I can remember my father buying me a CB radio for my bedroom! We called them CB base stations! I was just a child and thought my base station meant that I would be able to talk to the world! It was actually more like a 50 mile radius due to the hilly terrain of West Virginia. I then quickly built my own studio…I established my home base with maps, charts, and a list of definitions for the codes and lingo. From Cow’s Creek to Frazier’s Bottom, West Virginia the hills were alive with:
Breaker breaker channel 11 this is the Jackrabbit…you there Tree-Stump? Come on back Gigglin Chick. I’m 10-10 listenin in!
Wait, did I say I broadcasted from a studio? It was actually a corner of my closet. It wasn’t even a walk-in closet. My chubby butt had trouble shutting the closet door, but I was talking to the world! Actually, I was talking to my friends Kevin, Dickie, and Dennis whose homes were so close we could’ve just yelled from our windows, but little did I know this would be the beginning of a long career of broadcasting to millions. And again, that may be an exaggeration. I have been blessed to be on the radio in the major markets of Dallas/Ft Worth, Miami, Seattle, and Portland, OR.
So as you can see, from the time I was a child I’ve wanted to share my thoughts with the world! And as far back as I can remember I’ve known about Jesus, and very interested in all things God and Bible. I also had questions…lots of questions! And fortunately for my dad I fired away when he would come in to pray with me each night.
I once asked my father a very complex question, and his very simple answer would honestly come back to me almost 35 years later, and be pivotal in my road back home to my faith. The question was, “Why do you believe in God?” Before I give you his answer, let me give you some background on Billy Ray Russell.
My father was raised in the coal mines of West Virginia. Places we referred to as “the holler.” Meaning, to get there you took a road between two mountains that lead to somewhere no one should live! He once showed me a picture of himself as a little boy, and I asked if that was a barn behind him? He simply laughed and said, “No that was our home.”
My father was nicknamed “Wild Bill” in his youth, because he loved to drink and apparently drove like he was a stunt double for the Dukes of Hazard. Despite his poverty and tendency to make poor choices he was highly intelligent. He was even double promoted, and had a gift for math. This would one day lead to him being a bank president before having obtained a college degree!
My mother once told me that Wild Bill would sneak and drink “a little” before I was born. His preference was vodka, which he would hide in a JAR under his seat. Mom discovered that stash and he found other ways to hide his alcoholism. Mom always wanted him to go to church with her, but he never did until one night…one Sunday night when she was sick he went alone!
In the Baptist church they did what was called an altar call at the end of the service. This is when the reverend tries to close the deal! He will ask if anyone would like to come forward and accept Christ as their “personal savior.” As the story is told, my dad didn’t wait for the pastor to go into his sales pitch. As soon as the pastor finished praying my dad just walked up and stood in front of him. The pastor of the small Baptist church in St. Albans, West Virginia didn’t even get to have the pianist throw down some “Just as I am” or “Old Rugged Cross!” He looked at my father and asked, “Bill do you want to get saved” and my father shook his head yes. Some of his friends made a bet as to how long it would last. Whoever bet on eternity won. However, an unspeakable tragedy was about ready strike the Russell family in December of 1969.
His parents were able to work very hard and save enough money to open a general store in the small town of Marmet (population 1,473). My grandfather Henry may have had an 8th grade education, but my grandmother Ada was the entrepreneur and brains of the operation. At 4’ 11” she some how figured out a way to run things at home and the store! It was likely due to her being very intelligent despite only having a 6th or 7th grade education.
The store was connected to their home, and one night two young men broke in, robbed them, and attempted to beat them too death. My grandmother survived with massive head injuries, had to learn to speak and walk again, and my grandfather did not survive. You can only imagine the crime scene, which from my understanding…was seen by my father and his 3 older siblings.
Now, I want you to picture yourself living that nightmare as we move toward my father answering the question, “Why do you believe in God?” I was just a baby and therefore don’t remember the darkness that fell over my family. I was able to read some of the court documents when I as a young man, and I began crying at the graphic details from the trial. The two convicted men admitted to premeditated murder, and even stated my grandfather begged for his life.
I am not trying to sensationalize this tragedy, but please picture hearing that about your own father. I want us to do our best to feel the pain my father must have endured. I want you to sense what my father experienced, because when I asked him why he believed in God his answer was, “Because of what He has done in my life.”
If you read that and respectfully shook your head at my father’s answer then I get it. Stories like his are what fueled my departure from following God. I got to a point where I would read tragic stories about school shootings, childhood cancer, or other tragedies and ask, “Where is this God we are told is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent?” And the answer I would get from the faithful was always the same two words that made me want to scream! Free will.
If you’ve made it this far its a miracle based on research! So let’s take a break, and I’ll start working on the next blog post where we will look at free will, and I’ll introduce you to a Saint who Billy Ray also credited for changing his life. My mother Carol Rae Russell.
Yep, we are southerners…the middle name has to be Ray or Rae right? Not so fast, I’ll also tell you about my sister Diane Michelle who was diagnosed with an adult form of rheumatoid arthritis at 15 years of age. She was the good kid in the family, and yet she has been in pain for 45 years. And as you have guessed, that drove a wedge between me and God, but as you learn more about momma Russell it’ll helps us answer the question, “Why do you believe in God?” Spoiler alert, free will sucks, but we’ll do our best to tackle it.
I love ya,