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Angels and Miracles, Grief and Hope
By Jim Knotek
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Pastor Jim Knotek
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMy First Miracles
When I was six years old, my father quit smoking cigarettes and, to my dismay, my mother began smoking! That really made an impression on me, because I believed that it was okay for men to smoke and women shouldn't smoke. It was quite obvious that my mother was influenced by her best friend, Mary Shannon, who was a chain smoker.
One beautiful day, Mary drove my mother, Lillian, and me to my grandparents' summer cottage on the Milwaukee River in Wisconsin. We lived in Milwaukee during my early years. It was always a treat to go to the cottage. We arrived there and, after a short time, I looked for Mary. There she was in the backyard smoking away! Although we were not related, I called her Aunt Mary. I recall going to her and saying, "Aunt Mary, I wish I could smoke." She smiled and took the cigarette from her mouth and handed it to me, saying, "Put it in your mouth, Jimmy, and take a deep breath." I didn't realize she was such a wise person! I took the cigarette, put it in my mouth and took a deep breath. I must have turned purple as I ran down a hill to the river and threw up. From that time forward I never touched another cigarette. Yes, there was the good and the bad. Mary had a bad influence on my mother but, on the other hand, she had a good influence on me. Despite her bad habit, she was truly a grand person and a genuine friend.
My mother continued to smoke for another thirty-two years until her doctor told her she was getting emphysema. That's when the lungs begin losing their elasticity, like a rubber band becoming brittle. Mother became frightened by the doctor's diagnosis and quickly stopped smoking. She was about sixty years old when she quit, and my wife and I were extremely pleased that she made a positive decision.
Of course, this experience has nothing to do with angels or miracles, but I believe we can learn important lessons by the company we keep. Mary's son, Neil, became one of my best friends and we were always delighted to get together.
Another friend, a neighbor, lived across the alley from our home on Sixty-Fourth and Locust Streets in Milwaukee. Phil Austin was a kind and faithful friend. His mother was a jewel. One afternoon we were playing in the yard behind our house and had some rope. I was probably eight or nine years old; for some reason, which I'll never know, Phil asked me if it would be okay for him to tie my hands and arms with that rope. I said, "Sure, go ahead." He began tying me, making all kinds of knots, and then he said, "Now see if you can free yourself." I tried and tried and couldn't untie a single knot. It was like having on handcuffs. I certainly could have gone into the house and asked my mother or brother to cut the rope. Instead I hit the panic button! I shouted, "Phil, untie this rope!" I was just about ready to cry, when I said to him, "Let's pray and ask Jesus to help us." That is one little event I will never forget, because, upon praying, the rope amazingly dropped off my arms. No doubt, that was a miracle! Those knots were so complex and tight that Phil couldn't untie his own knots. When the ropes fell off, I knew the Lord heard our prayer, and that little incident affected my walk with Jesus.
You may not regard the following story as a miracle, but it was obvious that the Lord had his protective hand upon me. When I was ten years old, my friends and I would play tag in houses that were being built. When someone would attempt to tag us, we would try to get away. One of my friends said, "Hey, Jimmy, if you want to get away fast, just jump out of the window!" He was speaking about the window on the second floor! I told him I couldn't do it, and he replied, "It doesn't hurt. It's easy. I've done it several times," and, to prove his boasting, he jumped out of the window to show me how easy it was or, maybe, to prove that he was an idiot. Wow!
It wasn't very long after that "stimulating" conversation that one of my playmates was going to tag me, and I bravely (or stupidly) jumped out of the window; and my friend was right; it didn't hurt. After that, no one could catch me.
Now here's the occasion when the Lord's "everlasting arms" were under me. My brother and a couple friends went to an apartment building that was being constructed. It was three stories high and there we were playing tag again. One of my friends and I went to the third floor, and suddenly another boy began running toward us, anxious to tag one of us. We both ran toward the elevator shaft, which had a pole going down to the first floor. It was similar to what fire fighters use in their stations when they are on call. They grab the pole and slide down to the next floor. The construction workers used the pole to slide down from floor to floor. My friend and I ran toward the pole. He grabbed it and unintentionally knocked me off. I fell four stories, down into the basement. I was unconscious, and when I opened my eyes, my brother was yelling from the first floor, looking down at me, "Jim, are you alright? Are you hurt?" I noticed that my arm was hanging over the crosspiece of a ladder. I felt my arm and said, "I'm okay, but my arm is sore." I climbed up the ladder and excitedly said, "Let's go to another house and play." And that's exactly what we did. How did I survive my childhood, if it hadn't been for our loving Lord? The inspired word says, "The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms" (Deuteronomy 33:27).
