Mike and I met at his favorite breakfast hangout. After thanking the Lord, we ate large chunks of melon and pineapple, scrambled eggs and wheat toast, and we sipped four cups of decaf. Watching Mike with the pepper shaker, I knew he was the seasoning I needed for this delicious story. What looked like a reserved man on the outside was jalapeno peppers on the inside.
“Honor and fairness are my watchwords, my checkpoints and my conversation topics with Jesus,” said Mike. “The Lord knows I have not always been honorable or fair, so I ask Jesus every day for wisdom and grace to discern any chance to practice what I preach.”
Mike was raised in the Missouri Synod Church in the original Lutheran German faith. His mother served as the religious ambassador for the household—two brothers and one sister. He was confirmed in the 8th grade and began teaching Sunday school at 14. He did this until he was 19. With a large smile, Mike boasted, “God called me early.”
Where was his father? The oldest of four children, Mike found ways to protect himself and his siblings from the occasional verbal abuse and secretly hoped his father would leave after his episodes with alcohol. Otherwise, Mike was the dutiful son and gopher for his father, helping him with plumbing and electrical and carpentry work, which paid the bills. Mom went to work eventually to place more money in the family. “Smart, skilled and eager to learn, she ended up earning more than my father, and he did not like that,” Mike added.
Growing up in a strict home with an alcoholic father left little room for a young boy to explore or dream, and Mike developed as an introvert. He admits he was a loner, and by his senior year in high school, he had three friends. Accepting his father as an alcoholic was one thing, but asking his father not to abuse his friends was another. It was safer and less embarrassing to hide or drop out of the social scene.
If the pup tent was not on the back porch, Mike breathed a sigh of relief because Dad had left for some time away and would not be back for a week or two. This was the time that his mother aggressively invited Jesus to the house and the cleansing process began. No banging doors, no yelling, no quick movements to escape a slap. Peace visited with smiles on everyone’s faces, plans for family outings and prayer time without having to plan around Dad’s toxic interruptions. The devil took hold of the situation when the pup tent dropped into its familiar spot and the back door slammed shut. Dad was home.
Honor and fairness are my watchwords, my checkpoints and my conversation topics with Jesus.
If Mike was not heard at home, he was heard elsewhere. His choir voice was a gift from God, and he used it whenever possible. Encouraged by his mother and members of the church to use his voice, he is proud of his choir experiences since the 4th grade. One year, he was in huge demand, singing three different times on the same day for three different grades. He sang in a choir in the Navy and returned to the choir in his local Missouri Synod Church performing solos.
Mike joined the Navy and had an opportunity to continue his teaching ministry for two years in Puerto Rico at the Air Station. Later, chasing Russians on a large carrier in the Mediterranean Sea, Mike needed to discern if Jesus was on that carrier. Was it harder without a chaplain? “For me, Jesus was present in the wind, the waves and the sky. He was everywhere, and I made endless pleas to protect me as a BT, because after my training in Boiler Training, I knew the dangers of that job,” he said. Mike added he would have needed a miracle to guide him on a submarine mission. He’s claustrophobic! After 6 years in the Navy, this veteran recalled that he and his buddies did get together for some informal prayer.
Mike continued, interjecting how Jesus was a part of his life in the early 1970s. “I learned some good lessons in the Navy and returned to accept the situations at home. Mom was in a good place and happily was baptized in the Holy Spirit in 1974. It took time for the family to accept that she was at a spiritual level we didn’t understand. What were we supposed to think when she spoke in tongues? It became more real when the church considered her a prophet.” Following in her footsteps, Mike was baptized in the Holy Spirit two years later. Recalling an international conference of the Holy Spirit in Kansas City with 8,000 people, Mike implied it was far better than the roar of a crowd at a Cubs game at Wrigley Field.
One of life’s storms struck Mike in the 1980s. The tornado inside him twisted his good judgments and turned him away from Jesus, the church, his family and his friends. Wine, women and cigarettes were his passions. His welding job no longer existed, and Mike was too drunk or drugged to know he was living in Hell on Earth. In fact, one winter he was living in his father’s old tent on Lower Whacker Drive in Chicago. Cold, hungry and dirty, he compared his situation to the prodigal son.
In the spring, Mike moved to Upper Whacker Drive and let the power of the sunrise, the beauty of Lake Michigan and the generosity of strangers move him to call his sister and ask if he could live with her. When she agreed, he threw his rebelliousness and his old possessions in the trash. That was a start, but Mike remained addicted to alcohol. He found a job and worked at overcoming his addiction. When Jesus said, “Enough, Mike!” he listened. A strong, gut-wrenching confession lifted his burdens, and Mike felt the blessings Jesus had in store for him. With his mother’s prayers, fortified with those from the Women Aglow group, he recovered. Soon after, he attended a Women Aglow meeting where he was lifted to new heights in praise for Jesus. The prodigal son had returned to face Heaven on Earth and leave Hell behind.
