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PERSONAL TESTIMONY

October 9, 2010

-original essay from 1997, updated fall of 2010-

 

Purgatory, PLR '92

“For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.” –Jesus Christ, Matthew 25:29

Jesus tells us a parable of a businessman who goes on journey and leaves three of his servants in charge of his finances. To one he entrusts five talents, the next two talents, and the last one talent (a talent is a large sum of money). The first two servants invested the money and doubled their profits. The last one, afraid of losing his talent, buried it in an effort to safe-keep it. When their boss returned, he praised the first two, and rebuked the last, calling him a wicked and lazy servant, before he stripped him of everything that had been entrusted to him. There is much we can learn from this parable, and I believe Jesus’ teaching goes beyond the “use it or lose it” theory; however, I am living proof that if you don’t purposefully practice your God given talents they could get buried deep under dirty diapers, unpaid bills, and empty excuses for lack of romance in a marriage. Still, ever since my new birth, I have had a passion in my heart to live a redeemed life to its fullest and to complete the work the Lord started in me before I even knew him.

By my sophomore year in high school, I was already misled by my personal interest in herb gardening and certain rock-n-roll prophets. My interest in a free education had sputtered out like a rusted old Chevy that ceased to experience any fresh lube job in a number of years. When I wasn’t staring out the windows or drawing in class, I wrote lyrics for a nonexistent band of mine. One day, in a study hall, someone who had a desire to do something with her life read my lyrics and said that I wrote good poetry.

“Poetry?” I barked back. “This isn’t poetry. This is rock-n-roll!”

She told me about this new English teacher who was taking over the Literary Magazine for the school. Understanding that I’d never be the rock-n-roll hero I fantasized about, I headed over to this new English teacher’s classroom. Standing in the doorway was an attractive girl who must have been a senior; long curled black hair, big brown eyes, dressed in hippie garb that somehow was contemporary. Though she was as short as most of the freshmen, she had a self-confidence that made me feel like I was looking up at her. I asked her if this was Vivian Branton’s English class.

“Yep,” she replied. “That’s me.”

Over the next two years, I found someone who I could put my confidence in. She was someone who showed me my talents and taught me how to build upon them rather than just disdain me as a foolish dreamer who would end up as a garbage man or a custodian somewhere. She taught her students to desire life, to search for truth, and she urged us to grasp our abilities and express our truths in whatever niche we had in this world. She put proof in her confidence in my talents when she asked me to be editor of the school’s Literary Magazine my junior and senior years. I accepted. By the end of my senior year, I decided I wanted to reach and encourage future kids the same way she reached us. I decided I really was smart enough for college. I set out to build up my credit level through University of Delaware’s continuing education program. Fifteen credits and one year later I became a full time matriculated student.

However, during that year my search for truth and a good friend of mine led me to the Bible. I have always had a firm belief in God; this world is too beautiful and exquisite to just be an accident, but after much reading and many late night conversations at Denny’s, my friend had convinced me that the God of the Bible was the One who is the Creator. I tried to follow His guidelines for morality as best as I could, but I had no idea of the power of life behind the Truth that I was reading. My desire to follow the teachings of Jesus came out of a philosophical and intellectual decision; it was not a commitment of the heart. Little, if anything, in my life had changed.

One evening this same friend invited me to a Christian rock show. I was overwhelmed by full time college and almost full time employment and the strong influence to be socially acceptable in this new environment. I went expecting to just get a break from all the pressure I was under, but God had bigger plans for me that night. The show turned out to be a guy named Larry Norman, a long haired hippie from the seventies. It was just him and his acoustic guitar in some dive-bar outside of Baltimore. It was perfect. Everything he said and sang about was straightforward and it made sense. I prided myself on thinking deeply and being philosophical about everything, but he never went there. “The Gospel is simple, but people try to make it complicated.” He said in between songs. “The truth is, if you are honest with yourself, you are a mess. You need a Savior. God’s Savior is Jesus. He died for you to clean up your mess. His resurrection is proof that he is the Son of God. Paul says ‘We preached Christ crucified,’ and that is what brought power and change to his followers.” It was exactly what I needed to hear. I loved to debate the deep matters of the Bible, all the “what ifs”, and eventually I became convinced Christianity made the most sense, but I had never given my heart, my life, over to Jesus. This was the first time the Gospel sunk down into my heart. Even though I already believed it with my mind, I decided and made a commitment with my heart that night that Jesus Christ of the Bible is LORD: He doesn’t only offer us salvation from eternal death, but true, abundant life is found through Him.

