Sunday, December 27, 2009

My salvation story, a long read, but so worth it!

Hey gang,

I almost died 17 years ago today after falling into a diabetic coma, but am still here so I figured I'd tell you how Christ saved me today. This is a repost from my MySpace personal blog of three years ago that is no longer in existence. I’ve updated a few dates and such to a 2009 version so that years make sense. The example I’ll give you here is that when I went to visit my dad was 1991. If I had left the years since as it read originally, 15 years might have led you to 1994, which was after I gave my life to Christ. I’ll say that this is a very long read, so be patient, the story gets better as we go.

Repost: My story, enjoy the read!

To say the least my church experiences have been weird, but for those of you that care or may want to find inspiration to talk to others, here is my story. It's the unadulterated truth. It's not always pretty, but I will keep it clean. I realize I'd like to keep at least a PG-13 audience.

My church life started out as a small boy in Anmoore, WV at a church called Mt. Zion Community Church. Why did I go? Because a cute girls took me. I was 4 and my best friend at the time was this little blonde named Sandy Fogg. Her sisters, Teresa and Darlene, took us to church on Sundays for the better part of 4 years, at least off and on. I met a few interesting kids along the way. I met a kid named Joel. He seemed to think this was the business because he kept talking to me about getting saved. When I asked him how, he told me to keep coming every week to find out. Unfortunately, he wasn't a great salesman for Jesus yet.

I also met the troublemaker kid. His name was Billy and it seemed like he always created chaos in Sunday School. He picked on everyone and had a promising career as a little A-hole. After several Sundays of his typical attitude, I decided to set him up and see if I could get him tossed out of class. All week at regular school, we had learned about money and the teachers gave us paper quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies. So I took mine to Sunday school and sat next to Billy. When the offering plate came around, I threw in the paper money. The Sunday School teacher, a nice lady named Joy Adams, caught the incident as she was counting the money. She asked around as to who did it assuming what all of them did. Billy did it. I let him hang. He was tossed out of class for a month and no one knew the truth except me and God.

That summer we went to a public pool at one of our state parks and most everyone had a great time. All but me. See, I hadn't learned how to swim like all the other kids. They swam and I sat around. So I thought I would be big stuff and dive into the kiddie pool. Let's just say I didn't have Michael Jordan abilities and my head hit the concrete as I went in. I had a huge gash on the back of my head and I had to be taken home 75 miles to go to the emergency room. My mom was working at the hospital and as soon as I arrived, we found my mom and went straight to the ER. Eight stitches and a big cup of humble pie later, I was sitting at home having my mom tell me what a stupid head I'd been.

As I said, after several years of off and on attendance I stopped going. Why? It has nothing to do with the church. Seems Sandy and I were playing on picture day in the third grade and as I was chasing her around, she fell into the neighbors' car. Let's just suffice it to say he had just come home last evening from what rednecks would call mudding. Her mother had a fit, called the school, tried to get me taken care of by the Board of Education, if you know what I mean. This caused my mother to go ballistic and the families didn't speak for about five years. By that time, Sandy and I had both lost the attractiveness of our youth and neither was interested in rekindling our childish games.

So from about nine to sixteen, I had nothing to do with any church. This was not of my choice, but because again I had no one to take me. During that time, my family got closer to another family called the Weils. My mom worked with Mildred at the hospital and her husband's name was Carl. They took me in like a lost child literally. They had two daughters that lived with them, the other was married early and lived in Ohio. That daughter came home every summer and that's how I met her sons. We played wiffleball the first summer. My biggest memory was hitting home runs to Ray Parker Jr.'s "Ghostbusters".

Anyhow, the local family decided that they wanted to show me a "good church". So I went with them for about six months and I had a great time. I felt like I was learning about religion, even though I hadn't made any real friends in the congregation. That's when it got weird.

About that time, I noticed that this couple that I knew through a girl I went to school with started standing up and saying that the church was going in the wrong direction and that the pastor needed to go to accomplish that direction. They continued a very ugly public feud for over a month and finally the pastor resigned and half the church left with him, unfortunately including me.