I look back at that event and realize that the Lord was watching over me and that He sent an angel to prevent me from being killed or seriously injured. One thing in my favor was that the concrete had not yet been poured in the basement. I fell on dirt. Nevertheless, to fall four floors without getting injured was amazing. On our way home, I said to my brother, "Johnny, let's not tell Mother or Dad about this. They'll really get mad." He agreed, and I didn't tell my parents about this incident until thirty years later. When I did tell them, we all laughed. That was a lot better than getting spanked!
A few years later, when I was twelve years old, I attended Steuben Junior High School and also began attending junior confirmation classes at Bethany Lutheran Church, which was within walking distance of the school. It was a two year course. I couldn't have asked for a finer teacher, Pastor George Beiderwieden. He was a marvelous person. I remember some of his sermons and how he would quote poetry without looking at his notes. However, he did have a bad habit. One day I was walking by his home, the parsonage next to the church, and saw him through the screen door with his feet on an ottoman, sitting in his chair, smoking a cigar. I was astonished that my pastor would do such a thing! Nevertheless, I got over the shock and continued to admire and respect him. I did very well in the class and memorized dozens of Bible passages, which, at the time, seemed burdensome; but later in life I truly appreciated committing those scriptures to memory. Pastor George told me that I would make a fine minister. I didn't realize at the time that his comment was almost prophetical. Then, after two years, on March 25, 1945, I was confirmed. My family and relatives, including my dear grandfather, Herman Selle, were proud of me. My grandfather was a faithful Christian who never missed a worship service.
Grandfather Selle appeared to me as a rather stern, stoic person who was somewhat distant, until we were sitting together in the back seat of my parents' car, when they were doing some shopping. Grandfather told me that, when he was a young man, he purchased his first car. Up to that point in his life, he used a wagon, drawn by horses. The first day he drove his new car, he came to park it in his barn and yelled, "Whoa, whoa," expecting it to stop. He laughed and said, "The car didn't stop because I forgot about the brake. It kept going into the barn and crashed through the wall." We both laughed and I thought to myself, "Grandpa is really a nice man, easy to talk to." He departed to be with the Lord when he was only sixty-nine years old.
I don't want to offend any of you who live in "snow country," but I vividly recall the only time my kind and mild-tempered father would get angry was during the winter months. We didn't have a garage and he would use a long extension cord with a light bulb and place it under the hood of the car to keep the engine warm. Several times, as my father, John, was getting ready to go to work, my brother, Johnny, and I would shovel the snow off the driveway, and guess what would happen! The city snowplow came and tossed all the snow back onto the driveway, and we had to again clear the driveway. This happened several times. Those were the only occasions when my dad became furious.
How many fathers would allow their kids to drive their only car over four thousand miles? I was sixteen years old and my brother, age nineteen, two of his friends and I traveled in Dad's car to Los Angeles, California. We stayed in L.A. for several days and fell in love with the city and the climate. Although it was July, we learned the winter months would register temperatures in the 60's, 70's and 80's. No more snow! When we returned home to Milwaukee, my brother and I encouraged our parents to sell our house and move to California. "Mom and Dad, we won't have to shovel any more snow, and we won't have high heating bills during the winter. Oh, by the way, there are beautiful palm trees all over the city." And, yes, with all of our glowing reports we convinced them to sell the house.
They told many of our relatives and friends about their plans to move. There was a well-meaning couple who encouraged them to move to Seattle, Washington, instead of southern California. This couple's recommendation came through louder and clearer than our recommendation. The house sold quickly, and we were on our way to the West Coast. It was the month of December. I'll never forget how high the snow was along the streets of Milwaukee. By the time we came to St. Louis, Missouri, the weather was unusually balmy and there was no snow. We all joked and said, "Maybe we should move here!" Nevertheless, we continued our trek to the West Coast, taking the southern route in order to avoid ice and snow. We arrived in San Diego, and Johnny and I tried to convince my parents that this would be a great place to start a new life. Since then I have visited San Diego numerous times and consider it to be just about the most beautiful large city in the United States. My parents were determined, however, to continue north. We drove through Los Angeles and headed for Seattle.
Upon arriving in Seattle, Mother and Dad were too hasty in purchasing a house. To be sure, it was a very nice house and was located a few blocks from beautiful Lake Washington. My dad was able to get a job, and I enrolled in Lincoln High School. The teachers and students were great, and I was appointed a classroom officer. They treated me like a celebrity.
