It’s “Birthday Week” in the Van Meter household—but in more ways than one. For me, this week includes a spiritual birthday, as it was 34 years ago today that the Lord brought me to Himself, and now for over three decades He has graciously been saving me from my sins. I awoke this morning thinking and rejoicing, “Bless the Lord, O my soul!”
I was raised in a Christian home and was blessed to have been exposed weekly to a faithful gospel-proclaiming local church. I made a profession of faith as a young child and can remember receiving my first Bible (the old Scofield Study Bible) from my grandparents. When asked in the early stages of primary school what I wanted to be when I grew up I said that I wanted to be a preacher. Sadly, towards my middle school years I began to lose zeal for serving the Lord, and by high school I was a very lukewarm church attender. I still faithfully went to church services and would often feel great guilt as I sat under the preaching ministry. Yet by Monday morning the peer pressure was too great for my self-determination to stand.
I was known in many ways as the All-American kid who was a good student, a well-behaved pupil, and a young man who earned an income by doing odd jobs, working as a janitor in a local store on weekends as well as at the movie theatre.
In addition I had been blessed with athletic accomplishments as a long distance runner. I had set some school and course records and my name was often in the newspapers. It was not uncommon for our evening meal to be interrupted by phone calls from athletic coaches of universities asking me if I would consider their program upon matriculation from high school. I even had a letter from a former Olympic gold medallist heaping (undeserved) flattery upon me and inviting me to visit the university where he coached. When I matriculated I received many of the top honours from my school. In a nutshell, I suppose that I had about everything that anyone could want at that stage in life. But, in fact, all of this was everything that I did not need. My “accomplishments” were a continual temptation to self-reliance and to assume that I was lord of my life. Sadly, I was. But what a rotten lord I turned out to be!
When I went to university I soon found out that I was now a small fish in a very big pond. The transition from a high school of seven hundred to a university of thirteen thousand was quite a shock. No longer were my academic accomplishments so impressive. Further, I was now competing in athletics with some world class runners and I found out that I was not one of them!
I was determined to make the grade and so I trained hard. In fact, I trained myself into exhaustion and injury. I was disabled from the team due to a stress fracture in my hip. On top of that, I was struggling in about every other area of my life. The only thing that brightened my week was the weekends. Sundays became the day to recover from the partying the night before. I was a mess.
As my nineteenth birthday was soon to arrive I had made plans with some friends to go “pubbing” on Friday the 13th. But on Wednesday the 11th Jesus Christ changed my life. After several months of discouragement, disillusionment, and perhaps even depression, the Lord brought me to my knees—literally. The Lord in His grace was behind all my disillusionment as the Hound of Heaven pursued me with loving and powerful conviction due to my sins against Him, and against others.
I had known for far too long that I needed to repent and that night I got on my knees by my dorm bed and God graciously forgave me. It felt like a ton had been lifted from my heart. A profound joy overcame me and my initial thought was that I needed to get on the phone and ask forgiveness from my family and friends. I spent hours doing so. They rejoiced with me while some were a bit sceptical thinking that perhaps I had been “captured” by a cult! I think they wanted to say, “Who are you, and what have you done with Doug Van Meter?” In fact, that would not have been a wrong question, for by God’s grace I was indeed a changed man.
On my birthday, my friends and I still got together. They filled up on beers and I drank my Coke while they scratched their heads in confusion. They thought it was “cool” that I had “found religion,” but they were not particularly interested in doing the same. Some of them, years later, were also graciously rescued by the Lord.
A lot of water (and Coke!) has flowed under the bridge since then. The Christian pilgrimage has not been without its struggles, and it has even included some disillusionments and some discouragements. But God’s grace has proven more than sufficient. As in those earlier days, I still run—but a whole lot slower. When I go to a race no one knows me, and I am certainly not a contender. My hip has healed, but as I ran this morning about a dozen other body parts hurt! Yet my heart was happy, for 34 years ago the Lord humbled me and brought me to Himself. Nothing compares to such grace.
I am leaving now to attend a Pastors’ Fraternal to listen to a seasoned pastor share some insights concerning shepherding the flock. What a beautiful irony that, 34 years ago today when I awoke, the absolute furthest thing from my mind was serving the Lord. But when I went to sleep that night my life was on the trajectory that has put me in the ministry now for some 28 years. All I can say in response to God’s immense goodness is, “Bless the Lord, O my soul!”