In hindsight, Mike realized Jesus’ plan; he was called to care for his mother. He decided that could be his ministry—to show gratitude to his family for helping him through a tough time and to bring honor to his widowed mother. He found a suitable apartment and moved in with his mother following two steps behind. Ten years later with a Veteran’s benefits and a steady income as a welder, he purchased a classy condominium where he and his mother live today.
The relationship between Mike and his mother has three layers. The first is the mother-son layer where Mom is the boss. “I obey her motherly requests and tell her she’s my favorite!” The second is that of roommates. “We have to get along to maintain some peace so we compromise and think of each other as equals in decisions affecting us in the condo.” Layer three is his role as her landlord. “Taxes, insurance and maintenance are my concerns, and she is happy to let me worry about these things.”
Mike reminded me that he welcomed the peaceful comfort of Jesus in his childhood, especially when his Dad left. That was all his mother’s doing. Now, he wants to do the same for her. So, now he listens for messages from Jesus, and there are many. For example, the three distinct relationships between him and his mother were Heaven-sent. “It is a way to honor her as my wonderful mother, a way to honor her as a great roommate and a way to honor me with importance as the landlord.”
In 1988 Mike practiced his faith with the Charismatic Lutheran Church in Geneva. Fully involved with the music ministry and other responsibilities, Mike attained a position of respect and importance, yet he was praying for some signs to help him decide if he should stay with the church. Feeling unsettled and stale in a charismatic church didn’t make sense! In 1990, Operation Desert Storm served as a catalysis to accept Jesus’ message, “Time for change.” He remembers the congregation praying for the protection of the soldiers, yet in that 20-minute petition, there was not one mention of Israel. “Why are we in the Middle East if it is not to fight for Israel?” By the end of the service, he was determined to leave the church and look for something different. “I turned in my music and never looked back.” Mike revealed that the music director called him six months later with that all-important question, “Where have you been?”
After this experience, the steps to the Temple Shalom Yisrael never looked so good. He soared by leading their prayer and worship. Accepted, creative and permitted to try new things, he introduced the Hosanna Integrity series to rejoice through music. Mike believes the pastor was cautious and maybe a bit jealous. So much creativity and genuine spirit had not entered the Temple for quite a while, including the pastors. It took a while for hearts to accept differences and proclaim the true meaning of the Temple beliefs—that Jesus is the Messiah. Feeling closer to Israel, Mike remains embedded in this Messianic congregation of Jews and Gentiles.
His weekdays begin with an hour and a half of prayer and meditation. A new believer asked him how he knows what to say, think or do during his spiritual time with Jesus. “It comes in time. It’s not forced. Like a healthy newborn baby, it will grow.”
Keeping healthy is a constant challenge for this 67-year old. The last thing a diabetic needs is an infection. In 2007, what started as a small hole in his left foot spread to his leg. Antibiotics for four months administered through IVs twice a day was his physical battle, but Jesus pulled a fast one and provided the spiritual victory. “Before you chop off my leg, let me have one more week to think about it, Doctor White.” Mike prayed for a miracle and within hours his leg started to heal.
“Four years ago, I fractured my left knee and was tired of limping. I attended a retreat and the minister said someone would have no trouble walking because their legs and knees were healing with God’s mercy. Five days later I was walking without a limp and the pain was gone.” Mike asked if I had enough time to listen to four or five more examples of how Jesus has kept him safe and healthy, especially with his toes. I learned that a cancerous polyp in his colon disappeared and that he is struggling with anemia due to strange bacteria in his stomach. “I have good VA benefits, but my best healer is Jesus.”
Tutoring helps Mike stay brain-healthy. He’s sure God has a hand in this venture. “My first job was a connection through Mom and her pastor. He and his wife didn’t have the patience to help their children with schoolwork. I prayed about this matter and decided to give it a try. I am there for all three children, but it’s the youngest one who gets my undivided attention in math, science and reading. I’ve earned everyone’s trust, and I don’t holler or scream at the children the way their parents do. My best gift is one of discernment, and I use it all the time in tutoring.”
Note from Alice: I think this man is amazing. There’s no doubt that he could have been a choir director or a pastor. He is so filled with good thoughts and actions that I keep saying, “Accept the plan Jesus had for him!” I can even picture his job as a welder done with love and honor for the Lord. Mike does not have illusions of grandeur. The verbal abuse he absorbed as a child plus the passion for Jesus through his mother left two indelible marks: 1) Be quiet and 2) Jesus will provide. Living at his own comfort level, Mike will continue to use his heightened sense of discernment. He thanks the Lord for his ability to gain trust and practice keen insight. Life has taught him well, and being himself has taught him life. I’m happy to know this discerning bachelor.
Biblical Note: “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’” 1 Samuel 16:7 (NLT)