I often wondered if I came to Christianity only to fill the void left by a broken family. It may be true. I was seven years old at the time; somewhere between my second and third grade year. The summer before, on a hot summer Sacramento day, a number of family members loaded up furniture onto Glenn Hensley’s smelly stock truck and we began the daylong journey to our new home in Oregon. It was in northern Pistol River, much closer to Myers Creek really, and directly up the mountain from the enormous sea stacks that make the beach there so famous.
This land was as foreign to a second-grader city boy as a skyscraper to my new stepfather. The climate was cold, damp and foggy, where Sacramento was hot. We had acres–miles, really–ripe for exploration, totally unpopulated. Instead of just one family dog, Lizzy, we now had four–a big woolly sheepdog called Pepper, and two frantic hunting hounds named Marge and Alice, after Al’s cousins’ wives. A few neighboring homes sprawled up the mountainsides within a mile radius, and I quickly got to know all their names; there weren’t many.
The Hulls lived down the mountain in a northerly direction, and had a son my age, as well as a daughter who would be in Lori’s grade, once she began attending school with the big kids. They started bringing Lori and me to church. Soon, my mother began attending Bible studies in Jacquie Hull’s kitchen with other women from the Pistol River community. Within a few months, my whole family had accepted the Lord Jesus into their hearts.
The whole family, that is, except for my stepfather. He was a remarkable and silent Vietnam veteran, seriously injured during his tour of duty. He was now a heavy equipment specialist in the woods with Glenn Hensley’s logging company. He worked very long hours 6 or 7 days a week, and refused, despite our urgings, to believe in God. I couldn’t understand what the problem was back then. Why wouldn’t any person believe in a silent, invisible deity who came to earth, let himself die and now lives in the air with his Father, named God the Father, who is really also himself, because there can only be one God. Jesus had a brother deity called the Holy Ghost, who was also really Jesus (also because there can only be one God). Any family tree that complicated couldn’t possibly be invented by humans, I deduced.
Religion became a constant source of strife in our house, and eventually a family wedge that drove my dad to feel marginalized in his own home. Every Sunday (often his only day off), instead of doing family things with him, we were at church for morning, then evening services. He would most often be in bed when we got home, because he had to leave for work at 3 or 4 AM to be at some distant logging site by sunup. Over the years he began to drink more heavily.
Our worship of God can be a sickness in a family dynamic? How can anything involving the Almighty be wrong? Can it possibly be enough to drive an unbelieving man to drink, to wish death for himself? I don’t know the answers to this question, but I don’t think it helped, at least in our case.
I lived in Pistol River, first in the Myers Creek house, then in Grandma Mead’s home, halfway between Pistol River and Carpenterville, until I was seventeen. Those years saw us increasingly involved in the church, strengthening my beliefs, and intensifying our struggle for any semblance of family cohesion. We were at church, or church functions several days or evenings a week. We attended church summer and winter camps, church picnics, and of course weddings, funerals, and regular services. Sometime during my senior year in high school (1986), I decided to attend Bethany Bible College and study music. A real god would be glorified in my life, come what may. Maybe Al would even accept the Lord as his savior when he saw my example? Only the future, or God, could tell.
TO BE CONTINUED…