In 1969, my life was falling apart. I had very few friends. I had been arrested for shoplifting. My peers told me I was no good. My teachers told me the same thing. I had sunk into deep depression. I was failing in some courses. I had gone to a psychiatrist. And, I had tried to kill myself 6 times. There really was no need to go on.
At Christmas that year, my parents called a meeting with me and told me that we were joining a new church the first Sunday of 1970. I was very opposed to this change. After all, the only friends I had were at First Baptist. My parents didn't know this, but the shoplifting "club" that I was in was out of First Baptist. They knew though (as parents often do) that I needed a change. They did make a deal with me that if I didn't like this new church that I could go back to my old church after 3 months, and nothing more would be said.
On January 4th, 1970, we joined Kilbourne Park Baptist Church. It was about a mile from our house. My father was good friends with the pastor--Ted Dougherty. They were in seminary together. I knew only one person my age who went to this new church--Vonda Snipes. Her father worked with my father at the Baptist Building. After the morning service, Vonda came up to me and asked if I would like to go to the youth choir rehearsal that afternoon. I told her I would, because I had been in youth choir at First Baptist and was rather good. (No ego there, huh?)
That afternoon, I was introduced into the youth choir. Most of the kids didn't go to my school, and they didn't know what I had been going through. They accepted me for who I was--a new member; a Bass in the choir; and a cool guy. I fell in love with those people on that afternoon. They showed me that I had worth. And they saved my life, even though they didn't know it. God used them to get to me. Had Vonda not invited me, and had I not gone to choir that afternoon, I firmly believe that I would have been dead three months later. I think of January 4th as my second birthday. June 17th is the birthday on my driver's license. January 4th is MY birthday. Without Pam, Buddy, Sonny, Lawson, Tommy, Craig, Gail, Karen, Ellen, Rodney, Vonda, David, James, Mel, Lelia, and many more, I would not be here today. These people gave me hope. They cared about me. In fact, after that first Sunday with them, I didn't come back for about a month. I was still conflicted. When I did come back, they asked me where I had been. I just made up an excuse that I had been sick. They told me that they were sorry. No one had been that interested in me before then.
We formed a youth group called "The Kiboneers". We took an old house next to the church and made it into a youth place. We painted it, which was challenging. We had a car wash, where it was my job to take the cars from the curb and bring them to be washed. One man had a straight shift, and I tore up his transmission. The church had to pay to repair it. But most of all, we had fun. We would go over to the Wise's house and listen to records. We went swimming at the Jowers' house. We went to summer retreats and Sunday night fellowships. One of those fellowships was at my house. I played some of the sides of the Woodstock LP which were clean, but the kids tried to listen to the other songs I couldn't play at a church function. We did everything together. We went to Six Flags. We went to the beach. We went to a swimming hole out of town. I couldn't wait to go somewhere else with them. These people became my life. Sure, we got in trouble too. Once in a church service, we were talking in the balcony, and the pastor stopped his sermon and told us to shut up. I met a member years later who told me that he remembered the pastor stopping the church service to tell some kids in the balcony to shut up, and I confessed that I was one of those kids. We went to Ridgecrest for a youth conference and stayed at a house, where the girls were on the top floor and the boys on the bottom floor. We put shaving cream on the wooden stairs and bannister. When our leader walked down those steps in the middle of the night to check on us, he slipped and fell and hurt his back. We also locked a kid in a closet and didn't tell anyone. The difference though between bullying and fun was that everyone knew we were having fun, or at least I hope they did.
I still stay in touch with many of those people. After all, they were (and continue to be) my life line. Many have moved away to the far reaches on this country. One has moved onto Heaven. I thank God that my parents called that meeting to tell me of the move. I thank God for my friends. I thought I would never say that. And, most of all, I thank God for giving me a second chance.