Archive for December, 2010
Thursday, December 30th, 2010
In Our Pockets
As we come to the close of 2010 the Board of Directors wanted to let you all know how our finances came in and how they were spent.
2010 Gifts Received
We received $35,800 in gifts from individuals and churches. We made many adjustments through the year to manage our spending. As you might be thinking, WOW, God did a lot through us for a very small amount of money. You’re right! We are a lean machine and want to keep it that way.
How We Spent the Funds
The larger portion,$17,000 was paid to John Smid for his salary. Since this is certainly not a full time salary, John and his wife Vileen continue to do many part time jobs to support themselves.
We spent $7,300 to manage our communications and operations expenses. We spend a lot of our ministry time through mailing, telephone, internet, and our website. This includes printing, email marketing, supplies, and postage.
We spent $ 4,900 in business and accounting fees. Since we are a non-profit organization, the IRS expects very detailed accounting and Form 990 reporting. We hire a bookkeeper for our daily reports and a CPA to compile the forms necessary to comply.
John did some traveling this year for conferences which cost us $1,670 of our budget. This was recouped through reimbursements.
We only spent $415 for our office space which was basically a new heating and air conditioning unit. The office is a part of John Smid’s home and we do not pay for that space.
When we established Grace Rivers it was unanimous that 10% of our income would be given back to others. We were blessed to be able to give $3,100 to overseas missions and in support of some individuals who needed help with emergencies.
2011 Plans and Needs
It is our desire to increase the ministry influence to reach even more people with the gospel of grace this coming year. We also need to provide health insurance for John. He has gone without this protection for two years and it is important to get this taken care of. We would also like to increase his salary so that he can spend even more time building Grace Rivers ability to minister to those to whom God sends us.
Monthly Support Goal
In order to fulfill these goals it is imperative to see our income increase. We can do this if 20 people will commit to supporting Grace Rivers Ministry at just $25 or $50 per month. It would be even more possible if you would consider a year end gift of $500 or even $1000!
Don’t Wait…Donate Now!
There are only hours left to get a tax deductible gift for 2010 out! Please consider making an end of the year donation today!
Secretary / Treasurer
Grace Rivers Ministry
Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Is. 9:6
No matter how we attempt to figure it out, one of the greatest mysteries I can think of is the miraculous conception of Jesus Christ in the womb of a humble young woman. Coming to my world to experience my joy, my pain, my sin, all to show me how much He loves me.
No one can fathom that kind of love and yet, we are led by Him to practice it for ourselves.
Love one another as I have loved you. John 13:34
Christmas can certainly bring out the worst in us. It can be a very painful time for some families and individuals. We hear from many around us, “Have a Merry Christmas.” But inside, some of us are feeling some of the greatest pain we can imagine.
Maybe the best gift we can give anyone this year is an outpouring of unconditional love to one another. To allow each other to be real, to feel, to experience life as it is may be another gift to extend from our heart to those we know.
In a recent meeting of family members whose adult children experience homosexuality, I was reminded of how significant this really is. Mom’s crying their hearts out from trying to learn how to love their homosexual sons shows us the real truth during Christmas for many people. Dads attempting to answer questions and find ways to support their teenage son’s attempt to live a godly life, while facing same-sex attractions, may not be so “joyful” this holiday season.
When you are walking through the mall, or standing in line at Walmart, take a look around you. Do you think some of these folks are searching for answers to their life struggles? Is it possible that many of them you see are feeling anxious about spending Christmas with their family because of something that has brought confusion into their home?
What about the family who has just gone through a divorce and Christmas is all messed up this year from schedules? They may be trying to figure out how to sort out the division within the family? Maybe they need something special from you that doesn’t include a gift card from “Chili’s”. It may just be a kind word for them this year, or asking them to have a cup of coffee with you – just because.
I think for most of us, the gifts we really hunger for are from the listening heart of a good friend or family member. Or, maybe God will provide a mysterious gift from someone that you had no idea would be directly from His heart to yours.
I sent my mom a little Christmas tree table top decoration from the florist. She called and said, ” You know, John, the good Lord works in mysterious ways”. My mom had twenty neighbors whose apartment homes were completely burned out in November. She was helping one family to regain their life and gave them her entire Christmas tree including the decorations. She was thrilled to get her little tree from me. She saw it as a replacement from the Lord for the one she had given away. Her Christmas focus was dramatically changed as a result of someone else’s loss and her giving heart. She said she was not giving anyone in the family any gifts this year because all of her resources were going to this family. That was a gift to me! To see my mom giving to others was a wonderful thing. She was giving of herself into the lives of others!
Not every Christmas is humanly joyful! But spiritually, the joy can come from the heart of Jesus to each of us if we will listen, listen; love, love.
My prayer for each of you is that you will hear and experience the joy of Christ even though your Christmas may be clouded with pain, disappointment, or discouragement.
Grace Rivers Ministry is all about being honest, about true authenticity in our lives. Take a look around you. Is there someone who needs your gift of love this year. Or, maybe you need the gift! Don’t be afraid to be honest about your REAL Christmas needs. Is it a new pair of slippers, or is it a listening ear?
Monday, December 20th, 2010
Through the Windshield of My Life
Family Vacations with my Dad
Some of the most memorable times with my dad were our camping trips. Our summer vacations with him almost always included packing up all kinds of gear and going to state parks where we found wonderful communities, interesting historical sites, and strange happenings along the way.
The first trip I can remember strangely enough was in our 1963 Chevrolet Corvair. Yes, the one that Ralph Nader said was such a hazard to drive. Ours was deep burgundy. As a 3rd grader, I certainly was intrigued by the trunk being in the front of the car and the small packaged air cooled engine in the rear. But, in the Nebraska winters that was a good configuration!
We were going to the Black Hills in South Dakota. We had a canvas tent that would sleep my dad, my two sisters and me. He had built a wooden “kitchen” box that stored the cooking supplies. We had a Coleman gas stove, lantern, sleeping bags, and lots of camping “stuff” to spend two weeks away in the hills north and west of our home in Omaha. My mom never went with us. We just figured she didn’t like camping.
