Time for change
This kid got up in Bob’s church and started giving what they called there, his testimony. He talked about getting into all these fights with his parents, and how he would get drunk every weekend. And then, he said he contemplated suicide.
I had to look over at Bob to make certain he hadn’t put this kid up to saying that. Because, two months before that night, I had had the same thoughts. I even made out a will in school, and it some-how got to one of my teachers, and all hell broke loose.
I had written a will to give my motorcycle to Craig, and my flag jean jacket to my girlfriend, Lori, and my albums to my two friends Dave and Stuart.
Looking back on it, I suppose it was really bizarre, but at that time I didn’t really care. I had planned to steal my friend’s .45 caliber pistol and ride my cycle out to Stephen’s Creek, start a fire, leave my will nailed to a tree, and then shoot myself.
I was depressed, and had been that way for a long time. I kept listening over and over to James Taylor’s song, You’ve got a Friend, and would just break down and cry. I can’t tell you how many nights I went to sleep, just wishing I would never wake up. If you haven’t been there, been that down in your life, then you can’t really understand it. But believe me, I was serious. And if that damned will hadn’t of somehow ended up in the hands of my teacher I would have carried out my plan.
This kid started crying up there in front of the church, and then he explained how he had given his life to Jesus, and he no longer thought about suicide. He said he had asked Jesus into his heart, and that he and his parents no longer had any violent encounters. He said he had also quit drinking and he’d been completely changed by God.
Then, this guy named Pastor Dan stood up in front of the church and asked anyone there if they wanted to accept Jesus, then they should just walk right down there to the altar, and he would pray with them. At the back of the church where Craig and I sat, I felt a jab in my side. It was Craig, and he looked at me and said, “Let’s go do this.”
I shook my head and said, “No way! This is not for me!”
Craig stood up then and walked down the aisle, his motorcycle chain belt holding up his scraggily, badly faded blue jeans. I watched him kneel with Pastor Dan and then bow his head in prayer.
I stood up and walked out of the church, and Bob followed me, saying, “If you died tonight, where would your soul go?”
I said, “Not sure. But if God is gonna send me to hell for not accepting Jesus, then so be it! I’ll just go to hell then!”
A few minutes later, Craig came out of the church and with tears streaming down his face, he grabbed me by both arms and said, “It’s for real, Tom! This Jesus is for real! You’ve just gotta ask him into your heart! This is really for real!”
At that point, I was ready just to walk back home to Craig’s house, but somehow Bob and Craig talked me into getting into the Jesus Freak car and going down to the Student Union on the Lincoln University Campus, where this Nebraska Cornhusker was to speak at some place called Prayer and Praise. His name was Joe Orduna, and he was this massive black man who played football for the Huskers, and he gave his bold testimony about what Jesus had done in his life. I was not really interested in his talk, because a jock was the last person I wanted to listen to. Jocks had made my life a living hell, being a first class freak all my life. That is what kids who didn’t fit in were called in those times: Freaks. So I tuned out most of what he was saying.
But after Joe finished speaking, this race car driver named Jan Opperman, stood up and gave his testimony. He was this long-haired guy wearing an Indian-type shirt, blue jeans, and leather mocas-sins. He raced in the Indy 500, and he was quite popular all over the country, and yet he made his home in Beaver Crossing, Nebrasaka.
Jan Opperman had me mesmerized as he talked about his own faith in Jesus. I actually listened to him, and at the end of that night, I sat down on the third step on the left hand side of the Student Union building, and as lightning streaked through the sky above us, Bob led me in a prayer and I accepted Jesus.
I got goose bumps up and down my arms and shoulders and I felt this tingling in my chest. And after I asked him to forgive me for all of my sins and said I wanted him to come into my heart and be Lord of my life, I actually did feel something move within me. If you haven’t done this, then I guess I can’t explain what you would feel.
So, along with Bob and Craig, I changed my lifestyle. I decided to quit drinking, raising hell in school, quit getting into fights, and to go back home and live with my parents.
To mark my coming to Jesus as a special occasion, I gathered up my 900 page story and put it in my backpack. I then cut my American Flag off my jean jacket, ripped all my motorcycle patches off it, as well, and stuffed them all into my pack.
I then rode my motorcycle out to Stephen’s Creek to burn them all. Oh, I also wrote down all the bad things I had ever done on a sheet of paper and took it along as well.
When I got to the creek, there was a pile of cut logs already stacked up at the fire pit, which was really odd. It was like someone knew I would be riding out there that day to do what I had to to do.
I remember praying to God to help me light the fire, because I had a heck of a time getting that wood to light. And then, suddenly smoke began to curl up into my eyes. I looked down to the logs and a thin line of fire began to creep across the surface of the top log. I soon had a roaring blaze going.
