A Love Story - Gary Lisle
This is a story of salvation that to my mind best exemplifies God's unconditional love for us and how sending us His son over 2000 years ago, shows how much He loves us.
The fourth Sunday of Advent is when we light the candle of love. Why is love so important? By Jesus's time the Jews had accumulated something like 613 rules or laws to govern their lives, and most had nothing to do with love. Jesus said that all of the commandments were given for two simple reasons - to help us love God and love others as we should. I know that I often fall short of this but God never does and I want to share with you how He has worked in my life, even when I didn't have that personal relationship with Him that he so desires.
I was born in Brighton, Ontario, midway between Toronto and Kingston and spent the first 19 years of my life there. My parents made sure I went to Sunday school regularly and brought me up with good biblical principals and values, mainly because it was the thing to do at that time.
I lost my mother to cancer when I was 13. The night she died I remember coming home and going to my room quietly as my mother and father sat in the living room. As I walked by, I recall my mother asking my father, "Who is that Jack?" He told her that it was her son, Gary. For a thirteen year old boy that was hard to deal with, his own mother not knowing him, and so I didn't deal with it, but rather carried that hurt with me for a long time. My method of coping involved immersing myself in sports, particularly hockey, and spending time drinking with my friends. ( I didn't realize at the time that it was the cancer destroying my mothers memories)
Soon my father would remarry and I didn't feel that I was a part of his life anymore either. I was alone, ( at least that is what I thought. ) I left home at the age of 17 and went to live with my brother. He and his wife were very good to me, but hockey and booze were almost my entire life for the next few years.
After highschool at East Northumberland Secondary School in Brighton, I went off to university at Queen's in Kingston to begin a degree in Physical and Health Education on route to becoming a teacher. ( I have no idea how I managed to get into Queens with my average of about 60% and the cut-off was about 85%. BUT God knows. )You see, from the time I was in about grade 7 I knew I wanted to teach. After one year, my path changed for two years when I went to Europe to play hockey. This was certainly a wonderful experience and I learned a lot about myself and got to see a lot of countries of Europe, but the life style remained pretty much the same. - hockey and partying!!!!!
I returned to Queen's in 1973 and soon after met my wife Maureen who was teaching at the university at the time. In fact I was in a couple of her classes.
In 1975, we were married and the next year, after I graduated, we came to Wingham. Maureen taught at F.E. Madill while I attended teachers college in London.
My teaching career started in 1977, the year our first child, Julie was born. All this time we tried to remain very active in the community including in our church. We made certain that our kids went to Sunday School and often tried to attend the worship service. We wanted our children, Julie, Mary, Janet, and David to grow up with the good biblical values we had been exposed to.
To many, our family looked like many families that seemed 'on track'. We valued honesty and hard work. We did things together - like holidays and walks and picnics and track practices. We loved one another. We valued the morals taught by the church. I thought I was finally headed in the right direction and that things couldn't get any better, but I would learn that the most important thing in my life was missing. The way I dealt with life's stresses was with alcohol or putting all my energy into my work because at this point in my life there was no real relationship with God. As a dear friend once said, it would probably take a miracle to get Gary Lisle to have a personal relationship with God. Fortunately, God's love is unconditional and He is great at delivering such miracles.
Speaking of miracles:
There was this newly converted hippie who was reading the Bible while waiting for the bus and every now and then he would exclaim, "Alleluia, Praise the Lord, Amen" and on and on as he read on. A skeptic (could have been me) heard him and came and asked what he was reading.
He answered, (Exodus 14: 21 - 28)" I am reading how God parted the Red Sea and let the Israelites go through - that's a miracle!"
The skeptic explained, " Don't believe everything the Bible tells you. The truth of the matter is that the water was really only 6 inches deep - so you see, it really wasn't a miracle.
The hippie nodded in disappointment but kept on reading as the skeptic was walking away feeling proud that he had set the hippie straight. All of a sudden the skeptic heard the hippie let out a big "Alleluia, Praise the Lord". At this the skeptic came back to him and asked, "What is it this time?"
The hippie said excitedly in one breath, "This one is a real miracle. God drowned the whole Egyptian army in just 6 inches of water."
Although it didn't feel like it at the time my miracle began in the fall of 1990, after a 40 day trip to the west. I was preparing to return to school. For the first time in my teaching career, I had difficulty even thinking about returning to work. Teaching has never really been a chore for me. I enjoyed my students and the challenge of helping them reach their potential. I loved what I did and loved kids. But that fall, I sat at my desk the week before school and drew a complete blank.
For 2 hours I sat at my desk and accomplished absolutely nothing. I just sat there and starred at the blackboard.
By the time the first week of classes had started, I knew I was not well. I cried a lot ( a sure sign that something was wrong because I NEVER cried. I don't remember even crying at my mother's funeral) and couldn't focus on any task. I felt sick all the time and firmly believed that there was something physically wrong with me so I made numerous trips to the doctors- I even went to one of my doctor's homes one evening. I had almost every test that was available but they didn't find anything.
