(This is the fourth of a four-part article)
Then another thing happened which really finalised my conversion process. Two old Christian ladies in Tacoma were another real timely and strategic Godsend for me and my journey. They had weekly Bible studies in their home, and I and my hippy buddies tagged along, complete with long hair, no shoes, and probably no baths in months. Yet they said nary a word, but loved us and shared God’s word with us.
I soaked it all in, and loved all these Bible studies – learning about God’s word in a much more orthodox manner than what I had previously done. They patiently tried to answer all sorts of gnarly questions I put to them. It was a real time of grounding and growth for me. I remember one Bible study night in particular. It was covering 1 Peter 2 which talks in part about suffering for doing what’s right.
As vv. 19-20 says in the KJV (which is basically what we mostly used back then): “For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.”
Immediately as we discussed this passage I was convicted big time by the Holy Spirit. I knew instantly that my drug use had to stop. If I got arrested for drugs and tossed in jail would I be suffering in a manner which brought glory to God? Clearly not.
It would merely be a case of being “buffeted for my faults”. But if I suffered for doing what is right, then God gets glorified. So I determined then and there never to do drugs again. And I never have. Not once. After around four years of very regular drug use – or abuse – I have never had so much as a puff of a joint since, not in 40 years.
And I have not even had the slightest craving for drugs as well. Such is the powerful liberating power of God. He set me free from drugs that night and he has kept me pure in this regard ever since. All glory to his name.
At the same time I also became quite convicted about my long hair. I figured I was getting a lot of attention because of it – but I wanted people to see Jesus in me, and not just see me. I felt this was detracting from his glory as well. So I had a friend chop it almost all off. (I later learned I might have made a lot of money by selling it to a wig-making company.)
A few other bits can be mentioned before the trip back home. As I said, I had been without glasses for nearly a year. I have for a long time been extremely nearsighted. Thus I can see things close up OK, and I can read. But anything at a distance – beginning from a foot or more away, starts getting real blurry real fast. I recall playing a game of baseball in Tacoma with some freaks (which is what us hippies called each other).
I was put out in left field, mainly because I was never a good athlete nor very good at sports. And to make things worse, I was effectively a blind left-fielder. A pop-up ball would be hit my way, and I would be squinting like mad to see it, and of course it would fall harmlessly to the ground nearby. You don’t want me on your baseball team under those conditions.
One gal who happened to work at an optometrist’s office noticed my plight. How couldn’t she? I was squinting all the time, and couldn’t see much of anything. So she took pity on me and booked me in to her doctor’s office. (It was here that I started almost getting derailed again, this time by the cultist literature that was there.)
You should have seen me when I got my new glasses! After nearly a year of stumbling around in a haze, all of a sudden I could see again! I was like a little kid. I went outside and said things like, “Wow! There’s a car! Wow, look at that tree! Hey, look at that sign!”
I was amazed. And I think God also used it to give a pointed physical lesson to a spiritual reality. Just as I now could see straight with my physical eyes, I could also now see straight with my new spiritual eyes. For almost as long as I was walking around in a physical cloud, I was also walking around in a spiritual cloud.
Now both were clearing up simultaneously, and real sight on both levels was now mine. Thank you God for sight. While we can – if we must – live without physical sight, we all need to have our spiritual eyes healed of their blindness and opened to the glorious gospel of God.
Home at last
The sealer on all this, which confirmed to me that I needed to get home real soon, was a series of letters going back and forth with my dad (remember no emails then – just snail mail). One letter stands out. In the letter handwritten in pen (no computers and printers back then) I noticed a bunch of round blotches making the ink run.
They were tears from my dad as he was writing back to me. I had been telling him about my real conversion to the real faith, and how I was thinking about perhaps coming home. Imagine that: the prodigal who once was lost was now coming home! His joy was mingled with tears.
His letter, dated June 17, 1972, begins this way: “Hi son. I just got your letter and read it. So did your mother. She is crying with happiness. I am so happy too to hear from you. And that you are becoming such a wonderful young man. Your letter makes me feel a hundred years younger and it seems like a big load was lifted from my shoulders.”
He then went on to talk about his life and how he was never much of a Christian. He spoke about his time in Washington State during his army years during WWII. He spoke of how often he had been praying for me over the past year.
