Remembrance, what a wonderful thing it is! This story is a remembrance, more than 60 year ago. It actually started when I read Marlie Rowell’s book “Sparkle Always”, a fascinating book that stimulated the imagination to remember events in my past childhood. This is such a tender time of life when we are barely getting started on our life’s journey. So the following story is about one of those special and miraculous times in my life. It is looking at a very special moment and event. One that had a profound effect on my faith as a child and even now as an adult.
In 1952, I was 8 years old. It was that very year my parents became involved with a religious cult. Like all cults, they were exclusive; it was either their way or to hell you would go. They controlled every facet of our lives; how we dressed, the foods we ate, the friends we had, they even controlled the type of education we could pursue. They used fear and intimidation as a tool of power over our lives. And they were experts at it. To say this ungodly environment changed our lives would be an understatement. We became isolated and withdrawn from a healthy social interaction.
I lost budding friendships, but I think the hardest of all, we were not allowed to celebrate Christmas, as well as other religious holidays. These were special days that little children really enjoy and look forward too.
I was forced to drop Little League baseball, something I thoroughly enjoyed. I resigned from the Cub Scouts…and the list goes on.
Before I go further, I want you to understand, I do not feel sorry for what happened. For at that time I believed with my whole heart that what my parents were doing was right in the eyes of God. I believed and trusted my parents. The faith of a child can be very strong, and mine was such. I did not understand but I did believe. As you will see, God honored that child like faith in a most amazing way.
As I mentioned earlier, Christmas was a BIG taboo. The church so hated and fiercely opposed its celebration to the extent that individuals that continued to celebrate it were, and still are today, forcibly removed from the cult. They taught that continuing in these celebrations would result in salvation lost and eternal damnation. You can imagine that for an adult this was a horrifying dilemma. It was even more so for a young child of eight
Now Christmas was approaching and my tension and fears began to slowly mount. At school, there would be a Christmas party. Attendance was mandatory, the teacher made it clear there would be no exceptions. She had carefully planned the party and told us that all classmates were to draw a name out of a hat and buy a gift for that student. Then at the party, we would exchange gifts. I think you can imagine, I am not asking you to agree, what a problem that presented for me. No, I would not get any help from my parents. My mom told me that I needed to resolve this problem on my own and I needed to stand firm and not let the teacher talk me into participating in the Christmas party and exchange of gifts.
I want you to understand this was extremely difficult and scary for a little boy who wanted to do the right thing, but did not know what to do. I was very confused and bewildered. In addition, I sure did not want to go to Hell.
One week before Christmas the teacher explained that there would be a Christmas party the following Friday. OK, not so bad for I knew I could stay home that day. So I felt relieved, until she explained about the top hat she had placed on her desk. She proceeded to tell us that she was placing 28 cards in the hat; each card had the name of a student. She would then take the hat around to each student and each would draw a name from the hat. And some time that week, we were to buy and gift wrap a present for that student. Then at the Christmas party, a gift exchange would take place.
Now suddenly the situation became complicated, and for this little boy, very complicated. I could feel the fires of hell beginning to heat up.
What to do! What to do! Quite frankly, I was scared and there was no way out! I did not want to draw a name. At the same time, I did not want a fellow student not to get a gift and face an embarrassing situation at the party.
My teacher arranged our seating so it would be alphabetical. This meant the hat would start at the other side of the room. Since my last name started with a “W” I would be the second from the last to draw a name. I sat there and watched as one by one, 26 other students drew a name.
Not knowing what to do…I remember exactly what I did, and the results were, to me, astonishing. As each student drew a name, I would occasionally hear, “OH NO! Not him!” My mind would flash with the thought, “They drew my name”. My heart just sank. I faced a paradox that had no discernible solution. It was like the children of Israel at the Red Sea. There was no way out and certain death facing them.
The hat was now two students ahead of me…I remember silently saying, “Please God, I want to do what is right, please help me”. I said that as honestly and sincerely as I knew how.
So now, there she was towering over me with the hat. She smiled, and said “Robert, it is your turn to draw a card from the hat”. With only two cards left, I slowly and cautiously reached in and pulled out a folded card. I just did not know what else to do.
A sudden flush of calmness came over me like a soft and gentle summer breeze. I was no longer stressed or afraid. I cautiously opened the card to read the students name. And there it was, my eyes widened with almost total disbelief. I closed the card and opened it again. The name was still there, and it was…it was my name. The card said “Robert Weyand”. I remember saying, “Thank You Father”. I remember being so very excited, I am sure God looked down and smiled that day.
The odds of my drawing my own name on the second to last draw are far greater than a million to one. Time and chance you may think. Just so, you know, this happened two years in a row! No, it was a miracle, one of many that would fashion and mold me into a believer, not in the cults teaching but in the power, might and love of my God.
Reflecting on such moments can be a wonderful thing. It helps us to strengthen faith and prepare us for events and difficulties yet to come.
Many thanks to Marlie for writing “Sparkle Always”. Now I have so many more pleasant memories that were lost. She has brought a smile to my face and a mischievous sparkle to my eyes.