Ricky and the Radio Station

Early on at the Blackberry Valley Road trailer, circa 1992, I called the phone company and asked them for a new phone number. I wanted an easy number to remember and asked them if they could give me one. I don’t remember the cost, but there was one. I think they said it would cost $25 to pick a number. I couldn’t afford that so I asked them to give me what they could. They gave me 246-0100. That was cool; I was stoked!

They told me that I had be there when they hooked the phone up. I told them I couldn’t do that because I had to be at work and couldn’t get off. I was disappointed. I had no friends, no visitors, no cards, no calls and this was the day before email and Facebook. I was a lonely man who had no one to talk to and for all I knew the world didn’t know I existed. (Read: self-pity)

Fortunately they came up with an alternative plan when they found out I had an answering machine and phone that was unused. They said I could set the answering machine up and turn it on and all they had to do was hook the service up and call the phone I hooked up. This worked and I was glad. They told me the day they would come. Done, cool.

A few days later they came out and hooked me up and when I got home I checked the answering machine and was stunned. I had 18 calls on it. No way! “This was impossible” was my first thought. Bu then I thought, “The world knows I exist!” I began playing the messages back and came to find out the number they gave me was the old number for WSSL Radio Station. I got their old number! What a hoot.

People were calling me from all over the Upstate asking me all kinds of things. They would call early in the morning, during the day, at night and well into the morning. I was having a blast! Okay, I was bored out of my head. This was my new fun. I started answering the phone saying WSL and not WSSL because that was the radio station’s call letters and I didn’t want to get in trouble. There was a little bit of integrity, just a little.

The people would ask me for requests of songs I never heard of, e.g. “Another Tear in Your Beer.” They would call and ask for the weather report or sometimes just to talk. One time a lady called and asked if the Bristol race was going to be a go for the weekend because it looked like rain. I said it was on. She went. Come to find out it rained the race out that weekend. Oops. I also began a contest line for folks to compete for prizes. I’d ask dumb questions like “what color is your refrigerator.” That was hilarious I thought.

Eventually WSSL called me and asked to stop doing this because they were getting complaints. I told them I wasn’t affiliated with them and I could do what I wanted. Okay, I had a bad attitude. They threatened me, but I continued for awhile until it got real old. One “tipsy” lady called around 2AM and I talked to her for two hours and “led her to Christ” whatever that means. It was a bit surreal.

This was an unusual time for me. After awhile it got quite annoying, but for a season it filled in some very large sadness in my life.

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First Year in Greenville

The first year went rather smoothly considering all the changes. We moved across state lines. We lived in an apartment initially and then moved into a larger home. We enrolled the kids into school and/or day care. We both got new jobs. I began going to college at night full-time. We begin working with a guy named Richard Blanchett in a nursing home ministry. It was his last year. We took it over the next year. We met a lot of folks our age. These were our classmates.

Al Helms from Monroe, NC; Randy Smith from Farmville, NC; Eddie Robertson from Hattiesburg, MS; Ken Smith from Thomasville, GA (I think); Bill South; Shannon Harrell; Darrell Wilkins; Rex Wright; Terry Williams; Glenn Jones; Christopher Emory; Bobby VanGiller and many, many more. It was a good group. We had fun. We had a blast. We were young, dumb, zealous and full of love for the Savior. We were fulfilling the call that God had placed on our lives. (I would say it another way today, but that is the way we looked at things back then.) We were living the good times.

At Tabernacle Baptist Bible College there were about 65 of us who enrolled that first semester. There may have been 25 or so who graduated four years later. Some left with a three year degree. Others fell out and went back home or just hung around Greenville. We could never have imagined how our lives were going to change. Rex committed suicide some years later. Jess Rivas died around 40 of some disease. Eddie left the ministry bitter and has floundered in his own way ever since. He, too, was divorced. Terry never gained traction in much any way and is still single and living somewhere in G’ville today. We divorced after my fourth year, separated at the end of our second year. It was hard times. That first year, however, was the best for all of us. We had a blast.

Work went well. The “mom and pop” that hired me sold the business to Alcoa Corporation the first summer and I became an employee with Alcoa Recycling Company after about two months. I heard a rumor of this from the guy I replaced, a fourth year student. They came in and I got a raise and benefits, both of which he did not have. The workload was about the same, though it did increase over the years.

Penny got a job with Liberty Life Insurance Company and has stayed there for 20 years now. She is probably doing okay. She is on her third marriage and may have settled in from her young and restless days. The smoke has cleared and I’m really amazed at what God has done these 20 years. There is no way I could have predicted this. It is way too odd for my simple imagination.

Uprooted

We were off to Greenville to prepare for the ministry. I was excited, but there was more fear. I had prayed a month earlier about a fear of losing my family and not being able to provide for them, but the compelling to go was strong and it seemed like the thing to do and Penny was in favor of doing it. So off to Greenville, South Carolina we went. I moved down in May by myself and began my 5-year Alcoa Recycling Company career, lived in an apartment and Penny came down in July with the kids and we then moved into this very nice house and our life was set. I was in school, working at Alcoa, she found a job with Liberty Life and that was that.

