My youngest brother recently texted me a picture of when I was 20 years old. I showed it to a couple of friends. They both said “Those were the days.” That reminded me of the title of a book about food production during the mid-1800’s: The Good Old Days, They Were Terrible. That was truly the case when the picture was taken. I was an insecure, directionless, barhopping, pot-smoking, hedonistic, lost young man. My life was empty and joyless. In fact, when my wife saw the picture she said, “Since I’ve known you, I have never seen that look on your face. There is a deadness in your eyes.”

Things weren’t always this way. At a young age I had a real heart for the Lord. I was baptized into the Sterling Baptist Church in Illinois. However, with little fatherly direction or affection I drifted in and out of mischief. While living in Michigan at 12 years of age, I got involved in petty theft and breaking into empty buildings with older “friends.” After moving back to Illinois our family began attending church together. I was rebaptized into the Chapel Hill Christian Church. There I joined a youth choir and even wrote a play.

Things were good for a while at home. But Dad became disillusioned with the church and stopped attending—and so did we. When I entered high school sports became my emotional refuge, especially track, wrestling and football.

Then early one morning, a few months after graduation, my father was killed in a single-car accident. Just one week later we were supposed to start a business venture together. With much unresolved between my father and myself, I felt more lost than ever.

At this juncture God placed within my heart a desire for something more out of life. Although I was making good money at a steel mill, I was not happy. The “something more” became a growing desire for an education, as well as the chance to play football again since a knee injury my junior year dashed my college scholarship hopes. After writing to a few institutions with football programs I was accepted by a small, private college just outside Kansas City. But, still directionless, after only one year I quit school and started working.

You know the saying: “No matter where you go, there you are.” All along I had continued my irreligious, partying ways. Nevertheless, God was still at work behind the scenes. One night when a little drunk, I found myself alone. Looking up into a star-studded Kansas night sky I began thinking about heaven: “If there is a heaven, then there must be a hell (of my Baptist understanding). Then, “If there is a heaven, I want to go there.” That was the moment God had been leading me toward. Turning to Him I prayed, “God if you’re real let me know.” He did!

The next morning, and the two following mornings, God miraculously “let me know” that He was very real. On each of those mornings, when I awoke, the desire for a particular egregious habit in my life was gone! I was very aware of it. However, it wasn’t until the third morning that I remembered my prayer. When I did, I said aloud, “Oh! You are real! I need to get to church!”

I know some of you reading this are very concerned for your child(ren). Let me assure you that God is still not only looking for His prodigals to return home but keeping the path back to Him clear. He is working behind the scenes to help, protect, encourage and imperceptibly guide them along that path. He really is.

On the morning of the third day I went straight to my employer and asked for Sundays off to attend church. To my surprise my boss responded with a firm No. During this same time I went to a sporting event in downtown Kansas City. I was standing behind a woman and her husband in the long ticket line. The w

oman, who was my mother’s age, started up a conversation with me. Before we parted, she gave me their phone number with an invitation to “Call sometime.” I politely put the number in my shirt pocket. I wasn’t going to call. I had no reason to. None.

However, when I was doing laundry I found the number and decided to call anyway. God did that. They were Seventh-day Adventists

and she invited me to church. “I can’t,” I replied. “I have to work on Sundays.”

“We go to church on Saturday,” she said. I had every Saturday off! I went. Finally, this once joyless, dead-hearted young man began experiencing joy for the first time in avery long time.

Mom… Dad… never give up on your children. Never! God hasn’t.

Dave Moench pastors the Huron and Mitchell church district in South Dakota.