I wrote this before blogging-before I turned the wheel over-before I would attend Passion 2012 (I did not even know about the event at the time) Before I knew who Julie was.
I have no idea why I wrote this other than God knew real change was coming for me & he wanted me to see where I had been before he took me to the next step.
It was nearing the end of summer in 1975 as I walked that night in my neighborhood. I was nineteen, troubled, and the walk much like my life had no particular destination. A girlfriend that I treated badly walked away and decided to fill her own emptiness with someone else. It was not until she was out the door that I realized that I actually loved her, though that was the last thing in my life I desired.
It was strange that I would be out on a night as this and not be high on some substance, but for whatever reasons I was not.
I don’t recall a thought as I walked the street I lived on and turned left on to the next road. What I do recall is that I walked gazing at the sky for much of the walk. I can point to the place I was at today all these years later when what I can only describe as a whoosh that began in the top of my head and permeated throughout my entire body. I hear a whisper with unmistakable clarity. “Come and admit that you are wrong. Come and sing my glorious song.” One lone tear dribbled down my left cheek.
A few steps later I gazed up again to the dark sky and asked, “Is that You God?” I did not need an answer because I already knew. Over thirty five years later I still don’t know why this happened to me. My family referred to it as my Damascus Road and indeed it was.
It would be pleasant if this story was a happy one and that I turned from my life immediately and walked a different path with happiness and harmony. I did turn from my life of promiscuity, drugs, parties that saw the sun rise on a regular basis. My life began with that supernatural moment and I thought that there would be so much more to come but I had to learn to live in the natural, and by faith which proved an obstacle I could not overcome.
I made a rash of hurried decisions and the worse was a marriage born of a small church group that had all the answers and from my loneliness. Remember the girl that found solace in another? Well I blocked all that away. I married someone while still in love with another. It was a not so great start for a lifetime of happiness.
I spent ten years unhappily married-never letting go of my Damascus Road completely but at the same time when your home is misery for both of you how can you walk a fruitful path? I could not.
At age 32 I was single, alone, and seemingly never able to escape the fight over our child, property, and money. I longed for fairness in an unfair world and when it became apparent that I was not going to get it I lashed out at God and my festering anger toward him grew exponentially for the next twenty years. Often my prayers turned to cursing at a God powerful enough to whisper to me on a dark road and change my life but who was miles away when I needed him most.
I had several failed relationships after divorce. I sought love and intimacy and found it, however fleeting it proved to be. I was flawed, vulnerable and I found the same in partners. Some of the experiences were enthralling but the downside grew too steep.
Depression loomed but I could always flip the switch and walk out of any dark places but then twice the darkness became so severe that I reconciled myself to the awareness that I was not Superman after all. One night as I drove around listening to Bruce Springsteen and drinking heavily I drove into the garage and left the music playing and the car running. I was playing a game. It won’t really be suicide if I just fall asleep drunk never to wake again. I don’t know if I fell asleep or not but at some point my beautiful son’s face appeared and what I could not do for myself I had to do for him. I cut the car off and walked inside, wondering if I could outlast this particular debilitating bout of darkness.
During this time I went to a Saturday night church service with my son Micah. The minister was talking about what is holding you back? What is keeping you from turning your life completely over to God? Micah has a recall for details of his childhood that are incisive. He turned to me and asked softly but with conviction not expected from a young teen ager. “What’s keeping you Dad?” He has no recollection of this event. It was God speaking through him but still I had my plans, my dreams, and my desires. Let me achieve those first and then maybe I will get around to God.
It was a Saturday night, March 2007 and I was talking to my mom on the phone. During the course of our chat she mentioned that Jim Glasgow was back at Myrtle Grove. I was a member at Myrtle Grove but I had not been to a service in many years. I was not attending church anywhere. I attended a few but none felt right. I had always liked Jim. He is a humble man with a heart for the broken. Something clicked when Mom said that and I decided I am going to Myrtle Grove in the morning. I knew that once while it thrived under the leadership of my dear friend Horace Hilton it had fallen on harder times. It was no longer the church that people lined up at to get in the door.
I did not know that it would become a church home for me. That it would feel right. I went sporadically for the first three years. My anger at God for circumstances that he refused to change would surface and I would in my mind defy him and refuse to attend for several weeks. Still I kept returning.
There was no life changing voice this time but as I reflect back now I see a few events that did not seem big at the time but have had a profound effect on my life. I witnessed them not realizing that they would stick with me as major teachings in my life.
The first I can recall was sitting alone at the end of the pew-as usual refusing to reach out to anyone. I had to keep a distance and protect myself from any religious people. It was before church began and I without thought picked up the Bible in front of me. I opened it to Galatians 5:7. You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?
The second event was when a man brought his potter’s wheel to church and began to mold as a woman spoke. I don’t recall if the man ever spoke and I can’t recall any word spoken during that service. Something however gnawed at me. What I sensed was God saying, “You have tried to mold me into what you think I should be. I am the potter you are the clay and it is not the other way around.”
I don’t recall thinking to much that day about the service but it has been a few years now and that is still my lesson. I think it always will be. I see it not only applying to my life but often in our church of today. I resist religious behavior. The tightly held religious person with their ordinances often seem hard and cold to me. It is about our heart isn’t it? The best examples that I lean on were Horace, and today
David Foster and Steve Wallin. They are men who live the gospel in their hearts not with pointed finger but rather a hand up.
