Now then…. where WERE we?

For the first part of this story of my salvation, click here. 

Melissa and I were married in December 2010, in the historic old train depot in Laramie. We started the marriage happy and healthy, and honestly, I wouldn’t have traded a single day of it. But we were talking about my testimony, and how God brought me to His Side. 

There was illness, for her and for me. I’ve discussed my TAM many times before, but before I realized that I was dealing with that, she had a pre-cancerous growth removed, and then she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, That was the beginning of a long, downhill journey that ended in her death four years almost to the day of our wedding. In the meantime, however, her faith meant she did everything she could to get to church every Sunday – often meaning that her devoted husband (me) had to take her to and from church. And since it was a twelve minute drive, it was usually easier to stay and wait than go home in between; most Sundays, it was easier to wait inside and sit next to my bride at the church. (It didn’t hurt that one of my daughters found salvation long before I did, too.) I became more versed in what during my childhood I had only heard the surface of.

So, that’s the background.

Fast forward two years. I’ve just given up my classroom teaching job because of my health, and God has slowed me down enough to start to listen to Him. I’ve also been exposed to Melissa’s love and worship of Christ for more than two years at this point. For “some reason”, I agree to allow my ex-wife to have half custody of the children – one week here, one week there – even though I didn’t yet trust her as a parent (in retrospect, that was my first direct message from God: Trust her. I don’t know if I could have otherwise). So, when it’s time to drive to Fernley, Nevada, to pick up Melissa’s youngest son from her ex-husband, the only ones with us are her son Isaiah, who had come to live with us since our marriage, and our cat, Merida, who loves long car-rides. Again, it’s a God-thing. It’s impossible to look back at this story and not see His Hand on every detail. 

We expected to drive there and back in one day – we’d done it before several times, without a hiccup.

We had no money (thanks, medical bills), and no credit cards or prescription medications or cell phone cords (thanks, stupidity – although again, in retrospect, I know Who had a Hand in that). So of course, when the car broke down in Winnemucca on Saturday en route, it was fortunate that our tow service took us to the only open repair shop in town on a weekend. They stayed open for six hours past closing (with our cat locked in their bathroom), but needed a part they couldn’t get until Tuesday.

What to do?

The “simplest” plan we could come up with was this: Rent a car in Reno, drive it to Fernley, pick child up, return to Winnemucca, pick up Melissa and Isaiah, head home. Why Reno? Because there’s no longer a car rental place in Winnemucca.

So, to add to the “simple” plan: stay overnight in Winnemucca at the same motel as the Amtrak train engineers, ride the shuttle to the Amtrak station with them, use my remaining cash to buy a round-trip ticket to Reno, because car rental won’t accept someone from out of town with a one-way plane or train ticket because it looks like you’re going to steal the car; then rent the car, drive it to Fernley, pick child up,

Fortunately, we had a human ‘guardian angel’, my sister-in-law, who was willing to pay for our hotel room in Winnemucca that night, via credit card over the phone. And since it would take longer than the check-out time for me to return, it was fortunate that Melissa and Isaiah were able to stay in the room into the next day, because she refused to come into the room to ask if my wife was ready to leave yet or not, even well after check out or not! And thankfully, the Amtrak guys were more than willing to have me share their ride.

Unfortunately… we hadn’t brought charge cords. More pressingly, we were missing our medications; I was chosen to go to Reno because as miserable as I was without my pain meds, Melissa was worse (and Isaiah wasn’t old enough to rent a car!). I didn’t sleep well, but the pain would get much worse as the day advanced.  Up at 445, met the Amtrak folks at five for breakfast, rode the van up the hill to the flat pad which passed for a train station in a desert town, and waited for the train to come in. The crew I rode up with would take over here for the crew driving the train that was due in at six.