So, we took the back seat out of our compact Corvair, built a top carrier for the roof and packed all of our camping gear into or onto the top of our little car. I really don’t know how in the world three kids and my dad fit into the car with all of the stuff but we seemed to do it.
Badlands National Park
When we visited the Badlands I was absolutely amazed at the wonder of the formation. It was like the ceiling of a cave but it was miles of pillars formed from the ground. In my mind it was no less of a wonder than I had perceived the Grand Canyon would be.
We then traveled further to see Mt. Rushmore and the incredible Sylvan Lake. There was one attraction that didn’t seem like much of an attraction at the time, Crazy Horse Monument. It was just beginning to be carved in the top of a mountain so we didn’t see much there. I had hope it would one day be something great, which I think it is much further along today. We had a wonderful time on our historical trip to the Black Hills.
A couple of years later and many weekend trips in-between my dad moved up to a travel trailer. It was really cool to see this aluminum 13 foot “Go-lite” trailer in his back yard. I love to go into its little door and move the table around for a bed and drop the sofa in the back down for a bed there too. I like changes so changing things around was really fun. Sometimes I would just sit in it and dream of where we could go with the trailer.
Our first big trip was to Minnesota and Canada. I brought my friend, Mark Stastny, along, so it was just the three of us. Dad had just bought a 1955 Chevrolet two door hardtop to pull the trailer. It seemed to have a heavier engine in it to handle the load.
I must add that we also had an “Evaporative Cooler” for air conditioning in the car. I am not kidding, this get up was totally out of the 1950’s but we were in the mid sixties so it was quite the experience for me.
Evaporative Car Cooler
Our first stop was to spend a couple of nights with my cousin in Wyzata Minnesota. A highlight for me there was going to the “Betty Crocker” kitchens at General Mills. My cousin worked for them and gave us the real “cooks tour” for sure. They had just released the pink, cherry recipe cake and the taste is still in my mouth for some strange reason. It was a wonderful time with family. We went on up to Canada through International Falls and Bemidji Minnesota. Driving many miles we returned home safe from our “vintage” camping trip.
We had many weekend trips. Ponca State park near Sioux City Iowa was a favorite place. While camping was great fun with fires, camp stoves, and lots of talking late into the night my greatest memory was the time spent with good friends, new and old. There were also some challenging experiences for me as I grew older.
I always wanted to be clean. Kind of weird for an eight year old I know, but camping was certainly not a place to stay clean so it was a must to take regular showers. But, I had a dilemma. I felt extremely embarrassed to change clothes or shower if someone were to possibly see me naked. I’d go into the park and first thing, I would check out the shower facility and begin my plans. Many times I’d find that later at night, or very early in the morning, there weren’t usually any campers in the showers. I’d make a dash for the showers myself and get in and out so that I didn’t have to deal with the naked thing. It seemed to help me to stay clean but the anxiety remained for years ahead. I never talked with anyone about my fears so it just went underneath and I dealt with it the best way I could.
My dad had introduced us to some friends of his when he and my mom went through their divorce. Ron was a mailman with my dad and he was married to Barb. They had three active boys. When I first met this family, Barb seemed to be an over the top kind of mom. Her words seemed to be so strong that I wasn’t sure about what I thought about her. Ron was a very quiet man who worked a second job as the owner of a gas station and a mechanic.
As we got to know them better I learned that they were extremely kind people who loved everyone. Ron and Barb were neighborhood fixtures that virtually everyone knew because of their kindness and their heart for others. This is what drew them into our family in the first place.
When my dad left our home Ron and Barb offered him a place to stay until he got his feet on the ground. I remember Barb telling me how she would hear my dad cry at night in his grief over the loss of his family. They would listen to my dad process life circumstances like they did with so many others.
The more I got to know them, I found that Barb did the same with me. She would probe my life with questions and listen to me talk through the things that life brought along. I would sit at her breakfast counter for what seemed to be hours as we talked. She also became close to my older sisters. As time passed by, Ron and Barb became as close or closer to us than our own family. And even more, they became family to our extended family so we adopted them tightly into our world. The events of our life always included them. They hosted my two sisters’ wedding receptions in their home as well as many other parties and events. Ron worked on all of our cars, more times than I can count, out of the goodness of his heart.
Barb was hysterically funny and energizing to be around. So, without a doubt, the most memorable camping trip was spent in the Ozarks of Missouri. Ron and Barb went with us on this trip and brought a girl named Louise along that was a little older than I was. I was about 14 or 15 years old. My dad, his friends, Louise and I got into our cars heading south for some wonderful laughter, memories, and great camping.
1966 Buick LeSabre
At this point my dad went to the extreme in his choice of cars. He owned a 1966 Buick LeSabre. Barb called it the “Big Black Buick” even though it was dark blue! I learned to drive in that car. It was huge and had power steering and power brakes. It would whirl around effortlessly through the streets. We had also upgraded our trailer to a 16 foot Forrester. It had a bathroom in it! But, we didn’t use the shower so I still had to scout out the public showers in the parks we went to.
We had so much fun laughing, talking, making wonderful memories for a lifetime. Actually, we still talk about that trip today and it was in 1968. During the trip our friend’s car blew an engine. While for many, this would be devastating, but not with Barb around. We were stuck in Higginsville, Missouri. With Barb’s way with people, she overheard someone talking about something in their life and walked up to them and said, “So, you think you’ve got problems, our car engine blew up and we are camping and don’t know what we’re going to do.”
It just so happened that this person new the mayor pretty well and got permission from him for us to camp in the City Park. So, we spent the night with our tents and trailer right there for everyone to see. It was almost like a Chevy Chase movie set! Now we often say, “So, you think you have problems” just for fun.
So, after Ron and Barb got a different car, a 1966 Oldsmobile, we were back on the trail of our camping extravaganza. Our friend, Barb, saw that their new car had a special transmission mode called “Super”. The car was parked going down hill towards the lake. When Barb was trying to back up out of the parking spot, she thought it would help to use Super! Well, as you might imagine, Super was only for going forward so she quickly stopped before going into the lake. It may have been another incident of “So, you think you’ve got problems” but thankfully it just became a lifetime joke for us all to enjoy.
