By Craig von Buseck
CBN.com Contributing Writer
"Come out to California," my Dad's friend Eddie said with exuberance
through the telephone line, "this is where it is happening."
It was 1970, and the California dream was alive and well in the hearts
of many across America -- including my father. The voice of his friend
boomed so loudly over the telephone receiver that my mother could hear
him across the kitchen table. The turbulent sixties were over, and a new
decade of hope lay ahead.
That's what my family needed at that time -- hope.
My 30-something parents were having difficulty stretching their two incomes
from week to week in Erie, Pennsylvania. Devoutly Roman Catholic, they
remained faithful to the decree to shun birth control -- five children
under the age of 10 was the fruit (two more would come later).
a living Dad worked the first shift as a designer for Marx Toys (maker
of the original "Big Wheel"). My mother worked as a keypunch operator
-- they'd call it data entry today. During those years we only saw my
mother and father together on the weekends.
Dad's friend Eddie was enamored by the glamour of the Golden State, and
things were booming financially. "You can get a good paying job screwing
in light bulbs," he told my dad.
offer sounded good to him at that point in his career, and so Dad decided
to fly out to L.A. for a visit. Arriving a few months later it was all
he had hoped it would be -- warm climate, sunny skies, palm trees, and
plenty of jobs. Within weeks of his return my parents were making plans
to put the house up for sale and move the family to the promised land
It was an exciting time. Dad believed that a new day was upon him, not
only professionally, but in his spiritual life as well. The year before,
my father attended a church retreat where he had come to the conclusion
that he was in need of salvation. He had gone through catechism, and was
faithful to the church, but he knew that there was an emptiness inside
that was not being fulfilled through religious devotion. He came to understand
that he needed a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and when he
made that commitment he was born again.
Dad was a seeker. He wasn't satisfied with repetitive religion, praying
the same prayers he had prayed every day since he was a child. He was
convinced that there must be some spiritual experience that was deeper.
The media said that it was, "the dawning of the age of Aquarius," and
so like many people in those confused days my father began investigating
eastern mysticism and other philosophies, trying to find the truth.
Then one day a friend invited him to a prayer meeting. Dad accepted the
invitation, not knowing what to expect. What he found blew his mind. The
people were singing to God and raising their hands. One guy with a wiry
beard was playing an acoustic guitar. He had a leather belt with a matching
leather guitar strap that said, "Jesus brings joy." As soon as Dad walked
into the room he sensed a peace that he hadn't felt in years.
"Man," he said to himself, "If this is what life is like in Jesus, I
want some of it."
He clapped along to the music and joined in the hugging when it was time
to greet the others in the group. A Catholic charismatic priest was talking
about things my father had never heard of before -- the baptism in the
Holy Spirit. By the time he was done speaking my Dad's heart was full,
and he knew he had found what he was looking for. That night he prayed
to receive this gift.
Mom, on the other hand, wasn't so sure. She was impressed by the changes
she saw in my father, but she wasn't as quick to accept the raised hands,
the tambourines, and the gospel folk music. And when they started praying
and speaking in those foreign languages she really went berserk.
But for all her skepticism, she couldn't help noticing that there was
something different about these prayer meetings. There was a special presence
of God that she had rarely experienced before. And the people were different,
too. They were friendly. They were kind. They were always helping one
another. They were like a family.
In time, my mom grew more comfortable and began looking forward to the
prayer meetings. But she was still uneasy about the tongues and those
"words of prophecy" that some of the chatty ones blurted out just when
things were becoming peaceful during the folk music sessions.
When my parents announced that they were planning to move to California
these new Christian friends pitched in to help. My parents decided to
give away most of the household items so we wouldn't have to haul them
across the country. After all, we could buy all new things once the money
started rolling in out west.
Since we were leaving the cold climate of Erie, we would have no need
for our winter coats and clothes, so we donated them to some families
who had lost their homes in a large fire. We also gave away our television,
our beds, our couch and chairs. We even donated the baby grand piano to
a Pentecostal church.
A few weeks before their scheduled departure, mom and dad were invited
to visit a different prayer meeting across town. Mom was feeling more
comfortable with these meetings, and she was even getting used to the
"tongues." Other than the friend who invited them, they didn't know anyone
else at this slightly larger gathering. It was a similar type of meeting
to the one they were used to -- people with guitars, tambourines, and
large, leather-covered Bibles.
