Archive for the ‘Testimonies’ Category
Thursday, February 17th, 2011
Valentines Week, 1984. When roses were being handed out, I was calling it quits with a gay partner.
The 1970 Continental Mark III was a personal luxury car produced by Lincoln and sold in North America in the 1969 through 1971 model years.
This car came into my life through a new man that I met at the “Stage Door Lounge”, a local gay bar. Jim, one of my partners, bought this car because he had always wanted one and he found a perfect model at a reasonable price. It was beautiful, luxurious, and he was so excited to find it. I have to say, I loved it too. When I rode in it I felt rich, sassy, and first class.
The Cars Keep Coming
As I write all of these stories about cars that remind me of my life, this car symbolizes for me the confusion, immorality, and brokenness I experienced. I was trying to find a gay partner that wouldn’t cheat on me and leave me. But was blind as to how I was the one who cheated, lied, and left people hurting in the dust.
After such devastation of Steve leaving me and becoming involved with my friend, Don, I was determined I would find someone who would love me. I went to the local gay bars and discos on the weekends hoping that one of those nights I would find the right person.
Saturday nights were obviously the main gathering time but since I was desperate, I started my weekend going out sometimes as early as Thursday nights. There were many ways a guy could manage the bar depending on his circumstances. If I didn’t want the pressure of approaching men, I would sit with friends on the side and make it clear I was with a group. If, on the other hand, I was looking for someone then I would stand alone and show that I was open to someone approaching me.
On one night in particular I remember driving to the bar. It was about 10:30 at night and I saw a handsome young man walking down the street. I stopped to ask him if he need a ride. As we talked I found out that he was gay and I asked him if he knew about the local gay bars. He said no and I asked if he’d like me to take him there. So, he agreed and I escorted this young man to the gay bars for the very first time. I always felt guilty that I introduced him to the gay bars but that was the only way I knew of to connect to the gay community. When I took him home, as was often the case, we had a one night stand. I saw him many other times at the bar. Many times I wondered what it would have been like for me if I had found a place to connect that wasn’t through the bar scene.
Maybe This Will Work Out Better
One night I saw a guy standing alone. He had jeans, a plaid shirt, and suspenders on with boots. He looked quite alluring. I walked up to him and he seemed aloof to talk with but he also seemed kind. He wasn’t drinking much so that was a good sign. I didn’t like to be around people that were drunk.
We introduced ourselves and he said his name was Jim. Jim and I really hit it off and at the end of the evening he asked me to follow him home to his apartment. I was more than eager to spend more time with him. I thought maybe this would be the man I was looking for.
We went to his place and it was in a classic, really cool, old building. In his apartment I found his things to be organized like an antique store display window. It was done with great attention to detail. He had a lot of things and talked about how he really didn’t care much about them but valued relationships more.
Jim and I talked into the middle of the night. Well, I am not so sure Jim talked that much because he seemed to be more of a listener. I was very open about what had just happened in my life and Jim seemed to be a comforter for my wounds.
So, Jim and I began to hang out a lot and he always wanted to see me more. One Sunday Jim said he wanted to go with me to get my kids and hang out with us. This was very new! Jim really liked my kids and they liked him. He was funny and enjoyed teasing them a lot. By this time, they were three and four years old so they were easily entertained.
We exchanged staying at each others houses and it seemed we were moving into a deeper relationship. However , Jim made it clear that he wasn’t eager to share a home. There seemed to be a resistance to giving up his apartment and his personal way of living. I couldn’t say I was very interested in giving up my place either. I had a great apartment and my home life had calmed down since Steve moved out and my personal time at home became very important to me.
Jim had a large, boisterous Italian family. He talked a lot about his mom and dad, who had passed away. His aunt “Babe” was now like a mom to him. He loved her so much and talked of how he loved to go hang out at her house. She was very dramatic and he loved that about her. We used to laugh a lot about how Aunt Babe responded to life. She reminded me of an old screen actress who always had some drama going on.
His Sister is a Jesus Freak!
Jim also had two sisters and two brothers that he loved dearly. He was particularly close to one sister. Her name was Jen. Jim wanted me to go with him to meet Jen and her family. Before we went, he wanted to brief me on some things. He said that Jen and her husband were Jesus Freaks. He said they talked about Jesus all of the time and he wanted to warn me before we got there.
Jen was delightful! She clearly loved her brother, Jim. She talked of his homosexuality in kind of a distracted way. She treated Jim’s friends with respect but called them Jim’s “funny friends.” We all laughed about the way she put things and it was clear she had loved the other men Jim had introduced her to as much as she showed me she loved me. As a matter of fact, Jen and I are still connected today.
My relationship with Jim became kind of complicated. Jim would at times say he didn’t want to hang out on a particular weekend and said he was tired. He and I worked out a special telephone signal that would tell each other we were going to bed rather than to talk. So Jim would ring the phone at 11:00 PM and I would know he was going to sleep. I felt close to him with our special code system.
On one Friday night I decided to go out to the bar and arrived around 9:30 PM. Jim had said he was tired and was staying home so I took advantage of the free evening to be with other friends. I walked in to the bar and Jim was standing in the “looking” pose? I felt betrayed and distrustful for obvious reasons. This began a series of ups and downs for Jim and me. I loved Jim a lot and overlooked the open, unspoken agreement. Actually, I took advantage of the opportunities to be with other men. We hung out often and spent time with family and of course, Jim loved my kids so we did fun things with them too.
There was a guy named Jerry that kept calling me to get together. One day he came to my house and it was clear that he wanted to have sex. I didn’t see him in that way and really didn’t want to do anything sexual with him. But he kept trying and eventually I gave into his advances. It was at this time that I realized I was compromising. I felt disrespected, used, and certainly unfulfilled. There were sexual opportunities with men that at the time I wished would have moved into more of a relationship, then there were those I wanted to forget completely. My friend, Don, always told me that it wasn’t a good idea to have sex with your “friends” because it would ruin the relationship. That happened to me too.
A Revival Service? What’s That?
Jim’s sister, Jen, called me to invite me to one of their church services. She described it as a “revival” service which sounded quite interesting to me. I hadn’t been to a church other than a wedding or funeral since I was married to Kristy. So, on a Wednesday night, I met Jen and her husband at a small church in Council Bluffs Iowa, without Jim. He wasn’t interested in going.
I don’t remember much about the speaker, or the event but something happened to me that evening that was quite amazing. I heard this voice, not out loud, but it was clear. “John, you don’t have to live this way any longer.” I clearly understood what that meant. I had gone through such turmoil and disappointment that it seemed that God Himself was telling me that I could make a dramatic change in my life that would free me from all of the unhealthy relationships and sexual promiscuity that I had been involved in.
I had not been sexually faithful to any of the men I had been with. I had many one night stands along the way. Steve’s rejection wounded me greatly, Jim having other relationships was hurtful. My own promiscuity was messing with my mind as well. This message from God changed something deep in my heart. It seemed He had heard my cries for help and acknowledged my inner pain.
After those words, came an instruction. “Call Laurie, and ask her out to dinner.” Laurie was a girl that I knew from the community theater that I was involved with. She was delightful, fun, and spending time with her was something I knew I would enjoy.
So, I went home from the “revival service” and called Laurie. Her response was energetically “yes.” So We went to dinner at a little place in mid town Omaha. As we talked I mentioned to her that God had spoken to me and that I was seriously interested in finding out more about this Jesus that so many had talked about in the recent months. I also was also honest with her about my divorce and being gay.
Laurie’s response was surprising. She said she was a Christian and that she had been divorced too. She went on to tell me that her first husband was gay and that his homosexuality was the reason for their divorce. She still loved him but their marriage didn’t survive and ended amicably.
Oh, my gosh. This is the first time I had put all of my lives together in one discussion. Laurie told me she knew I was friends with several of the gay guys at the theater and that she accepted us the way we were and didn’t reject us for being gay.
I didn’t spend much more individual time with Laurie but our time together made a huge difference in my view of Jesus and other barriers between me and religion were knocked down. I became even more vocal about what I was discovering about Jesus. Jim and I would argue about this often because he was Catholic and held to different views than I was discovering from people that I was talking with.
Another Jesus Freak on the Scene
I worked with a girl that was a very energetic “Jesus Freak.” Her name was Pat and she had a bible on her desk, Jesus stickers all over and she frequently talked about her faith with all of us at work. She began to open up the Bible with me and talk about things it said. One day she walked in with a paperback Bible that she gave to me as a gift. She told me to read it starting with the book of John.
Pat also invited me to go to church with her but I wasn’t quite ready for that yet. So, I began to read the book of John and found I actually understood it for the first time in my life! I started to understand what the “gospel” meant and Pat and I talked about what that would mean for me if I would accept Jesus’ offer of eternal life through His sacrifice. Yes! I get it!
Oh, now I am a Christian and Jim and I battled even more. He thought I had become like his sister Jen and our relationship became even more rocky. But I still loved him and it seemed he still loved me. After a season of challenging circumstances Jim and I separated. Now what? Well, now I’m a Christian and I am thinking differently about many things.
Have Sex and Tell Him About Jesus!
While walking in a city park I met an attractive young man. After we talked we arranged to meet again. Of course, we did and it ended up in a sexual evening together. But this time was different. He was hurting about something that was going on in his life and I spent a lot of time talking to him about Jesus, the gospel, and how God would help him through the challenge he was facing.
With Jim out of the picture I figured maybe it would work better if I met a guy that was already a Christian and would support my new understanding of Jesus. “Yes, that’s it! A Christian partner.”
You’re a Christian, and You Love Me!
At the theater there was one guy, named Pete, that everyone really liked. He was kind of close to Laurie so that was a good sign. One evening Pete and I were alone in his car talking and something came alive in our time together and we ended up going to his apartment. We started off our closeness with a lot of talking and ended up having sex that night. But this time something was different. Pete was different than all of the others I had known and slept with. He seemed to have spiritual convictions about life, relationships, and was very strong about his faith.
Pete was a school teacher at a local Lutheran grade school where he wasn’t necessarily open about his homosexuality, but was dearly loved by the other teachers and by the kids. His dad was a Lutheran pastor and he had been raised in the church, knowing the Bible, and clearly having a relationship with Jesus. I loved that about him.
We spent every night together after our first date. Mostly at my house, he began to move his things in from his house to mine. After a couple of months, Pete decided to let go of his apartment and totally move in with me.
Pete drove a 1980 Toyota. It was a simple, yet practical car. His car was much better than my ‘75 Dodge colt so he’d almost always drive when we went places. I felt special when he’d often come downtown to pick me up from work. I usually took the bus so this was a real treat.
New Partner, Christmas in Florida! More Christian Growth
Christmas was coming and Pete had planned a trip to his parents home near Orlando Florida. He talked to them about bringing his “roommate” with him this year and they were delighted to have me to come. This was 1980 and Disney World was very new and a brand new park opened up that year called “Epcot Center.” I was more than elated that I was going to go to Florida, to “Epcot”, and to be with Pete and his family. We were ecstatic about our new relationship and the future looked bright for us.