The early days were fun and satisfying and very new to us. We were kids out of our element. Penny’s parents resented the fact that I took their daughter away. They resented it so much that when she left me two years later they came down to her help her move out of our house. They were part of the secret plan to move her out. Even to write these things today sends fear through my body. It was beyond any kind of pain that I had ever experienced. Nevertheless, they were resentful. They thought she was going to move back to NC. She didn’t and never did.

So there we were at #5 Lula Lane in Greenville, SC and my school year had begun. I was fulfilling a dream that I thought would never come to pass. I was going to college. This was an unbelievable experience. I remember sitting in my first year English class and the teacher Richard Hughes began to talk about verbs and asked us what they were. I had no clue. I don’t think I had ever heard of a verb. I was so lost. He said they were action words. This was so foreign to me. It was there when I realized I’d goobered up so many years ago by not taking school seriously. What is a verb? Oh my soul. I’ll never make it through this. I not only did not know what a verb was, but I don’t think I had ever heard the word Valedictorian. And it certainly never crossed my mind that I would be the class Valedictorian four years later. I was, but I’ll save that story for another time.

Our kids stayed at the Tabernacle Day Care and eventually went to Tabernacle school, at least Meredith did. Matthew was too young at that time. Meredith went to K-5 and First Grade before they left home. Matthew was a year away from entering into K-5. We had a fenced in back yard and I played with them often. We climbed trees and hid in the Magnolias. We put a kiddie pool out there and played in it. I pushed them on their tricycles and we threw the ball. It was all I hoped for. We were living the dream.

Ascending

Being the forever obsessive one who was very frustrated because he couldn’t find his niche I fell into many things that seemed at the time to be my ticket out of poverty, anger and frustration and to fulfill the “prophesy” that I was going to be “successful”. I was introduced to Amway, which may have been through an advertisement. I went to Gene Lewis’ houses to see what this business opportunity was all about. We sat in his kitchen as he gave me the plan. I had never heard of it before. I bought the inventory and set-up my own business. I don’t remember if I did that on the night I heard the plan or shortly thereafter. It sounded good. It sounded doable.

We attended weekly meetings and I bought and was given a lot of PMA (positive mental attitude) tapes. These tapes were so awesome. They inspired me as well as the meetings. (They were God-less.) I think he took his down line to Florida for a conference. I can’t remember exactly where it was. I do remember the bus trip however and a bit of the conference. It was a “pump you up kind of thing” and I was pumped. On the way back we had a testimony time in the bus. I got on the mic that was set-up and began to talk. Folks were laughing and really enjoying the little speech. Gene’s wife said she knew something good was going to happen to me and had an idea of what it was, but she would never tell me. I asked her few times, but she would not tell. I think it had something to do with my oration that day, I’m sure of it.

We began attending church at this Southern Baptist church in Monroe. It is where most of the Amway guys went from Gene’s group. Gene was a deacon I think. It seemed to be a good idea. Almost everyone in the Sunday school class were distributors. I remember one time when some visitors came in and we were seeing who would get them to show the plan. I’m sure these guys talked about God and maybe were even believers, but I was not. It was just another context to fulfill my dreams. This was not amazing to me.

We eventually stopped doing Amway. We made no money, bought a lot of product and ran ourselves into nothing real quick. Sometime later I heard of Forever Living Products. It was the same as Amway, but with Aloe Vera products, which had a health twist to what they did. I began drinking Aloe juice. It was horrible, but I reasoned that was a good thing. I was somewhat successful with this program. We moved to the top real quick, made some cash, but not much. I held my own meetings at a YMCA somewhere. I recruited a black lady named Katie Williams. She was fat and poor. See did well in her community and that was good for me. I think her husband grew some hair or something by using the product. She was very good. For some reason we gave up on that as well. We became managers, but seemed like we could do no better.

Beginning of the End

I didn’t know it but my Delaval years were coming to a close. I was doing well, making a lot of money for that time. I was at $10 per hour. It was good. Penny was working in the office and making the same. We were taking it in. We had more than we needed. The 3.42 acres was paid off. The single-wide was paid off. We bought a double-wide and had it nearly paid off. We owed two more years on it. I built a 24 x 24 concrete floor out-building on the back of the property. We both had new cars. I had a van at the time, a cargo van.

I bought two window air conditioning units for the double-wide and was about to go with a heat pump. I had a 116 John Deere riding lawn mower and a full-blooded Siberian Husky. We were on top of the world so to speak. A year before I quit Delaval I got saved and I found my new niche, but didn’t know it at the time. I had no clue that in 18 months I would be living in another town, another state, going to college, walking away from everything that I knew and all the people I knew. I would lose my property, vehicles, double-wide, out-building, tools and everything else that I knew including my family. Today I do not think I own one thing from those years. I’d have to look around the house and see, but I don’t think there is any vestige of anything left.

