Sand in My Boots – Testimony of Rev. Steven D. Hofmeister
I grew up going to a Southern Baptist Church. My family was not always the most devout letter of the law Christians, but we were indeed the kind to lend a hand to our fellow man in need. By the time I was coming of age of genuinely wanting to understand what it meant to be a Christian, we were at most occasionally Sunday worshipers. It was not necessarily by choice. My Father’s health was deteriorating because of congestive heart failure. My Brothers had gone to make their way in their direction. Mom had to pick up the job as the breadwinner for the family. Our Church was about 20 miles away, and though there were many other churches around that was the one we had an attachment to. Dad’s health limited our ability to travel there during the week, and increased and began limiting our Sunday attendance to a halt.
When I was 12, came an incredible blessing. A developer made an offer on our property. It allowed us to move from the old farmhouse I was growing up in into a more modern house that would be better suited to Dad’s health. Though I was not a big fan of this move and had to make some serious lifestyle changes, I knew it was for the best. I fuddled about for a few years and got actively interested in computers. At 15, Dad was feeling a little better now having an air-conditioned environment at home, and got the desire to start going back to Church. We knew the journey to our old Church was out of the question. By that time, a new Pastor had been installed, and many of our old friends had moved on.
We found a closer church, and I became quite comfortable with the surroundings. I eventually was offered the task of operating the sanctuary sound system for services and did so during my time there. We remained there for three years. A disagreement between the members would tear the fabric of the church family apart. This resulted in the Pastor voluntarily resigning.
Being of like minds with the Pastor, my Father and I followed him and a portion of the membership away from the Church to have bible studies at the Pastor’s residence until we could figure out the direction we all wanted to take.
As I’m sure, you can imagine this was very confusing for a recently baptized teenage boy. I had gone from being deeply involved in not only the worship and family of the Church but also the operations attending most of the operational meetings and planning events as the representative of the younger membership. I even had my own key, as I pretty much spent all my free time there preparing cassette tapes of the previous Sunday service to be delivered to shut-in members.
To me, up to this point being a Christian was about attending Church, keeping it going, keeping the lights on, and being kind and friendly to people (especially new members). When things came to a screaming halt, I was lost for a few weeks. But, still, I could not get a handle on what it meant to be a Christian; it seemed all business and show must go on to me.
Eventually, we as a group convinced the Southern Baptist Association for our area to allow us to start up a “Mission Church,” which we set up at a local elementary school on Sundays. We got the mission off to a great start, but as many new churches do it began to wane after a few years. Strong supporters came and left, lay leaders moved up in the ministry and on to a new church family, and young members like myself found the new freedom of having a driver’s license and the draw of peer pressure.
By the time I drifted away from the mission, I was a teenage boy left to teach a Youth Sunday School Class. Though I enjoyed the short period, I found several Sundays of sitting there by myself. I enjoyed teaching, but I always had the gut feeling that I was the blind leading the blind. This brought me to the cusp of turning 18. Having drifted entirely away from the mission at this point, I had found myself mingling with a rough crowd. Many of this group were significantly older than me. I started smoking, drinking, and experimenting with drugs and would find myself out until the early morning hours. I would eventually meet a young lady who I began spending much of my time with.
I also had begun having difficulty at school as a physical disability I had had since a child was making participation in physical education very difficult. In the era before the American Disabilities Act, (reasonable accommodation) was crude at the least. This would result in my overall loss of interest in school and my prematurely leaving school. My Father improved because of a transplant he had received during all of this turmoil. In 1996 it would have been the year of my graduation. Dad died as a result of cancer, which was escalated by the very drugs he was required to stay alive with the new heart.
Dad and I, as I’m sure you can tell up until this tail end, had been very close. Seeing him struggle and overcome to have a few good strong years with me, only to be taken by cancer in a matter of a few days had me very angry with God. How could a higher power be so giving only to become so cruel? How could He let his followers fight among themselves over petty differences in opinion? How could He let a mission that many spent hours upon hours building crumble, and take the life of a man who fought his way so hard back up in the blink of an eye? I cried to God Why!!!, but at the time, had no faith to hear the answer.
Jumping ahead a few years to 1998, still with the same young lady we had moved out on our own to a small apartment; I was constantly working as she was as well. In retrospect, now that I am older, I realize that our relationship was less than perfect. It was the tensions at home after Dad’s passing that resulted in my moving out of the nest.
A new era started that would begin a major change in my life direction. I found out that I was going to be a Father. Anxious, but happily nervous, I wondered how we were going to be able to raise a child when we could barely keep the lights on and food in the house. We ended up losing the apartment. We built a makeshift apartment in my Mother’s basement, I took a new but grueling job that paid better, and my now wife was working the best she could while carrying our child.
