In Romania the beginning of the second half of the 20th century meant the instauration of Communism and its entry into the longest spiritual night. Personally, this period brought me many painful experiences because of the hardships my parents encountered. First of all, there were the large agricultural and animal allotments that were loaded in the railway cars and headed to the Soviet Union as war indemnities. Then the collectivization followed and that meant expropriation. That led my family to dire poverty.
"If God doesn't really exist, then what's the point in living?"
I stared out at the Californian mountains pondering my existence; only 15 years old. I had grown up in a religious family knowing about spiritual things, but my life felt empty. I was conflicted; one side wanted everything that this life was offering me: sex, drugs, money, power and prestige while the other quietly hinted at other lesser-known realities in my life: purpose, peace, love, forgiveness and joy.
As I nervously peered down at the ground 100 feet below, my balance shifted. In a brief moment of blind panic, I realized I was going over the cliff's edge.
There was no turning back. That's how I felt when a group of friends took me rock climbing a few years ago. The idea sounded like fun - until we arrived at the rock face and put on climbing gear to rappel down. I've never been fond of heights and didn't take much comfort in my only lifeline being a climbing rope thinner than my index finger.
I was afraid I'd be a SINGLE school teacher of other peoples' kids with none of my own... if I really gave my life to God!
When I was only seven years old, it became clear to me that I could have Jesus as my own Savior-not just because of my parents' faith. Though young, I really knew He was in my life because of His promise in the Bible: "The Lord goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged." (Deut 31:8, Heb 13:5)
Once again I was in darkness. My twin brother with whom I shared a room always fell asleep quickly. I enjoyed wrestling with him during the day, but I dreaded the wrestling match I faced each night. Out of the darkness imposing thoughts seized me like, "What would happen if I were to die tonight?" I didn't want to die, but it was the uncertainty of what followed death that really terrified me. In the morning after a particularly long night of struggling to fall asleep, I approached my mother in the kitchen.
On an overnight train from Vienna to Warsaw, I found myself face to face with the Polish border guard. With his right hand raised and with his eyes turned upward, the man uttered one single English word--- “LIBERTY.” That was the initial response from the guard when he realized that I lived in America. The word “liberty” was one of the few English words that he knew, and to this man it was a word that well represented America and its freedoms. Surprisingly, a second response followed.
I knew all the best hiding places on our family farm. If my father found me, he would put me to work doing chores that often demanded more physical and mental endurance than I had as a young boy. It should have been a positive experience working side-by-side with my father. But it wasn't. I felt like an absolute failure when I didn't live up to the daily expectations I felt he had of me.
Hiding was my escape and my place to find rest and solace. Even today, I treasure time alone and away from the demands of work and parenthood. Time alone is when I think most about God.
"What's the matter with you? How can you not know the answer to that question.....it's in all the newspapers? What world are you living in?"
Such a tirade being thrown at a shy, sensitive teenager by a social studies teacher in front of her peers can bring humiliation and shame. It can not help but reinforce her own feelings of insecurity and self-doubt.
Even though this happened to me over 40 years ago, it still hurts to think about it.
What is in the heart of a little boy who has no father? No father to run to and say, "I hurt myself today" or "I had a fight today, but I won" or "Will you play soccer with me today?" And then, after getting a step-father, having the mother say, "Never disturb him, he is too busy."
This had a powerful effect on one little boy, me.