When the music leader finished the last
song there was the usual spontaneous singing where people made up their
own words. Mom was even getting used to this part, and she sensed the
presence of God in a special way during these times of worship. As the
people grew quiet, someone across the room began speaking loudly. My folks
had learned that this person was giving "a word" -- a prophecy through
the Holy Spirit, given to edify, exhort, or bring comfort to the people
Often these were general messages, words of hope or love from the Father
to His children. But this word was very specific:
"My children, don't leave this city"
There was more to it than just that phrase, but that was all my parents
heard. They looked at each other with a quizzical expression. "Could God
be speaking to us?" they both wondered. They quickly rationalized the
notion away. "Surely this couldn't be for us. We've come too far to change
our plans now. Besides, are these 'words' really from God, or are they
just an emotional outburst?"
They decided to ignore the "word" and move ahead with their plans. It
was a fateful decision.
In the months since Dad went to California things had changed in the
economy. America had moved into a recession, and things were slowing down
fast. Though my parents had their house on the market for several months
it had not sold. But my parents were still determined and so they both
took a leave of absence from their jobs. Before leaving Pennsylvania,
Dad called the realtor and told him to contact him with any reasonable
Some friends threw a going away party for our family. A makeshift band
sang some folk songs, accompanied by their acoustic guitars, including
a recent hit from the Kingston Trio:
Lord, I'm one, Lord, I'm two, Lord, I'm three, Lord, I'm four,
Lord, I'm five hundred miles a way from home.
Not a shirt on my back, not a penny to my name.
Lord, I can't go back home this-a way.
Lord, I can't go back home this-a way.
You can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles.
"I don't know if I like those words," my mother nervously declared,
as she laughed with her friends. She quickly put it out of her mind.
packed our belongings into a U-haul trailer and headed out west, their
hearts full of excitement at the adventure that lay before them.
It wasn't long, however, before things began to unravel. On the way to
visit friends and look for jobs in Arizona, my sister and I came down
with croup and had to spend several hours in the emergency room. Once
we arrived in Arizona my four-year-old brother was severely injured when
he fell onto a barrel cactus. Dad's friend had to use wire snips to remove
the large fishhook cactus needles that had embedded into his tiny leg.
After a week of job-hunting my father had no prospects, so we packed
the van and headed to California. Friends from Erie who had moved to Los
Angeles invited us to stay at their house.
But once in the Golden State we didn't receive the welcome we had expected.
The recession had hit California hard, and the jobs that were so plentiful
just months before had simply vanished. The family that had opened their
home were dealing with difficulties in their own marriage, and the welcome
that they had extended on the telephone did not translate to a welcome
For a week Dad pounded the pavement, looking for employment, earning
just one job possibility -- an opening for a toy designer with Mattel
in New Jersey. Of course, he was already a toy designer with a home and
roots in Pennsylvania, and the financial offer was not worth a move to
the Garden State.
Toward the end of the second week my parents decided to take their five
children to the park to let us release some pent-up energy. As they sat
in the van watching us twirl on the merry-go-round, the stress of the
situation overwhelmed them. Dad put his head in his hands and leaned forward
on the steering wheel thinking to himself, "What have I done?"
moment he looked over at my mother and suddenly a realization came over
both of them -- they should not have left the city. They remembered the
prophecy from the prayer group, and right there decided to pack their
things and return to Erie. Dad called the realtor and asked him to take
the house off of the market. We were going home.
Sadly, the tribulations of this journey were not yet over. More than
half way back to PA we stopped at a hotel in Indianapolis. "We've been
having some problems with crime in this area," the motel manager warned.
"You better buy yourself a tamper-proof lock for your trailer." Dad took
the man's advice and bought the best lock he could find.
Despite his efforts, at some point in the middle of the night thieves
broke into the U-Haul and stole all of our belongings -- except for the
rocking horse that was strapped to the roof of the van. We arrived back
in Erie to an empty house, with only the clothes on our backs, and that
delightful rocking horse. As we laid on the floor of our home that first
night the lyrics to the Kingston Trio song played over and over in my
Not a shirt on my back, not a penny to my name.
Lord, I can't go back home this-a way.
Our family was living those lyrics. But in that moment of despair we
witnessed the love and faithfulness of our Heavenly Father, and the amazing
kindness of committed Christian brothers and sisters.
When our new Christian friends heard of our dilemma they rolled up their
sleeves and went to work to help us get back on our feet. Folks returned
some of the things we had given away. Other people brought over used toys
and furniture. Some delivered groceries and milk to our door.
One day we received a telephone call from someone who heard of our plight.
