Tag: HJ Heinz

Save Me A Seat – My Tribute to Steve Schueren

I sat in the back of the bus.

I sat with the other bewildered children listening to some strange lady trying to get us to sing songs that we had never heard before.  She seemed way too happy for that time of the morning. 

The church bus picked us up early on that Sunday morning in Oak Harbor and I was on my way to Fremont Baptist Temple in Fremont, Ohio.  It is hard to believe that my parents allowed me to ride this rickety old bus some 25 miles to Fremont to attend Sunday school.  But it was  1971 and things were different back then. 

It seemed as if that strange lady in the front of the bus knew a never-ending list of songs.  She sang those songs  one right after the other and I found myself taking a liking to those catchy songs.  Before I knew it we arrived at the church. 

As they herded all of us up and tried to get us in line and in the right Sunday school room, I was still uneasy and not really comfortable with all of these strangers.  I did not know anyone.

I was led into the fourth grade room and was introduced to my teacher.  Mr. (Gene) Trusty was my teacher that day.  He shook my hand as I walked in the room and remembered that he about broke my little 10-year-old hand that morning.

I sat at the end of the first row of chairs I could find.  It did not take long to discover that I was looked on a little differently.  I sat there quietly not wanting to draw attention myself and not really wanting to talk to anyone.  I mean I was a bus kid and no one pays attention to a bus kid.  That is just the way it was.

Then just before the class started this skinny little boy with blond hair came right up to me and asked me if I wanted to sit with him.  He asked me my name.  I told him that my name was David and he introduced himself as Steve. 

Thus began the unlikely friendship that lasted from that Spring day in 1971 right up to Monday, October 10th, 2011. 

Steve Schueren and I have known each other for over 40 years. 

In those early years, we quickly became fast friends and though I lived in Oak Harbor and he lived over 30 miles away in Old Fort, Ohio I would spend time at his house as often as I could.  We had the same love for sports and there was just something that just drew us together as friends.  

Every Sunday I would rush off that broken down church bus and find my way to our Sunday school class and there would be Steve waiting there…saving me a seat.  A seat for a bus kid.  

This continued for the next few years, until one Sunday they told us that the church was no longer going to be sending a bus to Oak Harbor.  I lost contact with my Old Fort friend.  Three years passed.

In 1976, my sister started to drive and we talked our mom into allowing us to drive to the church in Fremont.  As we parked our car and made our way into the church, I wondered if Steve was still at the church.  Sure enough, there he was.  He welcomed me and invited me to sit with him.  It was as if nothing had ever changed and we just picked up our friendship where it had been left three years earlier.

For the next 10 years we did just about everything together.  We were active in the church youth group, went to summer Bible camps.  Hung out with each other and attended the same Christian School, played varsity soccer and basketball together.  Listened to the same kind of music and sang in the same group.  We worked at HJ Heinz together and both decided to go in the ministry and attend Liberty University together.  

From that spring day way back in 1971 I have always looked up to Steve.   That is not to say that we always got along.  Like all friends we had our differences.  We had our times where we needed space from each other.  We both were very competitive and like any other friendship we had our share of arguments and disagreements.

Sometimes when you have a friendship that is similar to the one that Steve and I had, it would seem as if we had a lot of things in common.  In reality we were quite different.  I was an Ohio State fan… he was a Michigan fan.  I was barely aware of who the President was… he could talk politics before it was popular to do so.  I scraped by academically just so I could remain eligible to play sports… he was an excellent student.  I was a stutterer and could not speak in front of people without embarrassing myself… he could hold the attention of a large crowd and could clearly explain difficult concepts long before he finished his education.   I struggled with my walk with Christ, it was a daily battle… he had his act together spiritually and was an example on how a young man should live his life.   He was one of the most focused and intelligent people I have ever known.  

We were together for a lot of our life events.  I remember the night Steve told me he was confident that he was dating the girl who would steal his heart.  Being his longtime friend I must admit I was rather shocked and I had to admit I had never witnessed him so taken by a girl.  I am referring to Rhonda, who would soon become his wife.   Both he and Rhonda would be in my wedding and we would all share in celebrating the births of our first-born children.

He would graduate college and seminary and go directly into the ministry.  He served in a church in Virginia for a few years and then he took the opportunity to teach at Temple Christian Academy in Fremont, Ohio where we both graduated.  I had the privilege to work with him during his time at Temple.  He was a gifted teacher and could inspire those who sat under his teaching to grasp the deeper things of God.  He had a unique ability to challenge those that he taught to think and defend what you believed.  He would teach you that if you believed something you needed to believe it because you researched it yourself and that you did not just believe because he or any other preacher said it was so.  He was such a student of God’s Word.  His students loved him and looked up to him. 