After that I began to think about the church in a very negative light. I saw that if the church fought and hosed good people over that I didn't want anything to do with it. So I quit. Quit period. I remember saying "if this is how church is, I want no part of it." That was my hard head at 16 talking and I meant it. It was almost seven more years before I had another thought about the church.

Even though I hadn't got back into church, my life changed drastically in the six years since my last church appearance. I seemed to go through one psycho after another in my dating life. There were mild exceptions, but crazy women were the rule. The crowd I hung out with at Hardee's made jokes about it and even developed a psychoanalysis test that they wanted each woman that went out with me to take. They weren't even shy about asking questions off of it.

I also met my dad for the first time at 21 when I took a two-week trip to Alaska. Yes, the cold one. Except that it wasn't that bad in the summer. While I was relaxing in 70 degree weather, West Virginia and most of the midwest were going through a major 110 degree plus heat wave. In a lot of ways, it was theraputic to meet my dad, but even now which is 18 years later, my dad and I are not anywhere near as close as I thought we would be. My life with my dad is a 5-minute call every other Sunday. It's sad, but it is something that has motivated me to be a great parent to my Megan.

I graduated Fairmont State College with a degree in Elementary Education (Multi-subject K-8) in 1991, but really didn't want to teach at the time. So I went back and took journalism for 1992-1993 year as a favor to a friend of mine. Eddie Gennoy asked me to come back and be his Sports Editor of The Columns, the FSC paper. I did go back because I have a love of writing and sports journalism. For the first semester, I had fun writing. The rest of my life, well, was not as pretty.

I was still having no luck with the ladies and I was told, indirectly of course, that it was my fault. See, I had a little weight problem. I had been picking up a little every year I was in school. I was now nearing 300 pounds. So I threw myself into my work. I was working, for free mind you, a 50 hour week for a school newspaper. At midterms, I got sick. You know, one of those nice nasty flu bugs that kicks your butt for a week. It was the first week of November and I had lost 11 pounds getting rid of the flu. That week, all I did was drink fluids to keep me going and I thought why not try to keep going on fluids and see if I could lose weight.

This became known as my ultimate crash diet. Over the next 45 days, I lost 85 pounds. I became skin and bones. At 205, I looked more like The Scarecrow out of the Batman comics than myself. It got bad. I couldn't stop the diet. I tried to eat bread and it took me four glasses of milk to get one slice of bread down. I knew I was in trouble. On Christmas Eve, my mom took me to the ER and the doctor diagnosed me with a severe sore throat and a cold. Let's just say he couldn't have been more wrong if he just opened his medical book and picked a disease.

I went home and two days after Christmas 1992, I collapsed and crushed my end table in the living room. I was rushed to the hospital. No one told me that it would have been better if I had been drinking sugar-free drinks. In about the ninth hour of what would become almost 42 hours of a comatose state, the pinch-hitting doctor replacing my own figured out the problem. She announced, "Don't you smell him, his sugar content is so high that his sweat smells sweet." I didn't ask for a definition from my mother as to what the heck that meant, but it was real bad. The next test she did discovered my glucose level at 1400. My body was shutting down. I probably had so much insulin popped into my body over the next couple days that it probably took the lives of a couple sheep that made it.

I woke up during Monday Night Football. To normal people, that would be no big deal. To me, it was huge in two ways. The first was my favorite QB Joe Montana was making his return to football after being injured for a while. The second was the fact that before I collapsed, I turned in my fantasy football lineup to my friend Rodney and he told me my opponent was starting Amp Lee. As I wake up, Amp is amping up for a TD run and as he goes into the end zone, I start screaming "No, not Amp Lee! Not Amp Lee!" My nurse came running into my room thinking I had more problems than diabetes. They probably called the MENSA hotline and they told them that I was too crazy for them.

While I was in the coma, I didn't have a It's a Wonderful Life experience either. All I saw was darkness. Charlie Murphy-Rick James darkness. I heard voices occasionally. I didn't understand them, so I couldn't tell you if they were people at my bedside or people on the other side. I'll make no guess.

