There are events that change the course of your life. A marriage or birth of a child or the death of a loved one all have that effect and you begin to divide your life in terms of before and after the particular event. These turnings happen to everyone and can be euphoric or tragic but they all bring about a change in the way we view and live out our lives. Some events, however, are a bit more personal and don’t happen to everyone but are unique to the individual experiencing them. These are the ones that often bring about the most significant changes and don’t just change how we live, but also change who we are.
It was the spring of 1995 and I was living in Manitowoc Wisconsin at the time. I was in the beginning stages of a newly recommitted life with Christ and learning a lot…with still a lot left to learn. I was fearless, invincible, and right was ‘right’ and wrong was ‘wrong’; there was no middle. I was working in a furniture factory making decent money – at least more than I had ever made before – and was enjoying having things and getting to know people who had things. I was young and impressionable and naïve. That was all about to change in quite unexpected ways.
Word came down from the factory foreman that orders were slipping and layoffs were coming. I was one of the low men on the totem pole so mine was one of the first pink slips handed out. I made it about a week before the reality of no money coming in hit me. Somehow I thought that the factory would get some more orders and I’d be called back or that another job would just appear and I could just walk into it. Neither happened. I had rent, a car payment, credit cards, student loans, utilities…and a whole lot of ‘stuff’ that it was all tied to. On top of it all, I was alone. Many of the friends I had made were in the same or similar boat as I was. I made as many phone calls as I could and knocked on many doors looking for help or a job or both, all in vain. There was no help available. I had scraped the bottom of the barrel and had nowhere to go…so I went to the beach.
I have always loved the Great Lakes, especially Superior, but since Lake Michigan was nearby, it would have to do. There is just something about sitting or walking on a beach that always brought comfort to me. Point Beach State Park is just north of Manitowoc so I threw my bike in the back of my truck and headed out, not knowing exactly why but needing to clear my head. I rode around the park a few times but just could not get the thoughts out of my mind. I was going to lose all of my things, my friends couldn’t help me, my family was not near enough to help; I was going to lose everything…how would I ever be able to recover?
Riding my bike wasn’t helping so I went and sat on the beach. It was a cool early spring morning and the only people around were the park workers doing their morning rounds. I sat there, staring out over the lake, completely overwhelmed by the situation I had gotten myself in and my inability to get out of it. By now the tears were streaming and I honestly felt like there was nothing I could do. As I stared into the distance, an image began to take form. It was huge and a bit fuzzy at first but as I wiped my eyes, it was clear that it was an aircraft carrier, just off the shore…too far to see details, but close enough to tell what it was. I squinted, trying to tell if I was seeing what I thought I was and thinking that it was pretty strange to see an aircraft carrier on Lake Michigan. As quickly as that though rushed through my mind, I heard a rush of wind and I was standing on the deck of the massive ship near the stern with the runway stretching out before me. I stood there, confused and amazed at the same time…and not alone. From beside and just a step back from where I was someone asked me,
“What do you see?”
“Nothing,” I said as I wiped my eyes.
“What do you see?” he said.
“I don’t see anything. There’s nothing here.” I said, getting a bit frustrated at the question and beginning to remember the load of problems I didn’t know how to handle.
“What do you see?” came the question for the third time.
“There is nothing here!” I said, “Nobody is here! There are no planes or people or equipment. There is nothing on this ship…!” As I said those last few words I turned to look beside me and was met with the most loving yet steely gaze I have ever seen. It cut me to the heart while at the same time healing the wound. “…but…you. You’re here” I said quietly…
“Ok…now let’s move on…” He said, and I was back sitting on the beach in a puddle of tears.
I understood. While I was trying to live a good Christian life, Christ had become just a part of my life, and to be honest, a pretty small part. I had been placing so much value on the things that I had and the people that I knew and what those people thought of me that those ‘things’ were controlling me. The Good Lord was using the current situation to teach me that all of that stuff will fade away and if I do not have my eyes fixed on Him, I will truly be lost. He is the One who is with me…and always will be.
I left that beach still not knowing what was going to happen or how I was going to get out of the mess I was in, but believing that there was a way and it was through Christ and knowing that made all the difference. Within one month I had moved back to Upper Michigan, had a job that would cover what I needed and had gone on the first date of many with the girl that would become my wife one and a half years later. There really are events that change the entire course of your life.