I was born in Winston-Salem, NC, raised in Stokes County in a little rural community called Pinnacle pert near the foot of the Sauratown Mountains. My parents, of whom I am their only child, owned and operated a small country store on a long country road through the tobacco fields between the towns of King and Pilot Mountain.
By the time I was in kindergarten my parent’s business began to wane. From around 1959 to 1979, my father ran a grocery/convenience store on wheels, a 50’s something model full-sized Chevrolet school bus stripped of its seats and furnished with fully stocked shelves and a cash register where the right front passenger bench used to be. It was a light blue bus with a white top and “Wall’s Rolling Grocery” painted in red down both sides. With the addition of larger chain stores expanding into nearby towns, resulting in shrinking profit margins for my parents, the rolling grocery bus came to a final stop, but not before leaving many fond memories for countless customers, neighbors, family, and friends.
To make ends meet my dad started learning how to repair household appliances. It wasn’t long before our store, which had our two bedroom apartment where we lived attached to the back, was surrounded by used appliances and parts, not to mention the remains of the three old buses that Dad had acquired over the years. He made use of them by filling them with parts that he might need for his appliance repair and used appliance sales business, and whatever else he thought he might need some day. So I grew up in an old country store in a used appliance wonderland that some might call a junk yard.
I was a painfully shy, anxiety-ridden, somewhat socially awkward kid who mumbled more than talked. At the same time I also had a red-hot temper, honestly acquired from my father, with a generous dose of athleticism to go with my short, slender, but wiry frame. When I wasn’t cutting wood or working in tobacco I played basketball, baseball, and football all at some point during my childhood. I was decent at the later two, but definitely better at and more interested in hoops. If not for my severe performance inhibiting anxiety and a streak of juvenile delinquency, I might have been able to play some college ball; nonetheless, it’s still a game that brings me much joy to this day. I still have some skills even if not the stamina and the legs.
As an infant I was baptized in the local United Methodist church, just a mile up the road, Chestnut Grove UMC, by the pastor after whom I was named, Rev. Clifford Weller. A couple of his grandchildren attended my elementary school, one in my class. Early on I loved church and really sought the Lord. Once, inspired by a “Little House on the Prairie” episode, I climbed to the top of a big hill near my house to get closer to God. Inspired by the preaching of our evangelical Methodist preacher and Rev. Billy Graham, who I sometimes watched with my grandma Wall, who lived in the old white farm house next door, I publicly committed my life to Christ along with other confirmation students in my church when I was nine years old.
I remember struggling to really live out my faith after that, but by the time I was a teenager the struggle was gone. Not because I had reached some kind of sinless Christian perfection, but because I had given into sin, and was really just going through the motions at church, which we attended faithfully together as a family before I went to college.
Before I finished Jr. High I had a trespassing charge on my record that could have easily been breaking and entering. For that I got community service at the King public library. Before I graduated from South Stokes High School I had a drinking problem that one time almost got me arrested, but instead just landed me an underage drinking charge which is on my record to this day, not to mention several other indiscretions of other varieties for which I did not get caught. By the time I was in college the drinking got worse and the risky behavior escalated. Only by the grace and mercy of God, did I not get killed or kill someone else, especially when I would drive when I was even too drunk to walk. I’m also fortunate that I didn’t die of alcohol poisoning, which a few did die of during my time at East Carolina University.
During my freshman year there I did begin to experiment with drugs, and once even took a hit of acid. That scared me enough to back away and stay away from the marijuana and other hard drugs , but my strong desire for strong drink remained, along with a small but ever increasing desire to really know God.
During this time while I was trying to find fulfillment in all the wrong things, I also was on a search of sorts for righteousness and the One from whom all blessings flow. During deep discussions – as deep as you can get in smoke filled rooms with pyramids of empty beer cans and water bongs – when the topic of ultimate things and the purpose of life came up I found myself ineptly trying to defend the Christian faith of my upbringing amidst harsh ridicule.
In one exchange with someone who was adamantly insisting that Christianity was just too stupid and silly for consideration, something welled up in me and I insisted that for some strange reason I believe it is true. My friend was taken aback by the smile on my face and the gleam in my eyes as I strangely (because I really wasn’t living for Him) spoke up for Christ.
During my time in college I did occasionally attend church, often with a hangover. I went to several different churches, Methodist, Baptist, Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist, and more. I also attended a couple of Campus Crusade meetings. Nothing seemed to stick, but the desire to know Truth remained and grew.
Over winter break in the midst of my sophomore year that found me drinking less and studying more – to greatly improved academic performance I might add – I was sitting on a five gallon bucket in the midst of the old appliances in front of my dad’s garage drinking beer with a long time friend who was expressing some serious skepticism regarding the Christian faith of his own upbringing. Again something welled up within me, and I insisted that I really believed Christianity was true but I really didn’t know why. Then and there I declared that I was going to found out.
A couple of months later, after a long night of lots of longnecks with some friends from back home, I got a knock on the door of the apartment where I lived in Greenville off of 10th street, just a few miles from the ECU campus. It was a knock that would change the course of my life in incredible, painful, wonderful, and even miraculous ways.
More on that with the next post. Stay tuned …