By Bill MacLeod
50 years ago, today, my life changed forever.
Thursday, August 26, 1971
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, with that day circled reminding me, of the day the world stopped and how much everything in my life began to change. But how you ask?
Earlier that Spring, in my Senior year of high school, I was in turmoil, wrestling to the point of obsession over whether what I had been taught in Sunday School was even true, and I began to seriously doubt it was. Next, a dark cloud seemed to come over me accompanied by an impending sense of fear. I had never experienced anything like it before and I felt helpless and powerless.
I began withdrawing from people; reading anything that might give me hope, like the power of positive thinking and I even went and spoke to my pastor. Nothing helped and my sense of despair grew even more. I began to have self-destructive thoughts that seemed like they were coming from another source, because I knew that I wanted desperately to live! An escalating urgency seemed to well up inside me as I began to wonder: “If this continues, where will I be a year from now…a month from now…tomorrow?”
One night I tried to go to sleep but I was all knotted up cowering in the fetal position, unable to sleep. Preparing for school the next morning, I just stopped, and sitting on the end of my bed 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 dumbfounded.
For years 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 peace for the first time in months.
Later that summer, with her encouragement, I attended a high school Christian camp and met young people my own age who I could tell had something I did not have – but desperately wanted. They were all so friendly, so happy, so crazy fun to be around, yet seemed to possess a deep peace and joy I’d never seen before. The guys in my cabin all prayed together at night, out loud (!), something I said I’d never do, but they also talked openly about knowing that they were “forgiven”.
On the final night of camp, Thursday, August 26th, the pastor of the week, Rev. Bruce Jones, gave a message about deciding to follow Christ. I really wanted to but the part of me that was resisting – was really strong. I felt like something powerful was holding me back. I did not move at the pastor’s invitation. But as we closed, he reminded us that we’d be sitting around the campfire one last time later that night and sharing what God had shown us during the week. I determined to make a commitment to Christ at that time, and immediately a peace came over me.
Afterwards around the campfire, when I felt I could not sit still any longer, I got to my feet and shared publicly: “I want to be a member of Christ’s Army, no turning back!” It was a powerful moment of total clarity, and a number of campers even came up to tell me they had been praying for me for years. Next, I remember standing in a clearing where the full moon shone down on me, praying: “Lord, if I fail at everything I do in life, but know You just as I do right this very moment, I will not care. I just want to know You as I know you right now.”
Exactly 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 saw many come to Christ. The Lord Jesus, and His Word, filled my every thought and flooded me with peace where before, such despair had enveloped me. Camp Tispaquinn in Middleborough, Massachusetts was sold years ago and does not even exist today. But what took place there 50 years ago on this very day, had eternal consequences when my life was changed forever as I stood and exchanged my life for His. Receiving Jesus’ free gift of eternal life and forgiveness of sin was the greatest decision I have ever made…and I am still basking in the reality of that miraculous moment 50 years later.
Do you have the peace and assurance that only Jesus Christ can provide?
Jesus says in Matthew 11:28, “Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest…” Jesus did it for me on August 26, 1971…and He can do it for you right now!