My testimony is the story that tells how I came into relationship with Jesus Christ and the impact that His saving grace has had on my life. To understand my testimony, I need to share my past so that you will understand what motivated me in life.
I was born into a Christian home. We were members of a Dutch Reformed congregation, which meant that I went to church all the time, learned all the Bible stories, learned catechism, got good marks from my Sunday School teachers, and went to a church school for my first years of schooling. I was a good boy.
My parents were born into some fairly typical “greatest generation” circumstances. My father was from a farming family, never attended college, and worked in an aluminum factory during my childhood. My mother emigrated from Holland when she was an adolescent; her mother died in childbirth soon after they arrived in South Dakota. My mom spent her teenage years as a domestic helper in another family’s home rather than in school. My father instilled in me a deep code of hard work, patriotism, and stoicism. My mother instilled in me a drive to succeed and to rise above the circumstances of her upbringing. I am not unlike many mid-western men my age when you consider the ingredients of my childhood.
When I was twelve years old, I made a conscious decision that the church was not for me. Together, my dad and I had built a car for a soapbox derby. The derby happened to be held on a Sunday, and my church did not believe in doing any “work” on Sundays. My parents decided to let me participate in the derby. I lost in the first heat and was back home in 15 minutes, but being able to race had been very important to me. Much to my anger and chagrin, the elders from the congregation paid my parents a visit to reprimand them for allowing me to race. I overheard the entire exchange, since my bedroom shared a wall with the living room. During that conversation, there was a moment in time when I decided that the church was irrelevant for me. I still went to church out of respect for my parents, but my focus shifted away from friends in the youth group to building my friendships in the successful group at high school.
High school was a turning point for me. I remember walking into Lafayette Jefferson High School feeling inferior and overwhelmed. I was coming out of a class of 12 at my church school into a freshman class of 600 in a high school population of 3,000. I made a commitment to myself that I would be known by the time I graduated, so I played football and basketball, was president of several clubs, and then elected president of the senior class. I also dated a cheerleader, just as my carefully concocted image suggested I should. I had proven to myself that I could make it; I’d arrived.
My hunger for success and significance did not wane as I went to college. I attended Indiana University where I pledged the best fraternity on campus, was president of my pledge class, ran a political campaign on campus, and was a contender in the Little 500 bike race at IU. My sights were on securing my position in the world.
After a time, the emptiness I was trying to quench caught up to me, and my youthfully inverted priorities affected my GPA! My attendance in class diminished remarkably, and my GPA dropped a full three points. After a while, my pattern emerged. I focused on a strong social life, and I let the academics pass. When my GPA got low enough, I would begin to attend class again. I even failed out of school a few times but returned to academics when I felt the pull of a looming future or the fear of being drafted into Viet Nam.
Even the story of my engagement and marriage is marked by the unease of a driven soul. I met Judy in 1964, and I had dated her and several of her sorority sisters. I decided I wanted to date Judy “one more time” because she had dumped me a couple of times. I thought I was going to get even by dating and dumping her. Instead, the relationship “stuck” and we were engaged later that summer. Ours is hardly a romantic love story, but rather a fascinating glimpse into the wanderings of two restless hearts. When I asked her father for her hand in marriage, I had already expanded two years of college into four; when her dad asked how I was going to support her, I replied that selling life insurance should work well. In truth, I had no idea what I was going to do.
Marriage re-energized my urge to succeed. Judy became pregnant with Cynthia, our daughter, and the pull to provide took over in me. After our wedding, I never made anything below an A. When I went to graduate school, I made a 4.0 and came in second in the state on the CPA exam the first time I took it. Recruiters would look at my resume and ask what had happened. I knew that the purposefulness and intention to succeed that I had in high school had been re-energized by a need to outpace my own parents’ success in my role as a husband and father.
Neither Judy nor I cared for the church or ever gave attention to spiritual things. We were consumed with the opportunities that came our way. Judy threw herself into parenting our first and second daughters while I threw myself into building a world-class resume from a small town set of ingredients. My first job was with Peat Marwick, a big eight accounting firm in 1965, in New York City. I worked on Wall Street and found I could compete in that environment; the thrill of urban life and climbing the corporate ladder spoke to my restless driven-ness. Peat Marwick transferred me to Dallas and then to San Francisco. Ultimately, we moved back to Indianapolis in 1970.
By the time we re-settled in Indianapolis, I was 30 years old and my life was on a clear trajectory. I was after success in all forms and at almost any cost. My mother had planted the idea in me that I needed money, position, and recognition in order to be successful. At 30 years old, I began my own CPA firm and then purchased two small banks. I built my practice on the golf course of two country clubs and enjoyed the six-figure income I was earning. I think I enjoyed the status even more than the income: I felt successful and I felt accomplished.
During this same time (the early 1970’s) my wife, Judy, became very ill, was in and out of the hospital for six months, almost died from loss of blood, and then contracted hepatitis from blood transfusions. My wife is a no-nonsense, passionate woman who realized that she was terrified by the uncertainty of eternity after having had a close brush with death. We had a neighbor who invited her to a local bible study. At the very first study, the leader shared Campus Crusade for Christ’s “Four Spiritual Laws.”