I first dropped my list of sins into the fire. I then took my time dropping pages from the stories into the fire. Those 900 pages were a story called, Wings like Eagles, and they were about this family of brothers who belonged to a motorcycle gang down in Sprague, Nebraska.
I used everyone from my old neighborhood at Saint Paul as the characters, and even myself as the main character. He had a favorite cuss word in the story. Every time something would go wrong, Joel Lee, my main character, would mutter, “Jesus Christ!” And all through the story it was his common phrase, and each book ended with him saying the same, “Jesus Christ!”
I thought it was funny, and when Craig read it, he did, too. Only he said it reminded him of me, which I told him Joel Lee was based on me, and therefore, he did the same things that I did.
Last but not least, I dropped my flag and my motorcycle patches into the flames, standing there remembering all the adventures I had while wearing that damned thing.
I told God, “Hey, if you want me, I’m yours. Jesus? Everything I do from this point on, let it be for you, okay?”
I didn’t expect God to answer me. Believe me I wasn’t half-baked about that sort of thing. I mean, I had heard some people claim the Lord spoke to them. Which I thought was really bizarre. But in a way, He did send me a message that day.
By the time the fire burned down, I had nothing left before me but a smoldering pile of ashes. But there on the edge of the fire was a single shredded piece of paper. It had fluttered down and been laying there all through my ritual I had performed. I leaned down to pick it up and when I read the single word on that slip of paper, tears sprang to my eyes.
In bold letters, it had the favorite curse of Joel Lee in my story and it said, “Jesus Christ!”
One day later, I went to a prayer meeting with Bob and Craig, and this big buff-looking, long-haired guy named Loyal Lybarger came there to speak to us.
All the time he was speaking, I kept slipping my fingers into my Bible, a thing Bob called, “Scripture dipping.” The thing to do is pick a random spot in the Bible, then put a book mark in it and open it up later to see what sort of message you would receive afterwards.
Well, this Loyal guy was a really dynamic speaker, and at the end of his sermon, he prayed with us. He then walked right up to me and said, “I had a vision of you slaying the sinners with the jawbone of an ass! You are going to be like Samson who slew the Philistines with the jawbone of an ass! The Spirit of the Lord is upon you for you will preach the good news to the weary. You will heal and comfort the broken hearted. You will set free those who are bound! The Lord hath spoken, and before you die, you will do all these things!”
I was a little overwhelmed, wondering if God had actually spoken through Loyal and given me this message. Though at the time I really didn’t understand it.
But that night, when I got back home, I opened the two places I Scripture-dipped into, and I was stunned! The first place was 1 Samuel and it said, “And Samson slew the Philistines with the jaw-bone of an ass.”
Loyal explained to me that the Lord had once spoke through an ass, a donkey, to a certain man, and he said it was symbolic of being God’s Word, so what the scripture meant for me was I will use the Word of God to slay sinners, and bring them to the Lord.
The second place I opened to in my Bible was Isaiah 61:1-5, and it said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to preach the good news to the weary, to heal and comfort the broken hearted, to set free those who are bound. ”
Now what are the chances that I just happened to save those two places in the whole Bible, and those are the exact same Scriptures Loyal had nailed me with back at that meeting?
That wasn’t the end of that happening to me, though.
This preacher, named Pastor Birdwell, kneeled down beside me during another prayer meeting about two weeks later, and he opened his Bible and read me the whole thing from Isaiah 61 again! I definitely thought God had sent me a message: I was to work with sinners and the outcasts, the outlaws, and the misfits, and those kids who would never step foot in a church.
A week later, the police showed up at my house with a drunken kid in the back of their car. It was my good friend, Davey, who swore there was no God because his dad had died when he was nine-years-old. Davey was drunk and blubbering out of control.
The police officer asked me if was Tom Frye, and I nodded dumbly wondering what this was all about. He then led Davey out of his car and turned him over to me, saying, “He kept saying he wanted to see you. He’s pretty messed up, so maybe you should talk to him. Will it be okay if I leave him here with you?”
I nodded again, looking at Davey who kneeled there in my front yard, a blanket draped over his shoulders, his long blond hair hanging in wet strands from the vomit he’d puked and he was crying.
The cop pulled out an entire twelve pack of beer from the trunk of his car. He then one-by-one opened the cans and poured them down the sewer drain.
He then said, “I should give him a ticket for MIP, but I think he learned a lesson the hard way tonight, so I’m just going to leave him here with you. Good luck. If he gets too out of control, call the station and I’ll come back and get him, okay?”
“Okay,” I said, watching him get in his car and drive away.
I immediately kneeled down beside Davey, and he threw his arms around me and said, “I believe, Tom! I believe! I’m sorry God! Sorry I didn’t believe in you! Sorry I cursed you! Sorry I spit in your face! I want to be saved! I want what you guys all have! You! Bob! Craig! Please pray for me, Tom! Because I want to believe!”