Anyhow, the next morning, my doctor was back off his little vacation and told me that I would be on shots for the rest of my life. I wasn't thrilled. I hated needles. I was terrified of them. Then he told me I would have to give myself the shots. I told him to kiss my butt goodbye cause there was no way I was giving myself a shot anywhere.

So he sent in some very ugly, I know that's probably not PC, but for nurses, she was very ugly. She showed me an orange and gave it a shot. She then egged my manhood and said it didn't hurt the orange. "Was I a bigger pussy than the orange", she says. I gave myself the shot thinking I had kept my manhood and then afterwards realizing my testosterone played right into her hands. I never had another fear of a needle from my hand. I still to this day don't like anyone else shooting me with a needle. Not to draw blood, not to give me a flu shot, nothing. If you have a needle and are coming to use it on me, I still don't like you much.

After watching two days worth of diabetes education videos in one day, my doctor would let me out of the hospital only if I could get the supplies I needed at an open pharmacy. It was New Year's Eve and the clock was ticking. If my mom couldn't get my supplies by 3:00pm, I was watching Dick Clark on hospital television. She got my supplies just in time. I went home and started 1993. A new man, but an unsure man of why I was here and what I was going to do next.

By the way, I won that fantasy football title 20-16. I'd like to thank my kicker John Carney. He was a Charger then.

Anyhow, 1993 started off with a bang as several of my friends got together at my house to see that I was OK and that I had a pair of glasses. I would love to be a contacts sort of guy, but these were only going to be temporary anyway. I looked like a geek, but again after a few weeks I could throw them into the Monongahela.

I went back to school in January to a new pair of editors. My friend Eddie jumped ship and left me with Julie Love and James Lee IV. By May, I really wanted to put up a wrestling ring and take both of them to the woodshed. Even though I lost all that weight, I was still in the same weight class if both of them fought me together. I still would've taken them too.

My college newspaper life was still long, even though I backed off to 30 hours a week. I found a new job working as a sports reporter for a new version of an old paper. The Shinnston News was bought from Jim Jackson by two business guys, Mike Queen and Bernie Dearth. They were looking for a sports guy and I fit the bill. I worked part-time for them and finished my semester at FSC. They had long range plans of turning the paper into a county paper instead of a town paper which didn't thrill the reading populace.

While at school, I took two classes. The first was a writing class to a complete moron. This guy had about as much talent as a green bean. He thought he was the world savior of writing and found cronies in his class to help him follow the dream. I hated that class and I didn't like him much more than that.

The other class I ended up taking was a Bible as literature class. If you ever want to understand the Bible in its truest form, never take it as a literature class. The guy that taught was one of my favorite people, Dr. Richard Sonnenshein. He was a devout Catholic and once expressed to me that if his 72 year old mother in a wheelchair could give an hour to God, why couldn't I. At the time, I joked that he probably forced her to go which of course he didn't find funny.

But I met a gal taking the course that interested me. Her name was Kylie Churchwell and I was taken with her immediately. She and I talked about anything, except not a lot about God yet. I sent her a dozen roses for Valentine's Day because she had been sick for most of the week. She then told me that she was seeing another guy and that we were just friends. I wasn't happy about it, but I accepted it. I was having more conversations with a real girl for the first time in several years.

By the end of the semester, the story with the boyfriend had changed. She was showing interest, but because I was working so hard, I was too blind to see it. Plus, I had been told by a couple gals in the journalism department that she was really unstable and I had a thought in the back of my mind that I didn't need that. Sometimes I just wish the back of my mind had shut up. We started going to events with the town paper as a couple even though it was me putting the friends touch to it. I was featured at the paper's local high school as a contributor to a more positive atmosphere and recognized with a plaque. I had really worked well with the students there and they showed their appreciation at the dinner. I was so high from the event, that I missed that she was trying to tell me she was interested when she began serenading me later in the car. A few months later, she got bored and walked away. I let the first normal Christian girl of my life walk without so much as a whimper.