Still, as our world has become extremely liberal haven’t we assumed God has moved with us? I know I have. But I return to the reminder of the potter and the clay. I need to not only understand but accept that I am the clay.
Jim shared a message and the part I remember was about small groups and the need to belong to one. I had attended one and it never felt right to me. Nothing against the people involved. It was just not the right fit for me. I felt pressure when I began to break away from the group. I don’t react well with pressure.
I talked to Jim about this and asked, “Do you really think every member should be in a small group?” He thought for a few seconds and replied, “I think you need to be known.” Now that was big for me because I am introverted and I came each Sunday but I sat in my corner alone and while cordial I refused to reach out to anyone. God has slowly changed that in me.
Steve Mattis also returned to Myrtle Grove where he assumed the role as senior pastor. The recurring theme in all messages by Steve is we can’t make it by being good. We can’t make it with our religious behavior and rituals. It is only with grace that we have hope.
One example that Steve used one Sunday with Jerry Cannon also resonated with me and does to this day. It also tied into what Jim shared about being known or in my case I believe God speaking softly for me to get out of my corner. Steve quoted a scripture about how we are to exalt or encourage one another. He said something about Jerry that was very true and then asked how he felt. Jerry replied awesome. It got a little emotional for both of them because it was heartfelt.
What I took away from that was certainly not to false flatter someone but how hard this life can be at times. You never know what one kind true word can mean to someone unless you speak it. It was an easy way for me to slowly get out of my corner that I am so darn comfortable in. I have certainly been on the other end of it when I felt like I was at that last strand of rope and someone offered kindness and hope. I remember during the darkest times of depression my mom saying, “Billy, you have to have hope. Without hope you have nothing.”
I am self centered-stuck in what I do not have. My failed dreams, emptiness, but from that one little message there have been many times since then when I have prayed, “Lord if I can offer someone some encouragement today who is struggling led me to that opportunity.”
Horace once told me that each Sunday on each pew there was someone with a broken heart. Often it was me.
Steve shared a poignant message several months ago about how we should literally die to ourselves. That sounds so harsh. I can only tell you what it means to me. The more of my heart that I allow to die the more room there is for Jesus to come and replace my self centered desires. And if Jesus fills my heart more with his spirit and his love then I won’t need ordinances to tell me what to do. I will do it because of who has taken up residence in my heart.
I spent so much time in darkness that I could not even imagine being happy in Heaven. I often would ask God to take me now and I will opt out of any afterlife. “You can have it God,” as if I had anything to bargain with. Steve spoke of Heaven recently and how being in the presence of God we will be so full we will overflow. He used the example of a cup is not overflowing until too much water is added. It must go beyond full.
But I am not to wait for that but to long for that while I am here. Again it goes back to my heart. How much is me? How much will I let go of to have it replaced with something better.
It is a journey, and one in which I struggle mightily. Listening to Michael Mattis in his message December 18 caused me to explore my nights. That is the time when it can rain down on me the most with negativity. The times I feel so alone and it is as if all that I face comes together as one mighty weight to crush me. The dreams unrealized, the mom such a spiritual force and suffering now with dementia, and the one person I want brought into the fullness of God more than me but as the spirit calls holds on to that last entrapment.
Often these nights are so bad that it influences darkly the next day. This brings times when faith is so very difficult for me to find. What did the man say to Jesus when asked if he believed? Yes Lord I believe. Help me my unbelief. Mark 9:24. I love the raw honesty that I find in that scripture.
A few weeks ago I was looking for a scripture to post on my Facebook status. Something inspiring but fresher than one I would typically turn too. I found Jeremiah 32:27 “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for me?”
I believe that was a scripture to take root and prepare me for hearing about the night. Last night as I prayed and as the obstacles came to me one at a time I named each one and said, Lord you are bigger than my loneliness. You are bigger than mom’s dementia. I continued to name each one and I followed it with Lord you are bigger than ….
One thing in my favor as I walk down this road is I returned to Myrtle Grove over four years ago with an honest heart. I resist when people judge me because I am my worse critic. I know the good, the bad, and the ugly. I will not give in to church speak, tradition, clichés, religion, or rituals. I won’t say I believe it if I don’t. That does not make me right, and I could well be wrong. But God will have to show me and I am more than willing to be wrong.
There is no Damascus Road this time and the process slow but the foundation more sturdy and I have more hope in finding the path God calls to me. As I search for the next step what I feel is in a world of outwardly trappings that God wants to make me beautiful from the inside out.
A few years ago Jim suggested a book for me to read. What’s So Amazing about Grace by Phillip Yancey. It seems to be appropriate to end this letter of journey with a quote from that book.
"As a child, I put on my best behavior on Sunday mornings, dressing up for God and for the Christians around me. It never occurred to me that church was a place to be honest. Now, though, as I seek to look at the world through the lens of grace, I realize that imperfection is the prerequisite for grace. Light only gets in through the cracks.”
May we all leave our religious clothes at home and come each Sunday with an honest and open heart. Luke 12:34 "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”