When I arrived at his parents’ home they were more than gracious. His dad and I would discuss the Bible and he answered many questions I had about my new faith. I am sure his parents were encouraged to see this new Christian coming into their home. We slept in the guest room and spoke many times about his parents not knowing anything about our “friendship” that was occurring in their guest room. But we just kept our little secret and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with his family.
When we got home something inside me tripped and I began to feel drawn to talk with Jim again. I missed him. We had been together for a couple of years and I liked the way he made me feel. So, unbeknownst to Pete, I called Jim. We got together and this just stirred things up all over again between me and Jim. I didn’t seem to be able to keep from calling him. This of course created some stress in my relationship with Pete.
Eventually, I thought I wanted to get back together with Jim. So, I told Pete and he moved out and was obviously very hurt. Jim and I started our relationship up all over again and soon the disappointments came back. Jim was unfaithful and lied about some things again. I was so disappointed. I thought it would be different this time.
It had been only a couple of weeks so I called Pete and told him I wanted to meet with him. I told him I was very sorry and that I really loved him. So, Pete moved back with me and life was good between us. I had gotten into such a pattern of lying and deceiving that all over again, I contacted Jim. I was so unstable with all of this. Pete found out that I had deceived him again and after just knowing him for about 8 months, Pete made a healthy decision and broke up with me for the last time. I was now alone and had no one.
By this time I had begun the process of buying a little house. Maybe the third time is a charm. I called Jim once again and he seemed to have made some big changes in his life. He said he was ready to move in together. This had mostly been the breakdown between us so this was quite the step for Jim. I felt he had changed, so I was game to take this step as well. We began talking about the house and what it would mean for us both to settle down and make a life with each other.
Me! At a Pentecostal Church?
By this time, I had agreed to go to church with Pat. I found her church to be alive! It was exciting to go there. One Sunday morning after I had been out with Joe the night before, the Pastor, John Walker, came up to me and said, “That’s a fine yellow sweater you have on there, my friend.” He didn’t know that I bought it special for my date with my gay partner the day before. The yellow sweater became symbolic of my two lives. The life with Jim who didn’t want anything to do with my new religion, and going to church at a Pentecostal church! I felt torn, but I didn’t want to be alone either.
I had now begun to evaluate my life at a deeper level. I had divorced my wife and abandoned my children. I became sexually promiscuous and couldn’t maintain a healthy relationship with any of my partners. I was emotionally dependent and compromising with Jim and it seemed he was all I had. But the conflict grew within me.
I reflected on what God had told me at the revival service and realized He had given me hope that I didn’t have to live in such relational turmoil and insanity. I found out that there was a singles ministry that was pretty active at the church I had attended and that they were hosting a semi-annual singles retreat in February. I wanted to go to that retreat but I knew that Jim wouldn’t like that too much.
Valentine’s Day Week, 1984
Interestingly the day I am writing this is February 14, 2011. Valentines week, 27 years ago, I called Jim up and told him I couldn’t see him anymore. Our relationship had always been rocky, confusing, and hurtful for us both. Jim’s response was, “One day, I’ll pursue my faith like you are but I am not ready yet.”
I hung up the phone and my life was about to dramatically change.
I love the LORD, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy.
Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.
The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came over me;
I was overcome by distress and sorrow.
Then I called on the name of the LORD: “LORD, save me!”
The LORD is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion.
The LORD protects the unwary; when I was brought low, he saved me.
Return to your rest, my soul, for the LORD has been good to you.
For you, LORD, have delivered me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before the LORD in the land of the living.
I trusted in the LORD when I said, “I am greatly afflicted”;
in my alarm I said, “Everyone is a liar.”
What shall I return to the LORD for all his goodness to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD.
I will fulfill my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people.
Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful servants.
Truly I am your servant, LORD; I serve you just as my mother did;
you have freed me from my chains.
I will sacrifice a thank offering to you and call on the name of the LORD.
I will fulfill my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people,
in the courts of the house of the LORD—in your midst, Jerusalem.
Praise the LORD.
Thursday, February 10th, 2011
1975 Dodge Colt
Nothing fancy about this car. It wasn’t even a real Dodge. It was a Mitsubishi incognito. After a crash and a fill in car, it was a new start from a bad place in life. It was easy on gas and ran well so it fit the bill.
Leaving John’s house in my ”67 Olds, I drove up to the apartment building where Ben and Don lived to unload my things and climbed up three flights of stairs. Ben opened the door welcoming me in with a great big a hug.
The song, “What I Did For Love”, was blaring throughout their apartment when I arrived. It was from the soundtrack “A Chorus Line.” There was a gay character in the musical that I seemed to resonate with and my new life felt like a blank page to be filled in.
That’s the way I saw it, the old is gone, the new has come and John Smid is going to redesign his life.
I stayed in the guest bedroom at Ben and Don’s apartment for about a month. I went to bed the first night in a haze, like it was a dream that I was living in. I felt safe and yet I recognized nothing around me. I had only been around these guys a few times. Their conversations, their friends, this was all so strange but at the same time exciting. I felt relieved that I didn’t live in the tension that I had been in for so long.
Ignoring the reality of what I had just done, I could hardly wait for the next weekend when I could spend time with my new friend, John. I wondered what he would show me, or open my eyes to next. It was a discovery process to find out what my new life was really all about.
On Friday night, we went to the “Stage Door Lounge”, a local gay disco, where he introduced me to some of his friends. The scene was full of excitement, dancing, men embracing each other. Some men were standing alone, postured to gain attention. John said they were hoping to find someone to go home with that night. The cultural education of the local gay scene began. The place smelled of smoke and alcohol making it pungent. But, with the loud, energetic music like “Evita” and “Donna Summer” songs, John and I enjoyed the music and the evening and went back to his house with yet more sexual contact.
Going to work on Monday morning was quite different from all the many years before. I was now getting a divorce and my friends around me knew but no one really said much. I kept my reasons for the divorce vague to most of them. So, the questions on Monday morning were as usual, “What did you do this weekend?” I talked about partying, going out, enjoying new friends. It felt so odd but yet I was proud of my answers because for the first time in my life it seemed I had something exciting to talk about. I was now popular in party circles. Unlike my high school years and those following, I was now like others who enjoyed their social lives intensely.
The next weekend I went out again. But this time some of my friends and I decided to go out to the local pancake house after the bar closed. Once we arrived in the door two girls came across the room to greet me. “John, come sit with us for a minute.” It was Pat and Randy. These girls had been high school friends and bridesmaids in my wedding with Kristy. Pat had actually introduced me to Kristy in high school.
“John, you need Jesus!”
So, I sat down and right off the bat, “John, you need Jesus!!” It seemed like they were speaking in unison. They began to tell me how they had found Jesus and how exciting it was to be Christians. They were extremely energetic about their new belief. We all knew that the life they had lived after high school was less than moral. They were party girls who lived together. I remember going to a party at their apartment. Since I was the conservative married guy at the time I was surprised at the atmosphere they were living in. So this was really strange to think of them as “religious” people.
I had no idea what this was all about. I had been raised Catholic, Pat was too. So she talked about that, “John, this is nothing like going to Catholic church.” Oh, boy, what did I get myself into? I felt trapped by these two girls who cornered me to tell me about Jesus. I didn’t want to hear about Jesus. I wanted to be with my new friends. After some time of listening to their spiel, I got up to go back to sit with my friends. In my entire life, I had never been approached like this about religion, much less such a strong emphasis on “Jesus.”
What? Where did they go? My friends had left and they didn’t even say goodbye. I felt rejected, abandoned and all alone. These girls had robbed me from time with my friends then they just left me. So, I went home and didn’t really want to think about the discussion with Pat and Randy. It was all too confusing and certainly contrary to the direction I was heading.
The time had come for me to find my own apartment. Ben and Don had been extremely hospitable but I wanted my own space. I found a great apartment that was just right for me. It was a classic midtown apartment and cool. It had a living room, a bedroom, a long primitive kitchen and a small sun room. Old woodwork with wood floors added to the feel of the place. It wasn’t very clean so I scrubbed it to a shine and began to dream of how I could decorate it to be really cool. I gathered a couple of things to make it a home and started my new independent life.
Then one afternoon, my life was once again challenged. After the shock of the “Jesus girls” it seemed like “someone” was trying to get my attention. I was driving to the mall after work one day and a huge storm came into the city. I felt the winds pick up, the rain started to fall and it soon felt like a cyclone was hitting. Going down a hill the water began to rise and the winds blew harder and all of a sudden “CRASH!” I heard the back window of my car cave in. Leaves were blowing all around inside the car. It felt like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz! As I was going down the hill a large tree branch had fallen on the back of my car. The car stopped suddenly and it was trapped underneath the tree.
I got out into the street and the flood of water took me off of my feet. My shoes, my glasses, and my watch all went down the gutter . I got out of the water, socks soaked and hanging over the end of my feet and ran into a garage close by where others were standing.
The storm subsided and not knowing what to do about my car, I decided to walk 10 blocks to my home in my flopping socks. As I stood in the bathtub taking my wet and muddy clothes off, for one moment I pondered my life. I felt confused and alone. But surely, there would be a time when I would find someone to help fill my life again. Much like when the girls talked to me, this was a moment of personal honesty, but I didn’t want that right now. I just wanted to get on with where I was headed. My office had a little newspaper they compiled for moral building and my “tornado” experience made the next issue. It was titled “John Smid was mugged by Mother Nature.”
My friend, Don, was selling his 1966 Chevelle, so I replaced the Oldsmobile with his car. It was only $600 so that was manageable for me. It seemed to be the right provision at the right time.
John was pretty social and remained uncommitted to a monogamous relationship with me and would often proudly speak of other sexual conquests. This was not my plan. I wanted to find that one person who would love me, and me alone. Even though I was heading towards promiscuous relationships, there was something in me that still wanted something stable, trustworthy.
The New Guy
One evening John said, “Hey, John, I think you should meet a guy that I just met. His name is Steve.” I was interested, so John set up a meeting with Steve and we seemed to hit it off well. It felt like John wanted to expand our relationship boundaries so I wasn’t so focused on him. Steve invited me to spend the afternoon at his suburban home one Saturday afternoon. We sat outside in the sun while Steve fixed Pina Colada’s. Steve seemed really interested in spending more time with me. He talked about working in town just a few blocks from where I lived. I was so romantic to share a quiet afternoon sipping cool drinks. Steve pridefully talked about his roommate being a very wealthy business owner in Omaha. He seemed to have a strange connection with him, but I was so enamored with the attention he was giving me that I just ignored the thoughts that it might have been a sexual relationship.
