In my spiritual journey, I have had many mountaintop experiences…..and just like everyone else, many times were spent in the valleys of life. And while we might thoroughly enjoy and seek out those mountaintop experiences, if you count the number of days we spend on top of a mountain, those days pale in comparison to those days we don’t spend on top of the mountain. That is not to say that we necessarily are in the valley — it is just meant to point out that you are either #1) on top of a mountain or #2) in a valley or on your way to or from the mountaintop. #2 is where we spend most of our lives.

I have several posts brewing that highlight certain times of revelation, growth, challenge, struggle, or mountaintop. Some people call these “testimonies”. I call them God’s fingerprints on my life.

For background and foundation, I was raised in a very Lutheran-centric home. My grandfather was a Lutheran pastor. My great-grandparents were Lutheran missionaries to China (where my full Norwegian, white-bread grandmother was born). I attended Lutheran parochial schools as well as college. One of my first memories was singing “Jesus Loves Me” in Sunday School and with my grandma — it was her favorite song. Another early memory was my grandma teaching me the Lord’s Prayer and me having to recite it by memory. I remember the extreme pleasure when I could recite it back to her when I was 7 or 8 years old. So I know doctrine and I know being Lutheran.

However, I did not “feel” Jesus until I was about 10 or 11 years old. Here is that story.

My neighborhood friends and I really liked our bikes. We rode them all over the neighborhood and beyond. They were not only our transportation, but they were also tools.

Tools for status. My friend Freddy had the nicest Redline BMX bike I had ever seen. Other friends had Mongoose bikes. My BMX bike didn’t have a brand because it was cobbled together. I scavenged the frame somewhere and painted it maroon. A friend gave me a pair of cool gold colored BMX forks. The rims were anodized blue. Together it looked more Franken-bike but it was steps above the K-Mart Huffy that kids had pinned as the basement floor of approval.

Tools for respect. Our BMX bikes allowed us the opportunity to gain skills and earn the respect of our peers. We did this through minor accomplishments like bunny hopping curbs, pitching out to crush cans, or most frequently by setting up a street ramp and seeing who could get the most air and land the farthest. I still remember the day when the pothead high schooler up the hill saw our ramp on his way to somewhere and said “Hey little kids, get out of the way. Here I come!”. As he careened his ten speed bike down the hill he probably hit that ramp at 20mph or so and took off like an eagle. We were saucer-eyed as he vaulted past all of our best marks still pointed heaven-ward. However, what goes up must come down. And ten speeds weren’t made for that stunt. He easily doubled our best jumps but landed in a crumpled mess heap way down the hill. His back tire immediately taco-ed and the rest just collapsed and he tumbled in a bloodied mess of flesh and metal. We were speechless and silent thinking he may be dead. He got up and said “Wooh, I taco-ed my bike dudes”. He proceeded to get up collect his bike and head up the hill home. I don’t think the pain hit him because he was so stoned.

Tools for freedom. Our bikes were transportation, not only to school, but to the world beyond. This was still the time where kids would be out “until the street lights came on”. We took full advantage going to the drug store for dime candy, hitting the many rogue dirt tracks, and frequenting video arcades. It was during these times where I picked up a bad habit. I stole.

The targets of my sin were not the candy from the drugstore nor the blips and beeps of the video games. My error was much less insidious, much more mundane, much less evil than any of those. Which made a perfect trap for this little church boy to fall into. I stole chrome caps off car tires. You’re thinking “What?” because you either don’t know what chrome caps are or you are thinking that it is such a minor offense. Well, first off, stealing is stealing so let’s get that out of the way. Whether it is money, candy, or chrome caps, if it belongs to someone else and you take it, you are a thief. I was a thief. I stole the little chrome caps that screw on top of the air valve on a vehicle’s tire. And so did my buddies. We adorned our bikes with them and were always on the lookout for better ones, nicer ones, shinier ones. The thing is you can only put two on your bike at a time. And I had dozens all stored away in little plastic 35mm film containers. Chrome caps had become my proverbial potato chip. I couldn’t eat just one.

Having been raised knowing right and wrong, I knew what I was doing wasn’t right. At first it started with my buddies and I would join in. We used to skateboard across a parking lot scouting the cool vehicles for caps. We looked for Camaros, Corvettes, Cadillacs, and Mustangs. Those were usually guarantees. Once we spotted a vehicle, we would then skateboard by it and pretend to fall. While down, we would quickly remove the chrome caps from that side of the car and move on. Later, however, I would be scouting on my own and collecting caps alone — absent was the peer pressure…..but I did it anyway. And it was wrong. But at that point I was powerless to make any changes.

It was at this point that I was in my sin, doing something wrong, and unable to stop it. In my prayers, I finally reached out to Jesus to help me; to keep me from doing wrong; to keep me from stealing something of someone else’s that I clearly did not need. Even though I knew right from wrong I could not stop and I knew I needed Jesus to help me. And then, that was it. I went out and “sinned no more”. I mean, I did have a little temptation here and there but once I said that prayer of repentance and seeking help, I was able to walk the straight path. And I knew Jesus was with me. I could feel Him with me.

And that is the first time this “raised in the church” boy felt the reality of Jesus. He was no longer words to a song or doctrine or a famous historic figure or someone the pastor spoke about. He was real!

…..Dan at aslowerpace dot net