"We have a farm and we have just brought in the harvest, but there are
still some vegetables in the fields. You're welcome to come and glean
what you can." It was like Ruth and Boaz. It was late August, and local
farmers were bringing in the fruit of the growing season.
We walked through
the freshly-harvested fields and picked what had been left behind by the
reapers -- carrots, green peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, corn -- we filled
several boxes. As a little child this was merely a fun excursion into
the country for me, but for my parents it was a gift directly from heaven.
They would feed their family for several days with this blessing.
As we loaded the crops into the van the farmer's wife came out to greet
us. "We were recently given some clothes to store in our barn. They were
left over from the fire a month ago. The cold season is coming, and you
might find something in there for your children." This was another unexpected
We followed the woman over to the barn and opened the large
wooden door to see stacks and stacks of boxes, full of clothes. Right
at the edge of the barn was a number of white boxes. We opened the lid
to one of these and my mother gasped in amazement. There before our eyes
was a box filled with the winter clothes that we had given away just weeks
before. We opened another box, and then another, and then another -- God
had made sure that all of our winter clothes were saved and stored away
in the barn of this farmer that we didn't even know.
The next day my mother kneeled down in front of one of our only possessions
at the time, a wooden crucifix, and cried out to heaven. "Lord, I
don't believe you want me to go back to work with five little kids to
take care of." At the time her children ranged in age from 2 to 10
years old. My father still had a week left in his leave of absence, and
so he decided to apply for a job at the local newspaper. Perhaps they
needed an artist. A friend gave Dad several brand new pairs of pants,
and let him borrow a jacket for the interview.
When he arrived at the Erie Times-News the editor asked if he saw the
ad in the paper for the artist position. They had been looking for someone
to fill the job for more than a month, and were not able to find anyone
with the right qualifications. After looking over his portfolio the editor
quickly offered my dad the job. "We'd like to start you off at this salary,"
he said, writing the figure on a piece of paper and sliding it across
the desk to my father. Dad unfolded the paper, looked down at the number
scribbled on the note and lost his ability to speak. "Will that be sufficient
for you?" the editor asked. Dad couldn't talk and so he merely shook his
head yes. The amount that was on the paper far exceeded Dad and Mom's
combined income -- the Lord had dramatically met the need.
With tears in his eyes he met his family in the van out in the parking
lot, shaking the piece of paper triumphantly over his head. We gathered
as a family that day and thanked God for His grace and His mercy to us.
Dad and Mom learned some valuable lessons as a result of that California
experience -- chiefly, to put God first in everything you do. After that
adventure my parents were no longer led to places where other people said
"it is happening." They learned that the "happening"
is in the Spirit of God, and as a believer you go where the Holy Spirit
leads. You go in His timing. And once you get there, you obey His instructions.
Our family also learned a valuable lesson in trusting God. Even when
things seem bleak, they are in His sovereign hands. A pastor recently
said that faith in God is living life on the edge of happy negligence.
We just don't worry about what will happen in our lives because we know
that if we are living for the Lord, putting Him first, He will take care
of our every need -- just like He did for my family. Sometimes it seems
like he waits until the final moment, but He is never late.
Dad retired from the newspaper a couple of years ago. All the kids are
grown now with children of our own. As often as we can, at Christmas time,
all seven kids travel back to Erie from across the United States with
our spouses and children, our vehicles loaded down with presents to exchange.
The ground is frozen in Erie in December and so we park our vehicles in
the backyard of the beautiful brick home that Dad and Mom bought a few
years after the California miracle.
year my mother walks through this lovely house, past the opened presents
flowing out from under the Christmas tree. She weaves her way around the
little grandchildren -- and now the big grandchildren. She passes her
children and their spouses, all of them born-again, some working in full-time
ministry. She strolls through the recently renovated kitchen with countertops
brimming with delicious food. She steps into the breakfast nook where
she looks out the window into the yard at all the vehicles parked on the
frozen lawn. And each time her eyes fill with tears as she looks at the
bounty that God has provided, and she thinks back to that fateful trip
"Thank you Lord," she whispers softly, the steam from her breath
fogging up the window. She wipes the glass with the sleeve of her sweater,
and then the tear from her cheek as she honors God for His faithfulness.
Early in our lives we saw the hand of God leading us, protecting us,
and providing for us -- He is still doing that for us today. The California
saga was a watershed for our family, but God is just as faithful, just
as kind, just as loving to us today as He was then.
Read "ChurchWatch," Craig's Blog on CBN.com
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von Buseck is Ministries Director for CBN.com. He looks forward to your e-mail comments.
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