Here’s where the story starts to smack much more strongly of God’s Handiwork. I am a stubborn man. I was a stubborn child, and I got good at it over the years. The Lord Knows this about me, and understood that He was going to have to beat me down with a one-two punch to force me to give up…

Punch 1: There was a wreck on the track, not ten miles before Winnemucca. That made for a lengthy delay, which did two things to me: give my disease four more hours to ramp up my pain, and give my cell phone just long enough to finally die completely. So all I knew at the point I lost contact with my bride and her ex was that he was going to take their son to Reno to meet me. I didn’t know where in Reno, but somewhere. (Great.)

Punch 2: Amtrak has a very strange policy, one that messed up that entire plan I described. I had brought just enough cash (all the cash I had, really) for one tank of gas, planning to refuel at our turnaround point in Fernley. (We lived in Jerome, ID, just past Twin Falls.) Without that need, I had that money to spend on the Amtrak round-trip ticket… until I learned that to Amtrak, cash is not as acceptable as a credit card! In fact, there was a 75% surcharge on cash purchases! Suddenly, I no longer HAD enough to buy the round-trip ticket I needed to prove I wouldn’t steal the car; all I could afford was a one-way ticket. By God’s prodding, I bought it anyway. In hindsight, I’m not sure why, if I thought it was pointless. Guess I figured I had a better chance if I was there rather than in Winnemucca. But if it had failed, then Melissa’s stuck in Winnemucca, I’m stuck in Reno, neither of us has money or phone, meds or transport… THAT would’ve been an unmitigated disaster.

Eventually, I climb on board the handicapped car of the Amtrak bound for Reno. There was a lady with a walker there, and her (I’m guessing) grandson, and there was me, with my cane. I have no idea what I’m going to do when I get there – even if I can get to the airport to the Enterprise counter, I don’t know what to do with my one-way ticket when I get there. I’m only assuming they’ll take my wife’s no-deposit credit without her there.  I can’t reach Melissa to find out where to go even if I DO somehow get a car. And I’m floating at about an 8 on the pain scale and trying hard not to scream in pain the whole time.

That was the moment I finally gave up.

I pulled out a notepad and wrote a letter of plea to Jesus Christ…and then after writing that, the lady and grandson left so the boy could use the bathroom. Alone in the handicapped car of an Amtrak train somewhere past Fernley en route to Reno, I put my cane aside and kneeled at the window. “Lord, I don’t know how real You are, and I don’t know if You’re willing to help me here. But I need help. Please, Lord – I know You don’t like to prove Your existence, but I need that proof. Please help us.”

I swear I could feel a voice saying something like “FINALLY!” 

I then got the impression that my cane was now just an affectation. Climbing off the train in Reno, I virtually leapt up the stairs to the station in Reno, and on a whim found the ticket office. I told the fellow my sob story, about how I’d need a round trip ticket but not to ride the train, except I didn’t have the money, and….

No sooner had I said that than he took my ticket and re-issued it to me as a round-trip ticket, no charge. 

Then he told me about a free shuttle to the airport they ran, which I grabbed, rode to the airport, and went to the Enterprise counter. The biggest question ended up being whether trains worked the same as planes, which someone at corporate decided they did (I’d just assumed…) They decided it did, issued me a car, and off I went. Finally, I was able to borrow a cell phone from an Enterprise employee and find out where Melissa’s ex was – and I knew where that happened to be, despite not knowing the city that well.

And for the rest of my life, I’ll remember the image of pulling out of the airport parking in that rental car, solutions all in place, saying to the sky, “Alright, Lord, You Win. You proved it . I’m Yours.”

So, was that “the moment of salvation”? I never felt the Holy Spirit enter my body. But I’m absolutely sure that the time of conversion was that moment on the train when I prayed on the train and suddenly didn’t need the cane any more

I picked our youngster up, drove to Winnemucca and got my wife and stepson, and then before leaving town, we stopped at a store to use the bathroom and use the last few bucks for drinks, I think. I don’t remember, because at this point I was curled up in the driver’s seat at about a 9-10 pain level.

In the time they were in the store, I saw that Melissa had been on line with the wife of a friend who would become my Christian mentor. She had told her friend, “I don’t know why all these strange things had to happen to us. I don’t know what God was trying to do with us!”

