I Hanged on the Tree with Thee Chapter 4


She Led Me to the Cross Without a Word

When Nancy and I had only been married a couple of years, and Diana had not come along yet, I made a statement to her that bothered her quite a lot.

“Nancy, I have a funny feeling that I will probably die before I’m 38 years old.” Not only did this bother her but she made a comment that if we were married that long, she wouldn’t want to be the one who was left behind. I told her I was glad to hear that, because I thought she was going to die before me. There’s just absolutely nothing better than family getting together and having these wonderful kinds of conversation, don’t you think?

Most of our married life Nancy and I never discussed God or Jesus or religion. She had joined the Lutheran Church because I was a member there, not for any special reason of her own. I remember the two of us sitting around one day close to seventeen years ago, talking about the act of taking communion. The bread was this… and the wine was that… and if you didn’t believe it just the way it was in this church or that church, you were going to die and go to Hell.

I grew up in the Lutheran Church so she was kind of surprised when she asked why our communion doctrine worded itself a certain way and I couldn’t answer her question. Was it wine or was it blood? Well, it looked like wine to me. Was this bread or was this the body of Jesus? I had never seen Jesus. I was taught that He died about 2000 years ago so it must be bread.

Nancy looked at me as though there should have been some better answers coming out of my mouth. All I knew is Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

Sarcasm was the last thing on my mind, I simply found it so hard to believe if we didn’t take communion “just so” we may end up in Hell. If this was the case, then which religion was right? It seemed like a reasonable question to ask.

Well, it was about 1983 when Nancy began to get serious about “religion”. A good friend of hers invited her to a church over near Alvin and she started to go pretty regularly. As a matter of fact she began to get a little ridiculous. If we went out of town, Nancy always wanted to be home Sunday morning so she could attend church. It’s not as though she were doing anything wrong, but she was cutting into “family time” when we could go visit relatives. She kept pretty steadfast in her ways and all I could do was hope that she would eventually calm down and get over it. We even went together on three different occasions.

Without a doubt, the preacher was good but all that baloney about being an ex-alcoholic and smoking like a chimney and all… who did he think he was kidding. Who in the hell does he think is gonna believe this story. Preachers don’t quit all that stuff to be preachers. They just don’t do it to begin with. I figured he had Nancy and most of the rest of the congregation snowed, because in reality… I knew you can’t just quit smoking and I was beginning to wonder if I ever made an attempt to quit drinking… would I be able to quit.

Don’t get me totally wrong here. I grew up in church and I was happy that Nancy was all excited about the Bible. She had a sincere interest in her readings and even asked me questions.

“Did you know this? Did you know that? Listen Dave, did you know this?”

Most everything she asked about I had learned long ago and was kind of surprised that she didn’t know those things. There was something so different though… she needed to know it all now. I mean right now.

When I was young, we had Sunday school studies on Sunday. The only person I knew of that read the Bible during the week was my grandpa. As often as he read it, he should have had it memorized. I just couldn’t understand what was so important.

One day as Nancy was reading she asked if I believed in speaking in tongues.

“Sure, that’s in the Bible somewhere but I don’t have any idea what it is.” If it was in the Bible… I believed it… simple as that.

She explained that it was a gift from God; a language that only God could understand and that she had received that gift a few weeks back, but she was scared to tell me.

I told her that was great and that she should never be afraid to talk to me about these things. Somehow I sensed some truth in what she was saying, or that Nancy believed what she was saying…talking in a language that nobody can understand but God.

That preacher sounds like he knows something, but this time he’s gone a little bit too far. It took a long time but Nancy finally quit going to that church and we began to get back to a more normal lifestyle of country western dancing and drinking and just naturally “raising hell” again.

Sometime during the next few years I woke up in the middle of the night because Nancy was talking on the phone. I couldn’t imagine who could be calling that late at night but I dismissed it and quickly tried to go back to sleep. Her talking kept me awake and I put my glasses on to see what time it was. There was enough light shining in through our window to see that the telephone was hung up.

Nancy was talking in her sleep. I had never heard anyone talk in their sleep before and I couldn’t understand her at all without my hearing aid. After easing out of bed and locating my aid on the dresser, I put it on and listened. I thought it might be fun to hear whatever she was saying.

It sounded like a bunch of gibberish to me. I couldn’t understand her at all. I eased around the bed and got right in front of her to try and read lips and hear at the same time. I was within a foot of her face listening to a crystal clear foreign language that Nancy didn’t even know. Right then she woke up and scared us both half to death.

