A cold wind blew up Main Street as I walked past Lassen High School. The dimly lite street lamps cast shadows that danced in the wind. Susanville’s streets were clear of ice and snow, yet few cars were out; it was after six o’clock and the few stores in the downtown were closed. People say “they” roll up the sidewalks at six. “They” don’t. But no-one but me would actually walk on them. I’d recently moved to Susanville, transferring from the Klamath National Forest to the Lassen National Forest. I brought little with me when I left Yreka–clothes, a sleeping bag, my hunting rifles. My old Jeep pulled my fourteen-foot travel trailer, which I left just outside of town in a park. The trailer was cramped, cold, and had no bathroom facilities. It would be many months before I’d settle into an apartment and bring furnishing over. I joined a racquetball club just to grab a shower in the morning. Not wanting to waste the money just to shower, I started working out in the weight room and riding a stationary bicycle. And I learned to play racquetball. It was the best thing that had happened in a long while. I lost weight. I felt better.
The next best thing was changing my diet. This was before the “whole food” craze, and organically grown hadn’t been “invented.” I stopped eating meat, started eating brown rice, quit coca cola, and began to cook sensibly.
And I walked. A lot. Walking was good for me. I got to know the town and a lot of the folks living there. Susanville had a lot of characters. I fit right in. There was Crow. We met in a small diner on the east end of town. He lived by the river, in a shack made from cardboard boxes.
“I’ve seen you,” he said. “You walk a lot.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I guess I do.”
From Crow I learned that it was okay to be different, to be a character. And I found living in a trailer was a mansion compared to a cardboard box.
At a gas station I met Bill. Bill had been in seminary.
“I remember,” Bill said, “listening to testimonies by guys who’d done so much, then met Jesus and got saved. I thought it was great, their testimonies. I didn’t have anything to say. I’d been in the church forever.”
Not long afterward, Bill prayed for his own testimony. And Bill’s wife said a few days later that she didn’t think she’d make a good pastor’s wife. She left him, divorced him. The seminary said it didn’t ordain divorced men. He was expelled. When I met Bill, he was married to his third wife, and separated.
Bill and I hung around together, went to a lot of different churches together. Eventually, he was transferred back to his hometown, where he reunited with his wife, and started preaching to people on the streets.
At the racquetball club, I met a woman whose husband had a Wednesday night Bible Study. She invited me. I attended. It was really a home church. Steve was the leader. The church he attended was in another town a ways off. A Calvary Chapel. Calvary Chapels don’t necessarily require a person go to college, go to seminary, get all educated, to preach Jesus. The idea is that a pastor teaches others, who establish their own churches. That’s were Steve was at when I met him.
Susanville’s newest Calvary Chapel was off to a great start. We found space to hold Sunday services in an auditorium at the community college. And people came. Steve was the pastor. I helped out doing a little teaching, some evangelist work. I was young. I’d been raised in a traditional church were people went to Sunday service and that was it. Calvary Chapel was different. A family, of sorts, that hung out together between Sundays. We said we were “On Fire For Jesus!” We even made short radio programs, thirty second spots broadcast a few times a day.
One evening, I was standing in an arched doorway of Steve’s house that led from the kitchen to the living room. It was an evening, home, service. Steve’s wife, Laureen, played guitar, and the group were singing praise songs. I thought that this was so incredible, but that it wouldn’t always be this way. Everything changes as churches grow.
A scripture popped out at me during a Bible study. I wrote it down and showed it to Steve. I didn’t understand it, and I wanted to understand it. He laughed. That’s as far as it went.
How the gold has grown dim, how the pure gold is changed! The holy stones lie scattered at the head of every street. (Lamentations 4:1)
A couple years went by, the original folks from the home church moved on. And so did Steve and Laureen. Eventually they divorced. I only know what happened to one other person from those days. She went back to the Bay Area, and eventually into mission work overseas, where she met and married a pastor. They now run a medical and evangelistic organization ministering worldwide.
And me. I know what happened to me. I wandered around. Did a little preaching. Did a little learning. Did a little of other things for which I’d later be forgiven. And I leaned that sometimes things grow dim that were once on fire. I learned what it meant to be tarnished gold. What it means to be tarnished gold. I’m still a work in progress. And though the polish is rough, abrasive, I’m beginning to shine
Read another post in which I explore the idea of “Tarnished Gold.”
L-RD Bless, Keep, Shine. . .