( being inadequately dressed) pinning him to the ground for nearly an hour until the police arrived. Even as I share this with you, the memories of that emotionally draining experience still send shock waves up my spine some 40 years later.
My father was arrested and taken off to jail. A judge ordered him not to see us or disturb us in any manner, but before the ink had dried on that restrictive order, he was threatening and harassing us again.
Through the years, God has walked beside me through many an overcast day and sometimes a turbulent storm. Sometimes these storms of life tested my strength and refined my character. At other times, I am embarrassed (but honest) to say that due to my foolish pride, stubbornness or even stupidity, I allowed my “old self” to say or do things I should NOT have said or done. I made decisions which either hurt myself or loved ones.
Eventually, I Came To Realize The Smartest Choice In life was to trust in His wisdom, strength, courage and guidance. Although life can be difficult at times I can honestly say my greatest joys in life have been in following and serving Him. As promised, He has “always” been present when needed.
There have been many hard times, such as life-threatening car accidents, medical emergencies where our children’s lives hung in the balance, unexpected deaths of parents and friends, long term illness, financial collapse and back to back, to back, to back, to back layoffs where our income went from being very comfortable to one in which we were barely surviving, earning the same wages of someone in an assisted living program.
During those times, He Was Always Present 24 / 7. Christ was always near to me, willing to listen to me, to protect me, to provide for me and to guide me, If Only I Would Allow Him. There were many times in life when His presence and wisdom gave me the courage, patience, and perseverance I needed to get through a difficult problem.
One thing I am absolutely certain of, through all of my personal experiences in life, is that “People Need the Lord”! Everyone - rich or poor, young or old, close or afar, Everyone Needs The Lord.
It is our privilege & responsibility to tell others about Him and to live in such a way that others “WANT what we have “, simply stated, we need to encourage them “to seek Him first and all His righteousness", because all the things we have been looking for in life, we will find in Him.
In His Love,