Leaving L’Abri, I hitch-hiked around Europe for a month, visiting some of the people I’d met on the tour . I had some interesting experiences in wild Amsterdam, Scandanavia and driving across rainy Germany in a car without working windshield wipers. Then in mid-December, 1970, I flew back to the States .
Right after Christmas I attended Urbana, the large Intervarsity Missions Conference which is held every three years in Illinois.
I got a seat on a chartered bus from Hartford and ended up sitting next to a linguistics professor named Ralph Goodell. This “chance meeting” began a lifelong friendship with Ralph and his wife Dinah. They were another gift from God and became wise, gentle mentors to me and my family-to-be, giving a fine balance to the other influences in my life.
Urbana itself was a great experience, expanding my vision of the world. I also got to see some of my acquaintances from Europe there, and one of them, a Dutch girl, came back home with me and spent a few days on the farm. Her visit gave my parents a taste of the international friendships the Lord was bringing to me, a foretaste of what was to come.
Following my friend’s departure, I was struggling with the thought of being single the rest of my life. One cold, snowy winter evening I went for a long walk up the road. At the crest of a hill, I stopped and prayed, “Lord I give to you my desire to be married; I am willing to be single all of my life if that’s what you want.” I was following my mentor, Dave Shinen’s advice to tell God what I wanted, and be willing to accept the opposite.
What came next was a surprise: a sense of fear at the thought of getting married. “So,” I thought, “part of my struggle is my hidden fear about what might happen in marriage. This means I’m also clinging to my singleness.”
I turned my thoughts back to God, “Lord, I confess this fear to you and surrender my desire to protect myself by staying single. Whatever you want, marriage or singleness, I will accept.”
In this surrender the Lord took me a step further out of my bondage to fear and selfishness. This was another God sighting, bringing me into a greater degree of freedom.
Fitting back into life on the farm was not easy after having spent time hunting walrus on the Bering Sea and then hunting theological truths with Dr. Schaeffer.
I began working in Dad’s tire shop again, easing into the familiar, going to church and living with my parents. I continued memorizing and meditating on the Word, digging into Scripture, applying what I was learning.
At the same time, the old familiar shadows of depression came creeping out of the past, gathering around me, pushing me down.
That Spring I decided to redo the roof of the old woodshed on my grandfather’s house. I figured to get it done in three or four days, but it took me three weeks. This “failure” to meet my high expectations sent me over the edge into a full-fledged depression.
I began sleeping more and more, until eventually I only got up to eat. The other twenty-three hours of the day I spent in bed.
In the end, my gentle mother said, “I think there’s something wrong with you. You should go see the doctor.” So I got an appointment with our old family physician who put me in the hospital for tests.
After three days he came and sat on the edge of my bed. “Son, looking at these results, I can say that you are physically healthy as a horse. My diagnosis is that your religious ideas don’t line up with everyday life!” He paused, “I’m going to write you a prescription for an anti-depressant. Let’s see how it goes with that.” He handed me the prescription, patted me on the shoulder and left.
I was devastated. Here I’d been witnessing to the doctor and he says my depression comes from my spiritual life? Just at that moment the hospital postman came in the door and handed me an envelope. It was a card from Margarite Simpson, my old Sunday School teacher. On the envelope she had written, “Sorry, this is the only card I had in the house.” It had pink and blue sparkle on the cover, just the right of card for a little old lady, not for a twenty-three year old fellow in depression.
However, as I opened it, I saw that it was exactly the right card for me. Printed at the bottom of the page was a verse: “Taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the man who trusts in Him.” Psalm 34:8.
I let the card fall into my lap and looked off into the distance. With a sigh I said, “OK, Lord, I am going to trust in you. Show me what to do next.”
Picture: the tire shop in our old barn