Our camping trips continued for years to come. Dad moved from the Forrester trailer to a larger than life pick-up truck with a camper on it, but by this time our family camping trips had diminished and most of our time in that rig was spent at local state parks, picnics, and sleeping in the camper in the driveway. Life had moved on for me. By this time my sisters and I had gotten married and our lives were consumed by children, work, and just overall life maintenance.
My dad tried to arrange more trips but they just didn’t work out any more. I am so thankful for the many memories that came from the trips we did take. Driving in these “all American” cars was fairly common for the mainstream of family life. But, for me, these cars produced memories from the experiences that came from our camping trips. Somehow during the years each car just seemed to go away and another one came in its place. But the memories remain.
Friday, December 17th, 2010
Through the Windshield of My Life
My 1966 Mustang convertible has come back to me over and over in my dreams. For many reasons, this car was a pivotal memory from my teen years. I loved to wash, wax, and polish it getting ready for a wonderful summer drive with the top down. Playing 70’s music on my eight track tape player made it even more memorable.
Our lives become what they are from the life we have lived. As I look back on being in high school I realized that it was in my teens where the damaged life I had lived as a young chilc started to manifest itself in the relationships I developed. I also see how my past affected the choices I began to make about life. These years were the beginning of my own personal dysfunction stemming out of the dysfunction of the developmental years I had lived in previously.
Cars began to symbolize memories of great elation, as well as memories of the painful history that was manifesting itself in my life.
My first job, my first car, my first girlfriend. Elation, and disappointment. Entering high school was my practice game and I realized I was not ready for the prime time players!
1966 Ford Mustang
There’s no doubt that 1966 is one of the most popular Ford Mustang model years in the history of the car. In fact, March 1966 marked the creation of the millionth Mustang.
Although the first few years were definitely good for Ford and its sporty Mustang, 1966 was the year all that hard work truly began to pay off. By 1966, most people began to associate the Ford Mustang with power and performance. It was the car to have if you needed a daily driver and it was the car to have if you needed a weekend cruiser with a sporty edge.
About that 1966 Mustang convertible; even to this day I dream that it is still in my garage and I mysteriously had forgotten I had it. The dream discovery seems so real that I wake up to realize that it was a dream and feel disappointed the whole rest of the day. I am not exactly sure why I dream about it but I had owned it right in the middle of my teenage years of life.
My First Real Girlfriend
Oh, man, I was fifteen and she was beautiful! Her hair long and silky, she had a bright smile and a wonderful personality. Her name was Beth and she was older than I was. She had her driver’s license! So, on our first date she picked me up in her brother’s 1963 Chevy Impala Convertible and out we went. I don’t remember where we went, but I was definately smitten with her. She was not only older, but she was taller than I was.
We’d meet at her locker at school and others would stare at us because I was just 5′ 3″ tall. She was 5′ 9″ so there was quite a difference but it didn’t matter to me. She was the most wonderful thing that had happened to me.
Being a Teenager
As I began to learn how to be a teenager I found that I was more at ease with the girls and distant from the guys. It is the norm to think that sex dominates a young man’s life during his teenage years. Guys being “girl crazy” are seemingly run amok with sexual urges and desires. But my experience with puberty was that it came into my life seemingly unnoticed due to the turmoil that I had been living in. I experienced the most dramatic impact of the new hormones by discovering masturbation. I didn’t think about it with any sort of moral awareness. It was just a personal practice that entered my life. I wasn’t girl crazy, but I wasn’t aware of any other attractions either. Since I didn’t hang around guys much I didn’t hear much “sex” talk and felt even more estranged from my own sexual identity. Oh, I had many emotional urges going on inside me that were confusing and at times painful. I found myself feel warm thoughts of desiring physical closeness to an older man I was around at times. I wanted to be held by him, just a touch from his hand would send desires through my mind. But since I was so sexually naive I didn’t have anything to attach those feelings to nor did I know how to define them as being sexual.
During all of this, which included my current relationship with Beth, I moved to my dad’s house. The transition was huge for me but I am not sure she fully understood all of my life issues. She came from a wholesome family. She had a wonderful mom and dad and I loved to go to their home because it was so warm and normal. One memory I have of them was when I picked up Beth one night. I went into their foyer and looked into the living room to see both of them sitting there in their wingback chairs with the fireplace glowing. That scene never left my mind because of the wholesome picture that it painted.
We were going to the “Sweetheart” dance together and I was thinking ahead about spending a long time with Beth beside me. She was an artist and we enjoyed art class together. I remember her long plaid wool slacks and her “maxi” dress. We loved to laugh and most of all, I like to just sit beside her and talk.
Then one day, my whole world crashed. Beth told me that her parents didn’t think it was a good idea that she settle down with one person so she broke up with me. I felt abandoned, lost, and alone. I moved on and dated some other girls but none were close to what I had felt with Beth.
Living with my dad brought about a sense of peace that I hadn’t known in many years. But it also brought a lot more responsibility. I willingly accepted all of the things that had to be done to maintain my life. I washed my own clothes, cleaned the house we lived in and learned how to cook my favorite meals. I paid my own bills and virtually lived as an adult. I didn’t think anything about all of these new aspects to my life since I had just launched from the prison of my mom’s house into the free world of personal choices.
My Spiritual Life
I was raised Catholic and my dad was very committed to his faith and making sure his kids were trained to be committed to it as well. We went to church every Sunday without fail. We were raised in catechism and we went through all of the childhood sacraments of Confession, First Communion and Confirmation. We were members of a community Catholic church where we knew many people. They were primarily friends of my dads who worked for the Postal Service with him. They were great people and we enjoyed being around them. But something triggered a strong reaction in my heart as I looked around this church.
I had a strong desire to connect at a deeper level. I wanted to find a place where I could belong, serve, and feel significant to this church family. As a teenager, I looked around for places to fit in and found nothing other than Sunday church and the sacraments. Something inside me told me that I was not significant there, that there was no place for me.
One Sunday my older sister and I decided to look for something different. We “skipped” our church service and went to a Baptist church down the street. We thought we were doing something very risky and that if our dad found out what we had done we’d surely be in trouble. So, on the way home we stopped by our church and picked up a left over bulletin to take into our house to “prove” our attendance at the Catholic church. Our dad never knew what we had done. The other church didn’t impress me either.
