An early symbol of the Jesus movement which was in full swing when this story really gets going
An early symbol of the Jesus movement which was in full swing when this story really gets going

Several times since I started this blog, I’ve referenced some things in my childhood that were…, not good. Generally, they revolve around my family’s membership in a charismatic house church/cult. While I’ve alluded to this period of my life, I’ve never told you the whole story. That changes now. It’s not going to be easy for me to write and it probably won’t be easy for you to read. But, it’s important that I do this. For two reasons:

  1. I’m hoping it will help me deal with all the baggage from that time and
  2. it might help someone else do the same, if only by letting them know they’re not alone.

I know I’m doing this backwards; the smart thing to do would’ve been to make this story one of my first posts. But, then, I’ve never been one to do the smart thing. The truth is, I’ve only recently come to grips with the fact that I suffered some pretty harsh abuse in the past and I’m just now getting to the place I can write about it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I blocked it out or that it required some weird, recovered-memory-thing to get here. Unfortunately, the memories from those days are never all that far from the surface. People tell me it’s in the past and that I should learn from it and move on. You have no idea how many times I’ve tried to do just that. Maybe by telling you all this, I can get a little closer to that possibility. We’ll see.

You know those stories that start out “You think it can’t happen to you. But, it can”? Yeah, this is one of those stories. Ha, you thought I was going to say it wasn’t and then tell some heart-warming tale about the power of God and family. Yeah, I wish I could tell you a story like that, too, since it would mean I didn’t go through all the crap I’m going to tell you about over the next few posts. But, I did and we play the hand we’re dealt. I won’t say I wouldn’t change a thing, because that would be one helluva of a lie. But, I’m coming to terms with all that happened to me over the years. And, I have to admit, it made the man I am today. Whether that’s a good thing or not depends on your perspective.

I was born in 1961 and grew up in the Sumner community, just south of Greensboro, NC. It was a good place to be a kid; we lived in the country and there were plenty of places to explore and enough other kids around to keep things interesting. My parents were good, hard-working, loving folks who did their best to instill those values in my brother and I. My dad was a good father, working his butt off to keep a roof over our heads, put food on the table, clothes on our backs, etc. But, more than that, he wasn’t averse to a little fun now and then. He wasn’t exactly what you’d call “warm” or “open”; the truth is, sometimes he was a hard man to love. But, he did the best he could with what he had. All in all, the first ten years of my life were pretty sweet. All that changed in 1971.

That was a big year for me. For one thing, it was the year of my tenth birthday. I’m not sure why, but a relatively big deal was made when I turned 10. Maybe it was a big deal that I was still around; considering my penchant for finding trouble and having a smart mouth, that was no mean feat. My birthday wasn’t the only thing that made 1971 significant: it was also the year I got “saved”. In fact, that’s a big part of why I remember the date for these happenings so vividly. After saying the Sinner’s Prayer, I received a Good News Bible with the date of my salvation written on the inside cover. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like we were Baptists or anything; we were good Methodists. And, if you know anything about Methodists, you know that the whole getting saved/Sinner’s Prayer thing isn’t really in their wheelhouse. It’s just a little too close to all that evangelical holy rolling. But, the Methodist church of the early 70’s was a bit different from the one you see today.

That was when the Lay Witness Missions started and my parents (my father, especially) were drawn to it. At the same time, my brother was a faithful member of the UMYF and, because my parents were often called on to chaperone events and functions, I became a sort of  mascot to the group. It was the late 60’s and early 70’s and all this happened at the height of the Jesus Movement. Several of the youth and young adults at church (who I thought were the coolest of the cool) were what Kimberly Knight would call “Jesus hippies”. They loved folk-ey sounding praise songs like “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love” and “Amazing Grace” (sung to the tune of “House of the Rising Sun”, of course), thought coffee houses were groovy and wore plenty of paisley and tie-dye. Yes, I know that kind of thing of was already passe most places, but we’re talking about Christian culture in the south and that usually runs at least 5 years behind the more popular variety. Rehobeth UMC was pretty cool place in those days and I loved it.

If I had remained in that warm and fuzzy atmosphere of coffeehouses and bad folk music, my life would likely have turned out much different. But, I didn’t because my family met Leon Williford (name changed because it’s not nice to speak ill of the dead). And, that’s the third and probably most significant that happened to me in 1971.

To be continued