Have you ever watched toddlers and children at play? With all seriousness, they engage their imaginations and become anything their little minds can dream up! Their minds are little sponges, absorbing information and experiences at an alarming rate. In fact, by the age of five, their brains are pretty much ninety percent set! That’s why it is so very important that we instill in these young minds, all that is vitally important; from the basics like what is hot to the touch to their spiritual foundation that God lives in Heaven and made the world and everything in it, that Jesus loves them, to instilling in them the awesome love from their parents. And don’t underestimate the child’s capacity to understand; for even now, they are interpreting everything they see and hear; perhaps, even what is unseen.
As I look back on my own life, I definitely had a blessed childhood. We didn’t have all the modern conveniences that most folks already took for granted by then, like running water and an indoor bathroom; if fact, the only running water was the Hocking River that meandered under the black bridge behind our house. However, we did have clean clothes, good food on the table and there was always an overabundance of love to go around. And what a playground! We had the freedom to roam the hills in front of the house, explore the railroad tracks and river behind the house or walk down the dusty gravel road to pay our respects to the neighbors down the way; thus was the enchanted life, living on Robbins Road.
However, when I was around eight years old and in the second grade, my parents purchased a house on Dorr Run Road which was definitely an upgrade from our faded clapboard house, having both running water AND indoor facilities. By then, it was only the three youngest children out of six that moved with our parents into the two bedroom house. Dad built a partition in the largest bedroom to separate the “boys” from our sister; the only problem was that the new room was only about four foot wide and could only hold a set of bunk beds and one dresser! Being the youngest, I had no choice but to take the lower bunk and privacy meant tucking a sheet under the top bunk mattress and draping it over the entrance to the lower bunk. The one and a half lane road was definitely more populated than the old one with a sprinkling of houses on either side and made complete with a new cast of characters to get to know.
Once again, the area was full of exploration possibilities; from hills and creeks, to strip pits and slag piles, our local “playground” was a child’s dream and a mama’s nightmare. This is where I learned how thick the creek ice should be to hold my body weight, discovered that baby copperheads could actually swim, that a sulfur creek can turn your underwear orange. I learned that the much cleaner creek water was upstream from the little creek that spewed raw sewage, that if you wanted to slide down loose sandstone on your backside, you better make sure there weren’t objects sticking up out of the ground first. This was also the place where I first sensed God’s presence…
I was about nine years old and on one of my “explorations”. Mom didn’t really seem to care where we were or what we were doing outside as long as we came home for meals and before dark, which varied as Mother Nature changed out one season for the next. I was climbing up a hill behind John Stufflebean’s property, walking through a stand of tall majestic old growth trees toward the top of a ridge. It was late spring and the sun was streaming through the trees, illuminating the forest floor below. As I stood there, absorbing the warmth that the sunrays provided on my face, I felt a presence; not the feeling you get when it seems as if someone is watching you. No, it was an acute awareness that I was fully known and at the same time, totally loved, enveloped in a peaceful embrace. There was no audible voice, no angel brushing up against me, no burning bush in front of me; just my soul reaffirming what it already knew. God was in fact, the almighty Creator and I, his beloved creation. It was virtually impossible to explain this then and even difficult now, but it happened.
It wasn’t long until the feeling passed and I went on with my life, knowing in my heart with certainty that God was real; He indeed did actually exist and loved me explicitly! Until recently, I told no one about my experience; instead, I nestled that moment into the recesses of my mind, like a cherished treasure that needed to be protected. Who would actually believe this tall tale from a nine year old anyway?! So, life went on and I grew and became a young man who wasn’t necessarily bad but felt lost and knew there was something lacking in my life. I knew from years of going to Sunday School and infrequently attending church services that I was indeed a sinner and needed to surrender my life to Jesus as my Savior in order to be made complete as God had intended. I knew that God loved me but that just wasn’t enough; I had to be spiritually restored as his child through His gift of salvation, Jesus Christ.
So, on an evening in May, 1978, at the age of twenty, I attended a revival service with a friend of mine at my home church in Nelsonville Ohio; The First Church of the Nazarene on Adams St. I don’t remember who spoke or much of anything else that evening except for the relentless tug by the Holy Spirit on my miserable convicted heart. I went forward to the altar and prayed a pleading prayer of forgiveness; feeling a hand on my shoulder and uttering a supportive prayer was Max Pitts, a longtime member of the church. I got up and went back to the pew where I had planted myself several moments before but something definitely had changed! I felt the same but brand new; the colors seemed brighter, the sounds seemed crisper and I felt like laughing and crying at the same time. After the service, I literally levitated to my car, the lightness of my heart carrying me up the hill.
Once I got home, I immediately told my mom what had happened; she had a pensive, if not, sad expression on her face as she tried to gently tell me that the life I had chosen was a hard one and there would be sacrifices. I knew that mom was reflecting back on her own life and past, when she accepted Christ and subsequently faced the alienation of family and friends as a result; the constant struggles between her desire to be faithful to God and at the same time, enduring spiritual battles within her own home. Mom eventually backed off her church responsibilities before I came into this world so I didn’t get to experience that side of mom. I just know that peering back in hindsight, she was right; I did experience some rejection. Some friends and family members didn’t know quite what to think of this new Steve or how to interact with me; some chose just not to interact at all anymore. But I knew in my heart and soul that I was now what I was always meant to be; in a completely restored relationship with my Lord and my God.
Several years have passed and I’m still holding true to my faith in God and cherishing my relationship with Jesus. It hasn’t been an easy road; there have been many temptations, bad attitudes and blatant sin that had to be dealt with all along this journey, but it has absolutely been worth the trials to experience the joy and peace that sustains me even now. For the God that knew my name before I was a “sparkle in my father’s eye” as they say, is the same God that met me on the hilltop so many years ago and strengthens me yet today. So my advice, as time and experience has taught me through the different seasons of my life; if your child comes to you some day with a story that seems farfetched or unbelievable, just listen intently to them, hold them close and pray for wisdom and discernment. For you never know if/when they might encounter the Eternal in THEIR everyday; for He knows their name as well.
You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand—when I awake, I am still with you.
Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:1-18, 23-24