It was during this time I noticed something different in Steve.  He struggled with a burden that I did not see coming.   Like Paul in the New Testament, who carried a burden for years that God never took away, Steve would carry this burden for years to come. This burden would start affecting his teaching.  I am sad to say that I did not appreciate the years we worked together at Temple.  I wish I could go back and change the way things happened and certainly how it all ended.  I deeply regret it to this day.  I was in a very difficult position where I had to tell Steve that the school was going to head in a different direction.  We parted ways and from that point my friendship with Steve and his family would be strained at best.  He would move on and become a wonderful pastor to those that he ministered to in churches in Indiana and Southern Ohio for the next 20 years or so.

I am sad to say that for this portion of our adult years “life” got in our way.   He was busy in the ministry, raising children and moving forward with life.  As I struggled in my walk with Christ, I found myself falling farther away from what was left of our friendship.  When I went through a divorce in 1995, I had lost all contact with Steve.  I alienated myself from almost everyone from my past and Steve was no exception.  (I have documented my journey away from the Lord a number of times on this blog)  Steve and Rhonda had remained friends with my ex-wife and I think that Steve and I went close to 13 years with no contact with each other.  What ever was left of my friendship with Steve and his family was over when my divorce was finalized.  I was a failure as a believer, a husband, a father and as a friend.

Steve battled his burden and I battled mine.  His struggles were different from mine and while mine were for the most part self-inflicted, his were not.   I deserved what I received from my choices and my self-inflicted struggles.  Steve did not deserve what he was dealing with.

In 2009, Steve accepted the call to be the pastor of Bigelow Church in Portsmouth, Ohio.  He was excited about the opportunities that this ministry had to offer.  About that same time he came home to visit and one Sunday morning Steve and I talked for the first time in years.  We talked for about an hour after church and we were re-united again.  However, it was evident that time and space had changed us.  We were not the people we were in high school or college for that matter.  We would not ever again be the “Steve and David” combo we once were all those years ago.

The bottom line was that we re-established contact with each other and we exchanged phone numbers and email addresses.   I am thankful that we talked that day in the church because although it would never be the same we did indeed write notes back and forth over the course of the past few years.  He would comment on my blog posts and I would comment on his.  He had started a blog called, “A Clay Jar Speaks”.  It was insightful and perfectly reflected his commitment to the truth of God’s Word.  He linked my blog to his and I have had a number of people visit this site through the link on Steve’s blog.  Over the next few months, we shared some letters and I had the opportunity to tell him how much I appreciated his friendship and thank him for everything he had done for me all those years ago.  I apologized to Steve and told him how sorry I was that I had failed in our friendship.  I was hopeful that we could move forward and put behind us some of the things that had come between us.

But it soon was evident that Steve had begun to battle his burden again.  Our communication slowed down and this past April he stopped responding to my notes and letters.  I had known that Steve had battled depression since his time at Temple Christian.  Over the years, there would be periods when he would struggle and I know he fought the battle courageously during these times and he would always come out on the other side.  I had no doubt that this time would be no different.

When the phone rang on Monday, October 10th … I knew.  The news on the line was devastating.

Steve’s death was sudden.   When I heard the news I simply could not believe it.  I had lost another pillar of my childhood.  In 2009, I lost both Bob Emrich and Bryan Blakely, two of my closest friends. Both of them taken too young and too quickly.  These losses were devastating to me.  Now a few years later I lose Steve.  We may not have been as close as we once were but make no mistake that he is and will always be a major influence in my life.  Another pillar in my life… gone. 

I cannot say I understand Steve’s death.  I cannot process it.  I don’t understand the decisions he made that day, but I accept them.  I believe that he was courageously fighting his burden and it was a battle that he could no longer see the end of.  It is with that aspect I am most saddened.  It would be unreasonable for me to assume anything else other than the fact that he was a weary soldier and was ready to go home.

Steve was well-loved and he had done so many things on earth that had a direct impact on eternity. I will forever be grateful to have known him.   I will forever be grateful that Steve was there at the right place and at the right time all those years ago in that Sunday school room when he asked a skinny, snotty nosed bus kid to sit next to him.  I wonder where my life would have taken me had that not happened. 

What is it that I will remember when I think of Steve?  I have a long list of precious memories.  Besides his commitment and love for the Word of God, I think everyone who knew him very well would agree with me on this.   It was his sense of humor.   He had a wonderful sense of sarcasm and humor.  That is what I will truly miss about Steve.  He could make me laugh and not many people could do that. 

