I went to a basketball game with a friend when I was 12. I was just coming into my own at that time. Lacking confidence in all areas, I was making up for it with false bravado and turning wild. I was so concerned about my weight I was already taking cross tops, black mollies and any other “speeding” pill I could get my hands on. Not every day yet, but experimenting nonetheless. Speed helped me keep my weight down and gave me WAY more energy. I was also experimenting with smoking. Takes a lot of babysitting to support these habits of errant youth.
At the game a tall, gangly boy came onto the court. I told my friend that I was going to marry him. She laughed and pointed out that I did not even know his name. Who cared? I knew I was going to marry him. It was several years before she reminded me of that day, by that time I not only knew his name, he had moved to my high school and we were planning on getting married which we did when we were 19.
Things did not go well for us. He came from a completely different background—a single, bartender mom next to my married and still crazy about each other upper middle class family. My expectations did not meet with his experiences. I wanted “Father Knows Best” he wanted “Bachelor Party”.
One night he came home, said he was sick of the whole marriage thing and he was going out. That was code for, “I am going out with the guys. I will get drunk, pick up some woman and either come home tomorrow morning right before work or not at all”. Usually he came home, started a fight and then had his excuse to go out. This was different. This time he said he did not want to be married. He didn’t want to deal with kids and dinners at home. He wanted the freedom of being single and hanging out with his friends whenever he wanted and yet he wanted a wife when he needed one for his career and or convenience. He did not want a divorce but didn’t know what he wanted so he changed and left.
It wasn’t really that simple. There was screaming, recriminations, tears, cursing, fit throwing, shoving and slamming doors. I don’t remember too much beyond my heart breaking and intense, red hot anger rising up. I was tired of all the cheating, lying, drinking and being told in complete military style that the Army did not issue him a wife so a wife was really not important in the grand scheme of things called life.
I had my ouzo in hand. Let’s talk about that little addition to my life. Ouzo is licorice flavored liquor. I was tired of most drinks and never did like a lot of them. Not a beer drinker (after we left Germany anyway) no beer, no Jaegermeister anymore. I had gotten drunk on Alabama Daisies (vodka in the freezer mixed with icy cold raspberry wine a fruit flavored slushy that knocked me on my butt) once and gotten pregnant with Jason which was my only wine experience. Loved gin in a salty dog but it had started giving me a headache and how much tequila can a person drink anyway? So I drank Ouzo. I mixed it with water which turned it cloudy--like skim milk. That was it—this lactose intolerant mom had “mommy’s milk” whenever she wanted! It was potent, tasted good and I drank it a lot. (“A lot” is a theme in my life—I tend to do things to the fullest!)
So here I sat on the couch with my ouzo in hand and a cigarette burning, (remember the “a lot” theme? I smoked 5 packs a day so I always had a cigarette burning...) angry and making plans for the future without a husband and raising my 2 children, Jason and Jenny. Jason with his anti-military long hair came to sit by me. We were close. He was extremely intelligent and we talked a lot. I had my left arm on the back of the couch and as was his way he snuggled up to my side with his head lying against me so I would put my arm around him. Jenny was already asleep and this was our time to hang out together.
He started talking as soon as he got settled, “Mom, I have the best thing to tell you.”
“Really?” I replied automatically, “What it is?” I checked my watch. His bedtime was 7. We were a military family who got up early! He had 25 minutes, 25 minutes before I could break down and cry because my heart was broken, 25 minutes until I could drink myself into a stupor, just 25 minutes to act normal so he would not know something was wrong.
He cut into my thoughts. “Well there was this man. His name was Jesus.” That line really put my thoughts onto a roll because I did not believe there was very much good concerning that name. The name Jesus worked for a swear word but other than that I was sure it was useless. I was not even sure there was a God. I had studied a lot of other ways to live a better life but this Jesus stuff was something else. Jason went on. I always tried listen to him—he would catch me when I did not--so I cut my negative mental ranting off and began to listen again.
“He came all the way from Heaven to earth to live and then these bad men nailed him on a cross and then they put Him in a cave with a big rock and the rock rolled away and there was an angel and Jesus went to heaven and now we can be saved and go to heaven with Him.” One breath—very Jason-like. He knew to get to the point and tell it all before some adult interrupted him.
“That is a very nice story Jason but you are too young to understand how any of this works. Religion is something you can study when you get older. There is Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, so many things to choose from. You do not have to make a decision not about anything now. Besides I don’t believe that story.”
“No mom,” he wailed and then without a breath he continued, “You don’t understand…Jesus lived in heaven. His mom’s name was Mary. He got born in a barn, then when He was bigger he did miracles and then some bad men nailed him to a cross and the whole sky got black and He died then they put Him in a cave and put a big rock in front of it. The rock moved and an angel was there. Then Jesus went to talk to His friends and then He went to heaven so we could come live there. We can get saved and then we get to go heaven with Him.” I really needed to teach him to breathe.