You see, I was a victim of Depression but I didn't realize it, nor did I want to admit it. After all, mental illness was a sign of weakness in our society and I didn't want to be considered flawed and weak. I had been able to mask this for years with the alcohol but the problem only mushroomed.
'The darkness of depression formed a deep, ugly pit that became a prison of paralyzing fear and indescribable loneliness.'
Did you know that depression is an illness that affects one out of three people in the world today and that it is America's number one health problem.
Some say that depression is a spiritual battle, while others claim that it is simply physical and/or emotional. I know that it is all of these things and affects every part of life.
Physically and emotionally I wanted to be isolated, yet I feared being alone. I didn't want to see anybody or talk to anybody but I needed someone in the family close at hand. My whole life seemed to be wrapped in self pity. I can remember looking out the window waiting for one of the kids to get home from school and I can remember weeping uncontrollably in my daughter Julie's arms - she was about 13 at the time.
But, God saw my struggle and as His child, He turned to me with love and healing in His Hands. His messengers started to arrive at my door with words of encouragement, Godly prayer, and Biblical wisdom.
As I began to read the Bible, the words that had seemed so dull and lifeless came alive and had special meaning. I was beginning to feel the touch of God.
It was at this time that our 2nd daughter Mary, who was 11 at the time, began her writing of Christian poetry. Again, God's timing and an unexpected blessing. Mary, you see, was the child in our family who kept us on our toes. The rest of the family tell me she is like me, strong-willed, independent, and assertive. So God, in His great wisdom, chose Mary to write some beautiful Christian poetry right at that point in my life. The messages she wrote were a gift from God. The themes were biblical and often contained scripture that she had never been exposed to.
Mary filled a whole book with these poems. Looking back from the vantage point I now have, I can see that God was also preparing Mary for a giant struggle in her own life.
By this point I had been off work for about 3 weeks and my therapist suggested that it was time to return to school half time so I went to work in the morning and spent the afternoon at home resting.
One afternoon, Nov. 5th, 1990, I was lying on our couch drained after a morning of teaching. One of God's messengers had brought by a small paperback book called 'Power to Love'. As I was reading, it was as if the words in the book were jumping off the page at me; They read:
'Fear not my son, I am with you.'
You see. Fear had an icy grip on me most of my life. It probably started when my mother died and went to another level when my father re-married. I had felt alone and abandoned for all those years. But now, it was as if God's gentle and fatherly hand was on my shoulder saying - "You don't need to be afraid anymore ... I will be your companion and helper wherever you go."
In Isaiah Chapter 41 verse 10, he says,
" I have chosen you and have not rejected you.
So do not fear, for I am with you.
Do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."
As I prayed the prayer of salvation from the book it was like time stood still. It was a transforming moment frozen in time, and I had never felt like that before. I sensed that God was talking directly to me. I was overwhelmed ... so overwhelmed I cried and cried ... but this
was not a sad cry ... these were tears of joy. It was like a train had been lifted off my back and the healing was instantaneous. I felt washed and cleaned by that Holy moment of giving myself to the Lord. My real healing began at this point but the miracle doesn't end here.
I have been back through that book 'Power to Love' many times but I have never been able to find the words or the bold script that I saw that day when I dedicated myself to Christ. But something very special happened that day. God wrote those words specifically for me and my life will never be the same. I began a journey with the Lord as my Guide. I still stumble a lot but God is always there to pick me up and get me going again.
We have had more than a few rough roads to travel in the past years. Our daughters Mary and Janet went through a very difficult time fighting the demons of an eating disorder called Anorexia. We are so pleased that they have recovered and have both gone on to professions in the medical field. I have to remind myself often that God promises a safe landing, not a calm passage.
I cannot imagine how parents can manage to bring up children today with all the challenges, trials, and tribulations that they face in today's world without faith and the love of God. There is no more precious possession anyone could hold than a child.
I have come to understand now, that God could take away our pain very easily but He wants US to GIVE IT UP.
I also have come to realize that God could take away suffering in the world but suffering draws us apart from worldly cares and brings us closer to Him. He wants us to call on Him to be our strength. I am still learning these valuable lessons and will continue to learn just as a child learns with each new experience.
Our family continues to grow as we have two son-in-laws, Dave and Eric and a wonderful daughter-in-law, Alison. They are certainly an answer to prayer, something we knew nothing about 20 years ago. And this year on October 15th, God gave us a beautiful grand-daughter to be a part of our lives.
I thank God every day for what He has done and continues to do for me and my family. I try to remember that He is on duty 24 hours a day 7 days a week. He loves us dearly and will love us every day until eternity.
May God bless each and every one of you as He has blessed me and my family.