Steve came by one night after work and the evening ended up with one more sexual encounter with yet another guy. This was now the fourth man that I had sex with. This one seemed different. He seemed like he wanted some kind of home, some kind of committed relationship. He was good looking, energetic, and seemed to enjoy life. To top it off, he made me feel really special, significant. That night, Steve stayed at my place since he was close to work. This began to reoccur and I thought he wanted me.
We soon talked about moving in together in our own place. This seemed fast but it was what I was looking for and it seemed to be mutual. So, it happened that there was a great apartment open in the same building that Ben and Don lived in. Amongst our friends, that building was thought to be a premium building to be in. It was all gay, and right in the middle of the mid-town location that we all wanted to live in.
Since my 6 month lease was up, Steve and I moved in together I had found that one person to be with. I put all of my energy into making this a home for the two of us. Steve was excited and it felt like we were married! I didn’t go to the bars anymore and just enjoyed every minute I could have with the new man of my dreams. Steve drove a 1978 Pontiac TransAm. It was bright red and boy did I love riding in it. I got to drive it sometimes too. I felt like I was really something when I would drive this hot car around town. At times I would drive it to pick up my kids. I felt pretty puffed up showing up in the driveway with a car that I knew Kristy would be jealous of. I wanted her to think my life was going pretty well.
My birthday was coming up that first year away from Kristy. When it arrived I waited for something special from Steve. But actually this birthday was one of the hardest ones I had ever had. I received nothing from Steve and as a matter of fact, I didn’t get a card from anyone. I felt so hurt that he had not done anything and everyone had forgotten my
This was just the beginning of an extremely painful season of my life. Steve not only didn’t acknowledge my birthday, but worse, he started going out without me to be with other friends. He said he needed some freedom outside of our relationship. I sat home grieving over him being somewhere without me on many nights. I would go to bed worrying that he may be getting involved with someone else. It got to the place where I was desperate to keep him even if it meant that I had to put up with whatever he may have been doing. I became sarcastic and manipulative because I was so fearful of losing him.
Our sexual life became a bargaining ground. He began to ask me to sleep in my own room because he said he needed his own space. I often begged him to allow me to sleep with him. He didn’t always agree and I wondered what in the world had happened to the “dream relationship” that I thought I had with Steve.
Halloween was coming and Steve and I decided to host a party. Since everyone around us thought of us as a couple and Halloween was a big gay holiday, this party was the talk of the town and many of our friends were coming. There were people I didn’t know because of Steve’s independence, but it didn’t matter, it was Steve and I that were hosting this party so there was still a resemblance of “the perfect gay couple.” At least he was living with me, believing I had the better end of the deal.
The Tin Man
During party, Steve seemed to be absent. I went into the kitchen asking if anyone had seen him and they seemed kind of awkward as they answered, “No, we don’t’ know where he is.” So, I went through the house to look further and found the bathroom door was closed. “Steve, are you in there? Are you sick?” From the other side of the door I heard, “Just leave me alone, get away from the door!” I was devastated at his response and couldn’t understand why he seemed so angry. A couple of minutes later the door opened and Steve came out, not alone, but with another man dressed as “The Tin Man.” Needless to say, the word devastation couldn’t begin to describe my broken heart about what I knew was going on.
When the guests all went home Steve was really drunk and he laid on the floor. I’ll never forget the picture of me sitting on the floor next to him sobbing, “Why would you do this to me?”
Our relationship obviously took a turn for the worse that night but I did everything I could to try to keep him. I did anything he wanted, let him do whatever he wanted, begged, suffered and cried. I couldn’t be alone without him.
Some of the greatest wounding I have experienced came from what happened between Steve and me. One day Steve and I talked in the kitchen and I’ll never forget him saying, “John, I have to be honest with you. You just don’t have what it takes to please me sexually.” The next day he moved out and I reached a new low in life. I was completely broken.
He told me that Don had said he could live with him. Don had broken up from Ben and was living alone. I felt deeply betrayed by Don. Why would he allow Steve to live there? Don was my only true friend and I needed him right now, but he had chosen Steve over me. He seemed oblivious to how I had been hurt.
With all of Steve’s things moved out I tried to put things together at my apartment. I used the coping mechanisms I had used other times to just shut down and move on. I just looked forward. I would find someone who would love me. But, the devastation went so deep this time I wasn’t sure I could move on.
1975 Dodge Colt
I had to get rid of Don’s car and it was time to look for a more economical one other than the gas hog V-8 of the Chevelle. I began the search and found one at a small local used car dealership. It was bright metallic green with white interior. Kind of sporty. It was a 1975 two door Dodge Colt. With a four cylinder Mitsubishi format, this was the one for me. It was a whopping $1300 dollars and I could afford that. It smoked a little bit, burning oil, but it was clean and easy on gas.
I haven’t said much about my kids. That is because I didn’t want to think much about that and saw them on Sunday afternoons and sometimes on Wednesday evenings. In the community I was in, kids weren’t really celebrated much.
When I was with my kids I knew that my friends didn’t really want them around and I am not sure I wanted them around these people anyway. The only friend that understood was Don since he had kids of his own and by this time, Don was out of the picture.
I had been attending a gay Alcoholics Anonymous group. Some of my friends said it might be helpful for processing my grief. One particular day in the group I shared some of what I had been going through and a young girl stood up and said, “I can relate to what you are feeling….” Something switched in me and all of a sudden I didn’t feel so alone in my pain. I learned the “Serenity Prayer” from this group that would come to be very helpful.
Driving across town to pick up my kids one Sunday was another turning point for me. The route to my kid’s house took me right past Don’s house where Steve was living. It became apparent to me that Steve had moved into Don’s life further than just a roommate so my personal pain had just increased. This house was the “scene of the crime” and the anxiety that I felt seemed unmanageable. As I drove by and entered the interstate all I could think of was how I could drive off the road and hopefully die. The suicidal thoughts were pretty heavy and then I thought of the prayer and began to cry out; “God, grant me the serenity…..”
Something miraculous happened that day. I had spoken to God in a very personal way for the first time in my life and it seemed that He answered.
The deep grief I was feeling seemed to lift and for the first time ever I saw that just maybe, God was real!
Friday, February 4th, 2011
From a brand new station wagon and a newly built custom home, to an old car, an old apartment, and a different life.
A 1967 Oldsmobile Cutlass wasn’t a status car in any way. It was an average family moving vehicle. The one I was about to buy was 12 years old. It was in pretty good shape and ran well. It was to be a second car. We only had one car and life was changing.
I told Kristy that I wanted a divorce.
I had plans to discover my true self. In my mind I told myself that I had found the missing piece of the puzzle that I had tried to put together for years.
I was gay. That’s it! I am gay!
I thought of myself as being a responsible person. I met my obligations. I wasn’t a deserter. I’m a moral person, I value family, marriage, and commitments. There was this part of my heart and mind that didn’t seem to fit that paradigm so I just split my brain into two parts. The rational, sane John and the John that was curious, confused, and longing for a connection that I had dreamed of. That part of John didn’t seem to think about responsibility, commitment, or values.
I was on a track to find others like myself. Ken, my gay friend from work, told me that he would introduce me to others like us, gay men. The first gay men that he introduced me to were a couple. Ken called them Tom and Ben. While it sounded strange to me to hear two men’s names used like that, I was curious and anxious to meet them. So, Ken invited me to their house one evening.
I told Kristy that I was “going out.” By this time she was in so much shock and grief, no questions were asked. I took this to mean that I was free to go wherever I wanted to go for whatever reason I had. Her lack of intervention told me that she understood and was accepting the situation. Boy was I wrong.
So, still only having one car, I got into our new station wagon and drove into the city. Tom and Ben lived in a sixplex apartment building. It was built in the 1930’s and was designed as a luxury building. Each apartment had a maid’s quarters, servant’s button on the floor of the dining room underneath the table. I was interested in seeing how “gay” men lived. Their house was well appointed, clean, and seemed to be a little old fashioned. Tom was the decorator and Ben was the more practical of the two. They told me that the entire building was gay men accept one couple that were accepting of homosexual people. They were the artistic type, so they understood. I think my eyes were wide from curiosity and satisfaction that I had found this new world. It was like going through the hole in “Alice in Wonderland.”
A New Gay Friend
I immediately had a lot in common with Ben. He was a United States Postal worker like my dad was. He had been married and had two gradeschool children. We talked a lot about what it was like to be gay and have a wife and family. He gave me hope that there was a life outside of my marriage. He also was clear that this would be a challenging way to live. He didn’t sugar coat anything as though it was glamorous. I remember one of the most significant things that Ben told me was, “John, remember you are John first, your identity isn’t in being gay.” His comment laid a foundation for me that has played back in useful ways all through the years.
As I was leaving their home, they mentioned they had a friend who was also named John that they wanted to introduce me to. It was as though they were setting me up for a blind date. They mentioned that there was another man named Bob that I should meet. Bob was a psychologist and was about 10 years older than I was. So, leaving their house, I had something else to look forward to, meeting other people like me.
In a couple of weeks, Bob and I met for dinner. During our conversation, Bob made a profound statement. I was talking about my desire for a life long committed partner relationship. Remember, I am faithful and maintain my commitments. Well, Bob’s response was, “John, I have been at this lifestyle for 10 years and I do not believe it is possible to find that kind of relationship.” I didn’t care what Bob had to say, from his own experience. I would prove him wrong and find that one person to be with, no matter how hard it was. I wouldn’t be confined to someone else’s experience.
After our dinner, Bob invited me to his apartment. He lived in a downtown highrise. His place was on the tenth floor. When I walked in, I found a huge floor to ceiling window looking out over the city. It was like “Bob Newhart’s” Chicago apartment. I was mesmerized by the whole scene. As the evening progressed, Bob initiated physical closeness and the night ended up with a second homosexual encounter. This time, I didn’t feel particularly convicted about what had happened. In my mind I had already given myself permission to stray away from Kristy. My double mind had become a way of living. I was moving on.
Ben called me one day to say that he had arranged for me to meet John. I tried one more time to meet with Bob but it didn’t really work out, so I was enthused to meet John. I met him at Tom and Ben’s home. John was energetic, intense, seemed to be a great guy and at our first meeting he seemed to like me. So, John and I arranged to meet again the next week.
Two guys with the name of John
That seemed even weirder than “Tom and Ben.” We met up at his house. John was a creative, artsy kind of guy with a professional career in Human Resources with a large department store chain. His house was one of the most unique homes I had ever seen. Since John was a very small man in stature, it seemed his house reflected his size as well. It was tiny, creative, and he had a “straight” roommate that lived upstairs. His roommate was OK with John’s homosexuality, so having other gay men around wasn’t in any way a problem for him.
John and I began a regular relationship. In my mind, I had found that man who I could be with maybe even long term. But John kept telling me he wanted to be able to have other guys to be with. He said that meant he didn’t like me, actually the word “love” came up often. I figured that I just needed to roll with this in order to keep John by my side.