Later during the summer, the minister of the local Baptist church came by and began talking to me and my new general manager, Kim Gemondo. The pastor expressed that he was very pleased with a sportswriter with such a positive attitude about his town and that he thought that I wrote from a Christian perspective. What? I write from a Christian perspective. I thought whatever he was smoking, I wanted some of it. Looking back at my writing now, I realize he was right. I just didn't realize it. He had a daughter he wanted to introduce me to and I already knew her from the play company at college.

I went and visited his church and he formally introduced us. I just happened to be calling Canton that day to get Hall of Fame press passes, so I got bold and asked her to go with me. She agreed. That week was the Little League championships in West Virginia, so I lived at the ball field during the day and at the office cranking out info from the tournament each night, way into the night. So I asked if she could drive. She did until we got close to Canton and since I knew the area from previous bowling tournaments, she asked me to drive through town. As I drove, she decided to change clothes. I felt like I was in a Girls Gone Wild video with a preacher's daughter. I thought surely I was going to hell for this one.

We went to the event and drove home afterwards. On the four hour drive home, she begins to talk of how sick of religion she was and that she just wants to live a normal life. She then told me that she was sick of her dad fixing her up with guys that are living a good life. The only reason she went with me was the fact she knew I was doing publicity dates at local taverns and that I had to be a bad boy compared to the other guys she was hooked up with.

Oh, I was a bad boy alright, but I wasn't confessing my sins to her. I was out at the local bars on a nightly basis after work, including the new local strip clubs. My name got me a few drinks (Diet Cokes only, I have never had a passion for alcohol, stories for another time) and a few lap dances. My popularity was not only getting me into trouble, it was bankrupting me at the same time. The paper was the only job I spent more money than I made. I spent many evenings talking to a gal that went by the name Tracy and spending more money on her than any date I ever had. She would just talk to me. Oh, I was interested in her, but she would sit and listen as long as I was buying the drinks. When the money ran out, so did she.

I was going broke and I almost took my whole family down with me. I was living with my mom, grandma and great aunt at the time and was spending more money than I ever should have. Then, a real friend reached out and started pulling me back to my destiny.

During this time, around October 1993, my friend Alvin invited me to a concert. The concert included Petra and Cindy Morgan. I like soulful, brunette singers. Always have, always will. I listened to about half her show and was really enjoying it when Alvin drags me backstage to get autographs from Petra. At the time, that didn't really impress me. Looking back on it over a decade later, I was amongst musical greatness and was too dumb to know it.

After the concerts, I bought a poster of Cindy's Reason to Live tour. OK, honestly I bought it because she was hot and I would've milked cows just to meet her. I get up there and we talk for a moment about her show. She signs my poster and gives me no pressure about my Christianity. Years later, when I went to another of her shows and had the chance to talk to her at length, thanks to her sister Sam (that's another story), she was so glad that her music had an impression on me to think about Christ more from that moment.

I did think a lot about it. I was still working at the paper and even putting in more hours. In the meantime, Alvin would pass me a CD of different Christian artists every chance he got. He would come visit me when I was writing stories after midnight at the office and would just talk about life.

I spent Christmas and New Year's that year just happy to be alive. Alvin told me to take New Year's Eve off and go with him to another concert. This concert happened to be in the Southern Gospel vein. I remember the Kingsmen, Gold City and Tony Gore and Majesty (I think, they could have been there the following year, I know Alvin will correct me). For me personally, I like some Southern Gospel, but I can only take it in doses. After six hours, I was ready to go. We went to a restaurant afterwards nearby (I am wanting to say Shoney's) and threw up everything I ate there soon thereafter.

I hate bad food. I don't like food poisoning, but it seems that after suffering from it, I always have clarity. Decision making clarity. I knew my life was going nowhere. My resolution was to make 1994 better than any year I'd had in a long time. I think I can say without a doubt I did. But I was slow about it.

Twelve days into 1994, we were hit with a two-foot snowstorm that shut everything down for a week. That meant no sports. That meant no sports section locally. I finished my one page for that week and believe me, I had nothing else. Just as I dropped print to the page, I got a phone call. My great aunt that lived with us for the past eight years had a stroke and was being taken to the hospital. I told Diane, my super working layout lady to finish the ad space any way she wanted because I was on my way to the hospital.