“That is very nice Jason but YOU don’t understand. You are just too young for this and I am not interested.” My already Mike-triggered temper was barely boiling below the surface so it did not take much for that temper to start rising again and I stated, “There is no reason to talk about this. You are too young and I don’t believe in Jesus anyway.”
He was not intimidated. He knew my temper better than anyone but he continued on anyway, “Jeremy (his friend who lived down the street) is only 4 and he believes in Jesus. He got saved so he gets to go to heaven. Call his mom, Liz, she will tell you.”
“Great”, I thought, “I can solve this right now.” While I am dialing Jeremy’s mom I glance at my watch over Jason’s head, 10 minutes--this has gone on for 10 minutes! But, I only have 15 minutes left before he goes to bed and I can fall apart. How did we get into this discussion anyway? Why won’t he drop it? Why does he get on a topic and need to know everything about it before he lets it go?
“Hi Liz.” I did not need to tell her who I was, we talked every day. “I need to talk to you about something. Jason keeps telling me about this Jesus story. Apparently Jeremy told him…..”
She interrupted in a very uncharacteristic manner. “I bet. Jeremy is so excited! He received Christ as hiss savior this summer and my dad baptized him when we were there. You see, Jesus was in heaven with God but He knew that man was dying so His Father sent Him to earth as a baby. He lived without sin, performed miracles, healed people, and made the religious people mad. They had Him crucified. That way He could take our sins on the cross. He was crucified to pay for our sins so we would be able to believe in him and have eternal life. He went to hell for 3 days then rose again and now we can receive Him and have eternal life.”
My mind was racing, “Geeze, what was with these people don’t they breathe?” Instead I said, “Jason is barely 5 he is not old enough to have ‘sinned’.”
Liz did not hesitate, “Oh the Bible says we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God.”
What the heck did that mean? I took another tack, “Don’t you think they are too young to make a decision like this? Don’t you think they should wait until they are older to make those types of decisions?”
She did not hesitate, “No, I don’t. When they are old enough to realize what Jesus did for them they are old enough to make that decision. Jason understands the reality of what Christ did for him—he and Jeremy talk about it a lot.”
Great. I feel totally boxed in. “I still don’t think they are old enough to understand but I will talk to him. Thanks Liz.” She was no help at all. I should have known. She tried to talk to me about Jesus and salvation several times and I refused to listen. I just told her I was a Christian—I knew she did not believe me but what could she say?
I had not heard this “Jesus story” 3 times in 15 minutes and I just want Jason to go to bed….why did I teach him to tell time so young? When he was younger I could fudge 10 or 15 minutes on his bedtime when I needed to be alone or to escape pain through some chemical method…now he just looks at the clock.
I take a deep breath, “Ok Jason, Liz says you understand so you can do what you want I guess. I don’t think you are old enough and should wait. But, I will support your decision and you can do what you want.” I am basking in pride that I am such a progressive mom. A mom who supports her 5 year-old’s decisions.
He jumps right on that, “Ok mom let’s pray.”
I was totally shocked. “Jason I have no intentions of praying. I don’t even believe in this stuff.”
He was not deterred, “Don’t you want to go to heaven? You can go to heaven if you ask Jesus into your heart.”
“I don’t believe in heaven.” was my self-righteous response.
“But mom, there was this guy named Jesus…”
“Don’t tell me this story again.” I almost shouted, “I am not praying. I do not believe in this. I think you are too young and I do not want to talk about it anymore.”
You can only imagine the silence. It even made the self-righteous me uncomfortable. I knew he was hurt but I could not deal with this right now and he was just a child. He would forget about it by tomorrow. I thought we were done—only about 5 or 6 minutes left before he went to bed. I lit yet another cigarette and sat there enjoying the silence and yet totally uncomfortable in that same silence.
Jason snuggled up even tighter against my side. He quietly put his small hand on my knee, looked up at me and said, “It’s OK mom. I love you so much I will go to hell with you.”
My heart shattered yet again. Here was this child I adored. This child who knew how evil I could be. How hatefully I could talk. How mean I could be. How very horrible I was and yet he loved me. I felt like a cloud had been rolled back. It was like a fog had parted over my head—a light came on—I had an understanding—call it what you want--I completely understood for the first time ever that if this child could love me like he just said there had to be a God somewhere that knew me and yet loved me—me, yes me. It was too much to take in but through my tears I said, “I don’t want you to go to hell and I love you too, so I’ll pray with you and we’ll go to heaven.”
Jason, in very Jason-like fashion said, “Ok, you pray and I will follow.”
I was stunned, “Jas, I don’t know how to pray.”
