My Life B.C.: living the gospel & the life of worship

August 20, 2007

May 16, 1973 – I was born in a small town called Georgetown, Ohio – famous only for General & President Ulysses S. Grant and Pro basketball player, and my schoolmate, Brian Grant.

Mom’s father, Ted, was raised a Quaker but was an Atheist, I believe due to his extremely dangerous stint as a gunner in WWII, and my grandmother, Rosie, a nominal Methodist who did all of the good things Methodists do, but who didn’t have a very deep faith in God.

My Dad was a much sadder story: his mother, Clara, was from a dirt poor family – she had to drop out of school in the 3rd grade to support her sisters. And his Dad – my grandfather: well, we don’t know all that much about him. He became mentally ill shortly after my Dad’s older sister was born, and after my Dad was born he became dangerous and – for their safety – was essentially removed from their lives completely.

Let me ask you this: what sort of picture of God have you been given growing up? Did your parents believe in God, and if so, what does He ‘look’ like? What does He act like? What does He think of you?

My Mother’s faith was shaped greatly by her parents – raised in a liberal Methodist church with a heavy dose of her Father’s skepticism: God might exist, the Bible’s a nice book of morality, and it’s good to be “good” – whatever that means.

And my Father – growing up, my dad always had a saying to shut down any “serious” conversations – “in religion and politics no one is right, so there is no use talking about it.” As far as I knew at the time, he was an atheist.

My parents met on a double date – with other people. Dad was secretly flirting with Mom throughout the entire evening. They were married while my Dad was on leave from the Navy and she became a Navy wife.

The first words I heard were my mother’s; “Oh my God, he’s ugly”, as the nurse ripped me from her hands in disgust. I was long – very long – skin and bones, and a bit ‘green’, but I fattened up quick enough.

My earliest happy memories are treasures to me. I remember sitting on the couch between my parents, I was 4 – my brother was a newborn on Mom’s lap. The room was lit by candles – there was a fire in the fireplace, I believe, and “Abbey Road” by the Beatles was on the record player. To this day it is my favorite album/c.d./cassette/8-track ever recorded.

I remember eating peanut butter sandwiches and my Grandma Lewis’ house next door – and helping her pick grapes, remove peas from the pod, shuck corn, and feed the cows, and chickens. I think I spent more time with my grandmother than my own parents, and I regret not spending more time with her after I left for college.

But I also remember crying under the table over a matchbox car that was “stolen” from me after an “Indian giver” took it back from me. I often felt very alone. I guess up to this point my life seems pretty normal, generally speaking, but I was a VERY lonely child. We moved far out of town, and had few neighbors my age – if you can call a house a mile down the road a “neighbor” – we lived in the boonies! When we still lived in town my Mom said I would sit in my crib on the front porch and talk to strangers who’d walk by – I’d say, “Hello! How are you?” She’d sit inside and laugh as the people would look around with a worried expression on their face, and speed up on past the house – unable to see the child on tiptoes looking over the fenced in front porch.

And I had dreams – very bad dreams. One such dream I had over and over again until I was at least 18. In it I was running through a forest, but I felt like my feet were dragging – so slow – I couldn’t go fast enough. But the trees FLEW by me – warp speed. I was being chased by something, and it was evil. Sometimes I would stop and look around – I never saw anything, but felt like I was surround in my peripheral vision. Each stop lasted only a moment. Sometimes I turn and roar at it – a later development, I think – and scare myself aware; sitting up in bed and snarling like a monster. But usually, I would continue to run until the forest opened up into a field. There in that field would be a huge slab of stone on which stood all of the people I loved – the faces would change as I got older, I’m sure of it, but the idea was always the same. Then, as the clouds were swirling above, another huge slab of stone would fall from the sky and crush them – blood oozing from the cracks between the two slabs and I would awake. I had another which was in a dark creepy 20-30 story house – looked like my grandmothers’ in many ways but stretched in every direction – it swayed in the wind. I often found the door to her basement, but it always led to someplace nothing short of hell. I don’t even know how to describe it rationally, but pieces of the images are still in my mind and they scared me to death.

