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

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