I Samuel 22:2 And every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him; and he became a captain over them.
I first met Norman in the spring in 1973, at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Rome, GA, a couple of months into my Christian walk, when I was filled with hope and fervency and excitement at my new birth. Being a former “hippie,” I had the requisite VW bus, but mine was a little different in that a former owner had cut out the top and turned it into a camper by building a construction that greatly resembled a doghouse on top of the van. In my great zeal for the Lord in those early days, my wife, Janis, came outside one day and found me atop the van painting in HUGE fire-engine red letters, “JESUS,” on the front and the back of the “doghouse.” And I wasn’t satisfied with just painting “Jesus” on the front and back either, but put Christian bumper stickers all over it, on the sides, up and down the front. People could see the “JESUS” van coming a mile away, and hitchhikers, who were plentiful then, would often as not quickly lower their thumbs as they saw us approach. My first experience of Norman Grubb was his great excitement and verbal “praising the Lord” at seeing my hippie “JESUS” van, parked outside the staid, dignified, traditional St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. Like many people testify of their first experience with Norman, I don’t remember what he said that night, but I do remember his vibrancy and excitement and passion, more than in most people I knew, and he was 78 years old at the time.
I didn’t see him for another seven years. By the time I met him the second time, in the fall of 1980, my new-Christian fervency and zeal of seven years before had been replaced by fear and torment and confusion and darkness. For reasons that are the material for another story, I was coming to Norman to try to make some sense out of my life and to recover the “joy of my salvation.”
That meeting changed everything. It set the tone of my life and gave me the theme of the rest of my life, because the Spirit broke through to me, having conditioned me through the experiences of the previous seven years, to HEAR for the first time, words that had only been words to me before, that HE lives in ME, and that the “government shall be upon his shoulder” (Is 9:6), and that HE is living my life. “YOU ARE HE,” he said over and over. Big, mighty words, hard for the flesh to swallow, but which nevertheless penetrated into the depths of my inner spirit and made me cry “Abba, Father.”
I went to Norman for help from him to solve my problems, but he wouldn’t even touch them, didn’t even SEE them, but just told me WHO I AM, despite them! And the “WHO” is the operative part of that, because I didn’t hear a “message,” didn’t latch onto a “teaching” or a “doctrine,” but saw the “WHO” of WHO I AM. HE, Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, through the Holy Spirit, I saw, IS my very Life! Norman didn’t fuss with me about my frustrations and fears and problems and the terrible darkness that had overtaken me -- he just “turned on the Light” – and darkness fled!
1 John 4:19 says, “We love him, because he first loved us.” Norman Grubb, according to the eyes of the flesh, was not a perfect man. Like everybody else, he had problems, he had, according to the eyes of the flesh, “shortcomings,” “failings,” and “blind spots” as some people call them. But Paul says “we henceforth see no man after the flesh,” and Norman’s seeing me, in the midst of my darkness and problems, as WHO I REALLY AM, and his faith-speaking of that truth, awakened the same Reality in ME! Seeing Christ in Norman, in his frail weak earthen-vessel frame, made it possible in my own mind to see Christ in MYSELF! “And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed” (Mat 8:2,3). That’s exactly what Norman did. I came to him a leper, thinking like a leper, with only leprosy on my mind, but he didn’t see the leprosy – he just put forth his hand and said, “Be thou clean,” and lo, the leprosy was cleansed!
People who were tired, who were hungry, who had no hope, who were desperate, who couldn't find their way, who everyone else had rejected, who were misfits, who were outcasts, who were forlorn, who were despairing, who hated themselves, who felt guilty and condemned and strangled by darkness -- these were the ones Norman touched. And the ones who heard and felt light and life and truth, and most important of all, Love.
My favorite “Norman stories”
Everybody who spent any time with Norman has favorite stories about him. These two are mine, which both occurred on his last visit to Rome, GA, in the spring of 1982. Norman, when he came to Rome, always stayed at the house of his friends Ed and Lillian Bosworth. We were having a wonderful lunch with Lillian, when she asked in her fine southern accent, “Naw-ah-mun, have you ever been to the Holy Land?” Norman didn’t even look up from his plate, but just smiled and said in his proper British, “My dear, I AM the Holy Land!”
Another day during that visit Norman came to have lunch with Janis and I at our house. We had a tremendous time with him and when it came time for him to go and rest up for the meeting that night, I helped him out to the car. (He was 86 at the time and needed help with stairs.) After I got him into the car, I realized I’d left something inside so I went back in to get it. As I was starting to walk out the door, I glanced out the picture window and saw Norman sitting in the car. I noticed he was looking at something, and that he had an incredible peaceful look on his face. So I followed his gaze, and realized he was looking at our cat who was contentedly napping in the warm spring sun. At that moment the “peace” of God struck me, and I realized in some small measure the “REST” of God, as I saw Norman doing nothing but looking at a cat. It may not seem to some to be of any importance, just looking at a cat. But for me, the reality of Eternal BE-ING shone through in that moment, God everywhere, the ALL in the all.
He who has ears, let him hear.
Some time after my writing this, Lillian Bosworth, mentioned above, happened to read it and told me another story from that same visit.
Norman was always given the same downstairs bedroom when he came. Lillian walked by his bedroom early that morning and heard him inside saying, “O praise you, Jesus, thank you Jesus.” She smiled and walked on to start breakfast. When Norman came into the kitchen a little while later Lillian said, “Naw-ah-mun, it sounded like you were having a wonderful prayer time with the Lord.
“No, no, my dear,” he replied. “I was just trying to put on my socks.”