In fact, in some ways that describes much of my childhood – I lived in a dreamworld. I was convinced I’d seen ghosts, Bigfoot, Martians – the list goes on. Also, I lived in constant fear of World War III – I wrote at least 3 short stories as a child about living in the aftermath of all out nuclear war. My teachers and classmates called me “Martian” because I lived in a dream world – all day long I daydreamed. I daydreamed that the school would flood and I would save the pretty girl from the class and swim her to safety, and so on and so forth. Rarely did I respond to the first call of my name – yet I got very good grades, in spite of it. I read a lot on my own at home – mostly science books for Children: I had an entire bookshelf filled with books on dinosaurs, astronomy, and evolution. Through a combination of loneliness, anger, and so-called “science” I lost all faith in anything resembling “God” when I was 7 or 8. I vividly recall walking outside during a thunderstorm and holding a pocket-knife to the sky and demanding that God face me, and He never came.

I said, with my pocket-knife held high, “God, if you exist, come down here right now, ‘cause I’m going to kill you!” I tell you what, looking back on it, that was a bum deal – I mean, would you respond to this invitation, “Hey! Yoohoo – come on it, I’m going to kill you!” Anyway, I’m glad God didn’t show ‘cause I THINK He could have taken me…

I remember having a crush on this girl in the 3rd grade (I had a crush on her off and on until I was 18 or 19), and walking up to her at lunch to see if I could sit at her table. She, and all of the 15 or so other people at that table, laughed at me – long and hard. I just stood there, confused.

I spent most of my recesses alone – swinging and singing Beatles songs. I LOVED the Beatles. In fact, my life goal was the track down and kill John Lennon’s murderer – and be an Astronaut. It made sense to me then. I had a few people who called themselves my friends, but they were all back-stabbers, literally – continually in after-school suspension for one reason or another, but using me as a scapegoat whenever they could, getting me in trouble in their place – often leaving me baffled as to why a ‘friend’ would treat me so. I’d often been confused when disciplined – having no idea what I had done wrong. In school I also got my in own share of trouble, but that was simply for being loud – Kids would whisper something to me, but if told them to “sssh”, I was the one that got spanked – every time.

I also got beat up, picked on, and robbed – one of the three – every day on my1 hour bus ride to school. My route had almost all of the worst bullies at school.

Meanwhile, back home, I was thought of myself as a fat, ugly kid – was loudmouthed, desperate for attention, book-smart, but terribly naive, and poorly dressed. I was that kid that wiped his mouth (and nose) on his sleeve and mostly played by himself on the playground. I was terrible at most sports (I tried my hand at baseball for a year in the 3rd grade), so I just sang a lot to myself – music kept me company.

Anyway – by the 7th grade life seemed lonely and meaningless. I withdrew into my own world of music and books. I went for long walks by myself every night longing for someone to just know me. More than once I snuck out at night and walked to a cliff far back in grandma’s woods – I considered jumping, but I was afraid of what it would do to Mom, so I always came back home. I hardly got any sleep – would listen to music until the wee hours of the night, even after I had gone to bed

In the 10th grade I had to sit next to a Christian “not a nice girl” (I can’t use the word she later referred to herself as) – judgmental, holier-than-thou, and HOT. She hated me, knowing I was into all sorts of weird stuff, but over the course of the year – after reading a few of my suicidal poems for English class – which we had together immediately afterwards – she began to feel sorry for me. I listened to her complain about her boyfriend – who was a jerk – and she and I became good friends. She would sometimes ‘share’ with me during study hall, and eventually invited me to church – I said “yes”, mainly because that’s what desperate guys do when any hot girl asks us anything.

To put it mildly, that day changed my life. I entered church a devout Atheist, and left feeling pretty scared that there may, in fact, be a God, and that if there were that He wasn’t likely all that happy with my current state. It was like this; imagine having all of these doubts, angry questions, and issues that you wanted to take up with God – writing them ALL down (at least all the biggest ones), giving them to the pastor as you walk into the building, and requesting that he address ALL OF THEM. Well imagine THINKING about doing that, but NOT doing it, and yet STILL the pastor addresses ALL OF THEM. That was VERY weird, and put – literally – the fear of God in me!

