This was a fun period in my life, or so I thought. I was young, & did some things that weren't the smartest. The Commission for the Blind, sponsored me in three different training situations. First, I trained as a Cashier in the Capitol Cafeteria. I sold candy & cigarettes. I had to memorize where the different candy bars were, & the different brands of cigarettes were on different shelves. To manage the cash register, ones were kept in one drawer, fives in another, & so on. I was always having to make change; as people would tell me what they gave me in way of denomination. Coins, were kept separately as well.
The second opportunity or evaluation, was when I took training at Good Will Industries. I mainly sorted hangers, or worked in the laundry area, washing & drying stuff. Not much else to say about that one.
The third & final one of the trainings was at the Grime's Cafeteria, another one of the State owned cafeterias. I helped out with getting trays out of the dish washer. There was a separate tub or sink where we did pots & pans. The water would be scalding hot. I had to wear gloves. Sometimes, when it got especially busy over the noon hour, someone would come in & help out. I guess I wasn't getting things done fast enough to suit the manager of the cafeteria; who was blind as well. One day, I made a decision that I had all that I could stand there. When I left there, I vowed that I would not go back.& I didn't!
Does this sound like someone you might know from reading the Bible? If the Prodigal Son comes to mind, then you're right on track. I was living quite the life back then. Since I had a passion for sports, especially when it came to college basketball, I would go to Drake Basketball games at the Barn; (Otherwise known as Vets Auditorium. It was within walking distance of the YMCA. In 1970, I went to a Boys Basketball tournament there; as well as the State Wrestling Tournament.
Other things that I did, was to visit different Rail Yards in Des Moines. I was a railroad enthusiast back then; so many hours were spent at these places. Sometimes I'd even get to ride the switch engines; even though it was against company rules.
Maybe I realized it at the time, or maybe I didn't. But there was obviously someone looking out for me. I put it that way, because I was in a vulnerable situation. I could have gotten involved with drugs so easily, which didn't happen. In September of 1971, as I was coming up to my room at the Y, someone came up & hit me with a tire iron. The side of my mouth got cut, & I also got a black eye.
I quit the last Cafeteria job in June, 1973. Nobody else, who needed to know, was aware of my plight. They wouldn't know until six months later. I returned to Britt, in January, 1974. Five years, literally down the drain. I had tried different things, & had failed. I had failed my family; along with special friends in the community. & so, I wondered: "I've tried all of these things, & had failed." Should things have been handled differently? There's no doubt about that. But when you fail & are hurting inside, pride, sometimes gets in the way.
There's shame for what had happened, of course. So now, the thought process, simply put, went something like this: "Okay. What's done is done. Nothing is going to change the past. I'm at the bottom, & feeling about as low & depressed as one could feel. Where do I go from here?" That question would be answered in very short order. It would be through our United Methodist Pastor, Howard Eldrenkamp. We spent an afternoon together, talking. My Mom & aunt were thinking of sending me to Handicap Village in Clear Lake, because I wasn't responding to anything. It was at this time, that Reverend Eldrenkamp stepped in. He told my Mom & aunt, to hold off, until our conversation took place. & what happened as we talked? It was as if a transformation had taken place. Reverend Eldrenkamp & I talked about all that had happened in Des Moines, & all the mistakes that had been made.
I had a strange feeling that day, & it was like I was feeling peace not only because things had happened that weren't good; but something wonderful was happening inside me. I was realizing something, that had not been acknowledged before. Yes, I had gone to church, I had played piano & organ, as well as sang in choirs. Those were good things; but there was something missing; & it was as if I had a void in my life. I had not acknowledged Christ as my Savior & Lord. & so it was, the afternoon that this wonderful Pastor & I talked, I offered this simple prayer:
"God, I've tried all these things & failed. I thought I was doing those things that would be pleasing to you; Going to church, & doing all those things you'd have me do. I realize though, that there's something missing in my life; & for that, there's a huge void. I've not acknowledged you in the way that I should. Lord, I need you to come in to my life, & be my Savior. I've tried all these things & failed. I realize more than ever, that I can't do it on my own. So Lord, whatever you have in mind for me, please show me, & I'll follow. This I ask in your name, Amen."
The transformation had been completed; & now I had accepted the Lord as my Savior. Six months later, (June 16, 1974,) I was Lay Speaker at the United Methodist Church in Britt. The name of my message, was "The Parable of Life." I put myself, in the place of the Prodigal Son. I think it was fair to say, that there was not a dry eye in the congregation.
Submitted by Gary Gjerstad