God transformed me. I was changing by the week. I had an insatiable appetite for the word of God. I read it constantly. I read everything I could get my hands on. I was changing so fast that I didn’t even recognize it. At times I would look up and take assessment and realize I had changed. But for the most part it was not noticeable because I was so busy to do inventory.

It was as though the thing I had been looking for since the 12-year old kid sitting on the bank of Lake Twitty was being fulfilled. It was amazing for me. I had found the secret, the key that unlocked the door. The mystery was unraveled and my course was set. I had no idea how much it would cost me to make these decisions. I’ve often said that if I knew what it would cost I would not have made those decisions. It was a dangerous journey that God placed me on. I was too excited and too simple minded to care about the danger. I was too stupid as well. God veiled some of it from me. Selfish ambition was also propelling me faster than I should have gone. Sin and purity were colliding together and I could not discern the difference. What I knew was I had found the prize and I was not going to be deterred. Fortunately God was keeping me this time because I’ve made enough mistakes to get flung of course too many times. I know I’ve found it now because about 22 years of walking with him only he could keep me. I couldn’t keep myself in anything.

Cigarettes and Jesus

A number of years ago (probably 1988 or ’89) I met a young man who was living a hopeless life. He had relational problems, drug problems, employment problems and financial problems. I saw these problems and recognized them for what they were and I further discerned what the cure would be. He needed a Savior.

I began to tell him about the Savior. He was interested. He was so interested that he accepted my invitation to come to the church meeting. I picked him up. On the way to the meeting he asked me if he could smoke a cigarette in my brand new Buick LeSabre. I told him that he could not. (You see, this was the Lord’s car and I wasn’t going to have it tainted by some unbeliever who craved cigarettes.)

We arrived at the church meeting and as we approached the church building he asked me if he could smoke before he entered in. Because of his persistence and my fear that he would light up inside the building I told him he could and what transpired afterward was one of my most embarrassing moments of my early Christian life.

I stood on the sidewalk of that church building beside my new friend and the only thought I had in my head was what does this look like as my fellow church friends are filing by me and I’m standing here with this pagan who is smoking a cigarette. I was humiliated. I did not want to be seen with him in this context. I didn’t mind talking to him in his world (the trailer park), but not in my world where clean, middle-American, white people lived.

This story may or may not relate to you, I don’t know. But I relate to it and it tethers me to the disciples who, in Mark 10:13-16, are still struggling with the same arrogant, self-important attitude that puts them in direct opposition to the Savior.

The issue several years ago with me was not about my pagan friend or his cigarette smoking. The issue was that I had no clue about what the Savior appreciated and what the Savior was looking at. I was so concerned with my friends and what they thought about me that I could not see the yearning Savior who targets the hearts of people like my pagan friend and has little concern with societal expectations.

Preacher Rick

I went to the altar a crying, balling mess. I was slobbering all over the altar. I do not remember everything I said to God at that moment. I do remember it was pretty much anti-climatic. I had already prayed all I knew to pray days and weeks before. I got up, in tears, and approached “Brother” Gerald and told him that I think God was “calling me into the ministry”. (A Fundamentalist approach to full-time vocational ministry.) He was standing on the platform. My back was turned to the congregation. He told me that I needed to tell the people. He was grinning. I turned around and stood in the pulpit and through blubbering words I told the folks that I think God had called me into the ministry. This was the first time that my wife heard or knew of these developments. Now that is unbelievable to me today…pretty dumb actually.

The place erupted. Folks were grinning from ear to ear. The room was full of enthusiasm. It was a surreal moment. I don’t remember what happened for the rest of the meeting. After most everyone left I was sitting on the altar with Gerald and I asked him what I was supposed to do now. I never even considered the next step. All of my energies were pointed toward that moment of “surrender”, rather than what I would do after that. Gerald told me that I needed to get prepared for the ministry, which meant I needed to consider going to college for training. I was about to go to Greenville, South Carolina. At that time I had never heard of Greenville, South Carolina, even though it was only 135 miles away.

On the way home that night I was going down Olive Branch Road and I asked my wife what she thought about these developments. She said she was glad I “surrendered” because I was making things unbearable at home. I did not know how the pressure of “the call” was hurting our home life.

As we made our way down Olive Branch Road I was compelled to stop by my mother’s home and witness to her. She was not living right and I was concerned for my family. Before we went to our home I stopped by my mother’s house to share the gospel. She told me she had an experience with God some time ago. She said she was standing at the front door and was looking out over the front yard and saw the ground rise up and the sky come down and something happened, the details of which I don’t remember at this point in time. But because of that experience she knew she was a Christian. I did not respond to these statements. Maybe I should have. I went home and pondered all the events of this day in my heart. My life had just changed and I had no idea of what God had in store for me and the costs it would involve.