I was also surprised to find that church was not at all like what I had expected: I had preps, nerds, and rockers all sitting nearby. One guy I respected (now my cousin-n-law) had ridden in on his Harley, and came to church with his full biker attire on. Even as a non-Christian, this was a place I could feel comfortable.

After that day in church suicide was out of the picture, but I still hated myself so I determined to change who I was. Over the Summer after my 10th grade year I lost 15-30 lbs, changed my hair, my clothes, started shaving, got a tan, starting working out and running, and returned to school – my small school – as “the new kid.” My junior and senior year in school I was a fairly popular guy. I could finally get a date! Junior & Senior year were GOOD years.

Now, let me step back a few years – to early middle school. I had this friend named Chris – he was really a pretty good kid, and we got along well. Until he started ‘going steady’ with the girl I had a crush on. One day, during some sort of game on the playground I flipped him over my shoulders and laid him flat on the concrete because of it. That ended our friendship for some time.

Leap forward again: after my experience led me to grow skeptical of my over-confident atheism, I began to explore the truth: my thirst for science increased, as did my spiritual quest – researching various religions, and even some basic philosophy (Plato is really an easy read). Everything I read, and everywhere I turned, I grew more and more convinced that there probably was a god, and that he/she/it owed me NOTHING – I even grew to believe in Jesus, not a Jesus that most folks hear of in the church, but in a Jewish man named Jesus, and I grew convinced that God did and was doing something in that guy that I needed. To skip a great deal, after graduating from High School I chose to go with some of my friends and band-mates (all of my secular rock band had either become Christians or disappeared after rehab) to have our last ‘hurrah’ at a youth conference in Joplin, MO. While there God ‘spoke’ to me through Proverbs 8 – “Does not wisdom cry out, o foolish one?”, ending with the powerful, “all you who hate me (wisdom) love death.” Have just recently lost my favorite cousin, and a few other friends, I most definitely didn’t love death, yet at the same time I knew that in as much as I understood the truth about Jesus (which wasn’t much) that I wasn’t acting on it – which was clearly foolish. So, as much as I knew how – with the boy I beat up in middle-school, and one of my long-haired band-mates – I decided that I was going to follow Jesus.

I share ALL OF THIS for one reason: I was just ONE PERSON, but Christ died for ME, and He used people who accepted me, loved on me, befriended me, and shared with me – not just the gospel but LIFE – in a way that was sometimes a bit messy. The awkward, quiet, geeky, snot-nosed kid with ugly teeth, a belly, pimples, who played Dungeons & Dragons on the weekend, and was as needy and unhealthy as the day is long – I was Him, and I was a real person for whom Jesus died. The preppy guy, who knew how to say all the right things, had all the friends he could want, dated some very pretty girls, and was with all the right people – I was him for a time too, and even though some of you wouldn’t believe it, I was still a real person beneath the tan & hair gel, and Jesus died for me. And later, in college: the liberal, eco-friendly, tree-hugging, girls-with-armpit-hair lovin’ hippie, who was drawn to communal life and would just as soon live on the street as a house – I was that guy too. And Jesus Christ died for me. The fact is that every person you know from the gutter-punks to the cheerleaders, from the gang-members to the rediculously wealthy – all of them, deep down inside are made up of a mess of real-life experiences, and interesting histories worth being told and heard – REAL PEOPLE, for whom Jesus came and died. He died to give them eternal life – to make them worshipers.

So, here I am: a worshiper, and I am thankful – for when I am tempted to judge anyone who doesn’t fit the mold I have in my head for what ‘normal’ should look like I am reminded, in the words of Augustine of Hippo: “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” Then I am able to love them and entrust them to God’s sovereign hand – He’s far better at calling worshipers than I am.

As I’ve said before, evangelism – living the gospel – is the flip-side of the coin of ‘worship’. Reviewing my life right now, I think maybe the two may be even more interwoven than that – might ‘living the gospel’ actually BE ‘worship’. Yes, I think it may be. Live for Jesus.




One Response to “My Life B.C.: living the gospel & the life of worship”

  1. Jenny F. said

    Wow. Wonderful post Shannon. Thank you for sharing.

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