Sunday, August 06, 2006

One Hundred

I promised that if I got to 100 posts, I would post this story. Since this is the 100th post, here goes. It's long.

In 1978 I was living in Oak Harbor, Washington in the Pacific Northwest. I was in the Navy, being trained on the EA-6B aircraft. I was depressed. I was 19 and on my own for the first time. I was lonely.

I had a car, a 1971 Super Beetle, and my Navy friends and I would take rides to Vancouver and Seattle on weekends and drive into the hills when ever we could. The car was basically a big walkman with a 40 Watt stereo and the back deck loaded with speakers. This may have something to do with my hearing loss.

I would bring along my friend Gus and a friend I met through him, John Livingstone. When Gus left and went to sea with his squadron, I hung out mostly with John, taking our nightly road trips drinking, partying and playing music. I was still depressed but enjoyed the camaraderie.

One night, as was our habit, I stopped by John’s room before our nightly jaunt and he was watching the 700 Club on TV. I thought that this was a little weird for a guy whose life motto seemed to be “John Livingston: live stoned”. It was after all 1978.

I made fun of the program, I mocked it. “What are you doing watching, “Carson of Nazarath”? John just kind of took it stride. I can’t remember exactly what he told me but he explained what a free gift I was ignoring. He told me that in order to be in relationship with God I needed to “accept Jesus”.

I had no idea what this meant. I really didn’t.

He said you need to accept Jesus as your “savior”. More babble.

Up to this point Jesus was a guy who just made me feel guilty, really, really guilty. I grew up Catholic where the gospels are read in eye-dropper sized portions and only by the priest. They would read stories like the “rich young ruler” and I would feel nothing but guilt.

In this story, a man approaches Jesus and asks what he must do to enter heaven. Jesus tells the guy “obey the law and the prophets” I know what this means – the Ten Commandments. The guy tells Jesus “I have, since I was boy” Jesus tells the guy – and this is the kicker – “Then sell everything you have and then you will have eternal life”.

I kinda got stuck a “sell everything you have”. I grew up with lots of nice stuff. I had to sell everything I had? I had to be poor to live forever? Look, Jesus, you’re a nice guy and all, I love what you did with the loaves and the fishes, the storms, but I really like my new stereo.

The Catholic Traditions did nothing to explain this and any of the other Gospels to me. They really just made it more confusing. It was all about suffering and pain and pleasure was bad. There were a lot of rules.

But what John was telling me was different. This was free. It had very little to do with men in pointy hats rubbing oil on my head and “giving” me the Holy Spirit. It had very little to do with statues and stained glass. This was the direct program. You and God.

So that night we drove up to “mount” Erie in Skagit County. It is only 1300 feet high but it looks over some the most beautiful mountains and lakes. I liked to race the VW up the twisting switch backs that climbed the back side of the hill. The poor VW would smell like burning oil by time we would reach the top.

There in March, 1978 I spoke the words “I accept Jesus Christ as my savior”. I spoke them like they were a magical incantation. They were magic words that lead to a free gift.

I think John said something like “Cool” and that was it. We drove back to the Naval Air Station.

The very next day I found a book. It was a small, red book, with a hard cover. It was written by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Now, I didn’t know the JW’s from a moonie but I read the first part of the book.

It explained how God spoke to us by his Word, the Bible.

Catholics really don’t have Bibles. Priests have Bibles.

The book also explained the story of the Garden of Eden. God made man. He made him to be perfect and without sickness and death. God made woman to be a companion for the man. The woman disobeyed God and then the man had a problem. There was a moment, an instant in time, where the man had to choose. He had to choose between the perfect, good looking woman with him and what God said. God had said “do not eat from this tree” but the woman was tricked by of all things, a talking snake and ate from the tree.

The man had to choose. Stay on God’s side or side with the woman.

He chose poorly.

We all know what happens next.

But for me, that day, it was if I was blind and now I could see. I knew this really happened. This story jumped out at me. This was not a fable or an ancient myth. THIS REALLY HAPPENED. THERE WAS AN ADAM AND THERE WAS AN EVE. I couldn’t explain what made the difference to me that day, but I realized later over time what had occurred. I was different.

The book went on to explain how in order to reconcile God and man, Jesus needed to be an atonement. He needed to die in my place in order to make us whole again. All the missing pieces in me, physical, mind and spiritual would eventually be put back in place by Jesus. He would come and rule the Earth in a Kingdom.

This spoke to my heart. I knew this to be true in a new a vibrant way. I had joy knowing this.

That day I went to my friend John Shoemaker’s house. John was married and had two kids and lived way outside town in small house on highway 20.

I was ecstatic and I explained what had happened to me. “This is real!This is real! There really was an Adam and Eve. You have to know Jesus! He is coming and will have a kingdom and we are going to live forever and this is going to be great!”