Long Haired Not Fitting In Worldly Outcast Hippie Lookin' Peace Loving Jesus Freak, PLR '92

From that day on, things in my classes were different. I was bombarded with philosophies and ideas that were contrary to my new faith. With conviction in my spirit in almost every aspect of my lifestyle, I was unable to make a mature balance between my studies and my dedication to my Savior. I decided to keep things simple and withdraw from classes only until I matured in my walk with the Lord. In the meantime, however, I began dating a young Christian single mother. I fell in love with her and her beautiful baby boy. His father was not involved in his life, and earnestly longing for the three of us to be a family, we got married. I loved them, more than myself, so I put my dreams on the shelf.

I was able to find a job working construction for a small outfit that focused on residential repairs and remodeling. While the training in such a variety of trades was great, it seemed that no matter how much skill I picked up, my pay hardly ever went up, and there were no medical benefits. During this time I became involved with my church’s junior high youth group, and I was content for quite a few years. After a while, my desire to get an education and become teacher bubbled up again. It occurred to me that if I got a job at the University of Delaware, I could take classes there for free. However, all my construction experience was in too many different trades. I was no expert in any one trade, so I did not have enough experience to even be considered. The only job they offered me in their facilities department was at the bottom, a custodial position. Unable to humble myself, I ignored the nagging thought to go back to school.

It wasn’t long, however, before my wife reported to me that she was late, and likely pregnant. After much rejoicing, I realized I needed to pay for this whole experience. God quickly reminded me not only did the university offer free classes to employees, but they also provided great benefits. Surprisingly to me, I did not have to take that much of a drop in pay. After the birth of my second son, I began to get the ball rolling on my education again, but it was also around that time that my marriage began to fall apart. I took classes for a few years, but eventually quit again to focus on my marriage. My ex-wife had lost her faith in God, and at one point she declared to me that there was nothing that could save our marriage. She moved out of the trailer we lived in, and took our kids to her mother’s. She had left us deep in debt, and I pretty much accepted that finishing school was impossible. I was tired of scrubbing toilets for a living (but God did many good things for my character during that time), and I began looking for a better career move. However, God created each of us for a specific purpose, and He even designs the pure desires of our hearts. As we choose to follow Him in our imperfect faith, He is faithful to follow through with granting those desires even when we give up on them. When we don’t have the faith to follow through on our call in life, God will not only make a way, but he often paints us into a corner, and only provides one way out: follow Him in obedience.

Though it has been a long hard road, and I am still walking the path, God has been faithful to bring me though and I am teaching today with a master’s degree. However, my strength as a teacher comes not so much from my studies, but from the many experiences of the twisted path the Lord took me on to get here, and from the inspiration and sustaining power of the Holy Spirit. In reference to His death and resurrection, Jesus said, “unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (The Gospel of John 12:24). In the same way, when we die to ourselves, our sinful nature, we will receive the power to live a righteous and abundant life through Christ, and we will bear much fruit. Because God called me to unearth my talents and invest them despite all the risks, seed sowed long ago has finally begun to sprout and bear fruit. It is my hope that the fruit of my labor is confidence in young minds unsure of themselves, passion in hearts that have fallen asleep, and hope in the eyes of children who may have had none. I seek to be a teacher with integrity; one who is true to his word, one who my students can trust. More than that, I seek to be a father that my own children can lean on in hope because I stand on a rock of faith.