Without hesitation he said, “Call Liz, she will give you the words.”
Great, here we go again—this is kind of embarrassing. My mind is racing and pride is driving the whole thing. Liz will know I prayed. I am a pretty private person and even though I do not really understand what is happening I know SOMETHING is happening and I do not want to talk about it to anyone other than Jason. Swearing was involved here but I called.
“Hi Liz, Jason wants to pray to get saved,” I chuckled. “You know how stubborn he can be when he gets his mind set. Anyway,” I, too, can get into this talk-really-fast-and-do-not-take-a-breath-so-no-one-else-can-get-a-word-in-edgewise “we need to know what we are supposed to say.”
Liz probably knew better than to shout “Praise God” though I found out later that she had been praying for me for a long time. Instead in her very gentle way she said, “You just talk to Him. You tell Him that you know He came, died for your sins and rose again. Ask Him to forgive those sins and to come into your heart.” It is just that easy.
I asked her, “Do we have to do anything weird—like the lotus position or get on our knees or anything?”
“Not unless you want to.” she chuckled.
I laughed out of nervousness, thanked her and got off the phone. Even though time had been so important to me 20 minutes before that was before all of this started. Now time seemed to have stopped. I was oblivious to that but not to the fact that I was getting ready to pray and here I was drinking and smoking so I moved the drink, put my cigarette in the ashtray and moved that too. Not far mind you, maybe 6 inches. To my heathen mind I guess I thought God would not see it then???
I told Jason what Liz had said and told him to go ahead. My child who loved me so very much said, “No, I will pray after you.” He was determined to get me in heaven. “Ok, here we go.”
I started, “God, if you are really up there…”
Jason, never one to have his enthusiasm dampened by my negativity in any circumstance, followed in his very own way, “God I am so glad you are in heaven…”
Well, this praying thing was not really what I had in mind for the evening but getting drunk was what I had had in mind and that would happen right after Jason went to bed so I might as well get this over with, “forgive my sins…”
“I am so sorry I sinned, please forgive me and help me be a better boy. Thank you for Jesus who came all the way to earth for me...” His enthusiasm was cute and yet off putting in a way I could not describe.
I continued, “Uuuhhh, come into my heart”
“Me too Jesus, we want to go to heaven with you!”
In a flash I felt like the lights came on, colors were brighter, the air was clearer, everything changed. I knew that I knew that I knew that God was real, Jesus was living in me and EVERYTHING had changed in my life forever! There is no other way to describe it. Nothing had really changed physically—the lights had already been on—but it had ALL changed. That fog that I thought had lifted when Jason told me he would go to hell with me completely left the room. It was so weird.
While I was trying to take it all in Jason threw his arms around my neck and told me he loved me. “Isn’t this exciting?” He jumped off the couch and was bouncing all over the place. I was trying to figure out where all the light came from and how it was that everything was so different.
Eventually Jason calmed down somewhat and I got him to bed. I could hear him from his room telling God all kinds of things. He was talking to Jesus like He was Jeremy. I asked him to be quiet and go to sleep. He told me he couldn’t he was too excited. He did try to get quieter though.
In the meantime, I was completely stunned. I sat on the couch trying to figure all this out. It was like a dark cloud had been removed from my eyes. Blue was bluer. Red was redder. The lamps were brighter. Something had broken in the spirit realm. If LSD had been in my past I would have thought this was a flashback. It was totally over my head. I had had a Bible when I lived at home so I looked for it…no such luck. Then I remembered these little green Bibles all the Army guys have in their TA 50. I pulled Mike’s duffle out of the cupboard and dumped it on the floor. Everything was packed in there a certain way. I did not care—let him deal with it—I just wanted that Bible. There it was in the bottom. I was enough afraid of Mike’s anger that I did throw everything back into the duffel and put it away. He would wonder at the condition of everything but I would cover that when we got there.
I sat down with that little green New Testament and knew this book would change my life. I looked it over and realized I had no trouble talking to God—I just talked to Him like He was my best friend sitting there with me. I did not know what prayer was, I only knew I could talk to God about whatever I wanted. And, I talked a lot.
“OK God, I have studied lots of religions and they all have flawed books. I have always heard the Bible is supposed to be true. As soon as I find something that isn’t, I am giving up on you. But, I am not going to look for errors either. I do not care who translated, I will believe you are big enough to get what You wanted into this book. I figure if You can create the universe and make this light thing that happened to me then You can get the stuff You want into this book. That is the deal God; I am going to believe it all. Unless I find out that you lied, then I am done with You.”
I started reading. Let me just say I did not absorb it all but I was a fairly fast reader and this is a small book so I figured 1 or 2 hours and I should be done and know all I need to….I overestimated my abilities.
