Worse, the loss of my father seemed to divide us all. My oldest brother drifted off into mental illness, to last for many years. My oldest sister, her foot attacked one night in her bed by a rat while she slept, escaped the dismal, old shack by staying with school friends in the neighborhood. With my oldest brother and next oldest taken by my grandfather to live in South Dakota on his farm, my remaining brother at home retired into his own world by developing a speech impediment, so that he never talked and shared things with me.
Left alone, I found myself at a very young age having to look after two younger sisters--and when mother was gone, and night came on, we were indeed three frightened little people.
Working at the only job she could find, my mother could not spend much time with us. Deserted in that old, draughty, berry cabin among the trees of the rain-soaked hillside, my nightmares began in earnest.
Just before my mother found a real house to live in in the nearby valley town, she was deceived into marrying a man who lived by taking advantage of lone women. Forcing himself into the role of a father which he did not at all fit, he alienated us with threats and physical attacks after the honeymoon was over. Our new home became so hellish, my youngest sister, the most helpless of all since she never knew our father, nearly died from poor nutrition and severe mental strain.
By the time our abusive step-father created so much difficulty for himself he had to leave town, I was near collapsing in the halls at school from a declining mental and physical condition my sister also suffered from. I was very much a loner, ashamed of my living conditions at home, ashamed of having to wear the same clothes day after day, and failed to compete with my peers and gain their acceptance. Instead, I was hounded, mocked, and persecuted by the "in crowd" in my school that would never accept me, no matter how hard I tried to win their favor by spending all my lawn-mowing money on gum for them.
I also imagined I had a disease that would cripple or kill me. Desperate to escape our cage of torment, where there was no happiness and peace, I got my mother to get loan money from the bank so that I could leave the Washington State for a Christian academy in South Dakota she had attended and from which she graduated.
Seventeen hundred miles from home, I found myself in a new world, and suddenly I had friends, good food to eat, and all kinds of educational, social and spiritual opportunities. The kids there did not seem to think that clothes, hairstyle, dating a pretty girl, having a cool car to drive, and plenty of money to spend, and attending every game and pop music concert, mattered more than school itself and making something of ourselves. In a friendly Christian school environment, I was accepted at last, and I responded by asking Christ into my heart as my Savior. He forgave my sins when I asked him one day, alone in my room, and I felt His glorious presence in me, which lasted a week or more. I became a happier person, with a new heart instead of the bitter, cold, resentful heart I had had. I developed skills I never knew I had at the hateful old school back in my home state and received awards and some recognition too, even a scholarship. But by my senior year I had taken this new life for granted. I began rebelling against the Lordship of Christ in my life. I decided to go my own way again, to explore the world and find out what evil was all about. At the heart of this decision to "explore" life on my own terms was my wanting to be the total rule over my life, and so I increasingly abandoned the Lord Jesus who had already shown himself so merciful and gracious to me.
In my first year of college I took the step of disbelieving in God. For a while I felt a thrilling sense of liberation and freedom. No longer believing in heaven and hell too, I did what I pleased. Exploring life, I drank some (though a couple times of getting sick stopped me from drinking to become drunk), and smoked, right along with the people around me. But those Dark-side, explorative thrills did not last, and searching further I tried first atheistic existential philosophy, then Zen Buddhism, and after that Soren Kierkegaard's theistic existential philosophy. I loved philosophy, in a superficial way, and took a number of courses in it at college from a charming, very fine gentleman whose forte was making philosophy seem a fascinating quest. A cousin introduced me to Kierkegaard. Wow! A real fox in the hen coop! I admired Kierkegaard because to me he seemed a rebel, who had attacked orthodox Christianity, which I felt I had every reason to resent because of my difficult childhood and underprivileged background. To me, life was turning good, I could do as I pleased, believe as I pleased, and and think as I pleased! What could be better? I was drunk, indeed, on the world's wine!