So, I made the decision that when I was on my own after high school, I wouldn’t continue going back to the Catholic church. As a matter of fact, I wasn’t interested in anything else either. There just wasn’t any connection or present purpose for me to attend. It was just something we did, not anything that was in my heart.
My First Job
While I lived more like an adult in my personal life, I had a group of friends that I hung out with that brought some fun along with it. The fall was my favorite time of year. We went on hayrack rides, had parties at one kid’s house and hung out together at school. I had worked for a restaurant since I was 14 years old making $1.15 per hour. I worked about 25 hours a week there so I was busy on the weekends and week nights.
Working at the restaurant brought some fun like riding in Mary’s 1970 Dodge Super Bee! Wow, a 383 Magnum engine, four speed transmission, bright purple with black racing stripes, we all manipulated Mary into taking us home on many occasions! Mary was known to be a lesbian, but that didn’t seem to matter to any of us. She had a great car and we all loved to ride in it. Besides, she was really good to us kids. She laughed with us and came to our defense when the main chef would get on our case.
But I also had experienced bullying from an older kid named Randy. He would throw out threats of beating me up by the trash bin if I didn’t do what he wanted to. He scared me to death. I started working there when I still lived at mom’s so I walked to work and back, which was over two miles each way. When I got off at midnight I would look over my shoulder for most of my walk home wondering if he was following me to beat me up. I wanted to leave there so bad but didn’t have another job to go to.
My cousin heard I might be interested in a new job and came to me and asked if I might want to work at his company. It was a transport refrigeration company called “Carrier-Transicold”. I would be working in the parts department. I jumped at the chance to make $2.35 per hour. At teh beginning I worked after school five nights a week. Then when summer came I began to work 40 hours per week. I liked making the money and could afford to pay for virtually all of my own personal things. I also liked the guys I worked with. Jerry and Bill were the same shift I was. I felt like a man alongside of them.
As my bank account increased so did my eyes for a new car. Bill offered to sell me his 1966 Buick special but I chose to buy a 1970 Volkswagen. This car had been originally bought in Germany and was only 6 months old. This made it unique for the American market. I can still remember feeling the texture of the seats, turning the new style safety knobs on the dash board, and certainly listening to the German built Blaupunkt AM/FM radio! I felt pretty sharp in my shiny new vehicle.
I met a girl named Kris. She was friends with some of the folks I hung out with in the library at school. My first memory of her was when a friend of hers was talking about Kris being in a shell and no one seemed to be able to enter her world. I thought Kris was fun to be around and wondered if I might be able to get through her “shell”. So I began to get to know her.
We dated and hung out. I met her family. Her parents were divorced like mine were. Her mom managed an apartment complex so we’d go to her place just to hang out. Her dad lived in a house that was very empty feeling. Her brother also lived there and her little sister lived with Kris and her mom. She was a good cook and enjoyed making things for me to eat like a lemon merangue pie.
I found that there were many things we understood about each other. Divorce, arguing a lot between her parents, and her siblings being the same ages as mine made our families very similar. Driving to see a movie one night I saw the connection between us. I thought she understood my life more than anyone. Having a lifelong need to feel heard, our similarities felt like she heard me.
Our relationship became quite rocky for one reason or another. It seemed like we broke up several times during the next couple of years. We got back together shortly after each time we broke up. This was all pretty confusing to those around us.
During the next year the burden of my car payments became more than I wanted to bear. I was paying $95 per month for my “Bug”. I talked with my dad about it and we agreed that it might be good to sell it and get something else. I did and then found my next car.
It was a 1966 Mustang Convertible. The payments were half of the other car and oh boy, a convertible! I loved it! I polished it, bought “mag” wheels for it and I was stylin! I got an “eight track” tape player for it and listened to Bread, Grand Funk Railroad, Rod Stewart, and so many other popular 1970’s groups.
In my junior year our Homecoming parade was coming up. My car was red with black interior. These were our school colors so I entered my car in the parade. I felt so cool and I may have even had a moment of populararity!
The school I went to felt like it had two classes of people. The rich, and those from the other side of the tracks. I seemed to be able to cross he divide. I was from the other side of the tracks, but since I had such a good job, I could afford to have things that the rich kids had. New clothes, a nice convertible, and I could pay for the other things that came along. I felt independent, responsible, and connected on the surface. But underneath, I felt lost, lonely, unaccepted, and foreign to my school and the kids there.
Yes. I Flunked Phys-ed
We had to take physical education in our course profile. I hated phys-ed! In junior highschool I was teased mercilessly by students and coaches alike. I was not a natural at sports. My family wasn’t a sports family. I didn’t know how to throw a ball, or keep score for any major sport. I wondered what the phys-ed teachers were there for? If they were teachers, then why didn’t they teach. It seemed they were there for the natural sports guys and those of us who didn’t know how, well, we were just left out to dry and feel awkward and stupid. I was so anxious about being in gym class that on one occasion I had to go to the doctor from internal stomach problems.
When I reached highschool I found that it was easier to skip gym class without any immediate consequences. I skipped many classes in 10th grade and learned how to skip the whole year in 11th. Yes, I flunked Phys-ed. I ended up having to take it in summer school. It was much easier and I got by with less stress.
I’m Not Smart Enough
I didn’t do well in school with regards to scholasic achievement. But I had a dream of becoming an architect. As I perused the class selections and I saw the requirements for architecture included taking physics and chemistry. I felt woefully inadequate to take those classes. I thought they were for smart kids and I certainly wasn’t a smart kid. So I had only one choice. Give up my dream for being an architect. Little did I know those classes were nothing more than glorified Physical Science. I loved that class in the eighth grade but I didn’t make the connection. I didn’t feel connected to anyone who would have helped me figure that out. Again, I felt lost and alone so I just had to do what I could to find my way through.
As I moved into the end of my junior year I decided to make my plans to just work and earn a living. I registered for “Coop” for my senior year. This would mean that I got credit for having a job and only had to take two classes each semester. So off I ran! I was an adult now,or so I thought. I learned that independence was the best way to get by. With our “modular scheduling” structure I only had to be in school two mornings a week all through my senior year.
