How did I get to this point in life to become who I am? Did I choose my path in life, or was I directed to it? Was I selected before my birth to walking this path at this time in history? The path I have walked has changed me. It has changed how I feel about myself, love, religion, politics, money, work, and all the other elements of life.
When I was a high school sophomore, I was always angry. This caused me to be at odds with my parents. At school, I had isolated myself from all but a small group of friends who were considered rebels. At 14, I was the youngest of the group. We considered ourselves a gang. Our exploits were mainly smoking cigarettes and drinking beer. We had more in common with a chess club than the modern-day gang. One day, I had a falling out with that group, which, at the time, felt permanent. I was walking home that day and realized that even when I got home, I would be alone, separated from family and friends. I had never before felt that I didn’t have anyone.
About halfway home, the realization of being alone with no place to go other than alone in my room overwhelmed me. I sent something of a thought prayer to God, saying, “Please help me. I don’t know what to do.” Suddenly, I felt a presence beside me and stopped. I looked around, and there was no one there, but the presence remained in a particular place near me. I don’t know how, but I knew it was God. I didn’t move or speak for fear he would leave. Although he never talked to me, I knew he only came because I didn’t have anybody and needed him. He wasn’t anything like how people had described God. It was so strange as it seemed clear he wasn’t there to correct my behavior. However, it certainly needed to be fixed. Nor was he there to get me to do anything.
I had always thought of God as a grandfatherly type in heaven who made rules and sternly insisted on punishing anyone who broke them. This presence wasn’t like that. Although a good bit older than me, he seemed young. He was calm and not angry at all. Somehow, I felt more important to him than my actions, behavior, or attitude, although I didn’t know why. Unsure of what to do, the only cry in my heart was, “please don’t leave.”
The presence faded all too quickly, and I walked home. By that evening, I was telling myself that this was some psychological event my brain had invented. By the following day, I felt better and was off to school. I thought, “the brain does such funny things.” The only difference was, from that date to this, I have never since felt alone.
Three times over the next eleven years, I found myself in a situation where almost immediate death was a certainty. Each time I called out to the God I met on the sidewalk for help. I would tell him I would do anything he wanted me to do if he would save my life. Each time I was miraculously saved from death but still had no idea what he wanted me to do.
In 1969 before the existence of personal computers, I worked for a computer maintenance company that repaired large systems and data processing equipment. Although living in Tampa, Florida, our office in New York City requested additional help. I was asked, along with several other men, to go for a two-week stay. We all decided to take our wives with us, planning on them seeing the sights while we worked.
This worked out great until the final night in New York. After two weeks of eating well and seeing the sights, we were running low on money. My wife, Jo and I decided for our final night to go to 5th Ave and catch the first bus we saw. We would ride the bus until we saw a crowd get off, and we would get off with them. I’m not sure what I was thinking. New York was not safe in 1969; this was a stupid thing to do.
As we got on the bus, quite a few people got on with us. After a few minutes, I noticed a man with long hair and a beard looking at me and smiling. He was dressed in jeans and looked like many of the hippies of that day. He seemed very clean but a bit out of step with the businessmen of New York. He didn’t seem threatening, but I felt uncomfortable. Each time I looked his way, he looked at me and smiled.
Almost 1/4 of the bus passengers got off at one stop, and we decided to follow. As we began walking down the street, two police officers stopped us.
One of the police officers said, “It’s obvious that you two do not belong down here. You should go back up to Times Square, where the tourists are, and you’ll be safer. The Washington Square Park is down here, and there are people so drugged up they’re hanging from trees. This is really no place for you; it’s dangerous.”
“Thank you, officer,” I said.
As we turned back to where we got off the bus, I saw the bearded man from the bus a few feet behind us looking at me and smiling. We walked past him to the corner and turned left. We could see the park and the monument the police officer had spoken of ahead of us.
“Oh no, that’s where the policeman said we shouldn’t go,” I said.
Looking across the street, I saw a bus with a sign on the front saying it was going to Times Square. We ran to the bus. While we were running, I looked back at the street corner, and the bearded man was watching us and smiling. We got on the bus, and I never saw the bearded man again.
The following day, we were flying back to Tampa, FL. As I looked out the window, I thought of the bearded man, and the thought suddenly came, “Jesus is after me.”
Whether it’s Jesus or some hippie chilled out on drugs, I didn’t want to run from God if he was interested. Before our trip to New York, we met a neighbor, Tom. He had invited us to church before we left on the trip. After we got home, I went to Tom’s apartment and said, “If you wouldn’t mind, could Jo and I go to church with you tomorrow?” He seemed a lot happier about that than I expected.
On Sunday after church, we had lunch together. Our wives went shopping, and Tom and I watched a football game on TV.
During the game, Tom said, “Did you know that you can keep the 10 Commandments and still not go to heaven?”
I had never heard anything like that before, but it didn’t really matter. I had never had much luck at keeping the 10 Commandments. I don’t remember what I said, but it was probably something profound like, “Oh?”
“The great thing is, Jesus died for our sins so that we could go to heaven. All we have to do is accept him,” Tom continued.
Tom kept talking about Jesus and other spiritual things. Occasionally he would mention something such as the devil, and I would respond, “I don’t believe in the devil.”
Tom would just say, “That’s OK.” He would then continue talking about Jesus. No matter what objections I had that day, his response was always the same, “That’s OK,” and then he would go back to talking about Jesus.
He stopped for a moment, looked at me, and asked, “Would you like to receive Jesus as your Lord and Savior?”
I was about to wrap up and end the conversation by either saying I wanted to think about it or saying, “No, I don’t think so.” Suddenly, I remembered the three times I promised God I would do anything he wanted me to if he saved my life. A voice went through my thinking that was different than my normal thinking. It said, “This is what I want you to do.”
I wondered, was that God or was that me? If it’s God, I want to do what I promised. If that is just my thinking, maybe I should think about it more and get back to Tom later. I don’t know how but suddenly, I just knew.
I said, “Yes.”
Tom prayed with me and gave me the words to accept Jesus as my savior. He suggested that I start reading the Bible each day. When I did, there he was, the God from the sidewalk. I didn’t know if this Jesus was God or if he was someone like God, with the same personality and demeanor, but I wanted to learn more. I was hooked forever.
It was years before I realized that God sees and stands near everyone. He even visits those who don’t believe he exists. I still don’t recognize him often when he comes, but I only realize it later. Those visits, however, always make me want to be a better person. I don’t know where the path ahead leads, but I know that no matter what, I will not walk it alone.
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