At this heady time of my life, cold water was suddenly thrown in my face. My draft notice from the Army arrived: report to the nearest army induction center! It threw me in a panic, for the Vietnam War had begun, and I hated and feared the thought of military life and being forced to obey orders against my will. Worse, I would have to carry a rifle and shoot to kill. It seemed like death to me!
What was I to do? I sweated it out alone in the locked bathroom for a hour or so, and then decided what I would try to make things better for me. I wasn't going to flee the country. But I could still avoid the Army if I enlisted in the Air Force. The Air Force, I somehow knew, would be better than the Army, not so brutal and regimental. I had wanted to go into the Navy like my brothers, but the Air Force, not the Navy, had a recruiting office in town, so that settled it. I enlisted and was inducted at the local center and soon dropped Kierkegaard and my superficial philosophizing as I learned how to survive in a blue straight-jacket of military conformity. I was promoted to sergeant (which was a miracle, as I think back on it, having not missed a promotion once in three years, and I had guessed on the exams all through and somehow won top scores!) before I left the service, but I only wanted to get out and back to being independent. Honorably diischarged, I worked a summer in Minneapolis at my uncle's landscaping firm (where I had worked some previous summers), and then returned to my home state.
That was a bad decision. I spent a year without work, growing in frustration and despair over what to do with myself. Tired of conflicting with my mother and younger brother, I earned some money at odd jobs in gardening and borrowed enough from the National Defense Education Act fund to return to college.
What a shock I had when I found that my service time had caused me to forget practically everything I had learned at college. I felt I needed to go over the same courses again, or I wouldn't make it through. After three years (repeating the three I had done previously) I finally graduated and applied and was accepted into graduate school.
After a miserable, bitter childhood, a salvation experience with Jesus, then a turning away from God into agnosticism and Zen and Kirkegaardian philosophy, and finally ending in cynicism and despair, I was ready now again in my life to make a success of myself and win fame and fortune through writing. I began writing my thesis for my graduate degree, which I planned to sell to a publisher, as it was a Creative Thesis, a book.
After I began working on it, I found it would not become a book, and I grew frustrated, and then made the big mistake of taking our my frustration on my graduate program advisor, who had authority over my whole program. I pretty much said to him, "Forget you!" and then went my own way.
I continued writing and revising my thesis-book, and it still refused to become a book. Three years went by this way! My whole life looked to be evolving into sheer failure. I also couldn't pass the graduate test in the German language. I tried, but time after time I flunked it. Each time failed, I was given a much harder version. I had alienated people already with my irritable, resentful, bitter way, including my adviser who was to accept or reject my work.
How stupid this was! I realized it, and thought increasingly of suicide. I could not help seeing I was a rotten, unlovely individual, totally trapped in my fears and hates and obsessions. Yet inside this unbreakable web of an ugly, cold, bitter personality, I wanted to be free somehow. I wanted a life of happiness and love.
Meanwhile, as I worked at my thesis in my dormitory room, I was steadily cracking up mentally. After class or work in the school cafeteria, I would rush to my room to be alone again, and there I would roll on my bed, words spilling from my wandering and chaotic mind. With the possibility of washing out of my Master's program, if my thesis was again rejected, and if I couldn't pass that German Language exam, I could think of no way out.
Day after day, when I had forced myself to sit at the typewriter and work, I would sit and stare at the pages of thesis paper, blank and staring back at me with failure, or else mocking me with every line I typed across them. What did it matter what I wrote? It wouldn't be accepted! Desperately determined to go on, I spent three years in a 1-year graduate program, years of crawling face-down among dust and boulders of a dry and meaningless thesis, as I vainly tried pumping my life blood into it to give it the needed life and meaning.
Refusing to be a book, it grew instead into a series of attempts.
Finally, I could not go any further on. I had no strength left. I was a mental and physical wreck. With my last voice I called out for help from God. Save me! Save my mind! Help me get through this graduate program! Please!
