Blue Tennis Shoes –Part two

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I have reviewed what I wrote as “part two” and it skips to where I have been in the last year. It is revealing and… more than I might be ready for. I will work up to it. Not wanting this to be a memoir, I thought that I would in this post connect some of the dots that led me to where I am today…

Mexico changed me. Aware of God’s loving kindness to me, my attitude was transformed. I no longer had plans to kill myself. That is probably why to this day I have never owned a gun.

I got more involved in church, even had a girlfriend—briefly. And, I didn’t even resent the bully-target of taking my Bible to school. A Mormon friend saw my stance and decided to bring his books to school as well. He had more to carry than I did.

In gym class the bullying continued. The worst of the gang was a pastor’s son of all things. When we started a class in gymnastics I knew I would never be able to climb the rope or do an iron cross on the rings, but I could do a backflip.

One day, I jumped hard on the trampoline, flipped high and landed goofywompus. The angle sent me shooting out into space. I knew it would leave a mark when I splatted on the gymfloor. But to my surprise, a big guy was standing there and he caught me like I was a baby in his arms. I began to sit next to him in choir. For some reason the bullies left me alone. I don’t know if Phil Vineyard ever knew I used his friendship as protection. He has been there when I needed someone most.

During a church youth canoe trip, I still wore my blue tennis shoes. Things were going well for me. As I was running to my tent, the shoes fell off. (they were so worn.) It would be many years before I owned another pair.

I went with the Youth group on another Mission’s trip. This time to Peru. It was an amazing experience. One day, several of us got left behind. Waiting for the group to come back and pick us up, I sat with the Missionary and Pastors as they told funny stories of their ministry. Then Dr. Bill Dowell from Baptist Temple in Springfield, Mo. shared his heart for ministry. He gave me much to consider. I was amazed at his courage and boldness.

Later on the Peru trip, we visited an old Monastery. A flock of sheep driven by a young boy passed us. A little lamb straggled behind. I picked it up and turned. Someone took my picture.

The next summer, the Youth Pastor asked if I and another young man wanted to drive with him to Lynchburg, Virginia, to a Youth Pastor’s Convention. I agreed, thinking it would be a blast. For several days, I sat and listened to messages aimed at Youth Pastors and heard them share their burdens. When they cried, so did I. That burden was somehow passed on to me as if Elijah himself had given me a mantle.

The last year of High School I had a difficult time walking the halls. I kept looking at the other kids wondering if they had had such pain as I had experienced in my life.

I gave up my goal of being an artist and applied to Baptist Bible College before the year was out, not knowing what waited there for me.

To be continued…

Blue Tennis shoes

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Writing the second book in my series The Long-aimed Blow, coauthored with my twin brother, is harder than I thought it would be. The first book talks about trauma. Book two is how the characters responded and deal with the trauma. It has brought back many memories and has thrown me into a deep depression. Let me explain. No, let me summarize….

As an identical twin, it is always difficult to get individual attention.

One day as a child, I was sick—and my brother wasn’t. He went on to school and I got to stay home. Mom brought me soup and put a cool rag on my forehead. I felt loved. It was not long before I had learned to fake being sick and would be sent home from school for more individual attention.

One day, waiting in the nurse’s office for mom to pick me up, I overheard the principal tell my mother, “He’s not really sick. We know that. But what can we do? It is such a shame, he has so much potential. If only he’d just stay in school.” I felt so ashamed. I thought that was the last day I would equate sickness with love.

I looked for the attention in other ways. I found that I could get praise for drawing and art and was kinda good at it. (so was my brother) I could sing and wanted the solo in the Christmas program, but some girl got the part. I failed at a spelling bee when I couldn’t spell the word “dirt.”

Much of the trauma from my fifth grade is seen in the Princes of Albion. I won’t take the time to tell that story now. I walked away with only the clothes on my back and a pair of blue Converse tennis shoes.

I was never good enough. Never as good as the other guys. Never strong enough. I once cried because I had little arms. In sixth grade, the other boys knocked me down on the playground, took my shoes off and my white socks, then lifted me up and paraded me around the school yard waving my socks like flags.

I intently watched the other boys and saw that they got attention from girls by saying something funny. I had been using my sense of humor to escape bad feelings for a long time and I started being a wise guy/clown in class. People laughed when I told a joke or a good pun. But the laughter never felt like love.

In high school they dumped my blue tennis shoes in the boys’ toilet, put a jock strap over my head, and a punctured can of Right Guard down my gym shorts. At the church youth group, I nominated myself for the Spiritual Council. I got one vote—mine. (They read the results out loud). I did art for the youth department and tried my best. I was in the ninth grade play… but forgot my lines.

But, I didn’t feel loved. I would look at myself in the mirror at home and tell myself how much I hated who I was—until I blacked out. My brother had a girlfriend, but I was too shy. No one loved me. Oh, mom did. But she was mom. I began to seek ways to commit suicide.

