A Twisted and Surprising Search for Significance

A Twisted and Surprising Search for Significance

Circa 1984 – As noted with the Disappointment with God article, there was no perceptible change in my life after the Lord regenerated me. Prior to salvation, I had tried many things in my short twenty-four years of living. I smoked pot, drank beer, hung out with fun and not so fun people. I planned to make a million dollars by the time I was thirty. I landed in jail at fifteen-years-old.

I went to work when I was twelve—hauling hay and busing tables— and was “self-sufficient” before I became a teen. I moved out and began living with my grandmother at fifteen and was determined to set a different course that would make me happy. I was in search of something better than what I had, but clueless as to what I needed to do.

If someone were to ask me what I was searching for, I could not tell them. Other than I wanted a break, something better, a kinder life. I was determined, disciplined, but had no plan to get out of personal and familial prison. By the time God saved me, I had a wife, two kids, 3.42 acres of land, a double-wide mobile home, a 24 x 24 concrete-floored workshop, a John Deere riding mower and seemingly most anything I wanted.

But I didn’t have a vision; I was living one day at a time. These new things did not bring the peace that I hoped would happen. Maybe I needed to take a risk to be successful, but, again, clueless. Ignorance is not bliss. I tried Amway. That didn’t work. I began selling Aloe Vera, Forever Living Products. That didn’t pan out as well.

Inwardly, I was unhappy. Even though no one was perceptive to my plight. I was secretly frustrated.

Then Came Success

As I remember it, the time was March 1985 when I noticed something coming over me. I was changing inwardly but it was so gradual that I didn’t perceive what was happening. The Lord saved me six months earlier. I was initially disappointed because I couldn’t feel it.

The changes were similar to the growth of a child; you don’t see it happening. And then six months pass, and you see it. I began to experience the “thing” that I had been hoping would happen for so long. It was surprising on two fronts: (1) I didn’t know what I was looking for, and (2) the thing I didn’t realize I was looking for was gradually happening.

For the first time in my life, I was experiencing peace. I was becoming “soul-settled.” It was an incredible experience. I thought “success” meant money or fame. I was wrong. Being successful took an unsuspected turn. Real success is knowing God.

Mercifully, I realized at a relatively young age that what I needed more than anything else was “soul shalom.” I had found it, or it might be more accurate to say that it found me.

He found me.

My First Two Disappointments with God

Our Life My First Two Disappointments with God

1984 – I got up from my bed and looked out the blinds of my bedroom shortly after asking God to save me. I do not know all the reasons I did that. I do remember there was an expectation in my mind that things would be immediately, noticeably different.

I cracked the blinds apart and stared out the window into our front yard. I will never forget what I saw. It was the same thing that I had seen every other time I looked out that window. The trees were the same; the grass was the same; the sky was the same. It was all the same.

This moment after salvation was my first disappointment with God. I honestly expected things to be different—to look differently and to feel differently. Things were not any different than 30 minutes prior. The thought that went through my mind was fireworks in the sky or a marching band parading down Helms Pond Road. I was disappointed.

Though I didn’t know it, I was thinking like a Gnostic. The physical was evil, and the spiritual was superior, and I expected to discern the differences. I did not know that I was going to learn to live out my “spiritual life” in the context of the physical world, and the significant changes and differences would be in my heart and then in my actions. The transformation did not happen in the world but in my heart.

The changes were taking place at that moment, though I did not perceive it. I was slowly, albeit imperceptibly transforming. The Lord was opening, spiritually speaking. No one knew it or could discern it, but the transformation of Rick Thomas was taking place.

Disappointment Number Two

My second disappointment with God came the next day. I was at work, and there was this girl that worked up the line from us. I don’t remember her name. She was in her 20’s, I suppose, and was quite trim and tall. She was not ugly, but on the production line, your perceptions are not the clearest.

Nevertheless, the days she would come back to our area allowed us to gawk at her, make lewd comments, and commit multiple adulteries in our minds. On this particular day, I had the same thoughts and stole the same looks like any other day. But something happened in my heart that I don’t remember ever happening before. I felt a tinge of conviction about the gawk, the lust, the temptation. I was paying attention to my soul like never before. I felt bad. Weird.

There was something dynamic going on in my heart. I was lusting, something I had done for as long as I could remember. There had never been a tinge of guilt or a desire not to do this. The Spirit of God was cluing me in on how things were going to be from that point forward. I was born again. It became clear that I was now in the world, but not of the world.

Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:22-24).

From Running To Biking To Permanent Injury

Circa 1983 – Cycling was my second passion after running. So after my knee blew out on a nine-mile run, I started looking into other ways to exercise. I suppose it was less about working out, and more about getting outside to relieve stress.

My ultimate hope was to run a marathon. I was impressed by Grete Waitz, the Norwegian marathon runner. She ran in a marathon in Charlotte, NC, and I participated in the 5K event. She was one of the few “stars” that I ever met as a youngster. It was a small world back then.

My problem is that when I do something, I overachieve typically, and running was one of those instances. When you mix an overachiever with a lack of instruction, you will have issues. Hence, I blew out my knee.

My most in-depth longing was for someone to appreciate me. So like a pinball bouncing off obstacle after obstacle, I was in search of something with which I could succeed. And though I may “couch my exercise” into a fitness narrative, that was not the whole truth. I had to run farther, longer than anyone, own the best shoes, read the right books, and prepare excessively.

I was on a 9-mile run one day around Olive Branch and Helms Pond Roads—it was a loop. At the 7-mile mark, something happened to my right knee. It was so painful that I thought that I heard it pop. It was excruciating pain. Not to be defeated, I finished the course and ran back to the house. My running days were over.

Shortly after that, some guys at work introduced me to cycling. Cal Pearson and Liston Darby were two biking advocates. I bought a Panasonic bicycle. It was a racing bike, about $350 (I don’t remember.) I also purchased a “fish-eye” computer to go on it. The “tech idols” were tempting me back then, too.

Cycling was a total blast; I was over the moon. My knee could make the movements, and there was no foot pounding on asphalt. It was the perfect exercise. I would get up early and go to Cal’s house, and we would ride with a group of folks from Delaval—the manufacturer where we all worked. We would bike across the county on a Saturday, which was 50 to 60 miles. And then back home by noon. It was so much fun.

I remember one day when I decided to go on a 100-mile trek—such an overachiever. I set my fish-eye and off I went by myself. About 75 miles into the trip, my knee went out. It was the same injury, the same pain, the same stupidity. I knew my “excessive biking career” was over. Just like the running injury, I had to finish the course.

So I rode my bike the remaining 25 miles on a bum knee. I would pedal hard with my left leg, and my right would sort of tag along. That worked fine until I came to a hill that required more “leg teamwork.”

I tapered off intensive training. It was about a year after my bike injury that I became a Christian, which set another trajectory for my life. Interestingly enough, my metabolism was so sped-up that it was another nine months before I began to gain weight. I continued to eat like a runner/biker, and my metabolism took care of it.

Then it didn’t!