Modular scheduling also made it easier to leave school. If we had more than one hour of free time we could leave. One girl that I hung out with a lot was named Shelly. Shelly and I spent a lot of time together. I remember one special day when we went to lunch during our free time. Shelly drove her mom’s 1969 Oldmobile convertible to school. That car was so cool! We put the top down and off we went! I didn’t parcularly like to color gold, but driving off to lunch in an incredible convertible of any kind was a special event for me.
Since I wasn’t at school as much, my friendships seemed to go away and all I had was Kris. Our relationship was something that just existed but at least I wasn’t alone. On one warm summer evening I remember feeling so connected to her while we sat on my red convertible listening to the “Carpenter’s” singing “Superstar” on the eight track player. I really thought I had it all that night.
Me? Owning A Horse
Jerry, the guy I worked with, owned an acreage. His family loved the country. I looked up to Jerry so much and enjoyed spending time with them at their home. They had a couple of horses and I had always loved horses. There was something different about my relationship with Jerry. I was overly emotional about how he acted with others and how he was towards me. I felt pretty consumed with him on most days but I didn’t really know what was going on inside me.
One day I talked about horses and he told me they would board a horse if I wanted to get one. In my mysterious mind, I thought maybe if I had a horse it would allow me to spend more time with Jerry and his family. So, I found a two year old quarter horse and we took it to their farm.
I drove twenty miles each morning to take care of the horse before work. I loved spending time there. The horse on the other hand was just a vehicle to go to Jerry’s house. This family became an obsession in my life and overpoweredeverything else and all of my other relationships. I spent virtually all of my free time there. I’m sure my dad felt my absense and my over focus on Jerry, his family, and what seemed to be my horse.
I even gave up my Mustang convertible for the horse. I traded it in on an “El Camino” to somehow manage the things I had to carry around to facilitate having a horse. I never liked that car and it gave me unending problems with the engine and other things. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was the beginning of a long road ahead with emotionally dependant relationships with guys and the painful challenges of what was going on inside of me.
“Nasty Grams” From Our Moms
Kris and I shared another life experience. It was a place of understanding our common pain. Graduation was coming quickly and I was ready to get out of school. Highschool didn’t work well with my independent spirit so I felt the sooner the better. The week of graduation Kris and I both got letters from our moms. There was something about our moms that was so similar. Each letter seemed to be more of a criticism than a celebration. We both talked about how mad we were at those letters. Our bond was once again confirmed by our survival from having grown up in such dysfunction.
I had lost out on so much growing up. While living with my dad brought such a new life for me, I was still very wounded from where I had been. My relational dysfunction had taught me to survive rather than to live. I didn’t know how to relate well with anyone. I especially didn’t know how to relate to other guys. Since sports was not a common denominator I grew to believe had nothing in common at all with other guys. I mostly new the girls and they were all dating and their attention was more on finding guys to date than it was to build a community.
At the end of the year I remember getting my high school yearbook and looking up my name. It seemed to show my name in bright red with NOTHING behind it. I wasn’t in a club or activity that would have been mentioned. I felt invisible, insignificant, and certainly not important in any way. As I left high school, I moved forward and never looked back. I didn’t remain in contact with anyone other than Kris.
In the next 6 months, my life was about to change dramatically for all of the wrong reasons.
Friday, December 10th, 2010
Through the Windshield of My Life
The 1970 Galaxie was built bigger and stronger than previous models.
These cars were becoming more luxury oriented as the years passed. Ford engineers worked hard to achieve a quiet ride and luxury car comfort for 1970. The lineup was made up of 21 new models . There were several body style choices for 1970, to include: three LTD Broughams, five LTD models, two XL models and six different Galaxie 500 models. The different models were offered in several body styles to include the two door and four door hardtop, two door and four door sedan, sports-roof, and convertible.
This one is a 1970 Galaxie sports-roof.
Blue just like the picture, it drove up in our driveway one day. Surprised, my eyes bugged out like it was Christmas! A brand new car! It was beautiful with the sports-roof being extremely unique in design I was very excited to run out of the door to take a closer look. This car replaced the 1963 Galaxie that was my step dads. I wanted to go for a ride in it but was told it wasn’t going to happen at this time. I was so disappointed to hear those words. But it didn’t surprise me because the last five years were disappointing every day.
In my mind, at 15 years old, this car was just a reminder of the life I felt inside my heart that was separate from the life I had at home. We had a brand new car but it had nothing to do with me since I wouldn’t ride in it very often. I think I did a few times when my mom rarely took it to the store and I got to go along. I used to look at its sleek lines and noticed the cloth interior that was ribbed but soft. It had a vinyl roof which emphasized the double design of the slanted profile with the straight line of the back window. I thought it was really cool to look at.
Five years prior to this time, my step dad moved into our house. From previous writings, you may remember, this is the man who sexually violated me when I was just 10 years old! He began negatively impact virtually every facet of our home life. To say the least, it was very unpleasant to live there. On the first day he moved in I saw a huge, strangely red-stained, desk move into the corner bedroom that used to be mine. It had no handles on the drawers and was hand built by Gerb, as we learned he was called. It was short for Gerber. We heard he didn’t like his real name. He was named after his two sisters who were electrocuted by a loose wire on the wringer washing machine. No wonder he didn’t like it! So, everyone called him Gerb.
As the desk slid into place the rules began. “Don’t touch this desk or anything on it!” It had a door on the front that opened up to reveal a heavy black safe. I wondered what was so valuable that needed a safe hidden in a desk? This was another strange secret about Gerb’s life that brought so many questions to my mind. Oh, you can rest assured, I wouldn’t be touching his desk because the door on the bedroom also had a lock installed on it to make sure we never went in unsupervised.
The next exciting thing that came along was the installation of a “touch tone” telephone! It sat on the ledge in between the kitchen and living room. Oh, my gosh, these just came out! We had a touch tone phone. But soon the rules continued, don’t touch this phone because it’s Gerb’s phone and he needs it for work calls. Just another separation from the things that were so exciting to see, but just too far away to enjoy. I wouldn’t be touching his precious phone either.