Peter L Richardson

Psalms 57:1, PLR '92

self-portrait, PLR, Autumn 1991

INDIAN STORIES
8/15/91

Ya see, man, I was fallin’ down this deep hole. It was forever. But like a cavern or somethin’. There was, like, Indian stories on the walls, but I couldn’t make them out. I was falling too fast. But suddenly this beautiful girl reached out and grabbed me. She was in her own little cave but she told me she was leaving soon. Her eyes changed colors in the dancing shadows. I was overcome by desire, so I kissed her. I kissed her good and hard. And she let go. I struggled to hold on, but my fingers slipped through the dirt, and as the dirt turned into rock, the rock was too steep, so I gave up. Suddenly, she held my hand again and pulled me up from the ice. She told me to watch myself from now on because she needed me for something and did not want to loose me. I gave her my word I would never leave. Through her I could see happiness, not just satisfaction.

Now, it was dark in that cave, so I wasn’t sure, but I think she was dressed in white. We laughed and played and learned about ourselves through each other. She asked me what the hell I thought I was doing, falling in nothing like that. I couldn’t really answer; I told her I got really bored just hanging around in the dirt. No Indians had left any stories as high up as I was, so I figured I’d check out what else was around. She asked if I thought that was a wise decision. I looked her right in the eyes and firmly said, “Yes.”

She told me she preferred to stay right here where she was in control of things, so I asked why she was leaving. She mumbled something about responsibility and becoming a woman. I wondered what made her think she wasn’t one already. After all, she was the one who helped me become a man. She was the smartest person I’d ever come across, and with that personality, I could not help but to love her… She didn’t understand why and I couldn’t explain. It was just this way. She said she might become a teacher, and I asked her to show me what the Indian stories read and she said she wasn’t sure. I suggested that we learn together. I told her I thought I was a Shaman—or a liar. A comforting voice reassured me I was only a storyteller.

SUNDAY MOURNINGS
9/23/91
5:51 AM

Sunday mornings are Hell. You get no sleep because thoughts of her and last evening stir through your mind forever. So, you lie awake all night damning yourself for loving her because every song on the radio reminds you of some part of the relationship. Until the radio goes out as the music turns to talk shows and church, but you know if you turn off the switch the silence will eat you alive. TV sounds good; flip through has been preachers, another study of the Third Reich, B-rated cable-edited porn until finally some decent cartoons come on. As Wiley E. Coyote descends into nothing, you drift off thinking Mom will come and get you for breakfast soon. Waffles and sausage and a big ole glass of OJ—you can smell it cooking. She’ll put you in your Sunday best and tell you not play until we get home from church to change. But today, there’ll be no time for breakfast, no time for play. We humans have surpassed our Maker; even the Supreme Being takes a rest once a week. No time for that; there’s work to be done!

There is church in Hell. It is much the same as what we have here on Earth. All the hypocrites and dollar worshipers line up the pews to sing backward hymns. As they pass around the money plate, it is their souls they toss away, instead of their pride.

SUNSETS
9/24/91

I saw a sunset the other day that I really dug. The colors were rainbow and the clouds were twisting playfully in the sky, fading in and out of each other. It was like falling in love, everything fresh and new. It freaked me out, this love stuff, and I looked away for maybe a moment, and then the sky was gray. The clouds fought for space battling out their individuality. They sky grew lonely for passion…

Suddenly, a deep red blood poured across the sky and faded to orange. The trees, black against the auburn sky, tossed about in the wind. Time stopped: love forever. Then, the first star appeared in the sky. A full moon appeared on the Eastern horizon to light our path home.

AFTERNOON NAPS
10/22/91

I love to take lazy afternoon naps. Not only are they peaceful and reviving to the body and the mind; they are journeys. When I close my eyes I can be anywhere in space and time I wish. I can be with anyone I wish. I can have her back with me and live the past again. I am a gallant knight on a quest for love or a rock-n-roll star searching for sex and death. I’ve been from mountain tops to the bottom of the sea; man, I’ve been on the moon. I used to ride with Billy the Kid, and once I challenged Robin Hood with the bow and arrow. I’ve made love in the sunsets, sailed the Seven Seas; I’ve discovered new worlds and destroyed the old ones. I’ve predicted the future; I wrote a new history. I’ve seen the world and beyond, man, right out back in my hammock.