John and his wife Bobbie looked at me like I had three heads and a tail.

I drove off confused. Why couldn’t they see like I did? Was I crazy?

I got a Bible. I read. I was fascinated to learn. I sucked it up like a sponge. A lot of it didn’t make sense to me but I read and read. Some of it spoke to directly to me.

Soon it was my turn to ship out and leave Oak Harbor. My squadron was assigned to the USS Saratoga in Mayport, Florida. So I went as the advance team to clean and get our ship’s spaces ready.

During these weeks, my eyes were continual opened as they had been with the small red, book. However, I lost the book somewhere along the lines. More likely I gave it to John and Bobbie but that is another story.

I was at sea. The world was whole new place to me. The sky never seemed so blue, the ocean so dynamic and vibrant. I was really, for the first time, alive. God loved me just as I was and I knew it.

I was drinking, but less, I smoked, cussed like a, well, sailor but I knew something that others didn’t seem to grasp. I was a child of the living God. At first I thought it was something I had figured out, but I began to realize that God in fact had opened my eyes. I looked at the men on the ship and realized men have not changed in thousands of years. These men would be equally at home on a Roman Ship of that period or a ship of Columbus’s time.

Man can’t change unless God changes him.

I prayed. I prayed for stupid things. I prayed and stupid things came true.

I was mopping floors with sea water, a common practice on ships at sea. I was mopping and the water was filthy. It was brackish, brown salt water. I recall praying that doing this job was depressing and that I need to see something beautiful, Lord.

I dumped the water onto a cat-walk 90 feet above the ocean. The wind was blowing and when I dumped the brown liquid, the wind took it and blew it up into a fountain and the sunlight caught it.

It was beautiful. The brown, brackish water was beautiful.

A chill went up my spine. God heard me. I didn’t speak any words. God heard my thoughts. He knew me and everything about me.

This image is forever impressed on my mind and over time I have come to realize that that water represented me. Dirty, brackish, ugly but that God could make it clean and beautiful.

That night I walked up on the flight deck and thanked God for what I had seen and understood that day and while looking up, a shooting star went by. It was like a wink from God. He knew and he heard me and he loved doing it for me. I was deeply, deeply, loved by God.

Another time I was down in the mess deck, eating and it hit me like a ton of bricks. God really loved people. He knew each one of them and loved them deeply as well.

These feelings were undeniable and came in waves over weeks of time. At the time I thought I was going to feel like this forever, but that also is another story.

I recall Joy, real God given Joy and understood how martyrs could have died knowing what they knew.

Later, the ship pulled back into port and my friend Shawn who lived in Orlando, invited me down. I hitchhiked down and on the way I met this girl. I hung out her and her friends for a while. We went to a concert. It was Bob Segar in an outdoor venue. We wandered around and may our way to the front. I remember seeing two people making love in the crowd. They were partially clothed but they were clearly making love in the crowd with people all around. They were drunk.

I recall distinctly that my feelings about seeing this act had changed. In the past I would have loved it. Ya! Go baby! How rebellious! But now I realized that they were rebelling against a Being that had only good in mind for them and he was quite powerful. He can make shooting star from a piece of debris hurtle across the solar system and plunk into the Earth’s atmosphere on demand. Rebelling against Him is a bad move. This was what got us in trouble in the first place you idiots! I was angry.

I began to realize there were things I did like this. I was shown this and slowing these things came off me like weights. I didn’t give up drinking, It just sort of fell off like an unneeded part. I wasn’t missing anything. I stopped smoking almost over night. I watched the words that came out of my mouth.

In the end, these few months and the events that took place in them would shape my life and it's direction more that I knew at the time. There have been ups and downs and sometimes I went more backwards than forward but in the end the net direction has been forward towards Christ. I'd like to tell you that everything was perfectly clear and I understood it all from that point forward but there are parts that still don't make much sense to me. Like TV Preachers. What is with that voice and that hair? But I digress.

Today I've come to learn that what happened to me has happened to a lot of people but not to everyone. I've learned that without that direct experience trying to explain what happened is like trying to explain a sunset to blind man. But I believe what happened to me can happen to anyone if they reach out to God. He is faithful and will reach out to you and make his presence know to you.

1 comment:

Kim said...

Hi Mike,
I have not checked out your blog for quite a while. Your testimony is so beautiful and I could relate to everything you said. I too, try to see the beauty in everything and really do know that everything is a real gift from God. Thank you for sharing your story. I have been going more backwards, than forward towards Christ lately and have been struggling with that. I have my "Celebrate Recovery" 12-step group tonight. ( It's not an A.A. group. It's a Christ centered group that helps you recover from all hurts and hang ups.)