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I had reached the end of my rope. My whole world was crashing in on me. To even walk through the door of my home caused the ever-present knots in my stomach to tighten painfully. My five children were growing more discontented and rebellious with each passing day; my only son, recently discharged from the Navy, was caught in the snare of drug addiction; my wife, despairing over the chaos in our home, looked to me for answers that I was unable to give.
I had tried so hard to be successful in every area of my life; providing for my family; fighting to reach the top in the field of engineering; struggling to uphold fading morals in a fast-moving world. But where had it all led? Of what use were all my efforts now? It was the last day of another painful year. I searched wearily for the possible New Year's resolutions that might free us from our nightmare. But nothing came to mind. Reflecting back through the fifty-one years of my life, I tried to find some clue as to where it all began. In the early years I had so much going for me. It seemed that success was certain. I was so confident in my own ability. My own ability? Well, wasn't the caption in my high school year book an indication of how well I would make it in the future? Didn't it foretell of worldly success? "Louis is one of the few boys who has been outstanding *in both athletics and in studies," it read. "A member of the swimming and wrestling teams (simultaneously) and a high honor student to boot. He achieved that distinction even while carrying an exceedingly heavy schedule." I was sure I couldn't lose. Four years later, I received a Bachelor of Science degree in Metallurgical Engineering from Lehigh University. It was 1941. 1 could see the signs of World War II coming over the horizon. The pressure was on to join one of the services so I postponed my move into industry and joined the Army Air Forces. At the end of the war, I was discharged as a Major and returned to civilian status, anxious to make my mark in life.
Over the, years, my family grew to five healthy and beautiful children. We managed through the mini-tragedies of broken bones, accidents, and occasional illnesses. But those weren't the real problems. If anything, they were the times when we were closest.
Many years went by. I was now an engineering supervisor in a large electronics-manufacturing firm. My job covered work in the new technologies of the electronics field. I published several articles and co-authored a book. I traveled to many campuses throughout the country on speaking engagements discussing the newest developments in my work.
I really had career satisfaction. But when my work was done, I had to face the most important area of my life, my family, where I was rapidly losing my grip. The tension was severe. I dreaded going home. So often when I opened the front door, I felt as though I stood face to face with some ominous force. The effect was so overpowering that it took all the courage I could muster to keep from turning around and running, as if to escape this threatening power.
Although on the outside I was moderately successful, on the inside I was a failure, sheltering a dying spirit that was slowly, but surely, strangling me. It was a real paradox. When I first got married I felt that I was ready to lick the world. "I would have a happy family," I thought, "lots of love, lots of togetherness and lots of happiness." There was no question about it. It would happen.
But I had hardly begun -married life when my goal started to elude me and my family life began to erode. Each passing year brought increasing difficulties in my relationship with my wife and children. There was a growing communication gap, rebellion, run-away children, drugs, talk about divorce. Each year I would repeatedly conjecture that the next year would be better. But it never was. On the contrary, it was always worse.
My days were plagued with migraine headaches. Even my nights took their toll, repeatedly interrupted by fear-filled nightmares that always ended in a series of wild screams. Little did I know that the nightmares were to continue for many years before I would be delivered from them.
My wife, Dottie, and I sought help from a family counselor. It was a complete zero. I read book after book on how to achieve happiness, a sort of do-it-yourself approach, but without success. I delved into the cults and the occults without success, not realizing that they were areas controlled by Satan and only tended to compound the problems. There were times when I sensed that a mysterious force was methodically destroying me and my family, but I was completely helpless to resist it.
My church seemed incapable of offering any help. I felt that it should have. Sure it was doing a fine job in the educational, organizational, and social areas, but when it came to the real gut needs of the struggling individual, it seemed completely sterile. I needed more than a social religion and I began to rebel. My church attendance appeared to be increasingly pointless. I kept going only to "set a good example for the family." But, what a poor example I was. In time, my family started to see through my facade and all church attendance began to falter.
Finally, we gave up the pretense and all church going came to a grinding halt. This didn't solve any problems, but it might have had one advantage. It eliminated the false sense of religious security that I had when I was "fulfilling my duty" every Sunday. The act of going to church kept my conscience very comfortable, but it completely immunized me against any serious relationship with God. The immunity now wore off. I could no longer pretend to use the church to keep me good enough to satisfy God. Now, it was strictly between Him and me-no crutches.
My decline accelerated and was destined soon to reach a critical stage. All my problems came about because I was excluding God from my life, although I didn’t know that at the time. My only contact with Him, be it ever so slight, had been my church attendance. When I removed that little bit of God from my life, there was nothing to keep me from sinking to the bottom.
