August 25, 2020

48 Years ago today

48 years ago, today, my life changed forever.

Thursday, August 26, 1971

In fact, the events of that day so changed my life that I still carry in my wallet a little calendar from a bank that went out of business decades ago – reminding me, just like the word “Anno Domini”, how much my life changed.

Earlier that Spring, of my HS Senior year, I found myself suddenly wrestling deeply to the point of distraction, with whether I believed what I had been brought up in church and Sunday school to believe or not. A deep fear began to envelope me like nothing I had ever experienced, and I did not understand how or why it came on me so overpoweringly. I was helpless in its midst.

I began to withdraw from people; reading little booklets I came across having to do with the ‘power of positive thinking’ etc. My mother suggested I talk with the pastor of the church we went to who was very nice, but he tried to tell me that the writers in the Bible were psychosomatic – projecting their issues into its message. Nothing made sense at all. In fact, I was sensing a darkness within, overwhelming me that allowed no light in.  Soon I was obsessed with the thought, “where will I be a year from now if this foreboding sense of doom continues?” Or next month…or next week…or tomorrow?

I imagined what it would be like to – or if it was even possible to – take my own life against my own will? What had begun as something so preposterous, was now drawing me closer and closer. One day after school, while crossing a bridge over some railway tracks, I heard a voice in my spirt say “jump!”. I just kept walking and looking straight ahead, completely frozen with fear.  At night I tried to go to sleep knotted all up in the fetal position, unable to sleep. The next morning, I cried out to God, believing He existed and that He was my only hope.

When I said “Amen”, a relief washed over me; the darkness was gone, and I heard a different voice inside me say: “Bill, you will never go through this again…” I knew it was God, but I was truly dumfounded.  My sister Sallie had shared with me about Jesus and had given me a little, white, pocket-sized New Testament she had received in nurse’s training – and I grabbed that little book and put it in my back pocket like a rabbit’s foot, carrying it for good luck. I was experiencing so much peace for the first time in months.

Later that summer she convinced me to come to a high school Christian camp where she had served as Nurse for several years. I decided to go and there met kids my own age who were, well, so different. I saw something in them I did not have, that drew me like someone dying of thirst to water I had never tasted. I could not figure it out.  They all seemed so happy, so friendly, and so crazy fun to be around! One of them said quite openly one day, “we’re no different from you, but we know we’re forgiven…” Forgiven? Who uses words like that outside of church? Every night the guys in my cabin would pray out loud. I’d never heard peers pray out loud. I did not understand but I desperately wanted to.

On the final night of camp, Thursday, August 26th, the pastor of the week, Rev. Bruce Jones, gave a message about making a decision to follow Christ. I wanted to but a voice inside kept saying “You don’t have to make any decision, you’ve been going to church your whole life, just look at all those Sunday school attendance pins you have!” I was in turmoil inside. I could not do it. So, the service ended, but as they closed, the pastor reminded everyone that we would be sitting around the campfire one last time later that night and sharing what God had shown us during the week.

I felt a sense of loss that I had not made a decision, but, as I heard that, I sent up a quick prayer asking the Lord to help me make a commitment then…and suddenly a presence and peace came over me, as if I had already done it.  Later that night, when I felt I could not sit still anymore, I got to my feet and shared publicly: “I want to be a member of Christ’s Army, no turning back!” Afterwards, campers came up to me, some with tears, saying they had been praying for me for seven years because my sister had always asked prayer for me. I was shocked by my new-found family, that people had prayed for me whom I had never met, for this moment to take place.  Later, I remember standing in a clearing where the full moon shone down on me and praying, “Lord, if I fail at everything I do in life, but know You as I do right this moment, I will not care. I just want to know You as I know you right now.”

One week later I started as a freshman at Westfield State College in western Massachusetts. I found other followers of Jesus and we formed a nightly Bible study that soon became the fastest growing group on campus as we shared our faith regularly and students came to Christ. He filled my every thought and flooded me with peace where such desperation had once ruled me. Camp Tispaquinn in Middleborough, MA was sold years ago and does not even exist. But 48 years ago, today, my life changed forever, as I stood on Holy ground and gave up my life, so I could accept His, and know that I too was forgiven. Do you have that peace and assurance, or are you unsure and in turmoil? Jesus says in Matthew 11:28,

“Come to me all you who are weighed down and in turmoil, and I will give you rest…”