I spent the next three hours sitting there with Davey, who after he prayed with me, fell asleep there in my front lawn.
And so it began.
After Davey, a complete atheist accepted Jesus, everyone at school wanted to get in on this Jesus Movement. We soon opened up prayer meetings at Bob’s house, and we had kids from every middle and high school in Lincoln coming through in droves to have us pray with them. Kids were getting saved right and left. It was like a revival had hit Lincoln.
We had kids all over town, swearing off drinking and getting high. Bob, Craig, and I knew we had really started a tidal wave.
It lasted for about four weeks, kids still kept coming over to Bob’s every weekend, praying with us and giving their lives to Jesus.
And still, individual kids kept showing up at my house, asking me to pray with them. So I would.
But alas, all good things must come to an end.
I had a friend who once said, “Yes, I tried this Jesus stuff one day, but it just didn’t take.”
I often wondered what he meant by that statement, but I think looking back all those years, I now know what he meant.
Because within three months after this Jesus Movement hit the streets of Lincoln, things sort of fizzled. Bob and Craig both went back to using drugs, and many of the kids we brought to Jesus returned to their old ways.
Me? Well, I stubbornly stuck to Jesus, and went on down the road without many of my friends. Everyone started making fun of me and calling me a Jesus Freak. And even though some kids still kept coming to me when they were bombed out of their guard, I was jokingly referred to as Father Frye, you know like a Catholic priest?
The first time things started to go south for me was when Grant and Bobby from the Saint Paul crew roughed me up over my beliefs. Craig and I both rode our bikes down to Grant’s when we heard he wanted to talk to us. The moment we got there, Grant grabbed the front of my long blue military jacket while Bobby put me in a full-nelson. Grant slapped me on one cheek, so I turned the other one just like the Bible said to do.
He smirked at me and said, “You need to quit this Jesus shit, do you understand? It’s really messing with your head. You won’t go drinking with us anymore, and you keep preaching about us getting saved. What the hell is wrong with you?”
I said, “Jesus loves you, Grant, that’s all I can say to you.”
Grant said, “Well, I should kick your ass, what would you say about Jesus then?”
I said, “You could cut me up in a thousand pieces and scatter me all over the street, and every one of those pieces would cry out, ‘Jesus loves you!’ So, go ahead kick my ass, because I ain’t going to fight you back.”
Grant looked over at Craig seated there on his bike. “What about you? You still wrapped up in this Jesus shit?”
“Sorta,” Craig said, with a sheepish grin.
“Well,” Grant said, “you both need to get out of this shit, because it’s really messing you up.”
Grant then slapped me again.
Stunned, and getting really pissed off, I said, “When God comes through to you, he’s gonna come through really hard! And vengeance is mine saith the Lord, I will repay you!”
Grant stopped himself then from giving me one more slap. He gave me this confused, puzzled look and told Bobby to let me go. He did so, and I picked up my bike and Craig and I rode back to his house, the sting of Grant’s two slaps hurting my face.
Shortly after that encounter, back home my mom confronted me about going to Bob’s church. She had been raised Catholic, and she had this crazy idea that any church that didn’t follow the Catholic faith was some communist plot. She claimed this Jesus Movement was nothing but communist propaganda. And she forbid me to return to his church or continue to be a so-called Jesus Freak.
So one Friday morning, I loaded up my backpack, and took my fourteen-year-old butt down to Highway 6, and stuck out my thumb in my second venture to run away from home.
Fortunately for me the first ride I got was from a rancher who lived only a mile away from my destination: Bob’s aunt and uncle’s farm 30 miles away in Ashland, Nebraska.
This guy took me right to their porch step, and all the way on the ride there I told him about my conversion and how I had accepted Jesus. I bet that rancher was glad to drop me off at Uncle Bob and Aunt Dee’s place.
Both Bob and Dee were surprised to me, but they welcomed me into their home and offered to let me stay as long as they had an agreement with my mom and dad.
Surprisingly, my mom gave in when they called her, and she said something to the effect that “Maybe you can straighten him out.”
So I stayed on their farm for the three months of summer. We prayed each morning, then went out and did chores, then came back to the house at noon, prayed some more and ate lunch. After dinner was over in the evenings, Bob and Dee’s four kids and I would gather in the living room and have Bible study.
Dee even had a chalk board in the kitchen with a list of all the words we shouldn’t say because they had their origins in cursing God, like gosh darn, geesh, heck, shoot, and even Judas Priest.
I didn’t watch TV. I quit drinking pop. I stopped cussing, and I certainly didn’t do any drinking. My life had taken a 180, and I was a certified Jesus Freak.
I was allowed to bring my motorcycle down to the farm and the two boys, Tim and Dan and I, rode all over the valley between Ashland and Gretna. We fished and swam in the farm’s sand pit, and Dan and I hunted in the woods between the sand pit and the Platte River. So it wasn’t a boring time, and I rather liked the fact that I had changed my life so drastically.