And sink I did. Christmas Day came, a time to be jolly, peace on earth and good will to all men; and I hit bottom. Family problems had now become monstrous. The final crisis triggered by Jim, my only son, sent me into a deep depression. Our relationship had degenerated to zero. Jim and I used to have so much going for us; real togetherness; swimming, hiking, bicycling, weight lifting, Scuba diving. That was when Jim was younger. But now he was fully-grown. The togetherness was only a dim memory.
For the past six years, I had watched him going downhill. Every attempt I made to help him ended in failure. He was now so deeply involved in drugs that he was losing all control of his free will. Bit by bit, my heart was breaking as I watched him deliberately racing down his own path of self-destruction. To make matters worse, several years earlier, he had said, -as if prophetically, "I won't live past the age of 22." He was now 22.
One week later, New Year's Day, my entire family was gathered for dinner. I sat down to say grace. My desire to struggle was gone. I felt I could no longer go on and essentially gave up all hope, entertaining thoughts of suicide. But at that moment, a flicker of light suddenly seemed to penetrate this dark hour-a light from God. Was this a ray of hope that by some miracle I could be rescued by God? I had never really considered Him for real help before. He always seemed so far away and my prayers to Him seemed to bounce off the walls. Would He really hear me this time? It was worth trying. Yes, I'll hold out for just one more year.
So it was that in this state of despair and surrender, I grasped this one last hope and cried out, "Dear Lord, please bring peace to me and my family this year." A simple, but desperate prayer; a dozen words to overcome a lifetime of failures, a lifetime of needs. But who was this God that I cried out to? I knew so little about Him. As I look back to that painful day, it seems difficult to believe flint I could have lived for over half a century and still missed the most important issue of my life, my relationship with God. And yet, that's just what I did. For 51 years I lived without knowing Him, that is not knowing Him personally. I never experienced His presence nor did I believe that anyone really could.
Don't misunderstand me. I had always believed in God, but my God was way out there somewhere, so distant that I was sure He couldn't care what I was doing, much less become involved with my personal life. For someone to suggest this kind of personal God bordered on fanaticism, I thought. I resigned myself to being a "good" Christian, good in my own eyes. I went to church on Sundays and religious holidays and took part in the usual religious rituals and ceremonies. But, my God, remained infinitely distant and never, to my knowledge, became an active part of my life. My useful knowledge of Him and His activities was essentially zero.
How often, in church, I repeated the Apostles Creed: "I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and In Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord... I believe in the Holy Ghost..." I believe, I believe, I believe. How phony I was. I did not believe. I was simply repeating memorized words because it was part of the ceremony of the service.
So what did I believe? Sure there was a Father God. I always believed that, but I had a lot of trouble with Jesus Christ being His only Son. And the Holy Ghost lost me completely. In spite of that, I continued like a robot, mechanically praying the Creed and hoping that some day when I got older things would clear up.
I got older, but things did not clear up. Instead, I became less and less satisfied with my set of beliefs, which were quickly becoming a set of unbeliefs. I searched for answers about God, but found none. I questioned my friends, but they were either as unknowledgeable as I was or else they weren't interested in discussing the subject. A few tried to explain with abstract ideas that were completely hollow and left me even more confused. Mostly, everyone avoided the subject because, "Friends just don't talk about religion. It may cause hard feelings." Fortunately, even though I did not know God, He knew me, and blessed me and my family and my career in many ways, although I didn't know it at the time. Now, as I look back, I'm sure that God gave me those blessings on credit knowing that someday I would see the light and thank Him for them. And I have, many times over. But at the time, I assumed that the blessings were the result of my own ability, with perhaps a little luck thrown in here and there.
But now, on that particular New Year's Day, as I prayed for peace for my family, I was at the point of desperation. Every method that the world had to offer to help me had failed. I was calling out to the only source that I knew was left. My heart cried out to God for help and for many nights following I repeated that prayer at the dinner table, day after day, week after week, month after month. The family soon became accustomed to hearing it. They listened without comment. They knew that I was dead serious. And they knew how much we needed peace. But, they didn't know how it would come. Neither did 1. But, we all had hope that it would come some how.
Unknown to me, God was setting up a plan to answer my plea, It started to unravel in April of that year. I was at my desk during the mid-morning when I became jittery and just had to walk around. I went out into the shop area where I met Sav, a friend who worked for me at one time and whom I hadn't seen for a number of weeks.
We went through the usual greetings. Then he asked with much hesitation, "Lou, would you be interested in going on a Christian retreat this coming weekend?" I said, "A retreat?" and burst out laughing. "Sav, you got to be kidding. I've given up on religion. In fact, I'm so fed up with religion that I quit going to church entirely. A retreat would be the last thing that I would be interested in." I was sure-my answer was quite clear and that our discussion was over so I began to walk away.