She definitely wanted to know what I was doing, and as I tried to explain, she began to laugh. She explained that she prayed in tongues almost every night before she went to bed since she received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Nancy usually did this after I started snoring so she wouldn’t bother me. She didn’t have to say anything else about it. I heard all this with my own ears, but I didn’t understand anything. It was real. Now, all of a sudden, we were different and I had no idea what it was.

Nancy never tried to pressure me into changing my way of life. Every now and then she would try a new church and invite me, but I wasn’t interested. In 1989 she went to a church she had desired to try for a long time. She let me know she had some free tickets to see a Singing Christmas Tree at Grace Community Church only a mile from the house.

I don’t see how she could have made it any easier for me to go, but I told her to go ahead and enjoy the show. Nancy enjoyed the show and the attitudes of the people, and she even knew a few of them who were patients where she worked as a nurse for a chiropractor. So she felt at home in that church and began attending regularly.

Actually, it was Sundays, Wednesdays, home groups, you name it… there was something happening that continually took her away from me. There was a joy in her life that I had never recognized before and I wanted it… but I hated it more than I wanted it. She began reading the Bible again and living in a manner that I couldn’t touch. She almost had a glow about her that made me wonder, and also made me sick. All of a sudden I didn’t feel like I was good enough to be with her anymore. She never made me feel that way… I just slowly began to recognize my alcohol dependency and what a pitiful state I had allowed my life to come to.

Then one afternoon it happened. I have always had allergies to pollen in the air, and just to have a clear nose to breathe through is a blessing to me. I blew my nose and as I removed the Kleenex, there was still something running out and down my face. I started to dab it with the tissue and realized the whole thing was blood red. Nothing like this had ever happened to me before.

A lot of things passed quickly through my mind. I wondered in fear if I may be bleeding inside my body also. Capillaries in the intestines are even finer than those in the nose; I remembered that from High School. Had I already taken so many aspirin to stop hangovers over such a long period of time that the damage was irreversible? For the first time in my life, I had a fear of dying. I was looking at blood everywhere in fear.

In my fear I recalled Nancy and I going to a Jimmy Swaggart Retreat several years before and how I went forward at that time and asked for prayer. There was so much noise… it drowned the voice of the person who was in front of me to pray… so I just loudly told him I was an alcoholic and I needed prayer. It never entered my mind that I needed Jesus. Everything was so fake at the time… at least to me. I truly never understood why I expected an answer from anybody there.

If I had only been able to grasp the fact that I was the one who was the fake. If Jesus would heal me from alcoholism, then I could only drink when I wanted too. All this made sense at the time.

My whole family grew up in churches that didn’t give altar calls. I got convicted many times in my life and went home, got a beer… got over it and went on about my business. Somehow there was a hope that there was more to life than what I knew and maybe it would be found by going forward.

But that was long past and it didn’t do any good and now I’m watching myself die right before my own eyes. I’ve fought a losing battle now for at least five years and I claim only them because I never admitted to myself that there was no way to stop drinking until these last five years. My father-in-law asked me to quit once for thirty days to prove non-dependency.

I reasoned that once I made it for five days that I didn’t have to prove it to anyone anymore… and that was probably around eight to ten years ago. My mother-in-law always told me the only problem she had with me was my drinking, and that seemed pretty good to me for a mother-in-law.

There were many times in my life that I believe could have concluded in death had there not been prayers answered to save me. At one point my smoking and wheezing was so bad; I began to use an asthma spray that would help open the lungs, because I couldn’t breathe well enough to smoke cigarettes. One puff and within a minute you could smoke again. You might say I was hooked on cigarettes too. I can joke about it now, but none of this was funny at the time.

This medication also worked like speed. If I was drinking and obviously going to get fully bombed, Nancy would make sure this medicine was close to me. If I didn’t have it and she was going to leave a “party” and go home, she would go buy me some because of fear for my life. You see, I sometimes drank to a point where my lungs would cease to function on their own and this spray brought me back to life enough to actually keep me breathing.

As I look back and see what Nancy had done for me, I have to wonder how she could stand most of it. She kept going to church and even with the bleeding, I kept drinking. One day as I sat with a beer in my hand on my living room sofa, I began to realize that I never kept my promises I made to God in the Lutheran Church. One promise was to bring my children up in the church and in the Lord and only Nancy had made an attempt to keep up with that. I began to feel so terrible about not only letting Nancy and Diana down, but also lying to God.

I didn’t realize that the Holy Spirit was moving on my heart. Was it way too late to do something about it? I didn’t know… but Sunday morning we all three went to church at my insistence. Nancy was impressed… maybe a little confused as to why, but definitely impressed.