LOOSE ENDS
11/3/91

John is leaving for the Marines tomorrow. Last night he said he couldn’t believe we were saying goodbye. I told him there were no goodbyes in this world, only loose ends. He came back with a saying from his grandmother: “There are no goodbyes, only See-You-Laters.” These certainly are words to live by, but I think mine are more truthful. Fate weaves people in and out of our lives. There are only a select few we allow into our soul patterns and when one of those we trust leaves, the pattern becomes broken. With such loose ends the pattern can become unraveled; the more loose ends, the greater the chances of unraveling.

You can control the intricacy of your pattern by the interest you take in life. The people you choose to develop with determines the color; however, because so much of the pattern is made up of everyone else’s threads, we can’t always control it.

I think my pattern may be ugly, chaotic and clumpy. But I’ll miss John. He was one of the strongest threads that helped hold me together.

ROCK-N-ROLL STAR
11/15/91

Man, I’d love to be a rock-n-roll star. Everything I dig wrapped up into one career. You get paid to sing and dance. You get paid to travel and see the world. And everybody loves you! Except the parents who hate you. But it’s much more than that, you see. I’d be a modern day philosopher, a great poet and musician. With every new song I write, I’d be an actor playing a new role for the stage. I’d be the inspiration for a young kid’s dream. I’d be a politician, a shaper of the world. I would represent the good times for those who make it the future. I’d have the power to create love with my ballads: to make babies. But I’d also have the power to destroy weak-minded-souls with the wailing of my down and dirty blues. I could cause all kinds of controversy, and still save the whales.

My ideas would last forever; the possibilities are endless. Ha! I could be a demi-god.

PRAYER
11/19/91

Lord, why don’t you vanquish this demon on my back?
Been weighin’ me down so low, I’m sinkin’ in the past.
Claws grippin’ my eyes, so I can never find my sight.
Blood runs through my nose and mouth, for my breath I have to fight.
Legs wrapped around my arms, so I cannot hold her near.
Pointed tail weaves about my knees so I fall and trip in fear.
Demon’s flyin’ me so low to that fiery eternal hole.
Lord, why don’t you vanquish this demon from my soul.

GATEWAY
11/20/91

The Reference Room in the Morris Library at the University of Delaware is the Gateway to Hell. That is all I have to say for now.

“SCARED TO LIFE”
11/21/91

The worst part about growing up and maturing is realizing you’re not invincible; finding out your time is limited. My dreams aren’t as big as they used to be. I want to do everything there is to do, but I’m afraid I’ll end up alone. I used to think I’d never have time for anything like a wife and family. But now that I’ve come to know what alone is, I think I’d rather die loving someone than to die with a check-list of accomplishments. Did you ever see the movie Robin Hood with Kevin Costner? One way I see myself is this: I always wanted to be Robin Hood, but I’m more like his younger half-brother. The sneaky guy in the inside, hidden by the shadows. I no longer have the need to be a hero. I just want to be a good man, and a good friend.

DESIRE BLUES
11/23/91

play with fire
you’re gonna get burnt
the only thing in this world
I learnt

the sparks are flying
higher and higher
Lord doncha ever
put out my fire

thunder clouds
seed the pouring rain
rain that cleanses my soul
with pain

the floods are rising
higher and higher
Lord woncha teach me
dance with desire

woman’s gone
now my heart’s my own
devil whispers in my ear
alone

the ice is gripping
higher and higher
Lord lovin’s no good
when from a liar

play with fire
you’re gonna get burnt
only thing in this world
I learnt

the flames are rising
higher and higher
Lord woncha teach me
dance with desire

PATIENCE AND FAITH
11/31/91

Oh, the Lord is truly good to me. I basically have three dreams: to love somebody, to see the world, and to be a writer. I had planned on giving up the first two and concentrate on the latter, but I believe I may be able to have all three. I just pray I don’t try to juggle too much and screw everything up. I got me a lot of experience in that department……A lot of intelligent people I know got that way by reading books and watching tv. That’s not for me; I want to go out and collect my knowledge. I want to live! I need money for experience, not for nice big toys. I’m going to make it. No problem.

selections from E110 JOURNAL, Autumn 1991
Peter L Richardson