Six hours later, I got a call at the hospital. It was one of my three bosses asking why I hadn't done a second page. No asking how my aunt was, no voice of compassion, just more of a where's my f'n second page. Remember the snowstorm I asked. He told me I was slacking. I lost it.

For the last four months, I had worked for $175 a week and usually had put in 60 or more hours per. Yes, I was cheaper labor than Mexicans and he had a problem with me slacking. The next day I went to the office and told them I was cutting my hours in half. Two of the three bosses told me they were cutting my salary in half. I told them to fly a kite and that's being really nice about it.

I went home and told my mom that I just quit my job. I didn't get yelled at. I got an encouragement speech. My mom has never been known as an encourager, so this was way, way weird. She told me not to worry about a job. Huh? She told me that my life had turned bad so she wanted me to focus on two things, my aunt that was coming out of the hospital and then to figure out what I want with my life. She reminded me that I was spared for a reason. I was stunned. Not so much that she said it (even though that was pretty shocking), but that she placed emphasis on me and my need for a life for myself.

Over the next two and a half months, two things happened. One good and one that people would say is bad, except that the bad got a point across about my personality and compassion. The first was that I began to hang out with Alvin more and go to the bookstores and other concerts with him. He took me everywhere and PAID. I will tell you that Alvin is not rolling in money, but he's probably the smartest financial person I know (yes, that does say something since I worked in financial areas for almost six years from 2000-2006) and he just doesn't blow his money. I think subconsciously, he knew what he was investing in. The funny thing was that I was realizing it too. I probably owe him more money than most of my credit cards, but he has never once even asked for a dime.

The second thing I did that I didn't share with most people was that I took up bartending and bouncing at this little redneck bar a couple nights a week just to have some money coming in. Folks, honestly, I don't drink. I kid about it all the time that I should start, to relieve stress, but I don't. So you could imagine me making drinks for people. Some people were really happy about it because they told me how to make the drinks. As far as bouncing, there was not a fight in the two months I worked there. The first reason was that the bar was owned by an old lady who would've banned them if they got into a fight. She didn't like trouble and she usually offered a free drink to avoid it. The second reason I believe was divine intervention.

It's not a problem of where I wouldn't fight, it was more of a fact that I couldn't fight. Being raised by four women led me down a road of slapping, not of kicking some butt. If there had ever been a fight with real fighting going on, I probably would have been killed or seriously hurt.

Anyhow, the real problem I had at the bar was I heard some of the saddest short stories I ever wanted to hear. Some people drank to escape their lives. Some drank to drown the pain. The saddest ones were the ones who drank because they thought that this was life. The last weekend of March, I was sitting at the door (it was a Saturday and I left the drink pouring to the pros) and this knockout of a gal sat next to me. She went on and on about how she wanted this guy sitting across the room and that he would do her and then find other gals to do and he had a couple victims sitting with him. I asked the general questions. Why put up with it? How can you say you love him? Why don't you date someone else like me? She ends with "He is so good to me." What? Did you just not hear the last half-hour of chat that we'd had. That almost got me to take a drink in the confusion. That might be one of the top WTF's of all time.

That night, I went to Hardee's after work and hung out with Alvin and shared the story of my working there and the gal's story. He then invited me to go to a concert on Tuesday. Since I was off, I said sure.

The concert was of Audio Adrenaline and DC Talk. Charleston Civic Center, Charleston, WV, April 1, 1994. Anyway, I went to the show. I listened to Audio A and they weren't bad. I would eventually love these guys as one of my favorite groups, but I just OK with them after their performance. We moved to the balcony for DC Talk because my ears were ringing. Alvin has this little knack of getting good seats, really good seats. We were originally in the fifth row to the left, right near speakers. Huge honkin' speakers.

We moved to the balcony and during the intermission, I fell asleep. DC Talk came out and did four songs before I woke up. They were doing their version of Jesus Is Still Alright (no apologies to the Doobie Brothers, this version kicked it). My brain found the song familiar and I was wide awake. I watched the rest of the concert and was pretty impressed with the music. But what came next changed my life as I knew it.