Suddenly, God intervened, I believe now. The idea came to combine the attempted books within a single framework, and I thought of science fiction, and I had read a landlord's scifi library and so it was natural for me to try this way out, rather than discard all my previous work and start afresh. My thesis based on this series at last began to shape up into something that I could submit. I found the right typist, and thought of ways I could reduce the size for copying and binding while retaining the structure needed for fulfilling the outline. Evenso, it turned out to be the largest thesis the graduate school ever received and approved. More miracles occurred! One was absolutely stupendous.
Going all the way to Montana by bus to take the German test again (a change in venue might give me better luck, I was thinking), I sat in class there at the University of Montana, staring at the test, which I could see was all in Subjunctive, which they never teach in German classes I had, since nobody used it. This was what flunking the test several times had gotten me: an exam absolutely impossible to pass. They made it certain that it was impossible, moreover, by subtracting every wrong answer from every right answer. You simply could not guess your way through!
I did something I would never have done before, I prayed for God to help me. I guessed all the way through, not bothering to read the questions, which I couldn't read anyway, and then gave the answer sheet to the examiner and left.
I returned to my college and was passing by the English department office one day, when the secretary called out through the open door. The secretary said, "Oh, Ginther! I think you passed that German exam."
I was absolutely astounded. It couldn't be! But she said again, "I think you passed. Let me find your results." She rummaged in the files near here while I stood there, unable to breathe or show any emotion, for fear she was wrong, and I would hear the horrible words, "Oh, sorry, I was mistaken." Then she found my test results. She said, "Yes, you passed."
That was all I needed to hear, I thanked her and rushed out, the unbelievable news burning my ears.
The rest of the program, the Oral Exam before the graduate exam director and two other faculty members, was a piece of cake, I found. My director didn't seem to recall I had been on the outs with him, and took my thesis with pleasure and surprise, for he had forgotten all about me and was pleased that he had a student come forward with such a big thesis-book as mine, which was several hundred pages, the largest they had ever received.
"Interesting," "Intriquing," they said of my thesis when it was read by my graduate committee. After I was asked several questions to make sure it was my own composition, not one I had bought as a clever, lazy friend of mine had done and gotten away with, I was granted my degree. That was in December 1975.
But this was really the beginning of something far better. God had shown me through all the miracles that he had never abandoned me. He came to me when I was at my wits-end, and rescued me! He had given me a "pass" on an impossible test in German Subjunctive, on which I had guessed all the way through! He had provided me the ideas on how to organize and finish my thesis and get it typed and all paid for and copied, and also seen me through the Oral Exam with flying colors, with an advisor I thought I had made my enemy forever!
He had done all this for me, yet there was far more coming soon. I returned to Minneapolis, to work for my uncle in landscaping while I tried to find a publisher for my thesis, and there the Lord came fully back into my life and heart. I was restored as a Christian, something I had never imagined possible again, for now I wanted to follow the Lord who had done so much for me. I joined a Bible-believing church and went to prayer meetings and entered into the Body of Christ in a way I had never known before. I owe my life to Jesus, twice over! This time I intend to continue with the Lord. There is no turning back again. I wouldn't want the world again, not for all the fame and money it has to offer. My book is not yet published [I later threw it all in the trash], yet that doesn't matter, as I have Jesus, I have salvation, I have eternal life in him. God gave me Christian friends, and Christian fellowship. Above all, he gave me his marvelous Word. I can pray and He will answer me when I call. It has been wonderful since I was rescued and restored by the Lord as his follower. He called me out of darkness into his marvelous light!
Try this Light, Friend. You will be helped beyond your wildest imagination, just like Joseph was when God raised him from the pit and prison to the palace! Jesus can make all the difference between stumbling alone along a dark path that leads to destruction in the end and...well, why not see for yourself?
Jesus said: "I am the Light of the World: He that follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the Light of Life."--John 8:12