Nancy and Diana had been to Grace Community Church before so I was the only one to be surprised by the different style of worship. We used to sing a hymn, read the Bible, sing a hymn, read the Bible, hear the sermon, sing a hymn and go home. These folks had the words up on the screen and none of the songs were familiar to me. They kept singing the same words over and over and over  and over and I hated it so much. By the time I had about all I could stand, the pastor came forward and led everyone in a song I knew so well, “All hail the power of Jesus name.”

My heart melted and tears welled up in my eyes. This seemed so beautiful to me all of a sudden. Then it was over; we were shaking hands and taking our seat. Once we were seated… a great conviction came over me for alcoholism. Somehow I knew there would be an altar call after the service and there was a terrible burden on me already.

One of the only preachers who ever got my full attention up to now was Billy Graham. Oh yes, there was one other preacher. As a boy growing up I had a chance to spend time at the farm with my grandparents every summer during our break from school. There was a preacher in a little country church in Wesley, Texas who talked loud and clear. He spoke in simple words that, even as a child, I could understand.

When this preacher at Grace began his sermon, he began talking about God’s reality and how we, as Christians, often shut God out and put him in a corner. We finally close ourselves off to Him and our reality is about like putting God in a box and looking for him when we need him. I had done that all my life, but it had never been brought to my attention before quite like this.

As I listened to this man there was an understanding in my heart that he knew God. How in the world would it be possible to have never come across a preacher before who knew God so well? There was a disappointment inside of me when he finished his sermon. Somehow, I could have sat there and listened forever. At least until he began an altar call.

“Prayer for alcoholism. Prayer for alcoholism.”

This was all I could “hear” inside of me and I wanted to go forward so desperately. It was an ache in me… an honest desire to be worthy of anything at all. But, I had tried this same route only a few years earlier. Nothing would change! What was the point?

Monday morning I woke up with a slight hangover and the first thing I saw in my mind’s eye was a beer. Every morning that week as soon as I woke up I saw a picture of an ice cold can of beer in my head. I began to hate myself so much and swore off drinking every morning with a vengeance, only to once again fail after work. Needless to say, I skipped church the following Sunday.

During the next week my focus was brought back to the promise I made to God long before I got married. Somehow I knew God really was real and that I had made Him a promise twenty years before in my confirmation class. If I had any kids, they would be my responsibility and raised in the church. I hadn’t seen too much of any church in 15 years, so I thought I would try this one, one more time. Even though the people were nice to me just because I was Nancy’s husband… that was okay.

The closer Sunday came, the more I realized we all had to go. When I skipped church that last Sunday, so did Diana. She must have overslept. This Sunday would have to be different. Saturday night, when I announced that we were going to church, Nancy was surprised. She and Diana always went a little early so I drove my truck and met them there. Once the service began, they went through the same routine only with different songs.

What was wrong with the older songs that we used to sing long ago? Some of these songs… they just kept singing the words over and over and over until it just about drove me crazy. I quit trying to sing with them and began to look around at some of the people. There was a woman up in the choir that I began to watch. She was praising God with her whole self. There was no doubt about it, she knew exactly what she was doing. She was worshipping a real God. She knew God.

Suddenly I understood that I didn’t know how to worship. Half of the people close to the front had their arms stuck up in the air for some reason or another. I don’t know if that helped worship or what it was, but Nancy was doing it too. Her face was shining like the sunrise on Easter morning. I kept looking around at some other people who were like me. They didn’t know what this worship was all about, but they weren’t concerned about it apparently.

Then that preacher got up there again and began singing How Great Thou Art. My heart began to break and tears started flowing. The conviction was there. Somehow my heart recalled the words that Billy Graham spoke years before, “If you confess me before men, I will confess you before my Father.”

Did the whole church have to be told I wanted so much to know Jesus? How in the hell could I live for God when I can’t even live for myself. The sermon passed by quickly this time and I missed most of it, as a battle seemed to rage inside me. Altar call came and was gone… but not without an understanding that I could never have the courage to take that walk. When church was over and I walked outside, I could hardly see the bright sunlight in my eyes because of a terrible darkness deep inside of me. There was a bitter hate for life, a life that would never change but only die. Defeat was sure. There was no way out. I walked into a convenience store in my Sunday suit and got a twelve pack.

I guess I wanted to speed up the process. Beer, mixed drinks of rum and coke with three to four shots per drink, or Wild Turkey straight; I drank more in one week than I had ever drank before at five or six parties in my entire life. I didn’t care about anything. One of those days we got off early from work and I went by to see Nancy where she worked. There was a woman from her church sitting there waiting to see the doctor. Nancy had introduced me to her once before at Grace… her name was Kas Tamburino.

