STRAW­BERRY FIELDS FOR­EVER

Activated - - NEWS - By Cur­tis Peter van Gorder

It is said that our life hinges on four main de­ci­sions that lead us to be­come what we are: the ca­reer we choose, whom we marry, the friends we make, and what we be­lieve in. I would say that what we be­lieve in is the most im­por­tant of the four, as that will largely de­ter­mine what hap­pens with the other three.

Each one of us likely has a story of some piv­otal mo­ment that helped shape our be­lief sys­tem. These ex­pe­ri­ences are part of what is known as our tes­ti­mony. Our life story speaks vol­umes. It tells the lis­tener that if it hap­pened to us, then it just might work for them. You can read how Paul told his story in Acts 22. Per­haps your story is still in the mak­ing. Here is mine:

I was 19 when I de­cided to spend the sum­mer on my fam­ily’s aban­doned farm out in the mid­dle of the Penn­syl­va­nia wilder­ness in Amer­ica. It could hardly be called a farm any­more. Only the shells of a few build­ings re­mained. Forty years ear­lier it had been a bustling farm for my fa­ther and his fam­ily of seven rowdy broth­ers and sis­ters, but a trac­tor that was strip-min­ing in the area ran over a fuel line that ig­nited, re­duc­ing the house to ashes. No one both­ered re­build­ing the house, and the sur­round­ing prop­erty re­verted back to its nat­u­ral wild state. Away from ev­ery­thing and ev­ery­body, it was the per­fect dis­trac­tion-free place to chart the path for my fu­ture. Nineteen can be a piv­otal age and a time many make im­por­tant cross­roads-type de­ci­sions—and so it was with me.

My dog and I lived for six weeks in com­plete sim­plic­ity. Tak­ing long walks through the for­est, swim­ming in the river, med­i­tat­ing, and writ­ing po­etry. I lived on wild straw­ber­ries, gra­nola, and soy­beans. I nick­named this place my “Straw­berry Fields For­ever” af­ter the pop­u­lar Bea­t­les’ song that ro­man­ti­cized an idyl­lic eter­nal world that I hoped to find in this nat­u­ral sim­plic­ity.

At the time, I sought to ex­press my­self by writ­ing in the “stream of con­scious­ness” style, and my pho­tog­ra­phy was equally as con­fus­ing. Some friends and I had put to­gether an ex­hi­bi­tion of our “art,” which we had dubbed “Weirdism” in the hopes of start­ing a new art move­ment. It

was short-lived, though, as we found our ex­hi­bi­tion in the trash the next morn­ing. The jan­i­tor had mis­taken it for garbage.

At this time in my life, I was tak­ing LSD and mar­i­juana oc­ca­sion­ally, and it was mess­ing my head up badly, giv­ing me a very dis­torted sense of re­al­ity. All of this was hap­pen­ing against the back­ground of the tur­bu­lent ‘70s, with the Viet­nam War, race ri­ots, the civil rights strug­gle, and a na­tion of search­ing youth all thrown into the mix. I longed to find a sim­ple life to re­con­nect with na­ture and try to find my spir­i­tual roots.

I thought per­haps I could find it in Zen archery. I was in awe of the great masters that I had read about, who could shoot an ar­row and hit the bull’s eye, then with the sec­ond ar­row split the first ar­row in half. I tried and tried to hit the bull’s eye, but I spent most of my time search­ing for the arrows. It would take me a few life­times to mas­ter this art, I fig­ured. Now I knew why the masters were al­ways pic­tured with long beards and bald heads—it took them that long to learn to shoot straight. But I was in a hurry to find en­light­en­ment.

I longed for a “some­where” and a sense of com­mu­nity rather than the heaven of “noth­ing­ness” that some creeds promised. So even though I found a mea­sure of peace by liv­ing a semi-her­mit’s life, I re­al­ized that the peace I found in na­ture was only tem­po­rary. I needed to find a more last­ing peace when I was con­fronted by the harsh re­al­i­ties of ev­ery­day life—a peace that was not de­pen­dent on ex­ter­nal cir­cum­stances, some­one or some­thing that could still the tem­pes­tu­ous waves of life. I had gone to church oc­ca­sion­ally and was a nom­i­nal be­liever, but didn’t have much of a heart­felt un­der­stand­ing of what Chris­tian­ity was all about or how it ap­plied to me.

It was then that my sis­ter told me about Je­sus. I dis­cov­ered that Je­sus was much more than tra­di­tions and rit­u­als. He was the man who lived the per­fect “sim­ple life,” go­ing ev­ery­where do­ing good. He not only talked about love, but gave His life for it. In the con­text of that time, He was the per­fect “flower child” with­out the bum­mers of drugs and all the other hang-ups I had ex­pe­ri­enced.

Do you want to get to know Je­sus too? He loves you and wants to spend eter­nity with you if you’ll just in­vite Him to. Dear Je­sus, please come into my life and give me Your peace and pur­pose and joy. For­give me for the wrong things I’ve done. Help me to stay by Your side al­ways. Amen.

I asked Him into my heart, and a seed was sown that grew and grew as I wa­tered it with His Word, prayer, and shar­ing my faith with oth­ers.

A few months later while on va­ca­tion in Canada, I waded into a lake and cut my feet on the sharp rocks in the shal­lows. As I lay on the shore try­ing to nurse my wounds, I looked up at the turquoise sky. Be­ing on the verge of a life-chang­ing de­ci­sion, I won­dered if this in­ci­dent had some sig­nif­i­cance for me, so I asked God to speak to me about what had hap­pened.

It came not in au­di­ble words, but via what the Bi­ble calls “a still small voice” to the heart. It said, Jump

1 in all the way, or stay on the shore. But if you wade in, you’ll get cut. I knew this meant that I was to go ahead and make my de­ci­sion with bold­ness, do­ing what I knew to be right and not wor­ry­ing about the con­se­quences.

I took the jump and de­cided to de­vote my life to serv­ing God in many ways and in many lands, and here I am some 40 years later, glad I did. Proverbs says, “The Lord will be your con­fi­dence, and will keep your foot from be­ing caught.” He has

2 cer­tainly done that in my life many times.

It was in Je­sus that I found the peace of mind that I was look­ing for. Not in run­ning away from the world, but be­ing in the world, yet not fully of the world. Sure, we some­times need quiet and to get away from it all—even Je­sus had to leave the mul­ti­tude to get alone and talk with His Fa­ther. But we shouldn’t for­get that there is a world out there, in need of that peace that we have re­ceived from Him—the peace that passes all un­der­stand­ing.

3 Look­ing back on my cross­roads de­ci­sion, I can say that I have no re­grets. Je­sus is the truth and the way to life. He has led me to green pas­tures be­side still, clear moun­tain wa­ters.

4

1. 1 Kings 19:12 2. Proverbs 3:26 3. See Philip­pi­ans 4:7. 4. See Psalm 23:2. 5. http://elixir­mime.com

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