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Starting over

Why do we deprive our children of the sweetest riches? If ideas have consequences, and they do, here's one of the most painful: Ideas can be expensive.

Issue: "The Man Behind the Duck," July 26, 1997

Holding on firmly to what you believe tends to boost your cost of living. I know this because I have been enjoying for five decades the enormous blessing of being born to parents who took altogether seriously what they said they believed-and for five decades I've been having to pay for things other people simply inherit.

All this is tumbling through my mind because I just returned from a few days poking around the rural Iowa counties where I spent my boyhood. The incredibly productive farmlands there generously fueled my father's third-generation grain business just before, during, and after World War II. Mother and Dad started building a big new brick house overlooking the east side of the town of Holland-and their optimism was such that they added two feet to the dimensions of every room's floor plans. But building materials were still in short supply in post-war 1945 and '46, even if you owned a lumber yard, which Dad did, so we started off living in the spacious basement. Mother counted the months until the upper story could be added.

Yet even a prospering business and the prospect of the newest and perhaps nicest home in town were no match for the stirring preaching of biblical truth and the gospel of Jesus. This gospel, they heard, is an all-encompassing matter. If it's true at all, it will affect every aspect of your life. When I was five, Dad sold Belz & Co. and moved his family into an aging Presbyterian manse next door to a church 70 miles away while he took up seminary studies. It would prove to be a wonderfully and perpetually costly commitment.

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Commitment to truth began to present still more bills. Within two years, Dad tangled with the ferocious forces of mainline denominational liberalism, and we were moved out of the manse. We went first into an even older farmhouse, then to a smaller home with no running water (we bathed in the creek), and finally back into a basement-this time the lower floor of a tiny rural church that would be faithful to the Bible. For that basement, Dad and the men of the church mixed their own cement. Then they headed for the timber along the Wapsipinicon River to cut trees, out of which they sawed their own lumber. A couple of weeks ago, I confirmed my recollection that most of those boards-still #lining a soon-to-be-demolished chapel-were neither very straight nor very smooth.

The all-consuming truth marched on. Dad and Mother discovered that the task of faithful education tends to follow hard on the heels of faithful preaching. A school was established in 1951, and youngsters came from hundreds of miles around to be part of it. Mother finally had her new kitchen-yet with it came no modern conveniences, but only the daily task of planning and producing meals for dozens of hungry adolescents. Our homemade drop leaf oak table sprouted an oddity-drop leaves on all four sides to take care of newcomers.

In short, we learned that sound ideas usually mean starting over in life, and that starting over usually means recapitalizing. It means that you don't sit comfortably back in the homes, the churches, the schools, and the businesses that your parents passed on to you. Instead, you have to build those homes, those churches, those schools, and those businesses all over again.

For Dad and Mother, that pioneering path meant also a significant investment in printing equipment so that the ground would be laid and the skills acquired for a Christian presence in the field of publishing. It meant costly involvement in Christian higher education, lending their support to the establishment of a Christian liberal arts college and a theological seminary.

Such ventures constantly drained them of their assets-but always helped protect their greatest asset of all: a godly heritage. That new house Mother only dreamed of living in came on the market again last week, 50 years after the upstairs was finally finished. Mother doesn't have ready cash to buy the place for her retirement years. But she is able to echo what the Apostle John said: "I have no greater joy than to know that my children walk in truth."

What haunts me now is the thought that even after so vivid a history lesson, I spend so much of my energy at mid-life trying to ensure that the next generation won't have to recapitalize their homes, their churches, their schools, their colleges, their seminaries, their media-and maybe even their governments. "Let's build them well," we tend to say to each other, "so that our children don't have to tough it out like we did."


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