I was drunk as a skunk. I sat in the seat next to hers after saying “Hello”, and then I turned to her and asked, “I don’t pronounce my S’s very well because I can’t hear them. Do you mind if I just call you Kat?”

My words were slurred and she knew without any doubt that I was plastered. For a split second there was a look on her face as though she had never been through anything like this before, but then she looked straight at me and said with all gentleness, “That would be fine.”

Before my eyes had opened the next morning, it hit me like a ton of bricks that I had asked one of Nancy’s church friends to change their name. I sat on the side of the bed in total disbelief of what I had done that day before. I had never heard of someone asking another person to change their name before. I finally understand my destiny…Guinness Book of World Records for stupidity. I made it.

Saturday night, rather Sunday morning at 1:30 a.m., I was so drunk I couldn’t lay my head down on the couch without spinning… spinning more than enough to get sick. Nancy and Diana had already gone to bed hours before. Every ten minutes I would try again to lay my head on the couch without getting sick. About 2:30 a.m. my goal was accomplished. I could lie down without spinning and getting sick, so I staggered into the bedroom to finally get some rest.

Early that Sunday morning some yelling woke me up. At first I turned over and tried to ignore it but it occurred to me that something might be wrong. If the house was burning down and I just went back to sleep… I wouldn’t be a very responsible person. Go figure that one. Once my glasses were in place I found my hearing aid and put it on. All I heard was Diana yelling, “If Dad doesn’t have to go to church… then I’m not going either.”

I got up and did a little yelling myself, “We damn sure are going to church; everybody’s going to church this morning and I don’t want to hear another word about it.”

Nancy appeared to be in a state of happy shock as I headed for the shower to get ready. Somehow, I didn’t feel so bad this morning and I wondered if a hangover would hit me in church. I couldn’t believe I was going to church. Nancy couldn’t either.

Nancy and Kim were sitting with me that morning, both to my left and only a few people to my right down at the end of the pew. I sure didn’t want to see Kas that morning. I didn’t even want to be there.

They started to sing their songs again. I just stood there as if I was in my own little world. Was anything right or wrong anymore? I really didn’t know what was going on anymore. Somehow I felt so terribly lost. Then the pastor, Steve Riggle, came to the front of the stage by the pulpit and together he led the whole congregation singing the Lord’s Prayer. It was the most beautiful song I had ever heard. Since my father’s death I often wondered why that prayer was never sung in church. Maybe because I never went, who knows?

As Pastor Steve began to preach, he and everyone there seemed to be in a far distant land somewhere, as though I was all by myself with such a tremendous war going on inside me. And I was slowly losing ground. Somehow I was convinced my life was over; there was nothing left for me to fight with. All my strength was drained. All my rationalizing had come to a final defeat.

Several minutes before the altar call I understood the perfect presence of Jesus sitting next to me on my right hand side. He was dressed in such a beautiful white robe and I could see the pierced hands of the living Savior as His hands lay in His lap. There were holes in His wrists almost the size of a nickel… not quite that large. I could see His beautiful white robe through the holes.

But I couldn’t look at His face… it was just too much. I didn’t feel like I had done anything at all right in my whole life. I was so disappointed with myself I couldn’t bear the thought of looking at Him. I sat motionless and defeated… knowing exactly who He was… but not why He came. And ever so gently and so crystal clear… He leaned over and I heard Him say, “David, all you have to do is get up and walk forward. My Father will take care of everything else.”

I looked to the front of the church and then I looked back… and He wasn’t there anymore. Suddenly we were all standing and the chance for going forward was there. My insides were trembling and my whole world was falling apart. I still wasn’t going… and I just stood there scared to death. I finally realized that I wasn’t going to answer that altar call and began to move toward the end of the pew to leave with everyone else. Someone asked me if I was alright and something cracked on the inside of me. No… I wasn’t alright.

Midway through the altar call when others were coming back, there was an urge so strong that I just had to take that walk. I turned and started walking straight to the front. A man and woman were standing together to pray for anyone who might need it.

I said, “Excuse me” as I passed Nancy and Kim and walked toward those two people. No one knew what I was going forward for, as a matter of fact, I wasn’t too sure myself. I began to shake real bad and cry before I reached the couple. This time I wanted Jesus. If Jesus wasn’t real, my life was finished. But strange as it seems, that’s not what I asked for. God still had to drag it out of me.

“I need prayer for alcoholism,” was all I muttered through the tears. The woman put her hand on my arm and asked me, “Have you ever accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior?”

“Ma’am, I really don’t have the slightest idea anymore. I believe Jesus is real, and I believe God is real, and I believe Satan is real or I wouldn’t be here.”