Then, the arguments began. Night after night, week after week - yelling, screaming and broken things became the norm. I’d go to bed in my room in the basement with anxiety every night wondering if and when the fights would begin tonight. Gerb worked the afternoon shift. This meant he got off work around 10:30 PM. Many nights he would stop at a bar to drink before coming home but sometimes he came home earlier. But no matter when it was, my mom was ready for his arrival with cheese, salami and plenty of beer to settle the dragon that would arrive soon. Sometimes he would drink up to 16 beers in one sitting so the weekly shopping would involve cases of beer to be drank in the days he didn’t stop at the bar first. He would get extremely upset if my mom would fall asleep on the couch and this might be the trigger to begin the nightly battles.
I never really knew what most of the fights were about other than they seemed to always involve “those kids” which referred to me and my sisters. We were “lazy, good for nothing, irresponsible and worthless” and we belonged to “Old Man Smid” (our dad) which seemed to be the worst thing of all. Mom would often remind us that Gerb never had any kids of his own and he just didn’t understand how to relate to them. I began to see how much she minimized the real story.
After the nightly battle zone would seem to wane, I’d finally fall asleep. Often my sisters and I would go upstairs for breakfast and while we were getting out our cereal we would assess the damage. One morning we looked in the trash and found the dress my mom had been wearing the night before with dark red stains on it. We assumed they were blood from last night’s fight. We never knew what happened because the nightly battles were often referred to as “Gerb was on his “high-horse” again”. HIGH HORSE? Is that what you call it? There were times where the fighting would become viral and link morning, noon, and night together.
Coming home from visiting dad was often the scariest of all. Gerb had very strict rules on abiding by our court approved visitation hours of 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM on Sundays. If we came hope 30 seconds late by his watch that would inevitably begin a fight. One night when we came home we walked into the front door. Walking in I saw my mom’s friend sitting at the kitchen table and then looked over and saw Gerb holding gun pointed at my mom. He quickly put the gun down and the fight continued as we quietly went to our rooms.
There were so many restrictions on our life that we never knew which one we might cross over that would start the fighting all over again. If we winked just the wrong way, it might start a fight. One day I went to get my hair cut at the local barber. I had to walk about two miles or more to get there. This day at 13 years old I decided to get my hair cut a little different. Instead of getting it shaved up the back, I asked the barber to block it. This meant cutting it straight across the back. When I got home, Gerb lost it! I was told under no uncertain circumstances I would return to the barber and get it cut correctly or I wouldn’t come back into the house. So, back I went, two miles each way and got the expected shave up the back. I certainly didn’t expect that one coming!
Not all was bad.
Gerb was extremely talented with his hands and his mind. He completely rebuilt, from scratch, an entire car engine. When my little sister was ready to be born he built her a rocking crib from some sort of diagram with little spindles and a finish that was so smooth and shiny you would have thought it was sprayed on lacquer, but it had been done with a lot of sanding and a brush. He installed an entire sprinkling system in our yard. He was a brick layer, an electrician, a plumber and had a part time job repairing heating and air conditioning units. I don’t think there was anything he couldn’t do.
I remember him telling me, “John, a job isn’t worth doing if you don’t do it right.” I saw him use virtually every hand tool, power tool, and special tool you can think of. I watched his skills and learned, by osmosis, some very valuable lessons. He was a perfectionist beyond most I have known.
He was a Shriner and very involved in the organization. He started by being involved in a small motor cycle group. then he progressed into the place where he wanted to customize a little car to put into the parades. He got a 60’s Renault four door for the job. He completely custom designed the car. He cut the roof off, shaved down the doors and welded them shut. Of course, he rebuilt the engine, upholstered and painted the car himself. I would often stand amazed at his talent.
When it came to his daily life each day it would take him two hours to get ready for work. It began with a hot shave and a shower. His hair was longer than it looked, curly and light when it was wet. But when he put his special red oil on it to straighten it to perfection it remained in perfect form. His work mates teased him because he would go to the rail yards wearing starched and ironed shirts and kacki pants. My mom would dip his shirts in liquid starch and iron them and put the pants on pants stretchers to dry. She would also sew a crease down the front of the pants to add to the perfect image that had to be present. His shoes were “spit shined” each day to high gloss like he had learned in the Air Force. His regimen included a specialized packed lunch and all of the other things he would take with him every day to work. The man who left for work was a totally different man than the one that came home each night. I don’t know what happened in between those eight hours but coming home appeared to be quite painful for this man.
My First Car!
When I was getting ready to turn 16, my dad said he would go with me to buy my first car. As I pondered the reality of having a car the only solution I could think of is that it would be kept at my dad’s house or parking it down the street keeping the secret that my dad had been involved in the process. Surely Gerb would not have allowed me to have a car or the freedom that might come along with it.
So, dad and I went shopping. For some reason the Volkswagen “bug” seemed to stand out and my first car was a 1964 Volkswagen beetle. I paid $450 dollars for it. I took it to my dad’s and left it there. Since I didn’t have my driver’s license anyway it seemed to be the best solution.
My older sister had already “escaped” to live with my dad and my middle sister was getting married. All I could think of is what I would do without her being there with me. There were many nights where we would get into bed with each other shaking uncontrollably as the fights went on upstairs. Who would save me when she left?
My dad came to my rescue. One day with I was with him he asked me if I would consider moving in with him. What? I never even considered this as an option! I immediately said yes and began to plan my escape. That year my dad had gotten me a portable 13 inch television. But that had to be hidden in my closet so that Gerb never knew I had it. Living with my dad would mean I would be free to enjoy the things in life that had come my way. No more barriers around the potential of joy. Maybe I can laugh again like I had remembered before Gerb became a part of our lives.
So, the anxiety of the move began. But I used the energy to secretly pack my few boxes in preparation for the move. I didn’t tell anyone, certainly not my mom. She didn’t keep anything from Gerb, so this was a secret that had to be kept. I couldn’t risk the potential of my plan being sabotaged. As I looked at the TV in my closet I realized it would come out! And so would I.
All I could think of is getting to spend time with my cousins who lived in town, playing cards with my dad’s friends, enjoying pizza at the local pizzeria and doing all of the “normal” things that others seemed to get to do. Freedom was at my door! My dad was rescuing me and I couldn’t wait.