That grueling job would end up knocking me down hard from the stress and physical intensity. It caused my health to decline, and I ended up hospitalized by complications of the earlier-mentioned disability. It was this illness that would transition me from a working Father to a stay home Dad for over a year. After that year of recovery, I strived back to work, only to be knocked down again by the same issue. I returned to being (Mr. Mom) until my Son was around three years old. It was around this time my Parents-in-Law started attending a Methodist Church close to their home, which was about the same distance as the Church I started at as a child. Feeling obligated, we would begin attending Church with them on Sundays, and going through the process of joining the Methodist Church.
I liked the idea of going to Church again, but my wife was only half-hearted about it. Having a small child in the Church never really makes you the most popular person during a service. I never was really able to connect with my Parents-in-Law. My Father-in-Law would find himself called to ministry, and I kind of hoped that that could be a bridging thing for us, but we were just too far apart in personality.
During the next several years I returned to work with only small setbacks health-wise, but my relationship with my wife would become more and more strained by my odd work hours and her developing mental health issues. In 2005 my health would once again take me to the sideline. This time I was convinced by friends and family that I need to just go on disability and focus on caring for my Son.
In 2011 I would suffer a severe heart attack that under any other circumstance, would have killed me. Thankfully, with the quick actions of my Son now in Fifth Grade, and my Eldest Brother I was off to a well-equipped hospital just up the road which saved my life. It was during this I realized that there must be something I’m still meant for. It was on the table while doctors repaired my heart that I prayed to God for the first time since my Father was taken for my own behalf. I’d asked God many times to look out for my Son, but I swore I was never personally going to ask him for myself ever again. I said, Lord, I know I have been angry with you, and I don’t know if you are trying to scare me here, but you have succeeded. Please give me direction on what it is you want from me. This event in my life strengthened my relationship with my Son like no other. For surely, it was divine intervention that he had not walked out to catch the school bus yet that morning and heard my faint calls for help.
In 2015 just about the time I had an idea that I could have collaborated with my Father-in-Law, he was called to heaven as the result of a pulmonary embolism following back surgery. His sudden loss would create an unrecoverable tailspin in my relationship with my wife. With our Son now 18 and away at trade school, we decided to divorce though I still very much wanted to save the marriage. I would find myself falling into a deep depression, quickly finding myself relying on alcohol to kill the pain that had been left in me. More and more, I realized that this relationship had been degrading around me, and began to question any morals I had left in my life. I said out loud, “God! What did I do to deserve all this pain? Why is everything I worked so hard for all these years crumbling around me again? It was then in the silent reflection that followed that Matthew 7:26 (NIV) popped into my mind out of nowhere.
“But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.”
I realized what God was telling me, I walked away before I finished my foundation, and I walked out on the beach in search of better waters only to get stuck right there to build my life on the sandy beach with nothing solid to support it. That when the waters of turmoil would begin to rise, it would sweep the very floor out from under my feet.
That was the first time, in a very long time, God spoke, and I listened. I came to realize I was following roads that were built in front of me but not having the map I needed to take them in the right direction. I was stopping to ask for directions but not listening to the guidance. It was then it all came full circle to me what it meant to be a Christian.
To be a Christian is to be the strong hand to pull others from the sand when they are in need; it is caring for those who may not necessarily care for you. It is following the teachings of Jesus and using his selfless examples as the core example of how to calm the high waters in your own life as well as those you may be able to quell for others similar to Mark 4:39 (NIV)
“He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down, and it was completely calm.”
You might not be able to calm the wind, but you surely can try to bring hope that they can rebuild from the rubble. I thought to myself, about all the times I saw people trying to behave like the (Perfect Christian), I said “I’m certainly not going to be something I’m not”, then as if someone rewound the tape I remembered something an old boss of mine once told me on the job when I made a mistake that I was beating myself over, he touted,
“Steve! Look At Your Hands!, do you see any holes in those hands? Hold them up to the light and look really well.”
I thought this old bird had lost his mind, but I followed his request and said, “No Boss, I don’t see any holes in my hands.” Before I could utter another word, he said to me,
“That’s Right, There was one perfect person who ever walked this Earth, and they hung him on a cross”.
Remembering that occasion, I then began to recall how many times as a boss, I repeated that same story to comfort my subordinates. Then It hit me. It has nothing to do with being a (Perfect Christian) it’s about being a Genuine Christian, that even though you may not always be able to drive a nail straight, Jesus still asks us to pick up a hammer and build with him. Even if what you build is not the strongest or even a permanent fix, it’s solid ground enough to start on a new foundation on which to change things for the better. I believe now that God spoke to me that night, he told me to get myself on solid ground, so I could rebuild my foundation and start again. To use my foundation to help build up others so he could join me in building upon my solid ground to a better way for all.
It is this very calling that night I decided to enter the Ministry of the Almighty God. Not because I was raised in Sunday School, or Bible Stories, or attended Church, or even that I once taught Sunday School but because God has shown me I can use the lessons and scars I received from those waves now to be that genuine Christian. In order to find a way, I needed to get lost first. Like Jesus in Matthew 4:1 (NIV)
“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”