My Background Growing Up
As I said earlier, I was not raised in a Christian or church-going family. I cannot think of a single friend of mine in grade school or high school…whose family attended church. I can honestly say…looking back…that I did not know a single person in my childhood…or teenage years…who openly claimed to be a Christian and a practicing follower of Jesus Christ.
Christianity was simply something that was not a part of my life growing up.
My parents were divorced when I was eight years old. Before then we did as a family occasionally attend a mainstream denominational church…but after the divorce my mother felt ostracized in that church…so we moved over to a different denominational church nearby.
But throughout my early childhood, my recollection was that our attendance was spotty…was never regular…and had no impact upon me in terms of having any comprehension of the Bible, Christianity, or of God.
When at age eighteen I heard the Christian gospel message for the first time…and was contemplating what to do during the alter call following the message…if someone would have offered me a million dollars to recite one Bible verse from memory…I could not have done it.
At the end of that first service after asking Jesus Christ into my life…I was given a paperback copy of the New Testament as a gift. It took me about two weeks of reading the gospels in the New Testament for the first time…to figure out who Jesus was and where He figured into all of this.
I was so uninformed on that first night upon hearing the salvation message…I asked God into my life…having as yet no clear idea as to who Jesus was.
I basically came off the street into Christianity…having no previous background of “brainwashing” in any sense whatsoever…either pro or con…to inform or influence my decision for Christ.
At that time…I was also not looking for God…not searching for purpose and meaning in life…and thoroughly disinterested in religion of any sort.
I was simply too self-absorbed as an up-and-coming teenage competitive surfer in Southern California…too focused upon my chosen sport to the exclusion of everything else.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
I was always a good athlete growing up. I was in the “top ten” each week in batting average and in pitching earned-run average in Little League baseball when I was eleven and twelve…published in the weekly newsletter distributed at the ballpark…and played third base in the All Stars at the end of the regular season (a position I did not like).
I will always remember the sensation as an eleven-year old taking the mound as the starting pitcher on a Saturday morning…looking around at the freshly mowed grass…the outfield fence with all of the local sponsor’s advertising billboards…the parents in the bleachers…picking up the brand new baseball and applying rosin powder from the rosin bag…digging out some of the dirt in front of the pitcher’s rubber with my shoe cleats…throwing several warm-up pitches…seeing the umpire sweeping off home plate with his hand-held broom…the first batter stepping into the batter’s box…winding up and throwing a fastball down the middle…hearing the pop as the ball hits the catcher’s mitt…seeing the umpire throw out his right arm…and yelling steeeeeeee…rike one!
These are some of the fondest memories from my childhood.
In Little League baseball…when I was nine years old…my older brother Brian made it on to the major league Red Sox team.
In those days, one nine-year old was allowed on each major league team of ten-to-twelve year olds…and for the logistics benefit of the mothers and fathers coordinating the taxying of two or more sons to various games and practices…for convenience they would place the nine-year old on the same team as the older brother.
So at age nine I was a major leaguer…one of only two kids in the fourth grade in our elementary school class that year to achieve this lofty designation…thanks solely to having an older brother who was eleven…and who had made the team.
In the next year when I was ten…my brother and I played on this Red Sox team that became the Little League equivalent of the Bronx Bombers.
We had a left-handed pitcher Glen Thompson with an ERA below one, a catcher Dave “Fudge” Ptak who hit the most home runs in the league that year, and my older brother who batted 590 and was second in the league in batting average that year behind Skip Jarvis who batted 615…who lived down the street from us…was the same age twelve as my older brother…and was part of the local crowd I played sports with at that age. I was the starting second baseman…my favorite position.
I will never forget our baseball coach that year…Ed Grabowski…who taught me and my brother how to play baseball. Our team had eighteen wins and four losses…and was the best team that year. At the awards banquet…as a ten-year old…the championship trophy I received seemed half my height.
I grew up in the same area…and went to the same schools with the same kids from grade school through high school…although our high school had 3,000 kids and there were 850 seniors in my graduating class.
I had some cute girlfriends in high school. I went to the high school dances and proms…and as a freshman went to some of the “away” football games with my girlfriend on the school bus…when I was not out with my drinking buddies.
Because of having a single parent…a full-time working mother…I had a lot more freedom than kids from two-parent homes…but there was a line beyond which I did not cross…out of respect for her.
But I was way ahead of most of my peers in high school in a somewhat moderated, near-the-edge of notoriously scandalous behavior…having a black sheep reputation of exploration into debauchery and worldliness.
When I walked into that home church on a perfect summer evening on Sunday, August 10, 1970…and became a Christian that night…I had already experienced things that many of my age-group would explore and discover in their upcoming college years and beyond.
At age 18, no one would accuse me of being sheltered, naïve, or religiously brainwashed.
Being a “latch-key” kid…I was worldly street-savvy beyond my years.
That is my general background growing up. I knew a lot of young people from playing baseball and at the beach. I was relatively popular…had a wide-circle of friends…was relatively normal in a worldly sense in the high school party-scene and the drinking of alcohol…but did not do drugs…even though they were all around me and easily accessible…because of my surfing.
And at the time…I was not looking for God…and could not have cared less about Christianity…or anything to do with Jesus Christ.
This should give the reader a broad outline of what I was and where I was coming from…before I became a Christian.
My story…like millions of Christians around the world…is not the story of a young person “brain-washed” by a religious upbringing.