He included a $25 money order to help with my expenses. “You are like the Prodigal Son come back. And we will do all we can to help.” He said he could understand if I stayed there with these wonderful new Christian friends, but it would be great if I could come back, “even if only to visit”.
“You finally have found some wonderful friends, the way it sounds and really are learning a lot about Christ. Could you do that here too?” He closed with these words: “Thank you for writing Bill, the best Father’s day present I could have. All our love, Dad.”
Of course my tears are flowing now as I type this. My dad passed away at 94 just last September. I missed his death but made it for his funeral. Thank you Jesus for your grace, mercy, patience, and love. I will see him again one day, along with my mom.
So I soon set out again, hitchhiking back to Wisconsin. The trip home was also quite interesting – never a dull moment in that whole year. Over the years I had never bothered to get my driver’s licence, preferring to walk, bicycle or hitchhike instead. That caused no few small problems along the way. For example I got a great 1000-mile ride from Idaho to Bismark, North Dakota I believe.
Trouble is, the guy was heading to his own wedding, to be held on the next day. And here he was, driving through the mountains at night, with me hanging on for dear life. Not only was he in a bit of a hurry, but he kept dozing off, and I kept thinking that any minute I was going to meet my maker, and not see my family!
So I had to keep waking him up to keep the car on the road, instead of down a very steep ravine. I eventually made it back to Madison and stayed with my brother and his wife for a day or two, then actually completed my journey by taking a bus to Sheboygan.
So I finally got back home on July 4, 1972: Independence Day. Nearly a year had passed and my parents had heard frightfully little from me in all those months. They were obviously so very relieved to finally have their prodigal son back home, after so many months of worry and heartache.
These 11 months made up one very extended conversion process. So when was I actually saved? In August of 1971? Spring of 1972? God knows. These were all steps along the way for me to break from my dark and fruitless past and get onto a new journey with God. There were many detours and hazards along the way, and the whole process took many twists and turns.
Many wrong turns were encountered along the way, and the devil tried his best to get me off course. But when I first heard the simple gospel message during that afternoon 41 years ago in Sheboygan, that began my never-ending journey. There has been no turning-back, and never a question of not going on with Jesus – not once.
Perhaps I can say just a few quick things to round this story off with. My early love of reading and study of course was sent out the window in my cult experience. And for a while back in Sheboygan it sort of remained that way. I was reading some theology and stuff, but had not really reclaimed my mind for the glory of God.
Then a Christian gal I knew who also had been part of the hippy culture introduced me to two authors. She loaned me a book or two by C. S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer. The rest of course is history. After avidly and quickly devouring those books, I bought every single volume by those two great Christian apologists that I could lay my hands on.
Those who know about my current ministry will appreciate the fact that all the giftings, callings and passions that I had even as a non-Christian hippy were in fact planted there by God – and he is now using them for his glory. Thus my life-long love of reading, learning, writing and research is now obviously still being used – and hopefully being put to good use. My concerns back then for truth and that which was right is being used now for the Kingdom.
So God can put into you – even when you are still Joe Pagan – various abilities, desires, talents and gifts which can be harnessed and channelled into his glorious purposes once we do become sons of God through faith in Christ. Thus even my BC (Before Christ) days were not in vain or completely wasted.
Sure, my concerns about truth and justice were often misdirected: like a good leftist I saw all evil as lying solely in America, capitalism, the military, authority, and so on. I did not realise that evil really lies in the human heart, and that on the whole, America and the West have been a tremendous force for good in the world. Not perfect by any means, but clearly superior to so many other places.
In Joel 2:25-27 we read about God making up for all the years which the locusts have destroyed. My first 18 years of life were a huge waste in so many ways, yet God was able to redeem and bring some good out of that dark period in my life.
But the rest of my story will have to be told on another occasion. A lot has passed in the 40 years since my conversion days. Hopefully I have been able to be used for Christ and his Kingdom to some limited extent, and can offer others some hope, healing and restoration in Christ, just as I found.
If anything, that very small boy who once sadly said, “The only thing I am good at is not being good at anything,” is no longer the same. He has been forgiven, set free, transformed, and remade in the likeness of God’s Son. To God be the glory.
Part 1 is here: billmuehlenberg.com/2012/06/27/coming-home-my-testimony-part-1/