That summer the youth group was going to Old Mexico for a missionary trip. I didn’t want to go. I wanted to stay home and die. But my brother was going, so I reluctantly went. I remember stepping on the bus. I looked down at my worn out tennis shoes and said, “God, I’m so tired.” That trip we built a building from the foundation to the finished roof. It was hard work. We handed out Bibles in the afternoon. In the evenings we would hold meetings. I was asked to give my testimony. I made one up.

I met an old Mexican who spoke a little English. He asked my name and I told him.  He called me “Jaunisito.” I asked what that meant and he said, “Little Jon with love.” I gave a scoffing laugh and gave him a Bible.

By Thursday of that week I was exhausted. That evening–very late–the Youth Pastor gave a Mission’s message on God’s love for all mankind. I heard him say, “God loves you.” And I broke down. I did not believe him. He was very wrong. I walked to the back and fell to my knees and sobbed.

Then, in my despair, I somehow felt God’s arms enfold me and He whispered in my ear, “It is true. I do love you, Jon.”

…to be continued…

I am able

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When Jesus asked his two disciples if they were ready to drink form the cup he drank from and to be baptized with the baptism he would be baptized with, they replied, “We are able.”

When I was in Junior High I was bullied by a group of boys so much so that I would have to race home to keep from being beat up. They called me names, and threatened me daily. Then one summer one of them confronted me while I was mowing a neighbor’s yard. He wanted to fight. I said, “No. Christians don’t fight.” He replied with a crass comment about Christ and before I could think. I had pushed him down and sat on top of him—my knees on his arms. I raised my fist and told him to leave me alone.

At that moment I was grabbed under the arms and hoisted to the fence. With my shirt bunched in the young man’s grasp and his fist held high, I gasped. It was the boy’s older brother—a Golden Glove winning boxer. He glared at me and yelled, “Say you are a wimp, and I’ll leave you alone!”

 I knew he would pound me to a pulp. It was gonna hurt really bad. So I ducked my head and whimpered, “I’m a wimp.” He made me say it again before he let me go. He picked up his little brother and they left me standing alone in my shame against the fence.

I have regretted it ever since. Whenever I shrink from a hard task, neglect doing things I know are important, or take the easy road to the battle, I am reminded of this one event.

Many times I answer the call to duty with the words, “I cannot” in my mind.

When it comes to writing, I still struggle with this. I am not good enough. In the movie “In the Heart of the Sea” Herman Melville tells a man, “I am not Nathaniel Hawthorne.” And I say, “I am not Herman Melville.” Someone may one day say, “I’m not as good as Jon Hopkins.” It is easy to discount reader’s praise for my work. But I just write and try my best to do it well.

In every life there are experiences of darkness. When we are put up against the fence-edge of dread the Master asks, “Are you able to follow me through this trial, this sacrifice, this mystery of pain?” We must remember that the greatest blessings of grace lie beyond this experience. He leads me. I am not able. I wimp out. But I follow the One who is able. Anyone can do the possible. He can do the impossible.

Today I will say to the raised fist, “Bring it.” And trust in God to lead the way.

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Writing in the Dark!

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Yesterday, I listened to an old Don Francisco song, “Balaam.” The lyrics include the line: “So when the Lord starts usin’ you don’t you pay it any mind. He ‘could have used the dog next door if He’d been so inclined.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lbTAaBWmqsM

This year marks my forty-second year serving in various ministries always involving teens. I have been a Psychological Youth counselor, Youth minister, and school teacher. Now I call myself an “author.” I am surprised God has used me at all.

Last year, I made a spiritual goal to use my writing AS ministry. As part of that I gave a speech to a monthly meeting of the Heart of America Christians Writers Network. (HACWN) My topic? “Writing in the Dark.”

I shared that all of my published works came from deeply dark times in my life. I encouraged the attendees to also embrace the darkness—find God there—and share that with others.

I opened my heart and bled profusely before the crowded room. I talked about the time I forgave my alcoholic father, where the idea for my novel came from, how my wife died, and other tragedies that have been turned into stories in print. Only God knows how those things were used to comfort or encourage others in their dark times.

Then, I was asked to repeat the speech at HACWN’s yearly writer’s conference. And again at the American Christian Fiction Writer’s monthly writer’s meeting in Kansas City. I gave it my all hoping that it would affect writer’s lives for God. I felt like Balaam’s—uh—dog.

Surprisingly, I am privileged to repeat the talk at this year’s HACWN conference. Apparently they like to watch me bleed.

Unfortunately, we experience darkness in our own lives, in the lives of family, and friends and wonder how we even survive.  Each unexpected turn of events has a profound effect on our writing lives and our faith. We have asked the same question, “Where is God in the dark?”

Yet, as writers, we somewhere find the courage to pick up a pen or our computer and write stories of conflict, loss, and love with a hope of shedding God’s light in a dark world. It is in the storms, hardships, trials, and losses that we find our stories and tell others where God is.

Come hear a message of testimony, encouragement, and writing tips for “Writing in the Dark” from someone who uses his pen as a flashlight in the darkness. Information and registration is found on their website for the HACWN 2016 Conference. Embrace the Call October 20-22, 2016  http://www.hacwn.org/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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