Surprised by Love

(This is included as a supplement to the family offering theme this month, “Love.”)

As 5:00 p.m. neared, I began to get a little restless. Until that time, I could be a sort-of-normal school kid and enjoy those spontaneous moments of fun and mischief. But, as that magical time approached my mind began to go through a mental check list with the intensity of a pilot preparing for take-off. Did I fill the wood box for our wood cook stove? Did I feed the chickens? Did I water the few straggly blades of grass we called a lawn? Was there anything I missed that could cause my usually drunken father to fly into a rage and terrorize the family for the evening? My mother and four sisters were going through the same agony while a creeping fear and dread began to build as we awaited the 5:00 hour when my father would come home from work.

It is difficult to explain the experience that a young mind and emotions go through under this kind of almost total absence of love. From the physical abuse and constant paralyzing fear, to the reoccurrence of terrifying nightmares, this type of psychological and emotional trauma stops personal growth until such time as a stable environment can coax it into trust once again and growth can resume.

So it was through my childhood. My father was an uneducated, abused, neglected child and consequently became a dispenser of the same. Having been turned out at an early age, he really never knew any love, and, predictably, was unable to give any. His unbearable existence could only be coped with through an escape into alcohol.

Mother, also, was an uneducated person from the backwoods of Arkansas who married, most likely, to escape her environment. Mother did love us kids. I can recall a few tender moments that were fleeting and not very influential. But because Mother was no match for my father, her expression was completely stifled as she was forced to cower, more often that not, under his alcohol induced intimidation and violence. And although there did exist a mothers love and concern for her children, it was impossible for that love to be manifest while being trapped in an environment of paralyzing fear.

As a result, in our household, it was every man for himself. We couldn’t count on any help from each other because that would inevitably result in additional recriminations from Dad. Consequently everyone in the family entered a survival mode with each one looking out for his own safety and doing what was necessary for personal protection. The idea of love, whether a feeling or an act of kindness, or sharing, was not a part of my life.

I vividly remember, however, that Dad would frequently punish us kids until we would agree that we loved him. In a drunken rage he would demand, “Do you love me?” to which we would reply “Yes,” “Yes,” in order to avoid further violence. Love, then, became to me some type of condition that was quickly agreed with in order to avoid punishment. I cannot remember ever experiencing fond feelings or caring for anyone; only hating my father; being ashamed of my surroundings, and looking out for my own safety.

One Sunday morning Mother gave me the choice of cutting weeds or going to church (as I think back, her reason for that particular choice is a mystery). Of course that was no choice. I went to the little church around the corner to avoid the work. I didn’t normally attend church, except under such extraordinary circumstances. I can remember Mother going to church once; my Father never went. I recall more that once Dad stating his philosophy of life as, “We live like dogs, and we die like dogs.” This was the sum total of wisdom passed on from our father to his children.

Anyway, sitting in Sunday School class that morning, avoiding the weeds, I was challenged, along with the class, to compete for a five dollar prize by attending for the next few Sundays and fulfilling a few other minor requirements. That was enough for me. Five dollars seemed like all the money in the world and I was determined to win, and I did! What I did with that money, in a minuscule way, sums up how I viewed others, and the degree of compassion, concern and love I had even for my own family.

Regardless that my mother and sisters, like myself, were ill clad and in need of many basic necessities, it never occurred to me to spend that windfall on anyone but myself. I spent the entire amount on a long coveted pocket watch and a belly stuffing at Polly’s Fried Chicken Restaurant; an event of eating out that our family never did. This incident exemplified my total lack of concern for anyone except me. I was indulging in total selfishness; the outgrowth of my survivalist environment.

As I grew older, my interest in other people was based almost entirely on what they could do for me and what I could get from them. I really never knew what it was to love someone simply because they were a human being, or to care for someone out of gratitude or compassion. Even in the early years of my marriage, I didn’t know what it was to really love my wife to the extent of wanting to make her happy and being concerned and committed to her welfare. I wanted to take what I wanted; that was really all I ever knew.