So, Saturday morning came. My dad was to arrive at 10:00 AM and I had to be ready. Boxes packed: Check. Clothes gathered: check. I am ready but how will I carry this out? I had to tell my mom something. So, at 9:50 AM I went upstairs and found my mom in the living room. Gerb was still asleep so I felt safer and had to get this done. “Mom, I am going to live with dad.” She just sat there and a couple of tears came down her face, “When?” “Ten minutes, mom.”
The Escape Vehicle
So I mustered up the strength I had to gather the last things into boxes. Than I saw dad drive up. It was a blue 1963 Chevy II station wagon. He pulled in and I started carrying boxes upstairs and out into the drive way. After about 15 minutes we were done.
I breathed a sigh of relief and we drove away. I am finally free! I can live! I can go see my car. After all, I was just 15 years old and that was important.
I didn’t see or talk to my mom for about a month. But, I began to find liberty to enjoy a little bit of life. I had to heal. I had spent five years of my life in the worst prison I could have imagined considering it was a house in the suburbs on a normal street of life. It just seemed that no one had noticed our pain. I had felt so alone and trapped. But not any more!
The power of my dad’s question was that it seemed he had heard me. He seemed to know what was going on and how much I needed help. I don’t know why he hadn’t done that earlier but it didn’t matter at that point. I was on my way to a new life.
I visited mom a few times each year after that. Gerb seemed to just stay in the garage when I came over. Sometimes he would come into the house and grunt something to my mom or to me but there was never any kind of conversation that occurred. I was glad to not see him anyway. I mean after all, he molested me, took my home away from me, imprisoned me from life. Why would I want to see him?
The Ketchup Packet that Heals
Later in his life, Gerb got very ill with colon disease. He had several bouts with cancer of the tongue and colon. He had a colostomy which unnerved him to no end because it was “messy.” At the end of his life he was in the hospital and my wife and I were in Omaha visiting. As we drove past the hospital where he was, I took a deep breath and said, “I think we are supposed to go see him.” It took everything in me to turn the car around and follow what I believed to be the right thing to do.
So, in we went. My mom wasn’t there to distract us with her typical non-stop talking, and we sat down in his room. We talked about a few meaningless things. The nurse brought in Gerb’s lunch and sat it on his tray. As I looked at him I saw a frail broken man. He was trying to get his ketchup packet open and he was failing miserably. Gerb had always been able to do anything he wanted. But at this time in his life, he wasn’t able to do even the simplest of things. “Gerb, do you want me to open your ketchup for you?” I timidly asked him. Even at this time, I feared his responses. But with some surprise, he said “Yes.”
He died a few months later. When the pastor who was to lead the funeral came to my mom’s house he asked about who this man was. They had no relationship with any pastors who knew them. I remember my mom saying “he has two children and three step children.” Then she went on to say, “Well, he wasn’t the best step dad in the world.” I couldn’t believe my ears! That was the first acknowledgment from her that there was anything wrong with this picture. Well, at least she did see that something wasn’t right.
So, the last memory I have of Gerb is me opening up his ketchup. Funny, isn’t it? God led me to a place in life where my final interaction with this abusive mean spirited man was to serve him. I still get tears when I think of that tender moment of life. I have no idea what he may have been thinking but God had revealed His grace to me through this unforeseen event.
There was really only a handful of people at his funeral other than friends of my little brother, who has down’s syndrome. As I look back at Gerb’s life I feel grieved that such a talented, competent man ended up to be so invisible. God had given him such incredible intelligence, coordination, drive, and potential kingdom purpose. At the end he was virtually invisible to the masses. It was a sad and lonely ending to his life. I felt relieved that my fears were finally gone forever and that there would be no more present pain from his life into mine. I was also glad that God led me to the hospital visit. It seemed that in the ketchup packet incident, all of the pain was washed away. There was a humility between us that seemed to heal the wounds for me. Strange ending of his life but I am eternally thankful to God for His leading me into His abundant grace once again.
Wednesday, December 1st, 2010
John, this is World AIDS Day. In light of your ministry, can you share anything with me about what you would say today to those hearing about World AIDS Day?
I would love to share a very personal story that was life changing for me at a very personal level. Experiencing the reality of HIV/AIDS has touched us all in some way or another. But for me, meeting Matt would impact virtually every decision I would make over the next 25 years. I wrote this article in 1986 at a time when the AIDS crisis was at a peak and many people knew little about the disease. Their fears were at a high point and those who suffered the illness were treated like modern day lepers.
“DEAR LORD, CAN I TOUCH HIS HAND?”
September 7, 1986
By John J. Smid
“Visitors must wash their hands and wear gown before entering room.”
A sign on the door to Matt’s room spoke of caution and I quickly questioned God, “Will you protect me as I go in? I don’t know what could happen but, I know the answer.” “Trust in the Lord with all thy heart and lean not on your own understanding…”
I received a call from Jeanie that surprised me. “John, will you go to the hospital with me to see Joe’s roommate who is dying of AIDS?” I hadn’t heard from Jeanie for some time. Her brother was someone I had a gay relationship with for several years. She was always kind to me and we remained in contact with each other after Joe and I broke up. I immediately said yes to her request and we set the plan to arrive at the hospital that day. She felt an urgency to talk with Joe’s roommate, Matt. She wanted to make sure he knew about the gospel of Jesus before . . . well, . . . before something happened.
We met at the door of the hospital and found a room to pray in, knowing we needed the Lord’s guidance. Afterwards, we proceeded boldly to his room. The nurse directed us to the tiny closet full of gowns and helped us put a yellow, awkward, fibrous thing on. As we entered the room, I could see a weak, fragile body lying with an oxygen mask covering his face. Although I had never seen him before, I knew I was supposed to be there.
Jeanie was really unsure of what to say. Earlier she had con¬fided to me that she had never led anyone to Christ before. I had reassured her that God was going to use us–this was His work and we would just be His voice. I could see that Matt was glad to see her–even surprised! Jeannie introduced me and we went through the general small talk. We had only been there two or three minutes when the nurse came in to give Matt his inhalation treatment. We left the room leaving our gowns in a large garbage can full of other yellow gowns which had been discarded.
