I never knew my dad’s name or anything about him. That’s a tough way to start, but life would get tougher.
My 17 year-old mom moved to another state with her family when I was six months-old. Our new home, an old, one bedroom, log cabin with neither electricity nor indoor plumbing, housed 14 of us: Mom and me, grandpa and grandma, aunts and uncles and cousins. All the cousins slept in a backroom on army cots.
Mother married an abusive alcoholic when I was two. The marriage lasted long enough to add a half-brother, Terry, to the family.
Before long, an ex-marine suffering from severe post traumatic stress disorder moved in with my mom. Butch was quick with the belt and short on mercy.
At four years-old, I walked to a neighbor’s house to play with some kids. On my way home, Butch met me with a rope in his hand. He asked, “Where you been, boy?” I told him I’d been up to the neighbor’s house. He said, “If you are going to run off like a dog, I’m going to treat you like a dog.” He looped the rope around my neck and led me toward home. A ways off from the cabin, he tied me to a tree and left me there for a very long time.
By the time I was six, Mom married Butch and moved Terry and me to a small house of our own. They added two more children to our family in the two-bedroom house. Terry and I threw a mattress on the floor of a converted chicken coup out back and lived there. I delivered newspapers and stole food along the paper route. We avoided going in the house much and it improved our situation to stay away from Butch.
Our step-dad walked with a limp and there came a time when we could out-run him. He chased us, but couldn’t catch us, so we had to stay away for days at a time for things to settle down. We slept at a neighbor’s house or broke into empty trailers.
When I was 12, Butch was committed to the mentally ill department of the Veterans Administration. My mother divorced him soon after that.
In junior high, my grades began a downward spiral. I struggled in my classes, but had no one to help me at home. Teachers offered to work with me but I’d developed a strong attitude of rebelling against authority figures and refused to listen to them.
A judge tried to help me when I was 16. I couldn’t pay a fine for running a stop sign, so he let earn the amount by doing yard work for him. When he gave me the money to pay the fine, I loaded up some friends, filled my car up with gas and left the state on a road trip. The police caught us several states later and locked us up for a few days until our parents came to get us.
I continued my ways and a judge gave me a choice: confinement in a juvenile facility or join the armed service of my choice. At 17, I dropped out of school and joined the Marines.
They tried to mold me into shape, but my attitude caused me trouble. Once a drill instructor assigned me the task of silently passing out web belts. I joked with one of my buddies who came through the line. The instructor wrapped a web-belt around my neck, lifted me off the ground until I passed out and dropped me like a sack of potatoes.
My noncompliance continued and they made an example out of me all the way through boot camp. At graduation, the drill instructor told me, “I can’t remember having a recruit who brought me more pleasure disciplining. We drill instructors often laughed at night sharing stories of how we tried to break you.”
After boot camp I trained and served as a mechanic. One night, I came back from drinking in town and found my bunk covered with vomit from the guy in the top bunk. I stripped off my bedding and went to the corporal of the guard to exchange them. He told me I needed to wait until morning to exchange my blankets. That didn’t set well with me so I walked off base and hitch-hiked home.
Back home, I met a girl and fell in love. Judi didn’t know I was AWOL.
After 26 days I figured I should get myself right with the Marine Corps, so I turned myself in to the authorities and returned to base. At the court martial, I told them, “I joined the Marines to see it all and that includes the brig.”
The officer in charge shook his head and said, “You’ll get your wish.” I ended up busted in rank, fined and sentenced to six months hard-labor in the brig.
They got us up early for calisthenics, served us breakfast and put us to work. Our job consisted of breaking up an asphalt road with a pick and shovel and hauling it away in wheelbarrows for eight hours a day. When we completed the job, they repaved it and we did it again. During repaving, we shined floors on our hands and knees. I met mean people in there—they cut each other with razors for entertainment. Half-a-year of that cured me of committing any more brig-worthy offenses.
Out of the brig and back on duty, Judi and I kept in close contact. I asked her to marry me and requested a 30-day leave.
We married at 18, moved near my base and began having children. After my time in the Marines, I worked in a plywood mill and then in logging and road building.
During the short time I ran a tanning salon, I took a great interest in reading—I guess because of the sitting-around time. I read every book at the salon and every book at home. While scouring the house hoping for something new to read, I came across a book in a drawer. I thought I’d never seen it but it had my name on the inside cover. It said the book had been presented to me by a Baptist church when I was a kid.
Not knowing anything about it, I opened it up and started reading the book of Mark. I read one or two verses from the King James Version Bible. The wording seemed strange, so I decided it wasn’t for me and put it back in the drawer.