That winter of 1947 to 1948 was one of the most severe in the history of the city. It seemed to snow unrelentingly. My dad couldn't drive to work because of the ice and snow. He had plenty of experience driving in the snow on the icy streets of Milwaukee, but this was different with the many slippery hills that were unconquerable. Mom and Dad began to seriously consider returning to Milwaukee; but here we were, the cheerleaders, Jim and Johnny, again encouraging them to move to southern California. Within six months we sold our house and moved to the Los Angeles area. I am relating these experiences to you because they tie in with God's guidance and will. He is the Good Shepherd; He leads us, yes, "He will make straight your paths" (Proverbs 3:6).
After several months, my parents purchased a home in West Los Angeles, just a mile south of the U.C.L.A. campus. I graduated from Hamilton High School, made a lot of friends; and my family and I truly enjoyed our new home and new city. We all concluded that this was, indeed, a good move.
One of the men who attended our church, Art La Croix, was a professional musician, a trombone player, who had played with Tommy Dorsey, Freddie Martin and other dance bands. He knew that I could write music and had a good grasp of orchestrations and chords. He helped me write several orchestrations for dance bands and got some of his friends together for a recording session. I was in my glory, but nothing really came of it. Most of the musicians were professionals who had been playing in notable bands, but the recordings were never duplicated and the entire event was a big flop.
One of my friends, Dan, asked me to go to an evening service at a neighboring church. I agreed, and when we sat down, I saw a gorgeous platinum blond girl, probably my age, a few rows ahead of me. Oh, my, was she beautiful! After the service, Dan, who was more aggressive than I, said, "Let's talk to her." He wasn't at all interested, since he already had a girlfriend, whom he later married. This pretty blond was with her stepmother, Ruby. Although I was somewhat shy, I had enough courage to speak to her. It appeared that she wasn't dating anyone. Good! I didn't feel that it was the right time to ask her for a date, so I told her I would return next Sunday evening.
Her name was Ruth and, because I had already written several songs, I thought, "I'll write a song and call it 'Dear Ruth.'" The music and words just flowed from me. It was as if I were inspired and, looking back, I do believe that the Lord was speaking to my heart. The following Sunday I brought the song with me and gave it to Ruth. She looked at it rather inquisitively, wondering who is this weird guy writing a song for me? He doesn't even know me! My heart flipped when she was willing to date me. Several months later we were married. She was eighteen and I was barely nineteen. Some acquaintances said, "It'll never work. You're both too young." Their comments may have been true, but they were wrong. That was the year, 1949, when Nat King Cole had his hit, "They tried to tell us we're too young—too young to really be in love...." Well, love is powerful and, with the Lord, love conquers adversity and trials. Incidentally, here are the words to "Dear Ruth":
Dear Ruth, I don't know how to begin to tell you what you mean to me, you see, It was on a Sunday when I looked in your eyes, and then love set in by surprise. So, dear Ruth, I hope I don't appear rude but just to be with you brings joy to me My sincere desire is to share life with you eternally. My every thought is filled with gladness to know that there's a girl like you.
We all have dreams that seem fantastic and you are one dream I am thankful has come true. Dear Ruth, our hearts are far from this world; we base our hopes on vows that keep us true. Now you know why I shall always cherish the day when I met you.
I was only eighteen years old when I wrote those words, and I still appreciate them today because Ruth is my true love. She is my hero and the flame in my heart.
While we were dating, we truly enjoyed each other's companionship, talked and talked wherever we were, and we learned how much we had in common. To our surprise, our likes and dislikes were nearly identical, and we really hit it off with flying colors. I truly believe that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, was guiding and leading us that first Sunday evening and that He knew all the time we were meant for each other. I believe, to this very day, it was God's will to bring us to together. That, to me, is a miracle.
We had a simple wedding, and Ruth didn't expect an expensive engagement ring because we both had meager incomes. We had wedding bands, and she was totally satisfied, wanting no more; and that is the way she was throughout our marriage, even when we were financially stable. Years later I gave her a lovely engagement ring, which she cherished. Ruth enjoyed going into thrift stores and would become excited when she found an item that looked new and would fit her. Oh, yes, we went to many other stores, such as, J.C. Penney, Sears, Macys and, most certainly, K-Mart and Wal-Mart. Ordinary, unpretentious things made her happy. What a woman! She reminds me of the Ruth in the Old Testament.
Excerpted from Angels and Miracles, Grief and Hope by Jim Knotek Copyright © 2011 by Pastor Jim Knotek. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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