I was living a very average, normal American life. I grew up in the central part of lower Michigan; my family were Christmas/Easter Christians. My mother was raised Catholic and my dad was Lutheran, though we were never consistent churchgoers of either faith. There were rare appearances at Vacation Bible School during the summer, a visit to a friend’s or relative’s church, or a funeral, but we had very little knowledge of the Bible or God.
Sports occupied my developing years. I played organized sports most summers through grade school and all year long during junior high and high school. In fact, I was a pretty good football player and really excelled in baseball. Accomplishing goals through teamwork may be one of the most rewarding life skills I ever acquired.
My grades were not the strongest, and coupled with limited family resources, it became apparent that college would probably not be in the plans for me. The possibility of a sports scholarship was on the table early on, but an injury in my junior year of high school put that dream to bed. Life after high school would be a little challenging, but I believed it could work out. My dad had been an hourly factory worker his entire life, and he did fine. So with that mentality I finished high school by giving in to peer pressure and started drinking, smoking, and experimenting with drugs.
Where I came from, drinking alcohol was not only accepted but encouraged. Going out to a bar on your eighteenth birthday to have a beer with your dad was not only an honor but a rite of passage. Social drinking and smoking is still so widespread that many people live for the weekends. Sadly enough, most of those who inherited this lifestyle are empty inside and don’t know anything else.
Life in my mid-20s went pretty well. I had a steady job at a large printing company and made good enough money to consider marrying my steady girlfriend, Karen. I had an older brother who had recently gotten out of the Marines, and a brother and sister three and seven years younger, respectively. My parents were both alive, and we all lived in the same area. We got together to share meals on occasion, and things for the most part were pretty good. Then we received the shock of our lives.
My younger brother had been working out of the country for a number of months and started getting really bad headaches. Shortly after he returned to Michigan, he had a large tumor removed from his brain and was diagnosed with brain cancer. The doctor said they got most of it, but couldn’t get it all. With radiation and chemotherapy he might live six to 12 months. The following days, weeks, and months were tough. I often took Bobby to his treatments. We even lived together for a short time, and I wanted him to be the best man at my wedding.
I remember wishing I had some answers for him. I was his big brother, but I had nothing to offer. So a close friend of mine set up a meeting with a Presbyterian minister to talk about things. When the minister asked Bobby why he thought he got cancer, he replied that God gave him cancer because He had a better job for him to do. The minister agreed that this was a good possibility and left it at that. It sounded comforting, and Bobby seemed to be at peace. All I could do is be supportive. Bobby died September 25, 1983, 20 days before our wedding. He was just 23 years old.
My bride, Karen, and I settled in Edenville, Michigan, where we found a small A-frame home on a lake, not far from our hometown. However, my experience with Bobby began to wear on me. My brother’s idea that God had a better job for him haunted me to the point where I became angry at God. In fact, I wondered if God even existed. And if He did, what kind of God would give people cancer? I had many more questions about other topics, such as heaven and the meaning of life in general. Unfortunately, alcohol, tobacco, and drugs became a bigger part of my therapy as their use became abuse.
The next six years were filled with ups and downs. For the most part, Karen and I were happy, even with some struggles. Karen was concerned about my level of substance abuse, while I denied having a problem. But I was really hurting. I missed my brother and I tried to speak with him, but there was no reply.
Even though I denied God at the time, He was there, and He knew I was hurting. One day, after a late night of work followed by drinking with coworkers, Karen told me we had received a Signs of the Times magazine in the mail. I had no response until she said it came with a card to send in for free Bible studies. She wanted to send it in. I didn’t care.
I made up some work-related excuse so I could miss the first night of studies. Karen said two elderly men came to study with her and left some additional study guides. They would return the following Tuesday, and I reluctantly agreed to be there.
An elderly man came to our door that Tuesday, looking somewhat unkempt with a dirty overcoat, a ripped brown paper bag, and an armful of books. His name was Paul, and he came alone on this second night. He told us he wanted to begin with the book of Daniel, his favorite book of the Bible. Reaching into his brown paper bag, Paul pulled out this statue of a metal man that looked like a child’s toy. Amazingly, this metal man served as a great visual aid as we began reading the book of Daniel together.
Paul gave us a great history lesson that night that grabbed my heart and mind, as he showed us the correlation between the Bible and history. My wife and I were both fascinated and actually looked forward to our next visit, when we’d discuss Daniel 7. After a few weeks Paul invited us to a Revelation Seminar. We agreed to postpone our personal studies to attend the meetings.
I have to admit, some nights I just didn’t want to go. What we thought might be a weeklong commitment turned into several weeks. Working all day, rushing to eat dinner, then making it to the meetings on time was a challenge. But we persevered and learned more about the true character of God and His love for humanity, how He cared so much for each and every person, even me. I felt my heart melting as I learned about what Jesus had done for me, and how the Ten Commandments are like a mirror that shows us sin in our lives. Then I learned about what happens to people when they die. I came to understand that Bobby was not in heaven watching his family suffer, nor was he burning for eternity. Our God is a loving God and a righteous judge.
The next night Karen and I went forward during the altar call! Although we weren’t too sure what the next steps would be, we were willing to go forward. I felt God had taken me light-years ahead of where I had been just a few months before. But I still had to get rid of a lot of baggage. After everything God had done for me, I had to clean myself up. Feeling like a hypocrite and unworthy of the blessings I had been given, I began to purge myself of those bad habits that gripped me.
When I shared with my parents some of the truths we had learned, I didn’t receive a lot of support. They had no knowledge of Seventh-day Adventists, and they thought we were joining some cult. This made things more difficult, as I was already going through so many changes. I knew what my parents wanted, what my wife wanted, and what God wanted. But what did Glen want? Glen wanted to do the right thing. But the devil was busy; he was using those old habits to plant seeds of doubt and unworthiness in my mind.
An elderly man came to our door that Tuesday, looking somewhat unkempt with a dirty overcoat, a ripped brown paper bag, and an armful of books.
After the meetings ended, we did not join the church right away. There were some things we felt we needed to work through first. We were soul searching—with family, friends, Sabbath, and other obstacles to work through. We were convinced, but not fully convicted. My substance abuse issues were still there, though I had done a pretty good job of hiding them from Karen. When she smelled cigarette smoke on me after a weekend ski trip, I came to the realization I had a problem. I confessed that I was still smoking and drinking. I felt ashamed, and committed to quitting once again. But the lies and deception continued.
While driving to work one morning, I reached under the seat for my Ziploc bag of cigarettes and almost drove off the road! As I regained control of the car, I looked at the cigarettes in my hand and felt so hopeless. Tears of sorrow flowed down my face as I cried out to God. He had done so much for me, but I couldn’t do even this for Him? As tears continued to run down my face I asked God to take this habit from me. I couldn’t do it by myself.
And He did! In a matter of seconds my tears of sorrow turned to tears of joy. Something came over me, as if God simply said “OK” and that was it. I felt His peace, and for the first time, I experienced faith. From that instant I completely lost the urge to partake of any of those substances.
Karen and I were baptized two months later in the Seventh-day Adventist church in Edenville, Michigan, June 7, 1990.
I was lost, but the Lord found me, taught me, cleansed me, and healed me. I could go on about how God cleared up my mind, took away my selfishness, gave me compassion for others, and blessed me with an opportunity to serve the church as well. Eternal life came with so much more! What a God! What a message to share with the world!
Glen Gohlke worked at the Review and Herald Publishing Association for 10 years. He now serves the church selling advertising for Adventist Review and Adventist World.