I was crying so hard that words wouldn’t come and my only relief from crying was when the words would come. “What does it take? Do I have to turn around and tell everyone in this church that I accept Jesus as my Savior?”

Such a soft, caring smile came across her face that seemed to tell me everything was alright… that I could calm down. Everything would be okay. “No, that won’t be necessary. You can accept Jesus as your Savior in your own living room.”

“Well, that’s what I thought, but I wasn’t sure.” By now a calm had come over me.

They looked at one another… then the man began to talk to me. “Is that all we can pray for, alcoholism?”

“No sir. My wife, Nancy, had changed somehow. No matter what happens, she just acts like everything is gonna be all right. She walks around the house with a glow on her face all the time, and I don’t know what it is.”

He explained, “That is the presence of the Holy Spirit who comes to live in your life when you finally accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior.”

“That’s what I want. That’s what I’ve got to have.” They both smiled in an assuring manner. I didn’t know for sure, but maybe I had done something right. Tears began rolling down my cheeks once again as we started to pray. I stopped them and explained that they had to talk louder. I was eighty-percent deaf and I wasn’t about to miss anything. The gentleman said, “We’ll pray for that too.”

I laughed. I had not considered that to be a problem anymore.

We all three bowed our heads. I prayed with them first and then they prayed for me. I kept my eyes open trying to read lips as they prayed even though they were talking loud enough. When we were through praying… I thanked them both and turned and went back to Nancy and Kim. Nancy was talking to someone and Kim gave me a hug and asked if I was okay.

“I’m back,” was my answer. She started laughing and asked, “What do you mean you’re back?” Kim looked a little confused.

I couldn’t answer her. We laughed together and by then I gave Nancy a hug too, and told her I loved her. Without any way to explain it, there was a feeling inside that a terribly long journey had instantly come to an end.

By the following weekend my co-worker Kenneth told me he was proud of me because I hadn’t had anything to drink for the whole week. I told him there was nothing to it… but there was no way for me to know what was happening. On Tuesday, nine days after that salvation prayer… suddenly the realization hit me that there was no desire whatsoever for drinking or smoking. There was no attempt on my part to quit anything.

I was free. I was free. At the realization and revelation that I had not won the victory but that it had been given to me for free… I began to cry an uncontrollable trembling cry. I fell on the floor in our house and just cried like a baby. Nobody else was home… and God had done everything that I couldn’t do for myself.

The love of God then began to pour into me like a liquid to take away all fear, all doubt, all grief, all hate, all misunderstanding. God filled me with so much love that I could literally taste it. I never knew there was this much love in the whole world… and He poured it into me until I physically felt like I would explode. I thought my fingers might just explode off my hands if I received another drop. His love is so powerful and sensitive that if one tiny drop was removed, I would instantly pray, “Lord, please don’t take your love from me.”

I went from alcoholism to the Bible. In the evening as I passed through the house from work, I would pick up my Bible and walk straight to the bedroom and read. This went on for at least a month and a half and Nancy was extremely close to running out of patience. One day when I came through the house from work… Diana said, “Dad comes in the door, he picks up his Bible, there goes Dad. He’s gone.”

I hadn’t said “Hi” to Nancy or Diana and still didn’t grasp that when I shut the door to the bedroom was when Diana said, “He’s gone”.

When I began to read, confusion set in to the point where there was no understanding of even the first line I was trying to read. All that went through my mind was there is a family out there. “You have a family out there.”

Upset because of lack of concentration I decided to relax and maybe not read one day. Coming out of the room I said “Hi” to Nancy. She was sitting on the couch and she smiled as if something was totally different. I asked her, “What’s wrong?”

She said, “Welcome back to the real world.”

What in the world was she talking about? Had I missed anything? All of a sudden I was hoping everything was all right.

“David, I’ve been praying to God for patience. Do you realize that you haven’t talked to Diana or me in forever? I sure am glad I got saved before you did because there’s no way I could have handled it the other way around.”

All of a sudden both of us started laughing so hard… we both ended up on the floor and we couldn’t quit. We got up and hugged and kissed and I told her how much I loved her and then I apologized for being gone so long.

“Why didn’t you let me know weeks ago?”

She said, “Because I knew God wanted you right where you were. Remember how caught up I was in the Bible when I got saved?”

I remembered that… I didn’t understand then, but now there’s no doubt about a lot of things. I finally knew without a wonder or without a doubt that I was going to Heaven. God loved me in a manner that was more real and more beautiful than life itself. One day I would see Jesus face to face and He would be my friend and not my enemy, all because of a simple prayer that changed my whole life and destiny with miracle working power. I had to tell somebody! No!!

I had to tell everybody!


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