Around 10 I heard a knock on the door. I could not believe how much time had passed. I had been so concerned about time earlier. Liz opened the door and came in. She took one look at me and said, “You did it, you got saved!” She was so excited!
I didn’t know about that but I did know that Jesus was in my heart. “How do you know?”
“You look completely different!” She almost shouted at me in her excitement.
She came in and we began to talk. I told her Mike left and I did not think he was coming back. She told me God could take care of that. Now, this was good news. I was so excited.
“How?” I asked her.
“We will pray.” Then she told me a little about her own life.
Her dad was a Baptist preacher (I understood a little about this because my mom took me to the Baptist church when I was little. Somehow it never “took” though.) She talked about some people called Charles and Frances Hunter. She and her husband, Tony went to see them in Tacoma. Tony and Liz were the love story I wanted when I married Mike. They were child hood sweethearts. They got married before she finished high school and were still crazy about each other. I longed for a marriage like theirs. Mine did not even come close.
She said while the Hunters were speaking they said if you wanted “more” of Jesus to come on down to the front and they would pray for you. Liz took off like a flash. Tony was more hesitant but he felt God tell him that he would lose her if he didn’t follow so he did. On the way she fell asleep in the floor (this was how she explained it to me—later we learned she was slain in the spirit) and so did Tony. She said, “I am not sure exactly what happened but I think it is in Acts 2. My daddy never taught on this.” She went on, “With the life you have led you will need all the help you can get so throw your arms up in the air and tell God you want ‘all He’s got’.” And so I did.
I threw my hands up in the air and said, “Give me all you got God.” I thought there were changes before when I prayed and asked Jesus into my heart but with this short prayer I knew something even more powerful had happened. I felt infused with power. I was dumbfounded at what was going on and all the bravado I used to conceal my insecurities dissipated. Liz let me know that I would talk funny. She didn’t know that much about it yet but thought it was called “speaking in other tongues”. She told me to read the book of Acts and I would figure it out.
We talked about Mike. I poured my heart out. I had loved him since I was 15. I could not image my life without him. I was totally disappointed in my life but still did not want to raise my children without him. I loved him.
She said, “Nothing is too big for God.” That planted deeply in my heart and I have come back to that statement thousands of times over the years. I sat quietly and waited for her to pray.
She wouldn’t. “It’s your marriage. You want him back. You pray and I will agree with you.”
I cried, I refused, I was embarrassed and afraid.
“If you want your marriage, tell God.” She would not back down.
I finally did. I prayed a huge, spiritually insightful, powerful prayer. “God, bring him back.” That was it. Nothing more but I knew He would bring Mike back.
Liz said she had several books I should read so we took off to her house to get them. She just lived a couple of doors away. Even the stars were brighter. I packed up a paper grocery bag full of books included in that bag were a couple by those people she had gone to see, Charles and Frances Hunter also known as The Happy Hunters. I hurried home. I wanted to read them all but I wanted to finish the New Testament first.
As soon as I got home I lit another cigarette and got another drink. I would turn away from the Bible to take a puff every time—somewhere in my mind I thought God would be offended if I smoked and read the Bible at the same time so I turned aside. Where is the reasoning in that? I did the same whenever I took a sip of ouzo. I now know that as crazy as it was, it was the beginning of a conscience. The beginning of hearing. The beginning of a new life. The beginning of refining. The beginning of so many things. The beginning of life.
For years I had had migraines. The last one I had prior to this was the worst one ever. It lasted 2 weeks. I went to the hospital 5 times and wanted to die. Mike was in the field at the time and Jason who was 4 years old at the time and Jenny who was not quite 2 took care of me. While I was reading I could feel a headache starting. Fear gripped me. I tried to ignore it but I could feel that band of pain tightening. Nausea was starting and my eyes started aching. This was never going to work because the lights were still brighter than I had ever seen. I had just read several scriptures about healing.
There was no better time than the present to see if the Bible was true. If He was some powerful God who ran out of power when Jesus died then there was no sense in starting all this Christian stuff. Let me just insert here that I could—and did—cuss the paint off the wall. “Stuff” was not in my vocabulary at that time but it is not in the best interest of the reader to be that accurate here. I realized how much I swore at this point and asked God to change my language. Remember I am just talking to Him like He is a good friend sitting on the couch with me. So, as this headache is building and I am reading that Jesus healed “all” who came to Him I came to Him. Again, I came with the simplest of prayers, “God if your power still works and the Bible is really true, heal this headache and I do not ever want to have another headache.” Just that quick I saw some weird monkey-looking thing with its arms around my head leave. No more headache. Gone immediately! Too strange! Unbelievable! I shook my head. No pain! I knew about demons from studying witchcraft, spells and various religions. I had no idea these headaches could be a demon, but that had to be what I saw.
Wow! This was going to be great! God is awesome and this was going to be a trip.
And, it has…..