It was a warm summer morning back in 1979. At 18 yrs of age I had already lost my license. As I was hitchhiking into town and noticed a car coming back and turning around to pick me up. It was Randy, a friend I had known in high school. Was he coming back to give me a ride because he knew me, or what had prompted him to turn around after passing a hitchhiker by? Well, first of all, who hitch hikes into town? I had studied the fine art of traveling across country by thumb for a couple years now, and no one gets a ride into town. The best place to catch a ride is just on the edge of town going out. Secondly, Randy had not seen me in three years.
The last time we talked he had come to my mothers home to see why I had dropped out of the Christian youth group where we had met. He smelled smoke and kept saying it looks like it was coming up from under the couch. I said, " no, there is nothing there," until it became visible and he looked under to discover my smoldering cigarette. That terminated our visit, as he left feeling very uncomfortable.
It had been three years of sex, and drugs, and rock and roll partying for me and now one of those Christians I knew from School days is picking me up. "This must some kind of sign," I thought to myself. "Did you pick me up because you knew me?" I asked as I got in the car. For a couple weeks I had been clean from using drugs and drinking. I had gone deeper into T.M. and Soul travel. For several days I had been seeking "truth" at an abandoned non-functioning commune farm a friend of mine knew about. What had gotten me to stop the drugs was a three day LSD trip that yielded nothing for me, and only destruction and pain for others that I was partying with. I was hungering for some thing that would last. Some thing real. What had really happened is I saw a young man, some one with a future, stick his hand right into a bon fire. Because of the drugs we were all on he did not perceive the pain to follow, but I will never forget his screaming. It was time for me to to find some thing better than all the trouble I kept getting into with the law. At that point I was able to quit going out and looking for the high, but was not able to quit smoking tobacco. As I stepped off that curb on July 13th 1979 I was about to experience grace, like never before. I had a variety philosophies and knew I needed some thing out side of my own powers, but up to that moment I had not given thought of going to Jesus for the help I knew I needed.
As a child, who Jesus had been was clearly taught to me. My parents would pray with me at bedtime, say a prayer at mealtimes, and read to me from a devotional book called "little visits with God." Through the traditions of the protestant church and at Sunday school I learned the basic bible stories of Christs' birth, life, death, and resurrection. Then one day, when I was about eight, I was playing in the back yard when a phenomena occurred. The sky was over cast, but out in the middle of the neighbors large field a light beam shone down though the dark grey clouds. I ran in to the kitchen and said, "mommy look, what is it?" My mother said, " Maybe its the coming of the Lord." I listened but did not understand, and then I went on back out to play. I never gave that experience any more thought until I was converted.
A couple of other experiences I had were with the Sunday school teacher at the local community church. My Dad would take me there on the Sundays that my Mom had to work. This lady was known for sharing the "good news" with every one. Even my foster brother who had returned from Viet Nam told of how had been cornered in her back yard for what seemed like hours as she compelled him to "accept Jesus in his heart." My invitation came to go into the closet at the end of a Sunday school class. I did so, by my own choice. On a following Sunday I chose to go into the same closet and pray again, trying to get what ever it was she was offering.
Once again, at 14 I had more encounters that were invitations to give my life to God. When an African American Evangelist held a meeting at the fairgrounds in our Nebraska town, another foster brother and I went into a side room after the service for counseling and prayer. The next morning I remember looking at the booklets that I was given and they were like a tech manual for equipment that I knew nothing about. About a year later I got invited by a fellow shop class student to a picnic. I did not know it at the time, but he had mustered all the courage he could to be able to ask me if I wanted to go. No one knew how tore up I was about our family life at home being broken and about to end in divorce. When the an invitation was given at the end of the outdoor meeting I fled forward and cried with pain for the Savior that I was hearing about. For that summer I hung out with a lot of the kids that revolved around a Saturday night bible study for youth. It was only a message that I retained as long as I was looking at it. It reached my mind but not my heart. The one relationship that I needed the most was not there. Eventually, when school started up and I tried and failed at sports, I started working part time and hanging with the wrong crowd. The summer friends slipped into the past and my search for a new identity began.
One night we were partying and I felt like I was going to overdose. I cried out to God and pled with him that if he would save me I would serve him. I did not forget my promise the next morning but neither did I seek him out. As I went on my way in life, chasing girls, wrecking cars, and landing in jail 3 times, my misery deepened. Finally, late one night I called a pastor that my Mom knew. This man had taken me to lunch once while I was in high school. He was trying in a very nice way to challenge me to commit my life 100% to God. Now here I was calling him out of the blue, and telling him I was ready to sign a contract with God. He said, "Greg, sleep on it and call me again tomorrow." Well, tomorrow never came. I spaced out his open invitation once again. He was testing me, and I was still was not ready. In the moment of crisis I was crying out for help to get relief from my troubles, but I had not been sincerely ready to submit to Jesus' authority.
Now I am riding in the car with Randy, who had been in and out of the air force, gotten married, and was living a "normal' life. He bought me a cup of coffee. He did not say much, I did most of the talking. I realized this was my day to be a disciple of Jesus, he was just marveling. I was asking him to take me back to the park where I had once prayed for a Savior in my life. Now I was praying for a Savior to keep me from the wrath that I deserved for my sins, not just save me from the troubles and hurts that had offended me. Now I wanted to know what it meant to let Jesus be Lord and have complete control of my life. Jesus was revealed to me in a new way. Has this grace been made known to you? Here is what it taught me. "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age," Titus 2:11,12
I did not become instantly perfect. But I was delivered from smoking. I was never tempted to use drugs again. A grace came over me in the area of morality. A significant sign of a converted person is their choice to change friends. I brought some friends with me over from the dark side and we started walking in the light together. Others that I tried to help, or old friends that I went to see just did not feel right to be around. Another old friend just showed up at my house one day, and said," what do I need to do, I want to be saved, and I heard that you have changed, Greg." The next Sunday a few of us "long hairs" we went into the little country church to listen to that preacher friend my mom knew. It was not about "going to church" for me. The desire to hear God's word and be able to converse with him was so strong. I was learning new songs and loved to sing to God. Reading the bible and attending bible studies was a big help in getting to know who God is, and how I should be living.
It took almost a year to pay my debts and restitution's. When I was released from probation, I took to the road again, heading out west. There was something about the adventure of hitching. It was not just about getting to the destination, it was about the places your find and people you meet along the way. The next year, while hitching a ride, I met my wife to be. Her and her cousin picked me up. Like many other Christians I met in the early days of my walk, there was a common joy we shared. The joy of our salvation.
30 yrs later Marianne and I are on the same road together. It is a narrow path following Jesus. She has been raising 9 children and taken in a few extras from time to time. After 32 years of following Jesus I have learned that there is a ditch on each side that I can easily fall into. One side is called religion where one can be stuck in pride and play acting, which the bible calls hypocrisy. A ditch on the other side is something I can fall back into if I let the cares of this life, or the pleasures of sin tempt me back into old ways again. There is grace freely flowing from the throne of God and I need it like never before. May we each learn to humble ourselves and receive it abundantly. G.W.