I will remember him when I hear a Ronnie Milsap or Tim Sheppard song.   I will remember him when I watch the Ohio StateMichigan game.  I will remember him every time I turn on the NCAA March Madness during basketball season.  I will remember him each and every time I watch a political debate on TV.  He would just love to comment on the perspectives of each candidate. 

All of these things and more will trigger memories of him.

I will forever be grateful for spending 40 years of my life with the pleasure of knowing him.  All the memories I have shared with him will forever be cherished and remembered.   Steve will forever live in my heart.  Steve is in heaven now.  This is not the time for me to grieve his death; I choose to celebrate his life.   I choose to think back and remember how Steve touched my life.   How he made me laugh and how good Steve was as a person.  I am thankful that I was given the chance to have known a man named Steve Schueren… he made me a better person.

(Updated on January 11, 2012)

I mentioned in the last few paragraphs that I would always remember Steve when I hear a Tim Sheppard song.   Since Steve’s death this song has taken a very special place in my heart and it will always be the song that will bring back cherished memories of the man of God that I knew in Steve.   This song brings me great comfort and as Tim sings please take a moment to reflect and remember  Steve as I do…

 

Steve will forever be missed but I know in the right time, I will meet Steve again.   He will be waiting there in heaven and maybe he’ll be saving me a seat and invite this “bus kid” to sit next to him…just like he did all those years ago.  

I look forward to taking him up on that invitation.

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Jerry Falwell & Liberty University

 

 

Maybe it’s just me….

 

But I miss Jerry Falwell.

 

It’s been well over year since Dr. Falwell went home to be with the Lord. 

 

I’m sure he would be all over the issues that we see in the election.  He always had a twinkle in his eye as he would debate or comment on the candidates and their positions. 

 

I remember the first time I met Jerry Falwell…

 

Right after my High School graduation, I was working a full time job and did not go to college in the fall.  I had a good job at H J Heinz in Fremont, Ohio.  I really wasn’t “smart enough” nor  “good enough” to go to a private, Christian College.  But after a year and half, I decided that that was not something that I wanted to do for the rest of my life.  So I quit my job and planned on going to school. 

 

My family was thinking that I had lost my mind.  No one in my family went college.  Who was I to think I could go.

 

I had attended Fremont Baptist Temple, an Independent, Fundamental Baptist Church.  For those of you who do not understand what that means…I do not have time now to explain…maybe a future blog. 

 

So…back to my story…it was expected for me to go to a “Christian” college.  I had received a lot of advice from people in my church.  To attend a “secular” or public college was not even a consideration for me.  If I had stated that I wanted attend a State school, I would have been considered deep in sin and well on my way to burn in Hell.

 

I had been on the “tour” of all the Christian colleges of the day that were deemed acceptable by my church.  Liberty was way down (last) on the list of acceptable schools.  Let me see…the bottom of the list of approved schools…Hmmm…Liberty Baptist College. That was good enough for me…I enrolled at Liberty in January of 1981. 

 

I was going to be a student right smack dab in the middle of the Moral Majority era.  Now I must admit, I was not a real big fan of the Moral Majority.  In the past, I have stated in my blog, that I have been a registered Democrat since 1979.  My whole family had been democrats for as long as I remember.  My father would retire from the Teamsters and my brother was an official with the United Steel Workers Union. Needless to say, I was a little bit more “liberal” in my politics and my personal life choices.   I had perfected the art of going “undercover” and making sure my Baptist Church would not have a clue that my politics and my ways were more liberal than I wanted to admit.  

 

As I prepared to go to Liberty, I remember thinking I had to not let anyone see my disdain for the comments made about this politician or that issue by Dr. Falwell.  I prepared to try to be good and give it my best shot at the academics.  I would practice my smile and the nodding my head in fake agreement so that no one would notice me.   My fear was that I would be discovered and would be “burned at the stake” or at least “tarred and feathered”, not to mention being kicked out of school because I was not a good Christian and more importantly because I wasn’t a REPUBLICAN.

 

My family had to be thinking that I had lost my mind.

I drove on the campus of Liberty University on January 8, 1981.  My sister and my mother drove me down to Lynchburg, Virginia the home of Jerry Falwell, Liberty Baptist College and the Moral Majority.  I arrived on a Thursday afternoon with an old beat up suitcase filled with five shirts, a couple of ties, and a pair of blue and black dress slacks. I had not a clue of what the future would hold. I had enough money to get me through the semester but nothing more than a wing and a prayer as to how I was going to make it academically.

