Like many of you, I was brought up in a good Christian home. As the only child of a Baptist minister, I learned about the importance of Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection at an early age. I can’t recall a time I ever thought of myself as not being a Christian.
One particular theological concept fascinated me as a child: If God created the universe and everything in it—I believed He did—then where did God Himself come from? How could He simply have always been?
Even now, unanswerable questions like those bolster my faith. After all, I couldn’t worship God if I understood Him completely. He wouldn’t be big enough.
One thing I’d never expected in my life as a PK—a Preacher’s Kid—was having to move. Moving the first time, especially at the age of eight, really soured me—not against Christianity, but against the ministry.
So for years I actually prayed that God would never call me to become a minister or a missionary.
In spite of my early-childhood Christian leanings, I didn’t make a public profession of faith in Christ and get baptized until I was a pre-teen.
Why did it take so long? Don’t laugh, but I was terrified of the water. I must’ve experienced something really scary during those swimming lessons I’d suddenly quit taking years earlier. Something so awful I put it totally out of my mind.
Letting my faith in God grow stronger than my fear of the water took years. But by the time I turned eleven, I was ready.
I can’t say I changed much then, though. I’d been a good kid and my life went on much as it had before. I hate to admit it, but I didn’t talk about my faith or act concerned about whether my friends were Christians.
But the 8th grade was a major turning point. It was the time when God became real and personal. During December of that year—a few weeks before Christmas vacation—I came down with a terrible virus. One that wasn’t getting better in spite of the awful-tasting medicine I had to take. Then one evening I went into convulsions and fell into a coma.
After waking from the coma several days later, I learned that I’d had acute viral encephalitis, a disease there was no cure for. The doctors had told my parents that—if I survived—I might end up as…just a vegetable. As you can see, except for not being the most energetic person in the world, I’m not much of a vegetable. And I don’t like vegetables very much, either.
During my recovery—I was SO weak for SO long—my parents told me that many people had been praying for me. Including people who didn’t even know me. We were convinced that those prayers were responsible for God’s decision to keep me alive and in good working order.
That time was a highly significant time of spiritual growth. I realized that not only did God not stop performing miracles at the end of the Bible, He had performed one on my behalf. Can you imagine how that realization has made me feel? God must have had a special reason for doing that. Maybe because He had something in mind He wanted me to accomplish.
I didn’t go wild in college, although I did some things I’m not proud of. I looked at the other kids in the Baptist Student Union—the BSU. They looked like super-Christians compared to me, and I almost felt as if I didn’t deserve to hang out with them. But I kept growing as a Christian—especially by attending yearly statewide BSU retreats at Sandy Cove, Maryland.
Once out of college, I started to write Christian songs that expressed my beliefs my way and shared them frequently with my church in Maryland. I also wrote several Christian musicals—even an hour-long rock opera called The Identity of Divinity, which about fifty people from my community got together to present. It seemed to have a positive effect on the cast, the musicians, and the several hundred people who came to see it.
The Ridgecrest Baptist Conference Center’s Staff choir presented one of my musicals. When I learned that someone had become a Christian as a result of that musical, I was thrilled.
I mention that because I’m not good at thinking on my feet. I can tell other people what God has done for me when the circumstances are right, but trying to lead someone to Christ brings out the worst in my inability to speak sensibly. (I did lead someone to Christ in email one time.) That’s one reason I feel so blessed to have become a Christian novelist; it allows me to share biblical truths without worrying about getting tongue-tied.
Another major step in my Christian growth occurred in 1976, when my first wife and I had a baby who died just three days after her seemingly normal birth. You can read part of that story here. In the aftermath of that, I couldn’t help becoming not just fond of, but dependent on Isaiah 40:31. “All those who wait upon the Lord shall have their strength renewed…”
God has helped me through so many things that were beyond my control. My first wife’s cancer and our divorce years later. Job changes, both good and bad. Financially tough times. Times when God forgave me for my sins, but I couldn’t forgive myself.
What probably had the biggest effect in bringing me to where I am now in my spiritual growth occurred in 1991 when I went on my first international volunteer mission trip. As much as I loved going to Australia, I was way out of my comfort zone at times. But God helped me to do whatever I was asked to do and blessed me with friendships that last to this day.
That trip lit such a fire that I’ve been back to Australia numerous other times, as well as England, Wales, and Romania. A year or so ago, I added Nicaragua to the list. Never has God failed to use a mission trip o change me for the better.
I’m sixty-eight now, but still growing as a Christian. Although I have a long way to go, at least I can look back down the path I’ve trod and see God’s hand in bringing me this far. I know I can trust Him for the rest of the journey. And so can you.