I was born and raised in Iola, a small town of about 1000 people in central Wisconsin. I have only one sister, four years younger, and no brothers. We were raised in a good Christian home. I was baptized as an infant in the Catholic Church. My Dad was converted on October 6, 1979 when God spoke to him and freed him from a drinking problem. Outside of communion wine, he never touched a drop of liquor again. He started attending the local Lutheran church in town, and the rest of our family joined him after a little while. My Dad was my greatest hero, and I still admire him for his wisdom and achievements. Our family was very healthy. We spent lots of weekends together camping, and one night every week was “family night,” where one of us would get to pick an activity for our family to do together. We were taught that Jesus loves us and the Bible is God’s Word.
I prayed to receive Christ at a Christian magic show when I was about 10 years old, and reaffirmed that commitment the next summer at a 5-day-club run by a neighbor. I don’t remember thinking much about spiritual things during this period, but a survey in 6th grade had the question, “I would like to learn more about…,” to which I replied, “the Bible.”
I began to question my faith in High School, which coincided with an increase in sin and rebellion in my life, which, in turn, coincided with getting my driver’s license. One spiritual highlight occurred, however, when I attended the National Youth Gathering for the ELCA churches in 1991. Tony Campolo spoke during one of the sessions and challenged us to give our careers to the service of others rather than ourselves. For instance, a lawyer should represent the truly oppressed in society who cannot pay for good legal defense; doctors should go to the really needy areas of the world to serve. This call to service really resonated with me, and has continued to influence my decisions.
My questions continued to build, and I enjoyed talking about spiritual things with my peers. One of my friends said I had to talk to this guy she met named “Shadow.” He was an odd kid, a “goth kid” before there was such a thing. We talked about all sorts of things, from philosophy to the occult. Then he looked me in the eye and spoke a word, and suddenly it’s like I was no longer there. Instead, I had the sense of overwhelming remorse, the kind one feels concerning the horrors of the holocaust. I then felt an evil presence, laughing at the whole thing. Then suddenly it was over, and I snapped back to reality. I left as quickly as I could, and never saw Shadow again. During my greatest seasons of questioning, that encounter continued to drive me on because I knew for sure that an evil supernatural force existed; I hoped that all I had learned as a child about an all-powerful good force was true as well.
As I entered college, my Dad began praying daily for me. In the spring of 1994 I began to take bike rides out to a secluded spot in the woods to sit and think. In the silence of those moments, God began to influence me, drawing me to Himself. I was wrestling with a decision over whether to take a summer job in a Print Shop and use my free time to direct a play, or instead to take a position as a camp counselor at a Lutheran summer camp. To my own surprise, I found myself accepting the counselor position.
That summer God awakened something inside of me. I began the summer with the affirmation that I was just beginning to believe again. After twelve weeks leading kids in daily Bible studies, songs, and worship, my faith got from my head down into my heart. I ended the summer with a conviction of the Truth. The turning point came when people started asking me if I would come back the following summer.
“I’d like to,” I answered, “but I should really get an internship next summer so I can get a good job once I get out of college. But I’d really rather come back here because I’d rather minister to kids.” Then it dawned on me: if I preferred ministry for the summer, what would ever make me think that I would want something different for the rest of my life? That decision affected my entire destiny.