Ben introduced me to a couple of gay clubs in town. It seemed that this was the place to meet people and have a good time around others who were like me. Since I had never really gotten out much when I was younger, I was like a kid in a candy store! I wanted to go back more often but I was still a “family man” and continued to attempt to fulfill my responsibilities there even though I was deceived into thinking of myself that way.
My new life story began to circulate. Kristy began to make phone calls to my family about what was going on. In the middle of the night, around 2:00 AM I got a call that woke me up. It was my step dad. “John, I heard what you are doing and I just want you to know that if you don’t get this worked out I am going to kick you so hard that you are going to be wearing your asshole as a necklace.” He followed cussing me out even more. A deeply seated fear rose up in my heart.
The other side of my brain woke up and I wanted my own children to NEVER have to experience the rage that I had from my step-dad years earlier in my life. I called my mother the next day and with great passion I said, “Mom, I left your home 10 years ago to get away from what I experienced last night on the phone. I will never allow that to come into my home again!!!!” Wow, I had never stood up to my mom before. This was coming from my own pain and a desire to protect my kids. I didn’t speak to my mom again for four years. She didn’t call me, and I certainly didn’t call her.
Kristy had arranged a meeting with her mom and the two of us. As we sat at the kitchen table, with love in her heart, her mom said, “John, I’ll never believe you are gay.” I knew she loved me but I wasn’t about to accept her assessment of who I was. It just felt like she didn’t understand and somehow wanted life to be different. She wasn’t the only one to try to talk with me.
I was at my dad’s one afternoon and we were talking about my situation. I was coming very close to separating from Kristy at this point. My dad, with tears in his eyes, said, “John, I know how hard you are struggling, but my greatest concern is the loss of your family and a divorce.” “I don’t want you to go through a divorce like I did.” My dad’s heart, care for me, and his perspective shocked me into my other brain for a moment. I went home to Kristy that day and for the first time in years my heart was open to her’s. I told her that I wanted to try to work this out and that I wasn’t leaving.
I knew that this was a mess and that I was causing many people a lot of pain.
I began to research people we could talk to. As I did, the other side of my brain came to life and my heart went cold to her again. I was going to go my own way. My friend Ben, told me about someone he and his wife had talked to. He said that “Pastor Laura-Gross Thamert” would help us. She was gay sensitive and understood the issues.
So, without talking to Kristy about this pastor’s perspective, I told her we were going to talk to a pastor about our situation. When we met her, she basically said that Kristy had to just accept that fact that I was gay and that our marriage would likely end. I am sure Kristy was devastated, I just checked off another box that said, “I tried.” Then I found some counselors that would help us “divorce amicably.”
All of these meetings seemed like a sham to me but I just wanted to find the easiest way to let Kristy down to the reality that I wanted to move on to my own life and the freedom to discover more of my gay life. Nothing was going to stop me now.
I had been working on finishing our basement into a play room for the kids, so I began to set a timeline that included the finishing of that project before I would leave. As I look back certainly I can see the strange set of priorities, but with the double mind that I had developed it isn’t that much of a stretch to understand what I was going through.
I had made arrangements to leave that included an invitation for me to stay with Tom and Ben for a season. So, one Sunday when Kristy and the kids were out, I packed all of my things up and put them into my ‘67 Oldsmobile “escape car.” Yes, I bought the car with the intention of using it for my new life. I had given Kristy another rationale for purchasing the car, but I had it in my mind all along what I wanted it for. As I finished, and got ready to leave, Kristy came home. I was full of anxiety as she came in and decided to unpack the car and stay. I knew that deciding to stay was not what was in my heart, I just lost the courage to leave.
A week later, Sunday afternoon again and Kristy and the kids were gone. I called my new friend, John, to talk with him about leaving. He said, “John, how will you feel tomorrow if you don’t leave?” That was the answer I needed. John invited me to come to his house when I left. I hurriedly packed my things and got them into the car one more time. As I went out to the car to leave, Kristy came home again. I had made my mind up. I was leaving today. While I was packing, Kristy’s sister called, “Hi, John, how are you?” “Oh, just fine, Kristy and the kids are gone.” A little chit-chat later I hung up the phone. Little did she know I was next to the bed with all of my things on it and I was about to leave in a few minutes. But I certainly wasn’t going to tell her that.
Kristy came home again as I finished loading the car but that wasn’t going to stop me this time. So, closing my heart up even further, I got into the car and began to back out of the garage. Kristy and my beautiful blonde little girls stood in the garage. I will never forget that picture in my mind, the three of them just staring at me as I left.
I was as cold as ice, and so shut down, that I just drove away. I put it behind me as I looked forward to being at John’s house.
Thursday, January 27th, 2011
1979 Chevrolet Malibu Station Wagon
The Malibu name replaced the Chevelle name on all mid-sized Chevrolets for the 1978 model year. After OPEC, this was the down-sized version in comparison to previous mid-sized Chevrolets, only two trim levels were available, Malibu and Malibu Classic. This 1979 model was the second year for a complete redesign when all American cars had downsized to appear more fuel efficient. The engines were smaller, the interiors had shrunk by making the dashboards and the rear shelf narrower. There was no room for any extra unneeded space. The front console was like a narrow box that had been attached to the dashboard. The car ran smooth, was comfortable, and since the redesign, it was very modern!
The Malibu became symbolic of many things that were about to happen in my life.
Just one year after we were married we had the fortune, with the help of my dad, to buy our first house. Costing only $20,000 we moved in and began to make it our own. Working on remodeling an older home was both fun, and challenging. I had a next door neighbor, Dean, who was a retired carpenter from the old school. He taught me now to fit windows, scribe cabinets to uneven walls, hang drywall, and so many other things. He was a great neighbor. I learned the habit of eating ice cream EVERY night around 10:00 from Dean and his wife. They invited me to their house virtually every night for “icy-dicy time”. For all intents and purposes, I was an active young husband and dad. Everyone knew me for being conservative and committed to my family.
I was so committed that working a part time job to make ends meet was the norm. Kristy was taking care of our children while doing some of her own odd jobs to help. I kept thinking about my goals in life and it seemed to be time to fulfill them.
In 1978, We discussed building a new home and found just the right place and just the right builder. Our new home would be built in a modern designed suburb. It was developed with smaller lots and a common greenway behind each of the homes that was intended to become a park. I wanted it to be custom so that it was unique and had all of the things we wanted in it. We began to build our “dream home” in the suburbs. We got a great price and at the time they were offering special “buy down” FHA interest rates to it seemed to be the best thing for our family.
The home was finished and moving day came. I was really excited and we began to extend our credit to fill the home with new things. My part time job was at a furniture store, so we got some good deals on new furniture. Goal two was accomplished, new custom home and all new furniture in it. The yard and fence were done and I began working on the inside to finish out the basement family room.
As I looked up and down the street we lived on, I felt alone, strange, and disconnected from the other men along the block. Questions about who they were, and what they were all about didn’t seem to find answers. One guy was pretty friendly and it seemed we got along pretty well.
We got together when our wives went bowling or shopping and would play cards together. That was good for me, but we never really talked about much or got close. We just talked about surface things and enjoyed a game or two.
I felt cold and distant from Kristy and I was feeling pretty desperate to somehow make our marriage relationship better. It seemed that I didn’t know how to make it better and I could only think of using material things. After our move to the new home I felt desirous to find a way to work this out. In my small mind and closed off emotions I thought it might help to become extravagant with a Christmas gift for Kristy. She liked to sew and had an older machine to work with. So I decided to get the latest “Singer” electronic machine for her. We were trying to curb our credit card spending but in this case, I opened up a charge account to purchase the machine on time payments. I was hopeful she would be thrilled with the way I wanted to show her attention.
One day I returned from work and she had opened up the mail from the Singer store which included a credit card. She asked me why we got that in the mail. In my extreme reaction of disappointment that my secret had been uncovered, I told her what I had done. Now that the surprise was ruined, I felt determined to make this happen.
So, I thought maybe if I could ask others to not buy me anything for Christmas but to just give me money I could put it toward a gift for Kristy. I wanted to buy her the latest electronic micro-wave oven. In 1978, that was a pretty extreme idea! So I bought one through a 90-day charge paying the down payment with the money I had gotten from others. I knew this would certainly blow her mind, not only a new sewing machine, but the ultra modern, GE Touchmatic Microwave Oven would surely work to show her how I cared for her.
“John, I retrieved this from the mailbox today.” Kristy’s sister came out to meet me in the driveway after work one day. She handed an envelope to me before I went in. I opened it and found the payment card from the store where I bought the oven. Phew! She saved me on this one.
Christmas day after all of our gifts were opened and the main events had finished I opened up and said, “Kristy, I have one more surprise for you.” Carrying the huge wrapped box into the room. “I HAVE A SURPRISE FOR YOU!” She opened it but didn’t seem overly excited, but seemed to show a contrived sense of surprise. After everyone left she disclosed to me that the envelope wasn’t found by her sister, but rather she had seen it. She told me that she and her sister arranged to cover the fact that she had seen it.
I felt totally embarrassed, and humiliated that I had acted so excited to surprise her, when everyone knew that Kristy already knew about the surprise. Much like six years earlier, something that was beginning to open up inside me was slammed shut once again. I truly believe it was that day that my heart finally closed towards Kristy. I just couldn’t muster up enough trust to go that place in my heart again.
Maybe a new car will help? It was time to go for another life goal. Since we lived in the suburbs and now had two kids we needed a station wagon. For those of you who are younger, that would have been the vehicle of choice for a family at that time. Mini-vans hadn’t been created yet and SUV’s were for business.
So, I went out on a Saturday, by myself I might add, and found a beautiful 1979 Chevrolet Malibu Wagon. It was metallic chocolate brown with nice tan interior. I remember vividly standing in my garage polishing the pretty finish to keep it pristine! Now I had a custom built home, a brand new station wagon, two kids and I had reached my life goals. I don’t remember any fuss about me getting a new car without Kristy going with me. I traded in the 1974 Datsun B-210 and this car was much bigger and more practical for the kids so I guess it was an improvement for her as well.
We only had one car now and I rode a commuter bus to work or carpooled with a friend. It was practical with high gas prices. I walked across the street to a shopping center to pick up the bus with other commuters.
With a closed heart, confused emotions, loneliness, and deep needs for connection, I began to develop a fantasy life during my daily travels. On the bus there were some handsome men that rode it each day and I would look at them and wonder what it would be like to know them, I mean really know them. What did they think, how did they feel about life, would they want to know me?
Churning inside me was something greater than a benign sense of curiosity towards men. I now actually wanted more of a relational exchange. Something deeper was in my heart with a curiosity of what it would be like to intimately know another man. I wanted something reciprocal, something meaningful.
As all of this grew deep inside me. One day during a conversation that I was listening to at work the word “homosexual” came into the discussion. “Oh! That must be what is going on here. I may be a homosexual!” I didn’t take it much further because this was a very strange concept to me. I had never known one of those, but began to ponder this in my heart with a sense of desire. Maybe that is what my curiosity is all about on the bus, and with others I had known.
