Photo by Zemistor.
I grew up in the Northeast communities of Radisson Heights and Marlborough in Calgary, during the innovative hysteria of the 1970’s, when rock music and roller-skates kept our country grooving. My mother raised us at home, while my father worked an onerous job on the Canadian railway. As the middle of three brothers, there was never a shortage of mischief or adventure to uncover. Each weekend my brothers and I would lay siege of our living-room, with boxes of Lego and Meccano, and the television blaring repeats of Fred Rogers and Wile E. Coyote plotting diabolical schemes against the Road Runner. We spent hours and sometimes days constructing unrivalled creations, which would often be destroyed once someone had tampered with their sacred design. As ‘keeper of the peace’ my mother would oftentimes end-up sitting between us on the couch, with head in hands, as all hell would break loose in our front room.
Our home was unassuming, but we enjoyed all the simple pleasures that a family required. The neighbourhood was filled with other kids our age, and we took full advantage of the boundlessness that life seemed to offer. We kept our doors unlocked at night, had water fights in the street, and rode bikes until our parents would call us home through the dark. I developed deep intrigue for the extensiveness of our world, and would often sit for hours, contemplating the magnificence of nature. My mother taught me to paint, and I quickly learned to replicate the intricacy of creation onto canvas. The thought of a sovereign God seemed obvious to me — such grandeur could only be accomplished by someone much greater than ourselves. Although with my observation came a disparaging thought. How could there be such splendour in our world and yet such little comprehension by man? It was though we intentionally chose to ignore it.
My father seemed a victim of this, and never explained anything to me. Each day he would come home from work and sit in his chair, staring into the television for hours, with a cigarette in one hand and rum and coke in the other. He rarely spoke a word, and chose silence instead — the kind of blight that is every man’s demise. My only chance of engaging with him was when I was given the task of rolling cigarettes beside his chair. Yet even then he wouldn’t speak. My inability to win his attention was particularly disheartening to me. At times, my father would drink throughout the night, gradually increasing the volume on his stereo, to the point of Neil Diamond blaring through the neighbourhood. By morning, my mother and brothers and I could be found cowering in a corner, defending ourselves as my father threw a violent rage. I will never forget the sound of drinking glasses exploding on the floor, with my father hurling the most distasteful profanities at my mother, then forcing my mother to clean it up. During this time, I became subjected to a deep root of fear, which would shape my paradigm for many years to come.
Even our community gradually became more unsafe. While still in my pyjamas during the Saturday morning cartoons, a forceful blast shook the front of our house. I ran out the front door and noticed that several other homes had broken panes of glass in their living room windows and aluminum door frames. We hurried through the catwalks with other families, following a large plume of smoke, which rose from the middle of the neighbourhood, until we came upon an unusual sight. One home, within a long row of houses was completely missing, with only the cement foundation intact, and pieces of the house strewn throughout the entire block. All of this seemed rather puzzling at the time, but later on the evening news, it was explained that the homeowner had extinguished the pilot light in the furnace, hoping that his wife and child would come home early that day. Fortunately for them they had visited relatives instead.
To escape from our trials at home, my mother would take us to a women’s shelter or to our relatives who lived across town. Eventually, my father would apologize and coerce her into brining us back home. She also began taking us to an Anglican church when I was seven, which helped with our basic need for community. While in Sunday School I became especially intrigued with stories in the New Testament where Christ saved people from their suffering. Then wishing for a miracle of my own, I resolved to begin pursuing him, to be relieved from the infernal fear that continued to plagued me. But because of my father’s rejection, I found it especially difficult to anticipate anything from a ‘Heavenly Father’. Over time my fears began to take on a life of their own, where I began to live out of two separate realities; one of which was always maintaining my composure, and the other of incessantly questioning my each and every thought. On the first day of school I hid outside the classroom, asked to see a psychiatrist when I was ten, and suffered from reoccurring nightmares by the age of twelve; where friends would lock me in my basement while ghostly faces would torment me. I gradually began to struggled with an embarrassing stutter, where simple conversations became increasingly difficult. I was never able to escape the fear, then inevitably withdrew from my family and friends, all while watching my confidence die a slow and miserable death.
I became somewhat of a recluse in high school, then started smoking marijuana halfway through my eleventh year. This seemed rather frivolous at first, but soon became my primary method of relief. Although the more that I used to feel ‘normal’ the further from normal I became. After three and a half years of addiction I became inordinately depressed, to the point of becoming unable to venture beyond the front door of our home. The thought of facing the world outside was paralyzing to me. I eventually lost my ability to speak, which carried on for the next two and a half years. While incessantly revisiting and questioning my each and every thought, each day was fought through intolerable distress, and I often thought of suicide. Then with time I found it agonizing to move beyond my bedroom door. My life was about to fall out into an unending abyss of emptiness and despair.
Though I could never imagine making it this far, the desperation that I faced seemed to facilitate the saving that I accepted. I have spent more than forty years searching for answers and discovering the path that is true and many that have been false. The greatest thing that I have discovered is that God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20-21). What I love most about him is that he is not partial to those who would seem to have it all in this life, but rather to those who are in need of his sovereignty. Pinnock explains, “The Christian message is good news, not just for the well-behaved and pious, not just for Jews and Christians, not just for the elect few; it is good news for the world, for all sinners without discrimination, for all the hopeless, the forgotten, the marginalized.” What I find most reassuring is that it is not necessarily your position in this life that matters, but rather your trajectory.
1 Corinthians 1:26-31 (NIV) 26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”