The Road Not Taken

Scared…big…beautiful…best describe my memory of church when I was about 5 years old. I have some good memories of the years we attended, although they come in bits and pieces.

One day, I can recall being scared standing in front of this huge structure. As we were about to enter through the large, blonde, wooden doors, everyone’s mood changed from happy to straight faced. It was if they had to make this change to enter the House of God. For me, there was this fear when we walked into the church, so much so that I had to hold onto someone’s hand.
The Road Not Taken
We were bussed to Sunday school from the projects, a geared-to-income housing development, where we lived for 21 years. Mr. Steward, the bus driver, was very kind to us. Sometimes, he would take us to Steve’s Restaurant for a meal, or send a strawberry custard pie for our parents, which we would enjoy after dinner. My parents never attended church; but ensured that we went every week primarily to participate in Sunday school and the other activities the church had for the kids from the neighbourhood.

My last vivid memory was my final day at church. There was a man who supervised the children at the park across the street. I cannot remember the exact circumstances, but he was angry and tried to grab and whip me with a branch—I was hit once or twice. Some people from the church were rough on the children from the projects. You couldn’t run from punishment at home, but there was no way I would allow this man to spank me. So, I decided to run away from the whipping and the church. How I made that ten-mile hike home that morning still baffles me. Nobody came after me; yet, I couldn’t help looking back for those first few miles.

When I reached home, my mother was shocked to see me arrive earlier than expected. I told her what had transpired; she was both angry and concerned. I never returned to that church and to the best of my knowledge, no one from the church ever showed up or called our house again.

Don’t get me wrong—I believe there were some people who really cared for us at the church. And though faded as they are, I still have some fond memories that I occasionally think about.

Nevertheless, life went on without church—except when we had rare visits from Dad’s father and stepmother. They were Sunday keeping Christians. When they showed up, it was like being at church. Everybody was on their best behaviour. My Dad would tell one of us to ensure that any beer on the staircase be taken down to the basement and out of sight. His God-fearing father still had a great deal of influence on a grown man with a wife and five children.

My father didn’t live a Christian life like his father did, even though he grew up in the church. He once told us he had taught Sunday school—something we would have never known because there was simply no evidence of this side of him. Yet, my father had deep respect for grandfather and his way of life.

I see the Word of God differently than the way my grandfather and father understood it. I’ve come to understand subjects such as the Sabbath: worshipping on Saturday instead of Sunday; God’s Kingdom on Earth, not heaven; and the Holy Days, not the ‘holly’ days of Easter and Christmas.

Back then, we didn’t see Grandpa very often; just as we don’t see or hear much of my parents nowadays. However, I’m learning to let my light shine through my walk with God. I have always had a distant relationship, but deep respect for my grandfather. He was different from all our relatives, not because he attended church all his life (even during World War II); it was the way people acted around him: they revered him because of his commitment to God. He seemed to ‘walk the walk and talk the talk.’

I had just finished my apprenticeship at C.P. Rail when Grandpa passed away. I flew to Ottawa for the funeral service. My parents, step-grandmother, older brother, and myself, shared a car as we drove to the gravesite. I have never been so overwhelmed with grief in my life. I cried like a baby in the backseat of the car that day for a man I wished I had known better. While I wailed for my grandfather, my family who were with me never uttered a sound. My grandfather’s beliefs may not have been the same as mine, but his light did shine and people noticed it.

Since his passing in 1986, my life of repentance has been like an hourglass—upside down, with all the sand on top, falling very slowly through a narrow passageway to the bottom.

During my late 20s and into my late 30s, I enjoyed going up to Northern Ontario in Canada, hanging out with my friends, fishing, boating, swimming, and partying. I felt good being in ‘God’s Country’ as people refer to it, away from the concrete jungle. Up there, I found ‘peace’ and a sense of knowledge of something greater that wants to enter my life. That knowledge gave me a sense of God’s calling, His love, and grace for sinners like me. However, I kept blocking Him out because of my partying lifestyle. The calling was there, but I didn’t make the commitment at that time.

Although the birth of our first child had a profound effect on my life; it didn’t change my partying lifestyle—instead, it just changed the way I partied. Another child came and I slowed down for a while, but as they got older, I began to speed up my revelry. I knew the two couldn’t last. Family life and the party life are like oil and water: you can shake them up, but in the end they just won’t mix!

I was feeling trapped in marriage and fatherhood at that point in my life, although admittedly, being a father was the greatest joy and love I had ever known. At this point, our children were now approximately 6 and 8 years old. The world was still pulling at me to continue my festivities and do the things I no longer had any desire to do. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stop. I felt helpless. In later years, I would reflect on what Paul wrote in Romans 7:14-15:

“For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.”

Twenty-five years of doing things my grandfather would definitely not approve of, had taken its toll on me. Romans 6:21 says, “What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death.” It took about 8 months to plan my escape from a life that was no longer any fun. I would attempt an escape on my own, or so I had thought. I was desperate to succeed in order to raise our two young daughters in a manner pleasing to God. In my mind, it was as if I kept hearing whispers from heaven saying, “You need to change your lifestyle and be a better example to your family.”

The months had passed by in a blur, and my family was going away for two weeks—now it was time to make my move. On the first day, I failed; the second day—I failed again. The sand was running out, guilt overtook me and I failed once more. Satan had four fingers around my neck, one more to close the deal and I would totally fail at my attempt to repent and change. In a drunken stupor on the fourth day, I lay there and questioned my whole existence. Sadly, I thought: Is this all there is to my life? I got up, went to the window beside the fireplace, got down on my knees, and stopped trying to do it my way. I pleaded to Jesus to come into my life and make me whole.

The Road Not TakenSatan’s thumb was that close to getting a full grip on me. Thank God, Christ was there for me at that moment when the sand ran out. Jesus rescued me from what would have been a life of continued torment. I repented and asked for forgiveness, and if He would help me, I would change my ways. From that day on, I’ve been liberated of all the things I asked Christ to free me from. He ushered me away from a road of destruction, towards the pathway of righteousness.

“But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.” (Romans 6:22-23)

My repentance has set me free, allowing almost 7 years of sobriety and over 5 years of attending church with my daughters on the Sabbath praising God, trying to walk with Christ, like my grandfather before me. We may not have agreed on all the Biblical teachings; however, if we had been given the chance to discuss them, the love of God and Christ would have definitely been our common ground.

We’ll see each other again grandpa, in a future resurrection, by the grace of God.


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