I grew up in a blue collar factory town just outside Indianapolis, Indiana. My home was on 19th street. A one way street with your typical 1940’s homes built in the days when front porches were more valued than fancy decks out back. Down the street from my white house, two stories high, was the Chrysler factory most of my friend’s dads worked. They made car parts that were shipped off to Detroit. On the other end was Grand Avenue of which I was not allowed to cross- not even on my bike. My mom said the street was too busy. Which was a shame because on the other side was Redelman’s hardware and an arcade. You could always find some good candy at Redelman’s and of course there was the arcade. How do I know that? Well, Mom’s don’t know everything like they say they do.
Just at the end of the block was Hernly Elementary school. That’s where I went to school until fifth grade. It was an old giant two story building with fifteen foot ceilings and a giant coal smoke stack. They built a new school for my sixth grade year, Eastwood Elementary School and it was a few blocks further away than Hernly. That was ok though cause I would walk the railroad tracks when I was running late to school. Now and then I’d have to jump off when the train blew its horn. My story takes place before they tore Hernly Elementary down and turned the lots into houses. It takes place in that time of life because that’s when the Lyle’s lived down by Hernly- and they are crucial to the plot of this writing.
The Lyle family had a notorious reputation in my neighborhood. They had three boys and one little girl and the two boys on the middle were my age, but Todd is the one I knew best. They were a family out of control.
One day while playing I could hear the youngest of the Lyle’s, a toddler, come screaming down our street with glee. I ran out to the street to see what was happening and here comes the little toddler, naked as can be, streaking down the street. He had somehow escaped the arms of Mom giving him a bath and was running with pure joy. His exasperated mom followed behind screaming for him to stop. It was quite a scene to see.
That was the fun side of being out of control. There was a dark side too. Like the time my Dad left to go to work and found his tires slashed. There was never any proof who did it but everyone in the neighborhood knew who did it. The first time I met Todd’s little brother he didn’t say “Hi” or even nod his head in acknowledgement. Instead he hit me right on the stomach. He got a good lick on me too and I didn’t have time to react but to feel a sour stomach almost immediately. I ran home. Ugh.
That’s the way it was being Todd’s friend. You didn’t know if you were going to get the bully Todd or the fun loving Todd. You always rolled the dice when you played with Todd.
One summer evening, and I believe I was in the fourth or fifth grade, my parents went on some business something or other. I don’t know. What I do know is they got a babysitter for my sister and I thought she was real cute. Even though I thought I didn’t need a babysitter I didn’t mind. After all, she was cute! I thought it was great.
After supper I went out on the front porch which was made of concrete. It had steps in the middle with prickly bushes surrounding the barrier. I was sitting on the steps when Todd came bounding up the street. He came up to the porch and started talking to me. I told him I had stay near the house because of the babysitter. That’s when the conversation turned sour.
Todd started making fun of my babysitter. I don’t recall what he said but I definitely remember how he made me feel. I thought a lot of our babysitter. I thought she was sweet. I thought she was honorable. Todd was putting her down and the more he talked the more my boiler heated up. He knew it too and just kept on talking and talking. Enough was enough. The little guy in me said I had to stand up for her honor. So I attacked Todd. I mean I just jumped him.
I don’t really recall how we traveled from the steps and onto the porch, but somehow we did. I was flying fists left and right and Todd was coming right back at me. Let me tell you I just didn’t want to hit Todd hard and teach him a lesson. I wanted to hurt- hurt him bad. I wanted blood! I wanted something broken!
A few other kids from the neighborhood noticed the fight and pretty soon we had a little crowd surrounding the porch. We had our own little makeshift WWE ring, but back in that day it would have “professional” wrestling. They started yelling “fight!” And they encouraged us to go at it even harder- and we did!
By this time Todd and I were standing up looking at each other. I took one look in his eyes and then I charged at him. I hit him with my shoulder into his stomach while at the same time clasping my hands around his back forcing him off of the porch and into one of the thorny bushes. I really didn’t think that I could get hurt doing that- it was about a two foot drop and prickly! I just wanted to see Todd hurt for saying what he said. Todd had broken the babysitter code and I was going to be justice!
Okay, that’s bit over the top but that’s how I felt. After rolling out of the bush Todd wrestled around some more in the front yard and from there we ended up on the front steps again. This time Todd had the advantage. He was on top of me, his fist raised, when he noticed something odd.
I started to cry. Todd stopped because he hadn’t hit me yet. You know, usually cry after you are hit, not before- unless your chicken.
I wasn’t crying because I felt cowardly and it brought a tear to my eye. I started crying because as Todd raised his fist to pounce me I got a real good look of his face. His eyebrows were narrowed. His nostrils were flared. His mouth was curved into a growl. You might think I cried because his face was so ugly. That’s not it either.
I cried because right there in that moment God spoke something emphatic into my heart.
God simply said, “He’s lost.”
In that instant I saw Todd in a whole new light. He no longer was the idiot rude kid down the block. Todd was lost. He didn’t know God. His family was messed up. He had gone astray. In an instant I went from hate to compassion and this young boy’s heart got real confused real quick.
The kids around me started calling me chicken. I didn’t care. I told Todd I was done and ran back through the front door sobbing. By that time my noble babysitter noticed something was wrong and began asking, “What was the matter?” I told her to leave me alone and I ran upstairs and lay on my bed. I just laid there over the next hour- crying about Todd not knowing Jesus, crying that he was going to hell, and how it was my job to tell him God had done something about it.
It’s a moment in my life that will not let me go. That’s the moment I was called to go into the ministry.
What about you? What unique burden has God given you? God may have given you a burden for your family and fellow man and that’s good- but that’s a general burden for every person. Scholars have typically laid out God’s will in three stages. There is God’s universal will, which is His overarching plan for all history and time. Then there is God’s general will- which is what God wants everyone to do- being a good Mom and spouse, or having godly character are part of God’s general will. Then there is God’s specific will for you. Have you ever considered how God would use your personality, your history, and your talents to make an eternal difference in this world? Have you ever asked God to give you a burden for His Kingdom?
Here is what I think. I think He has. He has a unique plan for everyone he creates. The question is: Are you listening? Are you obeying? Are you following? I will tell you this. If you choose to listen to His voice prepare for your heart to be exhilarated, disappointed, and taken on an adventure that will reap rewards well into eternity.
I had forgotten that moment with Todd from so many years ago until this past spring when God brought it back to my attention at a leadership conference. I sat in the audience that day just in tears as God vividly recollected that moment in my heart. It reminded me that God called me, secured me, and sent me with His blessing- failures and all. My prayer is you will know this incredible blessing as well.