My friend Kevin has always criticized me for having to hear things from alternate sources even though my closest friends would tell me things. That night, I heard DC Talk share their testimonies and Toby Mac ended the evening with the theme. Jesus loved me and still wanted me. I know, Christians are going "no big shock", but to me, it was a foreign concept. At least somewhat. My friend Alvin and other friends (Kylie Churchwell Young, Kim Novotny Campbell, just to name a couple) had tried different approaches to tell me, but I am sometimes a little slow.

I found myself weeping now. Realizing that this is what I was allowed to live for. I had almost died 16 months earlier, from super high diabetes. I would also have died without Christ. But Toby, K Max and Mike had put the start to a final week in which I would give my life to Him.

After the emotional ride home, I continually thought about what I heard. On Friday, I was invited to a church by my friend Rob Fancher. I told him that I would if I could wake up after my job Saturday night. I left the house after that quick invite and began listening to 88.1. It was a station out of Maryland called He's Alive radio and they aired Christian talk shows during the day. James Dobson was on and he was interviewing a baseball player I liked so I listened. The player's name was Tim Burke. I don't remember anything he said that day, but it was his wife's words that shook me to the core. She talked about being raised by only her mom and how hard it was for her to come to Christ because she had a hard time seeing God as Father because the father example she had was missing. I knew that story, I lived it. She went on to talk about how God finally reached out for her. I knew the same thing was happening to me now.

I went to work that Saturday night and it was pretty uneventful, except that it ended at 4:30am instead of the normal closing time of 3:00am. I went home beat, but something odd happened. I woke up at 7:30am on my own. No alarm, no grandma reminding me to get up. I was ready. I was focused. I was shook awake by a gentle hand.

I went to church and it was fun. I met the pastor and he invited me to stay for a new members luncheon. It didn't matter if I was or not, but an opportunity to see a film on church history and a chance to meet some other people. I met a few people that day. The one that surprises most is my eighth grade home room teacher, Mr. Lanzy. People thought we didn't get along in school, but I think we both respected each other's opinions. I was outspoken and was sometimes misunderstood. Lanzy never called me on the carpet publicly, but we talked one-on-one and he always made me understand the errors in my thought patterns. He was never vicious, just to the point and that gained my respect.

That evening, I returned to the church and was in the middle of service when Mr. Lanzy came to the seat next to me and told me I needed to come to the back. What he told me was that my aunt was back in the hospital and that I should go. While I got my jacket on, he handed me a few papers to read. He just said to read them when I had a chance.

I went to the hospital and sat. My aunt was being treated and began resting comfortably around 11:30pm and I told my mom that I was going to the car to get something. I grabbed those papers. I thought I had nothing else to do and that I might as well read. The last of these papers was the story of John. At the end of the pamphlet, the author stated several times that John 3:16 was for ME. I took wholeheartedly what was being said.

I prayed. I realized that my road hadn't been perfect, way from it. I also realized that I had been left alive for a purpose. That purpose at the moment was to find Christ and admit I needed Him. I had a friend ask me if I needed Christ a few months earlier and I almost laughed. But I knew now that she was part of the plan too. There were many people praying and reaching out for me in the spirit of Christ. I remember the last line I said to God that night. "Obviously, I am living the direction that you wanted me to and that I am now willing to do this life your way. Take me where you want me."

That was over twelve and a half years ago. I haven't always been so willing, but I understand it a lot better than I did at 16. The church isn't always right. That's because it's human ran, rather than God ran at times. The same way each of us makes decisions. We don't always know. God tells us to strive to live as Christ. Why? Because if He told us to live as Christ, we'd all fail. I still do sometimes. I am appreciative that I get it right more often now than I used to.

One final note for those of you that followed this story from the beginning. I saw Joy Adams that day that I started at the church. She told me a little story. She told me that she had prayed for me since the day I left Mt. Zion. She added that she also prayed for Billy. She also prayed for a little boy that she wished had told the truth that day when Billy took the blame for some fake money in the offering. Yeah, I understood. I'm glad she loved me. Glad she loved me enough to want me to have what she had all along.

I love you guys,
Frank

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