I began my life as the son of a Missouri Synod Pastor, and spent my early years in the church. I had to attend every event and every church service. I participated in children’s choir and Vacation Bible School, and I even went to daycare and kindergarten at the church. Not only did I have to attend, but I had to behave, too. I had to be responsible and make the other kids behave as well. I did not like church. In fact, I hated it. I also hated God. What kind of person would make a six-year-old boy wear a tie and have to sit still and be quite in an un-air conditioned church in Florida in the summer?
There was tension at home, too. My mom founded and administrated the kindergarten, and there were issues that were carried home from the church. Yet, I had to pretend that everything was perfect, and so was I.
I hated church. Except on Christmas Eve. There would always be a candlelight service. At the end, when the flames were blown out, the glow of the candles, the smell of the wax, and the carol, “Joy to the World,” made me feel at peace and happy. I felt something tangible and strong. Everything was going to be okay. Peace.
My parents left the church to go back to school to get their doctorate degrees. They had experienced great hardship in the church and resented the church, its people, and also God. Church was no longer part of our life. In fact, Sundays were now spent with my parents typing research papers. Every once in a while, we would attend the campus ministry in a small house. I would be the only kid, beside my sister; everyone else was a college student. We could eat all the donuts we wanted, we didn’t have to be quiet or behave. Folk music was playing, and we sang, “Blowing in the Wind.”
In time, I became a thoroughbred racehorse trainer: a very stressful occupation. I had success and failure. I achieved great goals and won stake races. I even raced a horse in the Kentucky Derby. But I also flirted with financial ruin and was often deeply in debt and troubled by the IRS. I was well known in my industry, and respected. I was somebody.
But I paid a price for that. I was always anxious and stressed. I fought the stress by trying to achieve more. Win more. Get better clients, better horses. When I did those things, instead of relieving the tension and stress, it only increased.
The moment we pulled into the parking lot where the picnic was being held, something happened to me. As I opened the car door and stepped out, I felt such an odd feeling. Peace. It was so profound that it almost scared me, yet it was so pleasurable that I began to fall into it.
One Sunday afternoon my wife at the time informed me that we were going to attend a church picnic that afternoon. I laughed. I was looking forward to a nap, not a picnic, and besides, I had to feed 25 head of horses by myself that afternoon. No small task.
In the end, she agreed to assist me feed the horses if I went to the picnic with her. I had no interest in Christianity. I decided that I would make the best of this picnic. Maybe I could meet a new client there, some rich Christian. I loaded my pocket with business cards and prepared my speech about my training achievements.
The moment we pulled into the parking lot of the park where the picnic was being held, something happened to me. As I opened the car door and stepped out, I felt such an odd feeling. Peace. It was so profound that it almost scared me, yet it was so pleasurable that I began to fall into it.
The peace was total and complete, better than a post-racquetball exhaustion and high. Better than beer. Better than anything I had experienced before. As I met and mingled with people, no one wanted to know about my win percentage or my next runner. They only seemed to care about me as a person. My ego did not know how to handle that. I wondered if the peace came from the new location, we had moved from central Maryland to the Northeastern corner of the state, to be near Delaware Park where I had relocated. Perhaps the peace came from the slower pace of life in the area. But I noticed folks in wheelchairs, heard someone talk of their terminal cancer, and soon learned that this area and its people were not immune from stress and problems.
The peace I experienced at that picnic forever changed the course of my life. I began to search for it, to discover where it came from, and how to find it.
Now, 20 years on as a Christian and a pastor, I am still searching for that peace. From time to time I do encounter a taste of it. A supernatural feeling. Yet, it is elusive. However, that one experience was so strong that its memory still compels me onward in faith. Peace beyond understanding. That experience drove me to Bible study and learning more about Jesus and following him.
What I learned fed me and made sense. There is a God, and that God loves us all very much, and desires that we would love Him and one another.
More Faith Stories
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