First of all, God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. Judy felt drawn to God’s love and the plan He had. She was caught in the mundane of little children and a busy, distracted husband. Secondly, every person is separated from God by something called sin – an innate propensity to follow self above all else. Judy felt frustrated by relational patterns and failures that seemed innate to her and inescapable. Thirdly, God, knowing that there was a separation problem, sent Jesus to answer to the problem. As God’s Son, Jesus came to bridge the gap between our sin and God’s righteousness by becoming the sacrifice for our sin and by conquering death in the resurrection. Judy realized that she could lay down her struggles and be confident in her eternal position of life in Christ. Finally, each person has a choice whether or not to accept the truths of God’s love, His plan, my sin, and Christ’s sufficient payment. By the end of that presentation at bible study, my wife prayed to receive Jesus Christ as her Savior.
In all honesty, when Judy first told me she had become a Christian, my first real thought was that this new twist might be good. In my arrogant opinion, she really needed it! Also, since I viewed marital problems as “not my fault,” Judy’s conversion could probably solve those, too!
If you met my wife, it would not take you long to discern that she values the option to share her opinion with those who might need it. Judy felt free to question my own choice to turn my back on the church after having grown up in a Christian environment. I became angry about her questions and challenges, and I threatened her with divorce over this issue - a very egotistical thing to do. My life was firmly in the grip of all of the trappings of success: drinking, golf, the “old boys’ network” and climbing the social ladder. I was blind to my own needs and Judy was wise in her approach to me. She said nothing more for two years (a near miracle!), but she lived out her faith in a 1st Peter 3 way. Judy became more supportive of me, not less. Before she came to faith, she constantly complained about my golf habit. In an effort to love me unconditionally, she began asking me if I was going to play golf on the weekend and supporting my habit. I had no choice but to take notice of the newfound peace she possessed.
Judy did ask me if I would attend church with her. I told her no, because I did not believe what they believed. However, I did agree to go to Sunday School with her if it was raining and I could not play golf. A dentist taught the class we attended. He said over and over that we could not understand what he was really saying unless we had a relationship with Christ, but he also kept repeating the good news of God’s love for each of us.
My attitude was arrogant, but for some reason I kept returning to the class on rainy Sundays. After a few months, this dentist knocked on my door when Indiana University (my alma mater) was playing Michigan State, which I did not appreciate. He shared those same four spiritual principles with me and asked if we could pray together. I remember my stiff neck and anger as I did not want to submit to what he was doing. I used to sell life insurance. I knew what he was doing; he was just selling something with his four questions that he already knew the answers to. I kicked him out and watched the rest of the game. I did continue to attend his Sunday School class for two more years. Meanwhile, our third child was born and I could not deny that something was very different about Judy’s life. Her heart’s change was very compelling to me.
In the spring of 1974, having seen the change in Judy, I began to investigate her faith more fully. I read a book called Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell. I started to think that if the Bible was true and Jesus was real and the resurrection really occurred, then God must have authority. Additionally, as I read, all the Bible stories I heard as a child began to come back to me and illuminate God’s character to me.
One morning, I headed out the door to go play golf and saw a “four spiritual laws” book on my dresser. I took it with me in the car. Long before cell phones and blackberries, I was distractedly reading while driving. I reviewed the first three principles and realized that I had come to believe the first three truths. I knew I had to make a choice. I stopped my car and made that choice. For me, this act of surrender was purely volitional, not emotional. I told God that I was not going to change anything in my life because I had seen the false things that Christians did to act out their faith. I told God that if my conversion was true, then I knew God would change me from the inside. I did not want rules and regulations to follow; I wanted heart change. I wanted substance, not form.
My life did begin to change. Even that day on the course, I stopped swearing. That difference was not a decision on my part, just a change that occurred. I did have my two martinis at lunch and my six-pack on the golf cart. I didn’t say anything to anyone for a couple of weeks to see if my conversion was real. At one point I “fessed up” in a bar with my partners and shared Christ with them. I called Judy to tell her I had shared the gospel with them, but then I waited a few days before actually telling Judy that I had surrendered my life to Christ. Her day-to-day testimony of a life changed by grace had impacted me eternally.
As God began to change me, the “substance, not form” that I had been so earnestly seeking in my conversation with God took many forms. Primarily, my family life changed dramatically. I began to appreciate my wife and children for who they were. Also, I felt a new kind of excitement as I realized that Christ fully met my long-term drive for security, significance, and success. The ultimate security is found in eternal life with God. The ultimate success is being in relationship with the Creator of the universe who calls me His beloved child. The ultimate significance is found in living out the purpose God has for me – all for my good and for His glory. My long term cravings in life – security, significance, and success – had nothing to do with my social status or my income level and everything to do with what I believe and whose I am.
As my new understanding of security, significance, and success took hold in my life, God naturally drew us into ministry avenues. Judy and I became involved in Campus Crusade for Christ’s “I Found It” campaign to attempt to evangelize the United States in conjunction with the bicentennial year. I could not help but notice the irony of the fact that I would leave my suite at my CPA firm to work at the metal desk and straight back wooden chair of the campaign headquarters; all the while knowing that the truly important work was taking place in the meager physical environment.
I could go on and on with the stories of God’s dramatic work in my heart to lead me to a place of ministry and money and their intersection time and again. It would take reams of paper to do so. However, if you are reading this and have questions about how to become a Christian, please tell God honestly how you feel and use the following prayer as a guideline to talk to God.
“God, I recognize that I’m a sinner. I do believe that Jesus is the answer. I want Him to come into my life and take it over.” As a start, read the following verses and ponder their meaning: Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, Ephesians 2: 8 & 9, Revelations 3:20.