God was in control and we needed the next ten minutes to gather our thoughts. “What do we say, God? What has he heard before? Your Word says you will bring to remembrance those things which the Holy Spirit has revealed in the past. We give it to you Lord.” We then returned to his room.
He knew he was in a desperate situation. He tried to talk to us, but it was difficult considering his very short, labored breaths. His lungs were full of fluid and not much room was left for air. Jeannie asked Matt how he was handling everything. He said that he had been praying- that God would somehow get him through okay. I’m sure God had heard his prayer. Of course, I knew the only way everything would be okay was through Jesus. Jeanie began to share with him about Jesus and how he needed to know Him fully. I shared with him John 3:16,” For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that who¬ever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life”. His eyes brightened slightly, “I’ve heard that one before,” he said knowingly. When I questioned him, he said he had heard it as a small boy in Sunday school. This was an answer to our prayer earlier that God would reveal past knowledge of His scripture, and that God’s Word would not return void.
Matt then went on to say that his parents quit going to church a long time ago because of “political problems” within their church. Jeanie then concluded the gospel message by showing him the sinner’s prayer in a Gideon Bible which she had brought for him. Jeannie asked if we could hold his hand and pray with him. He said, “Sure, but no one else would.”
At this point, I realized that he had been experiencing the deep pain of alienation which seems to accompany this disease. If only I could bring him to the point where he Knew God’s love for him! We prayed and then left him with the gospel in his mind, the Bible in his hand and our love for him in his heart. I told him that I hoped to return to see him again. He said that would be okay.
I pondered over my visit with Matt, my first visit with some¬one facing certain death from a disease that is dreaded and feared and seemed to be growing to great proportions. I called Jeannie that evening to follow up with her. She said her brother had some strong reactions to the fact that I had been involved in her visit. But at the end of their conversation he said, “I didn’t like it that John was there but from speaking with Matt, I guess it was ok. He seemed to be better after your visit.” As I mulled over this experience, I really felt a need to see Matt again, but I wanted to be sure that it was God’s will. I continued to pray about it and the desire to visit Matt again became stronger.
Thursday came and I knew this was the right day to go. Matt had only been in the hospital since Monday. I thought a good time to go would be after work at around 5:00 P.M.
When I got to his room, I noticed that the sign bearing the precautions had been removed from the door. Upon noticing other visitors there I proceeded to enter the room. Then I realized that Matt was not in this room. “Dear Lord, I hope he hasn’t died already!” My heart dropped. I had never been around this type of situation before. People can go so quickly . . . one just never knows.
I stopped at the nurses’ station outside and asked where Matt would be. She told me he had been moved to intensive care. My heart really dropped then, “God, it’s getting worse isn’t it?” I thought. My mind continued to go over the insights God had revealed to me about the situation Matt was in. I asked the nurse If he could have visitors, she replied, “Well, usually only family members but,” she paused and could have just said no, but a question came to her mind, “Why don’t you go to the ICU and ask?”. I believe that was in God’s plan.
My knees were slightly shaking as I took the long walk through the hospital heading for the intensive care unit. As I entered the area of the ICU, I began to walk aimlessly for I had no idea where I was supposed to go. I stopped and questioned God one more time, “God am I really supposed to be here?” God’s reply in His usual firm voice was “Go boldly, John.” I picked myself up by the heels and began a steadfast walk to the nurses’ station in the ICU. “Ma’am, I’m looking for Matt. I am a minister from the church across the street.” Well, I wasn’t officially a minister but I was from the church across the street.
She paused with that same look on her face that the other nurse upstairs had. I could see God working again. “Wash your hands before entering and when leaving”, she replied quickly. She never did say “yes” or “no”. I then had to ask her where he was. She pointed to the room behind me. I was very surprised. I had looked in that room when I first entered the ICU and did not even recognize him.
I went into his room and obediently washed my hands. He was asleep and I did I didn’t want to startle him but the sink turned out to be one of the noisy ones, of course. I walked over to him, took his hand in mine and spoke to him. “Matt, I’ve come to pray with you, is that okay?” He turned and looked at me with groggy, half-opened eyes and squeezed my hand. He couldn’t talk since there were many tubes attached to him including a respirator in his mouth. I could tell he was glad to see me.
I began to pray and thank God for Matt’s joy and the people he had touched in his life. I then asked him if he still remember¬ed John 3:16. He nodded his head in a positive way. I reminded him that God would forgive all of his past if only he would ask and He would hear his prayers. He nodded again, closing his eyes periodically. I reminded him of God’s love for him. I told him to call out to Jesus and everything would be okay. I waited and prayed quietly for a moment.
Then I noticed something beautiful happen. Matt’s breath was different. It had quieted down and a peace came into the room! I asked him if he could feel God’s peace. He nodded again. I was really glad! I knew he felt it, but I wanted him to tell me. I left him with the reassuring words that God would be there whenever he called and everything was going to be alright.
His parents were walking into the hospital as I was leaving. I told them who I was and I asked them if they wanted to step into the prayer room with me and pray for Matt. They quickly said “no.” I was shocked at their pert answer but realized that the shame of their son’s disease had trapped them too. But I also remembered Matt sharing that they had felt wounded by a church in the past. It was very sad for me to hear their pain and yet see their fear of any “minister” approaching them with this issue. That visit brought out the fact that AIDS patients and their families can live with such paralyzing shame and embarrassment.
When I reached my car, I sat down inside and broke into sobbing tears.
I was not sad for Matt; I felt confident that he would be fine. I was burdened for all those others like Matt. There are probably more than we realize.
“Dear Lord, Please bring others to me so I can touch their hands. And Lord, raise up others with a burden to help. . . and, Lord, one more thing . . . help me find a way to share your love and forgiveness to people before they find themselves with no way out of this disease. Thank you Lord, for the great blessing you have bestowed on me today.”
God has answered my prayer. For 25 years He has allowed me to touch numerous people whose who have wrestled with HIV and AIDS. Sadly, as I counted up those whom I have known with the disease, 23 of them have died from AIDS.
Thankfully, through the world of medical research, many are now living well with HIV/AIDS.
But, as Christians, are we learning to love better? Are we now willing to touch their lives with ours? Can we hear their hearts without judgment of how or why they have the disease?
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:18