A New Life
Not long after that, I took interest in a heavily advertised movie, The Passion of the Christ, so my wife and I went to the theater to see it. The movie graphically depicted suffering like no other movie I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t imagine any human beings treating another human that way—it disturbed me and I wanted to make them stop. I watched a suffering, brutally beaten Jesus carrying his cross, falling under its weight and trying to pick it up. His mother ran up to him and he looked at her and said, “I make all things new.”
After they nailed him to the cross and stood it upright, Jesus prayed, “Forgive them Father. They know not what they do.”
It opened my eyes. I’d lived my life as if it was all about me, but Jesus went through all of that to save me. I knew all the things I’d done wrong, I could never take back, but I could have new life. Right there in the theater, I whispered, “Please forgive me.” I understood for the first time, my life was not all about my efforts—it’s about my relationship with Christ.
I thought about my experience during that movie and wanted to take full advantage of my new life. I began studying the Bible. I bought and read many books on living a Christian life, so I loaded my Kindle with a number of Bible translations as well as commentaries from a variety of scholars. If I didn’t understanding the wording in one version, like the King James, I’d check it out in the New American Standard or look to see what respected scholars had to say about it.
Some friends of my wife invited her to church. She didn’t think much about it until four people close to us died in 90 days, including a nephew who committed suicide. Our spiritual state began gnawing on her. She asked if I would go with her to church. I remembered my mom hauling my brother and I to church when we were kids. Terry and I didn’t like sitting there watching and listening to stuff we didn’t understand. We told our mom, “We’re not going back.”
As a favor to my wife, I told her, “Why not?” We noticed a sharp contrast between the ugliness and darkness in the world and the light, joy and peace at church, so we began attending regularly. Within a couple of months, we accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior and were baptized. We loved going to church—the music, singing and message lifted our spirits.
The church offered small group Bible studies in people’s homes and my wife wanted me to go with her to one. I really didn’t want to make a commitment—God was still shaping up my caring about people. I told her, “I’m not interested, but if you want to go, I’ll go with you one time. Don’t think I’m going to make a practice of of it.”
I enjoyed the informative study of the book of 1st Peter and the encouraging people I met. I began to see scripture in a new light as they broke down each verse and connected the thoughts behind them. The leaders helped us see why the Bible matters in our lives and we’ve been attending ever since.
I developed a curiosity and wanted to dig deeper. I went to a men’s retreat and asked hours of questions pertaining to the Bible. Knowledgeable, patient men guided me to find answers that weekend—I barely let them sleep.
After several seasons of small group studies, the leader asked me if I would like to lead a group. Another man and I co-led some studies and then they encouraged me to lead small groups in my home. We’ve been hosting and teaching a group for the last three years.
Each Easter, we watch The Passion of the Christ. It renews my focus when I hear Jesus tell Mary, “I make all things new.” I’m forever thankful I have new life. I might not be able to redo everything, but the old ways have passed away and I’m a new man.
My life is so much better. I used to think it was all on me to make life work through my efforts. It frustrated me because I lacked the ability to manage and fix everything. With God guiding and assisting me, life works better and I have peace of mind.
These days, I communicate with God all day long and he presents opportunities to me. He shaped me up by giving me a new attitude about people. In my old life, I didn’t bother with, care about or listen to people. Now, I make time to listen and see what I can do for them.
The new me is not perfect and I come up short all too often–but Jesus picks me up, dusts me off and says, “Follow me.” I’m so thankful for his patience and I look forward because, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13).”
Tim’s Advice for Kids
●If you’re stuck in poverty, you can do better through effort. To get started, look for
opportunities to volunteer.
●It’s better to change while you’re young before you get stuck with bad habits. Start
●If you are in an abusive situation, you may need to get away from it. Find help from
adults you trust.
●Listen to your teachers and coaches. They want you to do well.
●Put your bests effort into school—it matters for your future.
●Do your best every day.
●If no one is guiding you in a helpful way, trust Jesus and find answers in the Bible—try
the NIV (New International Version).
●Consider the military. It can help you develop discipline and responsibility.
Tim’s Advice for Adults
●Realize you can’t do it all. You’ll just dig a deeper hole for yourself and get
discouraged. Let God help.
●Understand that life is not all about you. It’s about God’s purpose for your life.
●Do better for your children. Give them guidance and hold them accountable.
●Read the Bible and find people to help you make sense of it—church or small study
●You have many reasons to be thankful. You have it a lot better than many people in
the world, so thank God throughout each day.
Each week, 14-17 people meet in Tim’s home to explore the Bible. Tim and Judi Sprouse recently celebrated their 52nd anniversary. Their three children found success in professional and family life and the nine grandchildren do very well.