As adults, with a small child, my wife and I had miraculously survived six years of marriage before we came to trust Christ for our salvation. I often thank God for my oldest sister who would not leave us alone both in prayer and inviting us to church. God used her continued efforts in bringing us to Himself.

Although my encounter with Jesus was not an exact Damascus road experience, physically, I felt that my inner being of mind, emotions and spirit had been leveled. It was as though God needed to wipe away all of the horrible experiences of the past and begin to build me all over again. I was at the same time experiencing both exhilaration and confusion. I was not at all sure what was happening to me.

In the midst of this strange new beginning, Pat and I were sitting in church one Sunday evening waiting for a service to begin. People were milling around, greeting one another and exchanging pleasantries as they began to fill the sanctuary. As we sat there, I was casually observing people as they made their way to favorite pews and found their accustomed places. A I looked about, my eyes fell on a young lady sitting across the church, alone, waiting, as were we, for the service to begin. For some reason my gaze was fixed on her for a few seconds. The young lady was not attractive, in fact, her unattractiveness could have been described by insensitive people as being homely at best.

I need to interject here that I recount these feelings only to explain what was happening to me. I have since tried to look, as does God, beyond the exterior to see the real person. However, before becoming a Christian, I would evaluate one on the basis of whether or not they were attractive people. The world accepts and admires beautiful people. In my adolescent school years, I can recall joining others in cruel and cutting treatment of unattractive girls. I felt no compassion for others, neither did I have any sensitivity for their feelings or respect for their dignity. Consequently, my entire view, of females especially, was the beauty of their physical appearance and could I exploit them.

Now, back to church. As I looked at this unattractive lady, I was first of all surprised that I would fix my gaze long enough to pay her the slightest attention. But as I looked at this woman, I slowly began to be filled with a quality that was completely foreign to my being. I was being drawn to her, not as in my pagan days, but in a strange way that was somehow accepting her the way she was.

It is difficult, I am sure, for those without a similar background to realize what a jolting, revolutionary experience it was not to reject this person outright. Not only did I accept this lady, but I began to feel compassion for her. This compassion was not feeling sorry for her appearance, although that is itself would have been new to me, but I was identifying with another member of the Body of Christ as the Holy Spirit united our spirits. Then a most incredible thing happened that brought it all together. God slowly filled me with His love for this lady. I could hardly believe it; for the first time in my life I caught a fleeting glimpse of one of God’s children through the eyes of Jesus. For the first time in my life I experienced acceptance, compassion and love for another human being whom I didn’t even know! How incredible that God was effecting in me that spiritual renewal that reflects the likeness of His Son Jesus. It was only later that I would learn in the Word that God promises healing and transformation to anyone who will turn to Jesus.

Since that time I was changed forever, praise the Lord. God had touched my life and I would never be the same as we began a family journey of following God. The beginning of that experience is yet vivid in my memory as I recall the first big impact of God in my life when I was “Surprised by Love.”

Comments

  1. Michael Ham says:

    Alan,

    This is a great peak into your spiritual journey. Thanks for being transparent with us!

    We love you much!

    mh

  2. Matt Dodd says:

    Hey pops. Although I have heard these stories my whole life, I am always touched and amazed by God’s grace, love, and your resolve to be something different. Your are my hero dad. You stopped the cycle of violence and lack of love, and that is something I will never forget and will always be truly grateful for.

    Love you dad,
    Matt

  3. Cydney (Frazier) Sanchez says:

    Uncle Alan I have always respected you and your beliefs and also sort of sad when I was younger that our family really didn’t know anything about God. Anyway I never knew about your childhood and how things were for you and it makes me respect you even more coming from that background you could have been a horrible, sinful person but Jesus saved you and this all is so inspiring to me and gives me so much hope in my own walk. Thank you for sharing your testimony.

  4. Thanks Cydney for your kind words. The greatest miracle ever, is when God changes a heart. It is never too late for anyone to receive the grace of God. It is so wonderful that my niece is also my sister in the Lord. God Bless.

Speak Your Mind

*