I had been out of school for a year and a half and had not picked up anything more than a Sports Illustrated to read in all that time. To say I was out of my element is an understatement. I’m not sure that I had an “element” at all. I was the first Lee to attend college from my family. My brother, Jim got married too young and my sister Linda, the most capable, never really had the opportunity to go. Now here I come, the least capable and I somehow made it through the process of being admitted into the school and even managed to get a dorm assignment.

As I watched my sister and my mother drive away from my dorm window, the reality of my situation came crashing down upon me. I kept my eye on their car for as long as I could before watching it disappear into the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Something deep inside me wanted to run outside and stop them. I wanted to scream for them to come back. I wanted to tell my mom that I was afraid of failing and that I made a mistake of thinking that I was worthy enough to actually attend college. I mean what was I thinking? I had told people that I was going to go, but I never really believed that I would actually do it.

Despite the fact that everyone, including my own pastor, told me that I would not amount to anything, I was indeed a college student. The cold hard truth is they were right…I wasn’t smart enough to make it in college. I also struggled with the fact that I wasn’t “spiritual” enough to make it at a Christian college. I did not have the pedigree to compete or succeed on this level. It wasn’t just bad enough for me to not go to college right out of high school, now I had to face the reality of going school and have to face everyone when I failed.

I sat there in my room all alone. I sat without unpacking. I sat there for hours. I sat until the darkness of evening closed around me and filled the room. I sat there scared to death that my thoughts and feelings of inadequacy might really be true. These feelings were buried deep down inside me. They were not uncommon to me, but I never showed them outwardly. I had always come across confident, maybe too confident for my own good. Now I was facing true fear of failure and I was far away from everything that had been protecting me. I never faced fear like this. This was real. I guess I always wondered deep down inside how I measured up.  Where did I fit into the plan?  What was going to happen to me?

Only time would tell…

The next day was the first day of orientation.  I had cut my hair and wore a tie and looked the part of a young Conservative Republican that I saw everywhere I went on campus.  I went to the first session of orientation and took my place where all “good Baptists”  sit…the back row.

 

I was trying to sit and not be noticed, when out of the corner of my eye was Dr. Falwell.  He was walking through the door and I was immediately taken back at how he just was walking through the crowd.  Where were the guards? Where was the entourage? He smiled as he came into the room.

 

Then he started to walk right in my direction!!!

 

“For the love of GOD!!!”, I thought.  “I am here only one day and Jerry Falwell spotted me and my “liberal” ways before I had ever had the chance to hide them!” 

 

I did not expect this.  What was I going to say?  What was he going to do? He continued his path in my direction.  My hands started to sweat, my heart pounded.  I desperately wanted to disappear, anywhere would be better than getting booted from school before it ever started.  I knew it…he could tell I wasn’t cut out for this. 

 

His eyes met mine and I saw something I had not seen on television.  His eyes were bright and comforting.  His eyes seemed familiar, like the eyes of my Grandfather.  They made me feel at ease.  He smiled and walked right up to me.

 

“What’s your name?” he asked.  I mumbled something that I hope sounded like “David Lee”.  He shook my hand and looked at me and said something about “…welcoming me and hoping I would enjoy the school year.” He asked me about my family and where I was from.  He asked about my future and what I thought God wanted to do with my life.  We spoke for a few minutes before he moved on, talking to other students as he moved up to the podium.

 

I could not believe it.  Jerry Falwell had spoken to me.  Was this the same man that I had seen on television?  He was not the pompous, radical, legalistic, narrow-minded, judgmental televangelist that I had assumed I would discover. 

 

He accepted me…      He welcomed me…     I was part of the family.

 

Over the next four years at Liberty, our paths would cross often.  Believe it or not, when I would run into Dr. Falwell he would remember my name.   I was humbled when I introduced my parents to Dr. Falwell at my graduation and have him call me by name.  That is something that many students at Liberty did not get to experience.

 

It’s been 25 years since my graduation and I never had the chance to meet with Dr. Falwell again. 

 

A part of me wants to believe that he would have remembered me.

 

I miss Dr. Falwell. 

 

I think he would be so excited about all that is going on at Thomas Road.  He would be proud of the way Jonathan has carried the message of Jesus Christ to the community of Lynchburg and through television.  He also would be thrilled at the way that Jerry Jr has carried the torch of Liberty University.  Record attendance and commitments at the church and an all-time high enrollment of students at the college are just a few examples of the success of the past year.

 

I am proud to have been a part of Liberty University.  I am thankful that they took a small town Ohio boy and gave him a chance.  I am proud of the fact that I did indeed graduate and went on to teach for 12 years.  I even had the opportunity to teach some future Liberty students.  I will be eternally grateful.

 

But then again, maybe it’s just me…