A Crisis of Belief

February 18, 2011 at 6:58 pm Leave a comment

It is June 19, 1954. The Tasmanian Devil makes his delayed debut in the Warner Brothers cartoon “Devil May Hare,” and Keith Wissman makes his premature debut at William Booth Memorial Hospital in Detroit, Michigan, weighing in at 3 pounds, 13 ounces. Today, Keith is a strapping, 5′ 11” guy; well-educated and well-traveled, with a Master of Science degree in Industrial Technology and Applied Statistics and an accomplished career with internationally positioned major corporations behind him.

Keith’s curiosity about how things work revealed itself in his early years, growing up in Allen Park, a Detroit suburb. From an alarmingly successful attempt at stirring up a batch of homemade gun powder at age ten to blowing up the household fuse box designing his first electrical engineering experiment a few years later, Keith’s patient parents accepted his inquisitive bent, relieved that he and his older brother and younger sister survived their childhoods unscathed. Less adventuresome – or hazardous – were his youthful forays into taking apart radios and watches, most of which were still functional after he’d reassembled them.

Those were also days of putting down roots in the religious traditions of the German Evangelical and Reformed Church – “high church liturgy with classic hymns and pipe organ.” Keith’s family worshiped virtually every Sunday, along with his mother’s grandmother, who lived in their home for many years. “It was pretty neat having a great-grandmother living with us,” he recalls. “I loved the stories, and she let me ‘help’ cook and bake.”

In 1970, classmate Robbie invites him to the Melvindale High School Spinster Hop, and ironically, Keith has discovered his life’s match. The two date throughout high school and college, marry in June of 1976, and set up housekeeping in Sycamore, Illinois. Here Keith enthusiastically dives into product and process engineering, and Robbie plants a foot on the ladder leading to health care administration.

The Welcome to Sycamore sign boasts a population of 6,000; Keith says he’s “pretty sure that included the chickens and pigs.” But this is a place where he can start to build material security for his family, ultimately “designing automotive widgets and being published in technical journals.” Meanwhile, that family begins to grow.

By the time son Andy is born in 1984, Keith and Robbie have returned to Michigan and look forward to raising their children in Royal Oak, closer to their childhood homes. They are also active members of a local evangelical congregation, where Keith serves on the Board of Elders and in teaching and administrative roles.

July 1989. Robbie is pregnant again, and they are elated at the thought of expanding their small family. When Robbie gives birth to a full-term but unexpectedly still-born baby girl, Rebecca Lynn, in March of 1990, those high emotions come crashing down around them like shattered glass in a violent traffic accident.

“That crushed me emotionally and spiritually,” Keith reflects. “I was in a fog for a year, and then stayed mildly depressed for almost ten years.” Meanwhile, pushing forward to build the family they had hoped for, he and Robbie adopt two birth sisters from Peru. In January of 1991, Betty, age six, and Maria, age eight, arrive at their new home in their new country to meet their new brother.

Andy was an amazingly adaptive, patient, and forgiving seven-year-old, who suddenly went from having Mom and Dad to himself to having to share,” marvels Keith. “The family energy and dynamics immediately went into hyperdrive with three young ones. Looking back, it is breathtaking.” But not having time to catch his breath may have been what kept him afloat during those post-fog years of never quite recovering from the loss of baby Rebecca.

“I was a fairly unhappy person but functional in most ways,” Keith admits. Medication and talk therapy kept him propped up emotionally, but still things just didn’t feel right. And he was angry. “Mostly at myself for not being able to protect my wife and family from what had happened, and at God for allowing it to happen. My career, which had been so important to me and I had invested so much in, didn’t mean much to me anymore.”

For a long time, answers refused to come. I was a lost soul,” Keith realizes now. “I was having what Henry Blackaby calls a ‘Crisis of Belief.’ In retrospect this [dark period] was one of God’s ways of reminding me who is really in charge…to knock down my feelings of pride, self-importance, and self-reliance; to reinforce that our self-worth is inherent in being created in the image of God, and that Christ died for us to reconcile us back to a relationship with God.”

Insights and time apply their healing effects, and by 2000 the depression is lifting. Finally, “I could better understand our God, Jesus, and myself.” But overcoming a crisis of belief, according to Blackaby, requires faith and action. As part of his spiritual reawakening, Keith was becoming dissatisfied with their local church and felt nudged to seek a better means of spiritually feeding others.

When an acute health crisis brings him near death in June of 2005, Keith faces his most dramatic turning point. I suddenly became ill with the flu and managed to stagger to the bathroom where I passed out and fell, but landed in a sitting-up position,” he explains. “I had managed to suck vomit into my lungs, giving me aspiration pneumonia.” An unnerving six-day wait to see if the dire prognosis of permanent lung damage and disability proves accurate gives Keith “plenty of time for prayer and reflection on my relationship with God.”

And plenty of time to focus on some major decisions he has been putting off. From the enriched humus of brutal self-examination grew fresh revelations. He thought about all those years of eager church involvement – the deacon responsibilities, Bible study leadership, and lay-preaching – and came to a startling realization: “My faith walk was, in hindsight, stunningly superficial for many years. I knew I couldn’t continue to ‘play church’ by going through all the motions of being a diligent, religious person. I needed a personal relationship with Christ, and to turn over all aspects of my life to His guidance.”

   

In those early years of marriage, with all the accoutrements of a successful career, a good marriage, and a budding family, Keith was certain that he “had it made.” It took his long, slow recovery from the tragic loss of little Rebecca to “set me straight and bridge the 18 inches from my head to my heart.” Eventually, it also led him to a pivotal conclusion. “I knew I couldn’t chase my old life any longer.”

 

 

The final leg of that pilgrimage, his bout with quality-of-life-threatening pneumonia, opened his mind to accept that “God had bigger plans for me than to spiritually sleepwalk.” Keith changed churches, left the world of commercial design and manufacturing behind, and accepted God’s invitation to become involved with Him in His work. He decided to use his gifts for church administration, “transforming lives from the inside instead of making more stuff.” That would be Reality Number Six on Blackaby’s list of the Seven Realities in Experiencing God: making a major adjustment.

“I am thankful and blessed to have a wife who put up with some very bad times with me,” Keith confesses. And there are, of course, always to be temporary ripples in the calmed waters. Recently Keith and his blessing of a wife have helped each other through being rejected by their now-grown adopted daughters. “The sads have returned a bit since the girls cut off contact with us. We really don’t know or understand what this break is all about,” he laments. “But as Steven Furtick writes in his book Sun Stand Still, ‘When God takes something or someone out of your life, he’s just clearing space on your hard drive for an upgrade.’ ”

And so there are joys to temper the sorrows, as when son Andy married “a wonderful, Biblically foundational woman” in August of 2010, who brought four beautiful next-generation children into the family fold. “We are thrilled to be instant grandparents,” says Keith. “We love these children, and they are very loving toward us.”

And that would be Reality Number One: God is always at work around you.

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