I worked in a large office building where we talked a lot with each other and built relationships. We had a sports team that I was a part of and as I got to know the others, one man stood out to me. He was a little older than I was and had always been single. For many reasons I got to a place where I assumed he was probably gay. In my new frame of mind this brought some hope to me that maybe I could talk with someone else who might relate to my questions.
I stopped him one day and said, “Ken, I would like to talk with you about something personal.” He said “sure.” No more was said until one Friday evening. My wife was bowling and I was with the kids. The phone rang and Ken asked if I could meet him at the bar across the street from where I lived. When my wife came home I proceeded to tell her he had called and she asked if I was going to go over and meet with him. She knew him from work parties and events so it didn’t seem strange to her that I might do that. It was very strange to me since I virtually never did anything without her. But I was internally excited to go and talk through this with him.
After some light conversation and a couple of drinks, I disclosed to him what I had been experiencing. His response was, “John, I knew you were gay.” I felt somewhat offended and at the same time, curious. He mentioned that we might go to another place where some gay people hung out. Without a hitch, I wanted to go. He had peaked my curiosity after we had shared some common ground. We drove some distance away to a bar/restaurant. I began perusing all of the men, women, couples and whoever else walked into the place. I felt totally out of my own skin and yet, even more stimulated at the potential of knowing others like me. Ken assured me he would introduce me to others that he knew.
Several drinks later….
When the bar was about to close, Ken asked me to go with him to his father’s apartment to talk more. I didn’t want this new connection to end so I agreed to go with him. We got to the apartment and talked some more. With a lot of curiosity about this new piece of my life being exposed and a lot of alcohol, Ken proceeded to initiate a sexual encounter with me. I couldn’t believe I was actually doing something that I had only dreamed of and really had never known could happen. I was not thinking at all about whether or not this was wrong.
Hung over from drinking, and blurred from what I had just done, I went home at 3:00 AM and slid into my usual place in bed. The next day, nothing was said between my wife and I about the late arrival. The entire event was hidden inside my heart.
Something huge had changed within me and I could hardly believe that I had just broken one of my most solid convictions. I certainly would never commit adultery! But was this adultery? Actually it didn’t seem to be what I considered to be adultery. It was two men, not with a woman.
After about two weeks of virtual silence from me, Kristy knew something big was up. “John, what is wrong with you. You haven’t spoken for two weeks.” After a tremendous amount of thought on my part I just blurted out:
“ALRIGHT I’M GAY, OK! I WANT A DIVORCE!”
Friday, January 21st, 2011
Two Cars Come Together in a Marriage
Kristy and I were engaged to be married and we had two cars that came together with us. The 1969 Camaro and a 1968 El Camino. Not only was I getting married, but another huge change came into my life.
Working for the department store certainly wasn’t going to provide enough income for our life together. My step-father worked for the Union Pacific Railroad and encouraged me to try to get a job there. After several attempts to get a job, on July 3, 1973, I was instantly hired. My wage went from $1.95 per hour to $8.00 per hour overnight! Kris was working at a local hospital in an administrative position. So, we felt we were pretty well set to get married.
In our preparation for merging our lives we spent a lot of time planning the wedding and we both wanted a nice place to live. We found a brand new two bedroom apartment that had ultra modern colors and style. The carpet was bright 1970’s orange and the appliances were a really cool, avocado green! I’ll never forget the decor with matching browns, greens, and “burnt” orange as we called it. We arranged to move Kristy into the apartment the month before our wedding.
From an accident that occurred along the way, my El Camino got a pretty bad crush on the front of the fender. Even though I was making a lot more money, we had over spent our budget in preparation for our wedding and new home. I decided not to get the car fixed and spend the insurance claim money on something else. It seemed like a good idea at the time but that decision was something that came back to bite me later, in a way I never expected.
After getting Kristy settled into the apartment we would often spend time there talking and working on wedding plans. One night. Kristy told me something that changed our lives forever. Without uncovering private places, let’s just say that I became shocked and was heartbroken. I had emotions that were buried deep inside me and I don’t think I was even aware of what I was feeling.
Marriage or Not?
My immediate thoughts went to whether or not I was going to go on with the wedding. Something inside me shut down and I went numb. I felt incredibly trapped because we had made so many plans, spent so much money and the invitations were already sent out. What else could I do? I didn’t really think I had an option, so the wedding would go on.
This moment in my life was something that, without knowing it, would cause a breakdown in the foundation of our marriage that neither of us knew anything about. It was a sink hole undermining our relationship that was hidden. I shut down and became detached after our conversation. It was as though I literally forgot about it for a season. I never talked with Kristy, or anyone else for that matter, about what was in my heart. I just stuffed it and went on like nothing happened.
The wedding drew closer and it was time to get the marriage license. When we went to the officials to obtain the license we learned of a waiting period we didn’t know anything about. We were told that we couldn’t get married on Saturday. Oh, man! What should we do? They advised us to get a license in Iowa where there wasn’t a waiting period. So, we talked to the Priest to arrange for the more simple Iowa wedding. We joked about this meaning that our marriage would be twice as strong since we did it twice.
Getting Married as a Virgin
Due to wanting to be a good person mixed with my own fears and naivety I had never gotten into a situation with anyone where sex became a temptation. There was kissing, holding hands, and being close physically, but I felt good about being sexually clean. No one had actually ever talked with me about sexual morality. I guess, I just grabbed on to the idea that it was good to abstain from these things.
I felt very anxious about my first sexual experience. In my small mind on these things I feared I would not know what to do. I had never seen pornography either, so my knowledge of sex was really NILL! Other than my experience with personal masturbation all I had was some knowledge of the bodies, but nothing about how they worked together. Once again in my life, I was left to my own ways to figure things out. No mentors, counselors, or good friends to discuss these things with. I just had to go through it.
We moved into the apartment and with my personal things and our two cars. The merging of our lives went fairly smooth. The “formal” wedding occurred and we returned to our apartment that night. Sexually, things worked themselves out quite naturally and my fears were relieved. Due to my new job and our lack of finances, we didn’t take a honeymoon so that first night certainly wasn’t romantic. We started playing house and found ourselves with a troublesome financial load. We had over spent, over bought, and the price of the new apartment was heavy.
Moving Out With Our Two Cars
There was as conflict in our apartment building from some crazy accusations of noise from our downstairs neighbor. We really weren’t loud people at all and complied with all of the requests to be even quieter. But without much warning we were asked to move out. We think it had to do with the relationship the lady had with the managers and they just decided they wanted us out. It was a blessing because it allowed us to get out from under the heavy rent payments. So, after just a few short months we found ourselves moving from our apartment into an older house that was only half of the price of the rent we had been paying.
We decided that it was time to change the car situation around and felt we needed reliable transportation. As we looked at our two cars we found that the “winking eye” of the damaged El Camino made it unsellable due to safety inspection problems. So, I made the decision to trade off the Camaro for a 1974 Datsun B-210 just like the one pictured here. It was green and had an amazing “four speaker, AM-FM stereo”. Kristy made it clear that trading her Camaro was not her first choice. Looking back on it, I can understand how much she loved her car and how frustrated she must have been for me to have gotten rid of it instead of the El Camino that I didn’t like at all. We were so young and making decisions wasn’t out strong suit.
You take my car, you take my heart!
I think, much like it was for me just before our wedding, losing her car was something that she buried deep inside her own heart. So, here we were two people that were very young, carrying a huge financial load and hurting deep inside in ways we were not prepared to deal with. Our wounds grew deeper and yet we just kept going on without asking the right questions or speaking the truth.
We didn’t talk, listen, or really care about each other in ways that would nurture a healthy marriage. I put my energy into fixing up our home and other distractions. Than to pay for it all, I took on a second job.
After two years we found out that our first child was going to come along. I was ecstatic! Kristy always wanted children so she was too. Our focus then turned to preparing for the baby. Remodeling the baby’s room, getting all of the things needed for a new baby was enough to distract us from the wounds in our hearts.
A Brand New Baby
In March of 1976, Alysha was born! I couldn’t get enough of her. Holding her in my lap, staring at her, she had grabbed my heart. It was a tremendous joy for me to be a dad. We had not been in a church since our wedding, other than maybe a Christmas service. Since my family was Catholic, we felt we had no other optio, but to go through with baptizing Alysha in the Catholic church. It was the expected thing to do so we did it. Neither of us had any particular religious convictions so this was just an act of keeping the peace with my family.
The Sink Hole Began to Sink!
Some of the buried stuff surfaced and we began to have arguments that were pretty typical on the surface but they were fueled by the lack of resolve from the other things we had never dealt with. At one point we had to call a family member in to help us get through the argument. It was right after that big argument that we found out that our second baby was coming.
I felt trapped again. I really didn’t want to continue living like I was. Kristy and I were so disconnected emotionally. but with one child and another one on the way what could I do? I had to just keep one foot in front of the other and move towards being a father again. I stuffed my feelings again. I was not clearly aware of what was going on inside of me. I only knew that I wanted to get out, to find some sense of real connection. I realized I didn’t feel connected anywhere. I felt really concerned about having another baby given the state of our marriage being what it was.
Baby No. 2
In July of 1977, Amanda was born. I was emotionally more shut down by this time and felt an internal struggle bonding with her. But I loved her and saw her bright shining personality develop very quickly. She was easier to connect to. Alysha seemed more emotionally independent from early on. Our two girls were beautiful. They had bright shiny blonde hair and soft beautiful skin. The two almost looked like twins at times. They were our two little girls and we moved on into family life.
With the kids, two jobs, and growing responsibilities my struggle to bond with Kristy just got further buried underneath life. It was much easier to just deal with the surface needs and not pay attention to the emptiness growing inside of my heart. On a regular basis I felt unheard, devalued and unimportant. I tried to cope with the loneliness I felt on a daily basis.
I didn’t have many friends other than those I worked with. I never did anything alone or with another friend. I spent all of my energy on the family and ongoing remodeling of our older house. That was my focus. I did have one really good friend, Dan, who I talked to a lot. We worked together and spent almost all of our break times talking together about life, family, work issues and anything else that came across our time together. I experienced some of the old feelings of jealousy with Dan and his other friends. I felt possessive with our time and didn’t want to go without talking with him daily. I would compromise my job by taking longer breaks than were allowed, hiding in hallways to talk with him. Fortunately I never got into too much trouble for all of the time I spent with him.
I really needed his friendship and time to process my life with him. The jealousy and neediness didn’t go any further so as to cause any big problems. But I definitely was dependant on Dan’s friendship to fill up some of the void I had. He was the kind of friend that was always there. He was there when both of our daughters were born and was present for other important events. I was there for him when his father passed away. I was in his wedding when he married his wife Arlene. We were very good friends.