But in all that time, I never got the feeling that God loved me. I always felt I kept screwing up too often for God to feel particularly fond of me.
Until one night, Bob and Dee took me and the family to hear the TV evangelist Kenneth Copeland. Ken had been a biker in his former life, so I related right away to what he was preaching about. He had a conversion much like mine, and now he was serving the Lord, and bringing thousands to accept him.
During the service, Ken gave an altar call, asking anyone who wanted to be prayed for to come up to the front there with him.
I stayed planted in my seat, though I kept having this nagging feeling that God was angry with me. Again I had this complex that God didn’t love me, not as fondly as Bob and Dee believed he did.
Kenneth left the stage and came right down the aisle, and then he reached out to me and pulled me up out of my chair. He gave met his big bear hug, and said, “God loves you more than you know, son.”
I felt electricity shoot through me when he said that and I was amazed that Ken knew exactly what was bothering me as I sat out there in the audience. He spoke directly to me about the one thing that I couldn’t seem to wrap my mind around, the fact that God loved me.
I remembered that statement he made in the days to come.
When I left the farm, is when all my troubles started. I was supposed to stay there, according to the agreement my mom made with Bob and Dee. If I came back to Lincoln, I was supposed to return straight to my house, as I had run away in the first place, and so my mom wanted me to return home.
When she found out that I ended up back over at Craig’s house on Saint Paul Avenue instead of my home in Havelock, she called the police on me. She also called the radio stations and had them announce I was a runaway.
I ended up hiding out from the cops on three different occasions that night. Craig’s house, Bob’s house, and I ditched a cop up at Midwest Speedway.
That next morning, Bob and Dee drove into town and talked me into turning myself in. They were driving me downtown to the juvenile court, when my mom spotted us and her and my dad followed us all the way down to the courthouse.
When we got into juvenile court, Aunt Dee smiled pleasantly at my mom and said, “Jesus loves you!”
To which my mom bluntly responded, “Oh, fuck you!”
Every one in the court’s main office froze and looked on as my mom stood there glaring at Dee and Bob.
The next thing I knew, I was standing before a judge, her name was Judge Jan Gradwohl, and she said, “Son, the way I see it, you have three choices. You can return home, you can go to jail, or you can go to the detention home. Now which is it going to be?”
I was too just riled up to think straight, and I know I had changed my ways and all, but I smugly responded, “You, lady, can just go to hell!”
Next thing you know, I was locked up in Westview Detention Home out near Airpark. One side of the place housed juveniles while the other side had mental patients locked up out there.
Ironically, all night long I heard this old lady down the hall screaming, “Tommy! Tommy! Tommy!”
It was really creepy. I was locked up there in solitary confinement for two days and two nights, and spent the time reading the Bible they let me have.
When I was released into my parents’ custody, I was sentenced to six months probation and spent nearly most of those next four months cooped up at home, writing a new book and learning how to play guitar.
Nothing seemed fair at that point in my life. There I was trying to change and be a Christian, and yet it seemed God had turned against me. I was really feeling confused.
I was even more confused when a major tragedy impacted my life in a profound way.
It was a hot summer night when Grant borrowed Bobby’s 750 Honda, and Geno borrowed Ray’s bike of the same model. The two rode down to the gas station at 40th and Adams Street to pick up pack of smokes. On their ride back, Grant and Geno began to race from 40th Street, gunning those bikes up to speeds of 90 mph. It was as they approached 37th and Saint Paul, that Grant must have spotted the black truck parked in the shadows along a slight curve in the street.
Grant swerved over to avoid the truck, and his bike’s back wheel connected with Geno’s front wheel, and they began to go down. Grant went flying away to the left and ended up hitting the truck head-on, knocking it back twenty-five feet back from where it was parked, and he died instantly.
Geno, however, crashed to the street and went sliding along for another block before striking a fire hydrant. Fortunately, he lived, ending up in the hospital with a number of injuries, and later he was cited for motor vehicle homicide, in which he lost his license for a year. But served no time as it was deemed an accident.
The entire gang from Saint Paul sat in the street gathered around the chalk marks cops had made around Grant’s dead body.
The girls were all crying, and even Bobby, one of the toughest guys I knew, was weeping openly. It was a very sad moment for all of us, for Grant had been at the center of our lives for so long it was hard to fathom that he was gone.
I remember someone saying, “He went out in a blaze of glory! Just the way Grant lived his life, is the way he went out. In a blaze of glory!”
And yet, as Craig and I walked away from the site of his crash, I said, “That wasn’t no blaze of glory. That was a stupid way to die.”
And little did I know, that I would talk to other kids about Grant’s death many times afterwards, warning them how sudden death might come to claim them.