Her friend had typed, “It sounds like the Lord was doing a work in one of you. The question is, who?”

So I typed, “I think it was me. Could you ask your husband to come over tomorrow evening? I think I need him…”

And after a ridiculously painful right home, and a screaming fit of agony while I tried to get to sleep, I don’t remember how much medication I took, but I woke up the next morning in no pain. Zero! I hadn’t been in zero pain for over two years! And God backed up my newfound salvation with some marginal freedom from pain for a few weeks, gradually coming back to my TAM condition as I’d known it. Victor came over that night, introduced the Gospel in a way that I was never ready to hear it before, and started me in on the gospels of John and then Matthew. I started my notebooks that night, the ones that I’m on the third three-inch binder of today.

And that’s where I am today. Afflicted but His. The Lord knows I am His, but chooses not to remove this thorn from my side. He DID take away my bride Melissa; perhaps He decided that she’d done her job bringing me and (through me) my children to the Lord. Perhaps she had already suffered far more than enough on earth. Perhaps … perhaps… 

But somehow, the Lord brought this stubborn, “stiff-necked” man into His Hands. forever. And I’m ecstatic that He did. Thank you, Father.

So that’s my testimony. I was saved in the handicapped car of an Amtrak speeding between Fernley and Reno, penniless and incommunicado. I never “felt” that moment of salvation that others talk about – the moment the Spirit takes over the dark place in your soul, and you feel nothing but His Love within you. But it was only a matter of hours, far less than a week, that the transformation within me was definitive. To my best friend’s amazement, I was testifying to Christ’s love the very next day. I saw the world differently – and that transformation is still happening as we speak. 

You, too, should be able to see the difference in yourself – the person who lived in the flesh before your salvation, and the person who lived in Christ after you were born again. You may not be able to mark the instant of salvation, but if you’re saved, I’m positive you can spot the difference in who you were verses who you are.

I never enjoyed reading the Bible – now I can’t wait to study it.

I used to think my success and failure was entirely driven by me, and I lived by my own victories and defeats; as such, my self-opinion varied WILDLY depending on circumstances – Now, I know my success and failure depends in primarily on my actions being in tune with His Will, and my successes and failures are no longer the divining determinant of my self-opinion. 

My life was designed to push my own agenda forward – now, its sole purpose is to push the Lord’s agenda forward. 

And there was one moment that defined the before and after of that transformation. For me, that moment was approximately 11:30 a.m., June 9th, 2013. My “second birthday”. (My third son once came back from a long walk after a church sermon that touched him deeply, and asked for a second piece of cake. When I said no, his sheepish reply was, “But it’s my birthday…”, to announce his acceptance of Christ. Best announcement I’ve ever heard…) From that moment onward, you are no longer your own. You are His. If you live your life in accordance with His Lordship, then you have indeed been saved and have your eternal destination settled in the Lamb’s Book of Life. 

And if you are indeed a Child of God, co-heir with Jesus Christ… then the Great Commission is on your shoulders. Go out and share your testimony, and then share the Gospel. Don’t worry about your success or failure – that’s GOD’S responsibility. If you share, and the person you’re sharing with fails to come to Christ just then? That’s not your fault. And if you share, and the person you’re sharing with comes to Christ? That’s not your doing! But it IS your job to do the sharing. Read Ezekiel 3:17-21 ….

“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your handBut if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul. Again, if a righteous person turns from his righteousness and commits injustice, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die. Because you have not warned him, he shall die for his sin, and his righteous deeds that he has done shall not be remembered, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the righteous person not to sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live, because he took warning, and you will have delivered your soul.”

That duty lies upon our shoulders even today, through Christ’s Great Commission. We must warn the wicked that they shall surely die if they don’t come to Jesus; if not, their blood will be upon our hands. Our guilt will be tremendous. 

But it’s not hard. Share your testimony – no one in the world is such an expert on your experiences as you are! Then let the Spirit guide your conversation, and don’t fret about the response or result. Simply obey Him, and everything will be as it should be. 

God bless you, my friend. 

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