The cars in my life continued to change. We kept the Datsun but had a few other second cars. Some came along because they were cheap! I remember a 1965 Ford Fairlane that was one of the cheap ones. Then another memorable car came into our lives. A 1970 Ford XL. I think about the cars I would love to have back and this is one of them. The car in the picture doesn’t begin to capture the beauty of the car I had. While the color was close, mine was a special edition with a shiny gloss black engine hood on top of the beautiful Coppertone body. I was so long I couldn’t close the garage door behind it.
I had several life goals in my mind. A brand new custom designed home with all new decor, a brand new car in the driveway, and living in the suburbs. I was only 23 years old by this point.
In searching for these goals to be accomplished, we were about to take another detour and I was having more trouble hiding the emptiness and disappointments in my heart.
Some who know me, may be thinking, “John, weren’t you a homosexual?” “Isn’t that what was going on underneath all of this?”
As I have said, I was sexually a virgin. I was naive about sexuality. In the sixties, no one really talked about homosexuality. I really had no idea of my sexuality. Whether I was homosexual or not never entered the equation. That may sound really strange to many of you who are reading this but it is true. I seemed to like girls, dated some, married Kristy, and functioned normally as I knew how. I certainly wasn’t a “raging” heterosexual, that’s for sure, but I had nothing to compare my life to. I didn’t have friends that I talked with, or listened to about their sexual exploits. I didn’t have a brother. No cousin, or uncle that lived close by.
Oh, sure, I had mostly female friends in high school. I didn’t get along well with other guys that were my peers. I hated sports. I loved home decor, feelings, and had a couple of emotionally close male friendships. I didn’t have a lot of lust for girls in general. I was called s sissy, weak, and “girly” in my childhood. But none of these added up to homosexuality because they were not connected to “sex”. I had a complicated and wounding relationship with my step-dad and an over dominate mother.
Many would say, “DUH” John’s gay. But again, in my world, the only connection I had to the topic of homosexuality was the lady I had worked with that my mom told me was a lesbian. That didn’t count because she was much older and obviously was a female. Certainly I embodied a lot of the stereotypes but in my stunted emotional development I never labeled myself.
I am going to write more about my marriage, sexuality, and the development of homosexuality as I tell this story. But, I’ve written the story in chronological order so it is unfolding as I experienced it. I truly think that the incidents I have described played a significant role in the breakdown of our marriage for sure. I am not sure that homosexuality really played much of a role in all of this up to this point. I was disheartened, emotionally closed off, and distant from Kristy. That was very significant in the whole picture.
Take a deep breath, all of this will start to come out in the next chapter.
Friday, January 14th, 2011
A Beautiful Car!
By 1969, the Camaro was extremely popular. Sales had steadily increased during the first years of the Camaro and set a new all-time high, thanks to its long production run (from September 1968 through February 1970). The 1969 was given an updated look that was meaner than the graceful 1967-1968 models. It had a more aggressive grille, slightly squarer body panels, and squared-off rear wheel openings.
Sportier than all get out! The color? Oh, my, that beautiful metallic blue with white stripes was very popular at that time.
I got to drive one frequently. It wasn’t mine, it belonged to Kristy, my on and off girlfriend from high school. Her car had a floor shifter, black interior and looked very much like this example. It was very fun to drive! Little did I know how significant this car would become.
Discovering relationships as I left high school brought a lot of turmoil into my life both with guys and girls. I was already worn out and not sure I was willing to feel the pain that was coming. So as I became an adult, adult decisions were made to protect myself from things I just didn’t want to feel.
The flow of life of this 18 year old guy seemed to be pretty normal on the outside, but underneath I was suffering once again with things I didn’t understand and seemingly no one else did either.
After I graduated from high school I was ready for some changes. I was growing frustrated with working with my cousin at the truck refrigeration company. We decided it was time for me to move on and I applied for a job at a department store. It was called “Younkers” and was similar to Macy’s or Dillard’s. An upscale store with very nice things and with an upper class clientele it was a small chain in Nebraska and Iowa. I took a huge cut in pay but it was time and maybe this would be an opportunity for my future.
I got hired to work in a diverse department handling “Toys, Luggage, and Records.” It was a great place to be since we got to be around other young people who were shopping for the latest 1972 music like Grand Funk Railroad, Bread, The Who, and so many others that lived through the 70’s but didn’t go much farther.
Tom – My New Friend
I worked with a man named Tom Cleese . At 19 years old, he was one year older than I was. He had unruly long hair and always wore the blue suit jacket that was too big for him. We were required to dress up to work there, but his style lacked the kind of class that I think they were looking for. He also mostly wore corduroy jeans underneath the sagging jacket. But something was cool about Tom. He was more of an open minded type of guy. We spent a lot of time talking and he seemed to be so open to discussing lots of things that many people never talked about.
I grew very close to him. I looked forward to every time we worked together because it seemed he liked me too. I had not had a friend like Tom, so this felt pretty special to me. Tom had a few vices. He smoked, and talked about drinking alcohol. I had never really done either one. Throughout my teen years I tried to be good. I held my values to be important and was a virgin in almost every way! Sex, drugs, and rock and roll were just not my speed.
One day, Tom asked me to go with him to a bar in the shopping mall we worked in. He told me they didn’t “card” anyone they knew from the mall and would allow us to buy drinks there. Since Tom had been so nice to me and I was pretty cool on spending time with him I decided to go. He told me about certain drinks that I might like to try and he drank “Jack Daniels” so in wanting to be like him, I indulged. I felt so adult, drinking in a bar with Tom.
After a short while, I wanted to enter one more thing that was like Tom. I bought a package of cigarettes. Feeling, again, very adult, I lit up one, then another, and third. On the third one I felt a tightening of my lungs and said, “That’s enough of those”. And threw the pack away. I wasn’t willing to go that far to be like Tom.
Not knowing what I was really experiencing, I was growing to become pretty emotionally dependent with Tom. I spent a lot of my energy focusing on my time with him and how good it felt to connect, and feel affirmed by this older guy. We went to the bar several more times just to talk and have a drink or two.
Then one night Tom asked me to go to a party with him. He said it was a “bring your own drinks” type of party. Tom said I should try MD-20-20. He said it was a dark red wine and would do the trick to get me feeling pretty good. So he bought me a bottle and I brought it to the party. Before we left he instructed me on how to drive home safely if I was leaving drunk. “John, roll the windows down, its winter and the cold air will keep you alert”. Then further instruction spoke to keeping the radio up loud and eyes open wide. I still laugh thinking about his instruction and my emulating what he had taught me. So, he dropped me off to get my car at the parking lot in front of the store we worked at. I got into my car, obediently rolled the windows down, turned the radio on and got ready to drive home.
I didn’t even make it out of the parking lot. As I drove my ‘68 El Camino forward from the parking space I saw a huge red octagon fly down in front of me. Yep, your right, it was the stop sign. I backed up, slowly, left the sign on the ground and found the exit from the lot and drove home. The sign was repaired with a brace and I saw that brace for many years afterwards, each time I went into that parking lot. My right of passage was so visible to me and I am sure frustrating for the maintenance crew at the mall.
But, I made it home safely and went into the house. I felt so woozy as I walked in. I thought everything was cool but I was late! I had a curfew of 12:00 midnight and it was about 12:30. As I got ready to settle in, my dad came out of his bedroom with his hand out. “John, give me your keys.” “You’ll get them back Sunday night, you’re late.” Nothing more was said and he may or may not have known I was drinking but it was never mentioned.
Tom was a mentor to more for my young adulthood. Maybe not such a good one, but it didn’t matter to me. Tom seemed like the older brother I never had and I loved it. It was the bridge out of high school that I needed to begin my own life as an adult.
So, back to the Camaro, Kristy and girls! Well, the Camaro would come up later. Kristy was still in the picture, but when we were off, there were some other girls in the story. My eyes were looking around for who I liked and who I didn’t. There was a girl in “gift wrap” that was very interested in spending time talking with me. Her name was Barb. I liked Barb as a friend, but nothing about her drew my attention for more than just to talk and laugh with her. She tried her hardest to show me she was interested in more, but I didn’t have the mind to go further. But, one day, someone else struck my interest.
Oh My -She’s Beautiful!
Looking through the LP’s was this young lady and her mom. As I looked down at her hands I saw such beautiful fingers and her nails colorfully painted. Then I looked up. Her hair was blonde and flowing. She was so pretty, and nice! Her mom was nice too, but I couldn’t believe my eyes and the pitter patter in my heart when I saw her. She didn’t buy anything and left the department. I wanted to follow her all the way out. Immediately going to Tom, we talked about girls and attraction. He was dating Ellen who went to school in Chicago, so she wasn’t there often. He talked about how much they loved each other and something tripped in me at that time. I didn’t know what it was but Ellen wasn’t a part of Tom’s local life so I didn’t pay much attention to it.
I didn’t like to hear Tom talk about Ellen because it took the attention away from me. But we kept finding other things to talk about. We especially tried to figure out a way to find the beautiful blonde, but I never saw her again. Another step in our friendship occurred that I’ll never forget.
Tom liked football and would talk about it sometimes. Feeling distant from those conversations I wanted so much to tell him that I didn’t like football but I feared he would think I was weird if I said anything about it. I had NEVER verbally told anyone that I didn’t like it. But standing next to the stereo’s I remember distinctly a conversation when I said, “Tom, I don’t like football.” Expecting to see shock as I waited for his response, he really didn’t have one and said, “That’s ok, John.” I was amazed that the sky didn’t fall when I admitted to him one of the most scary things of all. I didn’t like football! I felt even more accepted at that point. It was the beginning of even more honesty in my life. I didn’t die so maybe I can talk about more things with Tom.
So, still no Kristy on the scene but she would come into the store periodically and we would go out on a date some times. But, overall, my focus was on my friendship with Tom. He moved to a different department and I really missed having him closer to talk with. I would wander over to where he was to talk, but it just wasn’t the same. I got into trouble sometimes because I would stray from my post. Then one day, the most fearful thing of all occurred.
What? You’re Leaving?
“John, I am going to move to Chicago to be with Ellen and go to school.” What, you’re moving away? The shock was extreme and I went home that night with more pain than I think I had experienced in a long time. What would I do? I was going to lose Tom. I talked with a friend of the family that night and she asked me what was wrong . So, I told her about my friend moving away and finished the conversation. At that moment I started sobbing in pain. Tom moved and my life felt so empty and void. But there was a friend of Tom’s that I also had gotten to know who’s name was Gary. I liked him and spent time with him but it just wasn’t the same as Tom.
