Wednesday, January 19, 2005

A Very Special Anniversary
(LONG But Worth The Read!)

Yesterday was a milestone for me. Nine years ago -- January 18, 1996 -- I gave my life to the Lord and became a Christian.

It was not a decision I made lightly. Dramatic as it sounds, I had to face the possibility of my own death. But let me start at the beginning...

My wife had become a Christian months earlier and had occasionally invited me to bible studies her church had. I had been happy for her that she'd found a church that she was happy at, but at the time, I just wasn't interested. I noticed over time, however, that she had changed for the better. She became a better wife to me and a good mother to our firstborn son, Adam. Over a few months' time, the tenderness and love that she showed me made me want to do nice things for her. So, one time, when she asked me to come to the bible study, I relented and said "okay." When the day of the bible study came, though, that's when I started getting ill...but I was determined to try to please my wife. I told her that evening "If I have a fever, I can't go. But if I don't have a fever, I'll go." She took my temperature and, to my amazement, that thermometer read normal (even though I knew I had a fever!)

We went to the bible study, which began with a veritable feast of good food! Unfortunately, I was not very hungry because of how bad I felt. After the dinner, the bible study was led by the pastor of my wife's church. Throughout the study, a pain built up in my back. At first, it was just annoying and I focused past it. But it kept getting worse and worse. For love of my wife, I began to battle my body to focus past the pain to hear the pastor's words. The pain became constant and fierce. I found I had to focus on every single word the pastor was saying in order to hear him...and that's when something incredible happened: I recognized the truth behind his words! I saw my life and how the Bible pertained to it...and I saw that I needed to do something about that. After the bible study concluded, I went up to the pastor and shook his hand and asked if I could come to his church that Sunday and give my life to the Lord.

But that's not where my journey led...not right away. Later that night, I woke with a "coughing fit" so bad that it knocked me off my feet by the time I made it to the restroom. I barely caught myself on the sink counter with my elbows before falling to the ground. In the process, I wrenched something in my back and was in agonizing pain. Somehow, my wife coaxed me back to sleep. The next morning, the pain returned and we knew we'd need to get me to the hospital. Angel called her pastor because we didn't even have money for an insurance co-pay; she'd hoped he would know someone who could lend us the money. He told us to come by his house on the way to the hospital. When we arrived, he gave us $40 out of his own pocket and said he'd be praying for me. Once we were done at the hospital, the insurance co-pay was $35 and the prescription co-pay was $15...for a total of exactly $40! My wife and I were both astonished at that.

I didn't go to church that weekend, I recouperated at home. I didn't go the following Wednesday, either. By the following Friday, I felt a sort of strange paranoia and intense nausea followed by dry heaves and general physical misery. I was severely dehydrated from not replentishing the fluids I'd lost while suffering the flu. Angel called her pastor and asked for prayer for me. Somehow, Angel got me through that night, too. The next day, I wasn't any better, so we took me to a nearby minor emergency center.

After a two hour wait, they finally saw me and they were alarmed. The nurse told me they wouldn't even let me leave until they got at least 2 liters of fluid into me. She hooked me up to an I.V. but my veins kept collapsing! After that happened four times, I started getting really scared. Feeling weak, I closed my eyes and thought "I could die today!" Soon after that, I began remembering the preaching from the bible study the week before. I remembered that the pastor had talked about there not only being a God but a Devil too -- and that they war over people's souls.

In contemplating my own death, I had to ask myself "If I die right now, am I going to go to heaven?" The answer was a clear and resounding "no." What had I done that was worthy of it? How could a life of marijuana and alcohol use or selfishness towards my wife or feelings of murderous hatred and vengefulness pass a righteousness test of any kind? I knew it couldn't and that terrified me!

I realized I hadn't made a decision of who I would serve in this life -- God and His Son Jesus Christ or the Devil? I also realized that not making a decision was the same as making the wrong decision! Desperate, I prayed to God right there, in my thoughts. I made a vow to Him: I said "God, if you let me live today, I will go to church tomorrow and give my life to you!"

Minutes later, the fifth I.V. attempt succeeded in getting one liter of fluid into me before that vein collapsed as well. The nurse said they could attempt to run an I.V. into my ankle or I could try to drink a liter of orange juice. I opted for the orange juice and drank it down as fast as I could, so they let me leave.

The next day, I fulfilled my end of my vow and went to my wife's church and went up at the time of the invitation. The pastor led me through the plan of salvation in the Bible and I made my confession of faith. That is, I publicly acknowledged that I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that He was born, He died and that He was resurrected on the third day. I understood that, because of the sin of Adam (the first man), humankind was spiritually separated from God as sinners and that God sent Jesus as the mediator between humankind and God. So I confessed the sins of the bible that I was guilty of and prayed to Jesus to ask Him to forgive me of those sins and to send His spirit into my heart to change me.

Unlike when I was six years old and went in front of the congregation of my parents' church to impress them and get baptized, this time I felt His presence. And more than that, there was a change in my life. I forgave those who I had any old grudges against and I let go of old hatred and rage. The man I used to be died that day and was reborn a Christian.

I do not claim I am perfect but the Lord has been spiritually perfecting me these last nine years. I have faults and have made errors out of ignorance but I cannot willfully sin against my God and His Son, Jesus Christ. I no longer curse or drink alcohol or do drugs. I cannot hate, although I have been made angry. I no longer hold grudges though I have endured trials and temptations.

My ultimate goal is to see my God and His Son Jesus Christ in peace on the day that I die. Secondly, I want to share the hope that is in my life now. It goes beyond race, as God is no respecter of persons, and it is about a perfect love that He offers.

Thank you for your patience in reading this. I apologize for its length but I wanted to get it right and give God His rightful glory. He deserves no less.

Best Wishes,

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