But what I didn't know, was that was being used by God. He had been trying for months to get someone to go on this retreat without much success. However, just the previous night, Sav prayed with a friend, asking God to send someone to him whom he could talk to about going. He now felt that I might be that person. The more we talked the more certain he felt about it.
I couldn't shake him free and I became increasingly uneasy as we seemed to be debating the issue. Finally, I thought that I had the clincher that would put the argument to rest. In my rebellion against the church, I refused to pray any of the prayers that I had been previously taught to use in talking to God. I said determinedly, "Listen, Sav, let me try to clarify the picture. I told you I've completely broken my ties with the church, but apparently you don't believe me. The fact is that even when I say grace, or pray at all, I pray entirely in my own words." Since the tradition of our church called for memorized prayer, I was certain that this "shocking confession" would surely end the discussion.
Little did I know that this was a special Spirit-led retreat. It was a three-day weekend of teachings, mainly by laymen', that emphasized a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. A big part of this emphasis was on talking to Him in your own words. Therefore, when I said that I prayed in my own words, instead of defeating Sav, I refueled his engine. As the discussion continued, I felt that I was losing the argument so I broke away by saying, "I'll think it over and call you tomorrow." I never intended to do so and expected to forget about the whole thing as soon as I left him. Then Sav made one parting remark, "OK. We'll leave it up to the Lord." "Leave it up to the Lord? What’s the matter with this guy? Is he a fanatic," I wondered, "mentioning the Lord here in work? Besides I'm the one who's making the decision not the Lord." As I walked away I thought, "How ridiculous, me going on a Christian retreat.
But I couldn't seem to get the subject out of my mind. It kept churning over and over. I battled with myself all that day and the next. I definitely didn't want to go! My going on a retreat defied all logic. But something within me refused to accept that logic.
Sav wasn't taking any chances. The next night he called me on the phone to get my answer. By now I didn't seem to have any arguments left. I made one last feeble attempt to resist. As if to propose a conditional agreement, I said, "Sav, I don’t want to get trapped into any commitments. No tricks like trying to get me into church through some side door." After that statement, I agreed to go, barely meeting the deadline, since the retreat was due to start the next day.
The weekend program was well-planned covering some fifteen topics, teachings, and testimonies about Jesus, given mostly by laymen. This was interwoven with group discussions. As the retreat, unraveled, I began to sense a strange feeling within me as if there were a battle going on. I put up my guard. I was afraid to trust anyone. I had to be careful that they didn't trap me into any commitments. I had had my fill of hypocrisy while in the church and wanted no more of it.
But the battle continued. There was something I couldn't put my finger on. I couldn't understand the heavy emphasis on Jesus. Finally, during one of the twenty minute breaks, I rushed up to my room and yelled out to God, "Lord, what is this all about? What are they really trying to tell me? What's all this talk about Jesus mean?" Then tears streamed down my face as I started to sense the presence of God's love, realizing that this team of men loved Jesus Christ so much that they were giving up their time in the hopes that I, too, would somehow learn to love Him.
I went back to the meeting room. My heart began to soften and continued to do so during the balance of the weekend. Sunday evening came. The retreat was essentially over. We met for a final gathering in a large room filled with several hundred people who met to fellowship with us.
We sat in the front of the room. One by one each person in our group stood up to give a brief testimony of his reaction to the retreat. Although I didn't understand it, the presence of God's love was so overpowering that I buried my head in my hands as a big lump came to my throat and tears flooded my eyes. I tried desperately to fight back the tears so that when it was my turn I could speak coherently. A friend of mine, Frank, got up to talk, but just cried and babbled like a baby. I didn't want to do that. I had to get control of myself. I waited.
Finally, everyone else had spoken. I couldn't delay any longer. Thankfully, the lump was gone and the tears had stopped. I stood up, although I wasn't sure what to say. But the words came. As I looked over the crowd, I suddenly knew without a doubt that Jesus Christ was real. I could feel His presence penetrating my entire being. I felt soaked in His love. In this overpowering atmosphere of God's love I knew Jesus had come into my heart and I said, "Tonight, for the first time in my life, I met Jesus."
At that moment, in my heart, I committed my whole life to Jesus Christ. Then I sat down.
So it was that after fighting bitterly all weekend to keep from being trapped into any commitments, I voluntarily, willingly, and with a tremendous desire to do so, committed my whole life to Jesus Christ. Yes, I found peace, the peace that I had been searching for all these years, because I found Jesus, the Prince of Peace.
After the meeting broke up, I walked over to greet Sav. As I looked into his eyes, all I could see was the love of Jesus, and I could no longer fight back the stream of tears that had been building up all evening. I embraced Sav, and wept like a baby and thanked him over and over again.