I made a plan to see Tom again. He was eight hours away in Chicago. I felt older now and knew I could drive my 1968 El Camino there and spend a weekend with he and Ellen. Well, It would be ok with Ellen there, she was nice. So, Tom told me he was living in the school dorms with Ellen and that I could sleep in the “pod” of the dorms on the couches there. My plans were set and I took my first trip across country alone and went to Chicago. Upon arriving I found that Tom and Ellen were living in her dorm room together. He mentioned it was not in agreement with the rules but no one knew and others covered for them. I was a little disappointed in their arrangement. It didn’t line up with my moral values. I didn’t let that get in the way. After all, that is another experience with being an adult. We had some fun and we ate at “Uno’s” pizzeria, and talked a lot. My response surprised me even more. I was jealous of Ellen more than I had expected. I was also jealous of the intimacy they had with each other. I felt rejected and hurt. I didn’t enjoy the weekend at all and was really emotionally shut down.
I talked to Kristy once while I was in Chicago. I was feeling so badly. She became a comfortable, familiar place to grab some connection. While on the phone I told her that I had something to talk to her about when I got home. I had decided in my heart to reconnect with Kristy and move forward with our relationship. Maybe even into marriage. I was really hurting and didn’t want to hurt any more. I thought, maybe if we got married the relationship struggles I was experiencing would go away. I didn’t want to play the look around, dating, game anymore. I was certainly wounded from what had happened with Tom. Maybe the single life isn’t for me. I just wanted to settle down and move on.
I had parked my El Camino on Michigan Avenue, where Tom had told me to park it for the weekend. On Monday morning I walked over to get into my car and it was GONE! I looked up at the sign which I had not seen earlier. It said that cars could park there until 2:00 AM on Monday morning. My car had been towed away. I felt some resentment towards Tom for knowing what the laws were for parking there.
I called Tom and he instructed me on how to find it and $75 dollars later I had my car and was on my way home. Thinking about all that happened during the eight hour drive I became resolute. I was going to ask Kristy to marry me.
Let’s Get Married
When I got home Kristy and I got together and I talked about the weekend. I don’t think I mentioned anything about my painful reactions to Tom’s relationship with Ellen. I didn’t really have that much personal awareness at that time in my life. I did, however ,remember saying, “Kris, maybe we should get married.”
There was never a formal proposal or on-the-knee, request. We just accepted that we were going to get married and began talking about our plans with others. The ring came along, and a date was set. October 12, 1973 would be the date of our wedding. I appreciated Kris’ strength in the area of wanting kids, taking an interest in homemaking and the way she cooked great things for me to eat. She would make a good wife and mother. She must be the one for me.
I never saw Tom again. There were some letters written back and forth but our friendship waned and each of us moved on into our own lives. I often wonder what ever happened with Tom and Ellen. I suspect they got married- or maybe not. They were kind of like Ryan O’Neal and Alli MacGraw in “Love Story.” They were each kind of out of the box thinkers and went against the norms of society.
So, the 1969 Camaro?
What happened with that car? Oh, the story of the Camaro isn’t over and it played an important role in my life and my upcoming wedding with Kris. Stay tuned. Our wedding plans kept us busy but my heart was to be broken again soon. And my 1968 El Camino would get a pretty big dent that created more problems for the Camaro.
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
Friday, November 19th, 2010
Soul-full Movie Behind the Scenes
Healing from Racism and an Amazing Salvation
Oh, this is a God story for sure. You must read it. A surprise around every corner.
In April of 2009 Randy Lawson, a friend of mine, said he had a new photography gig to take production stills for a local independent film production. He was in a precarious position since he had just severely broken his arm and would find it a challenge to handle all of the equipment. So, I asked if he would like some help. I had always had an interest in theatrical work and wanted to be a part of something like this. So he took me along as his “roadie”.
I had no idea what I was in for, but from the beginning of this project it was apparent that there was something in this for me if I would just go along for the ride. So I began carrying camera bags, back-drops and lighting accessories for Randy. I remained quiet and just observed the process. It began with several days of taking pictures of the people who were auditioning for parts in the cast.
The film was primarily built of an African American cast and took place in a lower income, inner city setting referred to in the film as “The Hood.” The plot included a story of a young man who’s life had turned upside down from his dad going missing and his mother’s death. An older white friend of his mom’s became his foster dad. The story builds as he pursues his desire to be a hip-hop artist and gets involved in some pretty challenging dynamics and relationships.
Since they needed an older white man to be a foster dad, Randy was cast in the film as “Big Jack”. He had not acted before but was up for the challenge. The other cast members were also primarily on their first gig with acting and, as a matter of fact, this was the first film for the screen writer and most of the crew as well. So Randy and I were in good company.
After a couple of rehearsals Randy told me that they needed another “white” guy to play his cousin, “Officer Mike”. Since I had always wanted to try acting, I pondered the opportunity. I was a little timid about stepping right out there to ask for an audition for the role so I waited to respond to Randy’s suggestion.
They had not filled the roll of Officer Mike, so at one rehearsal I offered to read the part. It seemed that was my call to play the role, so I just moved into it without any official communication from the director. I was now, by default, “Officer Mike.”
So, a filming schedule was set and the first scenes were scheduled to be done. Since I was still a “roadie” for Randy I just set aside my time to be present to help in any way I could. None of my scenes were scheduled for the first night of filming so I felt relaxed and ready to observe our first film set.
We arrived at a very seedy place in town where there were lots of condemned properties and some crazy neighborhood activities going on. The scene was an alley with overgrown brush and vacant buildings. As the crew got set up I began to feel very uncomfortable with the surroundings to say the least.
At this time in my life I was beginning to build Grace Rivers Ministry and write a book on relating to the world around us with the gospel in mind. As you might imagine, I had a culture crash that night. Having spent the majority of the previous 25 years of my life segregated away from these types of surroundings this was all quite a challenge. I might add that the director for the film at the time frequently used very rough language and smoked pot most of the time. He was later dismissed from the film production crew. Since he was the director this added to my level of discomfort as well.
Then I heard the voice of the Lord speak to me quite firmly, “John, if you are so self righteous and uncomfortable here, how will you ever reach people in this world?”
I thought, “this world is not “G” rated.” Then I was reminded of the scripture where Jesus says:
My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. John 17:15-16
God completely reoriented my perspectives right there. As we began to film, the director stopped everyone and said, “We are not taking one more step here until we have prayed together”. I don’t know if I was more shocked at the pot smoking or the request to pray! So, he asked a young lady there to pray. She prayed for the lordship of Christ over the production, the safety of the cast and for Jesus to bless our work. Little did I know at the time how that prayer would be answered. I felt even more confused but trusted that God was hearing my heart and hopefully the heart of those who were there who knew Him.
After filming the first scene the director announced we were going to do a scene that I was in. Oh, my gosh, I was not ready for this. Anxiety entered my heart and I was being asked to step into a role immediately that I had not prepared for. I stumbled through it and I am sure I frustrated the other actor in the scene to no end. What else could I have done? It wasn’t on the shooting schedule. The next day I worked hard at memorization and learning my parts. I didn’t want to go through that again.
The shooting schedule took a turn and we were going to spend the next week or two at the home of the screen writer, Baby Dre. As we entered his home early in the morning it was filled with wonderful aromas; bacon, eggs, muffins, a full breakfast fare had been prepared by Dre. As his wife and children attempted to move around all of our equipment we were greeted by Tina with tremendous grace and a welcoming spirit.
Let me give you another picture to ponder. Dre was not your average suburban husband and dad. He was a very dangerous looking guy. With long hair usually in a pony tail, body piercings, tattoos, a watch larger than my cell phone on his wrist and a full “grill” of metal in his mouth, Dre was another dichotomy of life. He was kind, welcoming, and kind of quiet as long as he wasn’t playing his gruff role as a drug selling icon in the hood. I felt curious and yet confused here too. Who are these people? What is their life really like? What I experienced was surely different than I has invisioned. Each day I found my life to be challenged to sort through my responses to all that I was experiencing.
Someone asked Dre if he went to church at a church near his home. He replied, “No, my wife is a minister at another church but I don’t go there either.” But he was obviously loved by his wife and two kids. This man was a forklift driver, a cake baker, a screen writer, and so many other things that just didn’t fit into a neat little profile that I had built up in my mind.
I learned my lines, became more comfortable with my role and found the process to be very interesting. But, the day came where we were going to be filming at a recording studio. They found one that we could use. Randy and I got all of our stuff together. It was a Sunday afternoon and we had arrived at an empty office building heading for the basement. We entered a very seedy looking recording studio. The room was filled with smoke, some of it the pot smelling kind, and some really scary dudes working there. So, in we came with lights, cameras and preparation for action. Once again, I was a fish totally out of my own familiar water!
As I sat near the floor, weary of the smoke and questionable characters, I once again questioned what I was doing there. I was reminded of God’s challenge to me to consider the goals! I was to be in the world, but not to be of the world! It was very uncomfortable for me but with that in mind, I reoriented my goals and accepted the challenge in front of me, and the people, with as much grace as I could. I wondered what they were thinking of me! Here I was a suburban character who was not only from a different culture, but one of the few white guys anywhere around. I was surely the odd man out.
The cast and crew we were working with were so friendly and accommodating. Here we were, two white guys from the suburbs coming into this movie set seemingly from out of nowhere. We were clearly the minority not only in color, but in culture and life perspective. But they accepted us completely. They were kind, and didn’t seem the least bit uncomfortable with us.
I began to soften and embrace them too. How could I not? With A warm breakfast fit for the gods, friendly welcomes, and encouraging words to help my lack of acting experience, I started to become endeared to these folks.
As the filming proceeded and the project twisted and turned, I began to experience something no less than miraculous. God was at work deep in my prejudiced heart. He was rooting out racism, judgment, and fear.
Joshua Boucher (Trey) and John Smid
After we were finished with the majority of the filming I was driving around Memphis and I noticed something remarkable. Racially divided to a major degree, black and white racial color is on most people’s minds every day in this city. But this day, something was deeply different for me. As I looked at the black guy in the car next to me or the black woman at the grocery store, or the black student walking home from school, there was something strangely missing from my mind and heart. I was not longer afraid of them. I am not talking about a fear that they are going to shoot me, rather the fear of difference. I had struggled for a long time with not connecting with black people out of a concern that I would offend them, or they would feel racism from my heart. But now, it was GONE! I felt strangly comfortable around people of color.
During a later shoot we were in a public park and two black men rode up on bicycles to watch. I went over to them, fear gone, and started talking with them. We laughed, joked, and felt connected. So much so, that when they left, we hugged! Oh my goodness, this is a real change in my heart. How did that happen?
It happened from me experiencing true human kindness and acceptance in a very challenging situation. It was the love I felt from people that were extremely different from me in color and culture. This wasn’t a polished, programmatic situation, it was doing life with people where we embraced and accepted each other. My heart was deeply changed from my interaction with Dre, his family, and the others in the cast.
When the filming was finished I called Dre and asked him if I could come and see him. So in agreement, I went to his home. I told him about my history in a white washed Christian ministry for so many years. I affirmed his hospitality and kindness, then I told him of my heart change regarding racism. His reply was interesting.
He told me that as he writes screen plays he has an underlying motive to work towards racial reconciliation. He was encouraged to hear my story about the racial healing that was occurring right in front of him in the movie production process. He also told me that my role was a last minute thought. He had not written it into the screenplay on the front end. I was amazed and wondered if God had led this man to write my part so that He could work deeply in my own heart something that needed to change.
Due to some challenging circumstances after filming ended it seemed that the film had been put away. I questioned whether or not it would ever see the light of day. I just chocked it up to a life experience and was thankful for all that I had learned through it.
But, there’s so much more to the story…..
Randy called me during the summer of 2010 to tell me some awesome news.
He said he had run into Dre and that he looked quite different from the last time we had seen him. His long hair had been cut and he had a new story. He had become a born-again Christian! He was going into the door of the offices of the church where his wife is a minister. Well, that was certainly interesting.
Randy Lawson, Producer, at the premier
So, Randy reconnected with Dre and they arranged to get the film footage and continue the process of completing the film. As they worked feverishly together to edit the film it became clear to Randy that Dre was certainly a new creation by God.
When the editing was close to being finished, they decided to invite a group of young folks from the “hood” to view the film for their feedback. Mind you, the film is a hard story about a young man in the hood who gets wrapped up in drug running and a negative lifestyle. At the end of the presentation, they all applauded with enthusiasm. They loved the film!
During the question review at the end, one young girl asked Dre what happened to his wig from the film. His reply was, “Well, it wasn’t a wig.” So, he opened up to share how he came to cut his hair after he had given his life to Jesus. The event closed with Dre sharing the gospel with these young kids from the hood.
Who would have ever known that this would happen? A very low budget film created by a bunch of first timers who didn’t have a clue what they were doing, would be something that has already dramatically impacted so many lives, mine included.
Victor "Baby Dre" Chaney and John at the Premier
So, on this November night of 2010, we will go to see the first public premier of “Soul-full”. As I talked with Dre he was outwardly quiet and distracted as was typical fro him but explained that internally he was very excited to see his time and effort come to the big screen. There was a pretty full theater and lots of interactive commentary throughout the presentation. That was a good sign since the audience seemed to connect with the film.
At the end the cast walked forward and Dre entered the picture. He shared with the crowd about how he had always had long hair and how it symbolized his old life. He said he had cut his hair that was tainted with the world he had come from and would grow new hair, fresh with the new life he was engaged in. Easily speaking of becoming a Christian, the crowd applauded his story and the success of his first film being shown on the big screen.
God uses the simple to confound the wise. The confusion about this movie continues. I was confused about the pot smoking and the opening prayer. I was confused about the loving hospitality from the strong gruff man with the long hair, and now I remain confused about how God saw fit to change my heart though such a strange project.
We just do not fit into any box do we? God is at work through some very strange places in some very strange ways but in the end, He is doing it all for good. Our good.
Who knows what is next! There may be a “God” sequel to this article. I sure hope so.
Friday, November 12th, 2010
Through the Windshield of My Life
1965 Chrysler 300 – Grandpa’s Beauty Came Into Our Driveway
“Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Genesis 2:7
I know, you are thinking, “How does this scripture have anything to do with the Chrysler 300?” Read further and you will understand my thoughts.
In 1965, my grandpa and grandma came to visit us in Omaha driving up in a brand new 1965 Chrysler 300 four door hardtop. This car was an awesome beauty to behold. Outside it was deep wine burgundy. A color I have never seen on another car since then. It was metallic and shined deeply in the bright sun. My grandpa kept his cars with impeccable detail so you can imagine after driving 500 miles from Denver he had to have the car washed upon their arrival. I was so excited to get a ride in his car.
Huge changes occurred in 1965 for the American car. They had just designed almost every car with “curved” side glass rather than the traditional flat windows. This made cars much more sleek and this car was no exception. It had lines that were drawn with an artist’s eye into a long sleek beauty.
So, the next day Grandpa asked if I wanted to go for a ride in his new 300. Oh, boy, you bet! I got inside and he immediately showed me the price sticker with all the options listed. The final price was $4995.00! that was a huge amount of money in 1965 and this car had everything on it. I looked around the interior and saw “pearl” white everywhere. The dash, the doors and the seats were all so beautiful. Then I noticed the steering wheel, it was a crowning jewel. It was a swirly pearl white like nothing I had seen in a car before. I was mesmerized by the combination of the wine exterior with the pearl inside. He started up the car and put down all the windows. That was a cool feature of the hard top, driving with the side windows down gave it an even sleeker look.
As it ran with smooth precision Grandpa explained to me that this car had a “muscle car” engine in it. With a four barrel carburetor and a 413 cubic inch engine, he said this car would beat anyone on the street. We backed slowly out of the driveway for our test drive. As we moved onto the street, my very elderly looking grandpa, who was completely bald and wore tinted hexagon rimless glasses, stepped on the gas and the car felt like it went out from under us. This was on a straight residential street that was 25 miles per hour! It was a quick burst of speed but he just wanted to show me what “she” would do if you stepped on it. I was so excited!
Then he turned to me and said, ” Do you want to drive it? Come over here and sit on my lap. ” I didn’t even think about the illegalities of what was happening, but oh my gosh, the steering was so easy and it was so cool to see things from behind the driver’s seat. I think I got to drive about a block.
We got back into the driveway and talked further about his new car going over the window sticker with a fine toothed comb. This was an amazing and beautiful car. I got into the back seat and found the smooth form of the bucket seats in front were like a sculpture shaped with human hands to a fine form. And, by the way, in 1965 bucket seats in a four door car were extremely rare, so this four door was quite the sport’s car in every way.
I have looked over the years to see if I could find another one like it but all I can think is that maybe this was a one of a kind special order that would never be seen again.
So, again, what does this have to do with God forming man out of the dust of the earth?
Recently I was reading the book of Genesis and found the passage below to capture my imagination. I have excerpted this from the Amplified Version because it says exactly what I want to convey.
And God blessed them and said to them, Be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it [using all its vast resources in the service of God and man]; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and over every living creature that moves upon the earth. Genesis 1:28 AMP
We often hear the question, “Why did God create us?” An answer many of us have heard is to “glorify Him”. So, what does it mean to glorify Him? I have often struggled with this question because it is so ambiguous. What can I do to glorify God?
As I ponder this scripture today, I am encouraged beyond belief. If God asked us to subdue the earth through using its vast resources then I think of it this way. Everything that I do as I work every day, is somehow connected to subduing the earth! When I clean house or mow my yard I am bringing order to disorder, shine to dullness, taking trash to an appropriate place to dispose of it.
If you work in accounting, when you go to work to analyze a business practice, you are helping to bring order to disorder. When you teach children, you are helping them to learn to be productive members of society in order that they might assist in taking care of our world and the people in it.
But let’s take this even further. God said he made man out of the dust (elements) of the earth. I also pondered what this actually means. When scientists evaluated the makeup of the human body they have told us that we are made up of water, chemicals, atoms and numerous other elements that are found in the earth. God took those elements and “subdued” them into a miraculous form that made the first man, the animals, living creatures, plants, and everything we see.
I am taking an intellectual leap to say that subduing the earth means to do as God did. Take the elements we have been given and make something greater, more useful out of them! This brings glory to our creator God! To take care of, to steward, to improve upon the earth and everything in it, pleases the One who made it and gave it to us.
When a man heats silica (glass) to a specific temperature then turns it on a special rod he can create beautiful glass objects, vessels, and so many other wonderful things. This is bringing silica into subjection of the artist. When lumber company received raw trees they will cut the tree in its raw state into a manageable form so it can be used to build homes, furniture, and works of art. Through man’s creative abilities there are limitless possibilities as to how the “dust” of the earth can be made into unspeakable wonders.
When the creative hands of the artist press, form, and carve exotic woods, they are put to use in creating a violin, a harp, a clarinet and other instruments that can fill the air with wonderful music! Does this bring glory to God? Or as the metal artist tempers, forms and molds brass into a saxophone, a trumpet, or a flute which, when played by the gifted musical artist, bring us joy, peace, celebration and certainly glory to the Creator who provided those elements for our use.
As Andrew Lloyd Webber took the music in his heart and mind and placed it on paper to be read by men and women his notes became some of the most beautiful musical scores that we can hear. Is it any wonder why we can feel such movement in our hearts as we listen to certain music or see someone dance with perfection? Certainly it is because someone is allowing their God given talent to be put to work in creating artistic pleasure.
I have a friend who is an excellent photographer. I was looking through some of his pictures finding amazing beauty as captured through the lens of his camera. I thought, “how did you see that? Where did you find that flower?” or “Wow, she is beautiful!” I learned that through the discriminating eye of the photographic artist he captures an image that is placed in a manageable framed segment so that I can enjoy it’s intricacy. I saw a forest, he saw the delicate flower in the middle that I couldn’t see. This too brings glory to God. Bringing His creation into a form so we can all enjoy it, is pure worship of the One who gave it to us to enjoy.
Of course, we can use our talents in perversion that certainly brings grief to God and can wound others. But in this writing I want to bring the incredible wonder of God’s command to Adam to subdue the earth to our minds to encourage and lift up our hearts.
Everything we do every day, when we’re centered on the One who created our world, is worship. Its glorifying to His Name whether it is coming from a bookkeeper or a house keeper.
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters. Colossians 3:23
I have often thought of this passage in the context of having to work every day and to find a way to make sure I did it with integrity and the right attitude. But now, I find a deeper meaning that is energizing!
Worshiping God through subduing the earth!
So, back to the 1965 Chrysler 300.
As I think about the real message here, my mind thinks of the elements of the earth. The steel, chemicals, natural elements that have come from the earth have been subdued by creative human beings. The designers, mechanical workers, artists, business management teams etc. have all worked together to make an automobile. Not a vehicle just to drive, but to enjoy, to look at, to appreciate and to make memories with.
The beautiful, wine colored, work of art in that car and it’s amazing pearl white interior glorifies the Creator! We can call it materialistic, or we can chose to call it an amazing response to the elements of the earth that God has given us to subdue, to rule over, to use in our daily lives, to bring Him glory!
It’s no wonder why my heart takes a few extra beats when I see an “American Beauty” roll up beside me. God’s heart is beating as well when He sees something we have done with what He has given us. Much like our joy when we see a colorful picture that a child has drawn. They have drawn it with the wax from the earth that has been subdued into a Crayola Crayon! Creation itself cries out in worship of our Awesome, Amazing God!
He replied, I tell you that if these keep silent, the very stones will cry out. Luke 19:40
I think with or without our hands, the elements of the earth speak to God’s glory. As we harvest them, mold them, bring them into subjection through our hands the God of wonders will be glorified!
How amazing is this? Today the work of your hands is part of the stewardship of the creation he has given us! As he formed us out of the dust, He has called us to do the same.
Now sing for joy to the One who is joyful about what you are doing with His creation.