Sometime in the latter part of this month is an important anniversary for me. Oddly enough, I do not remember the exact date. I say oddly, because I have a better recall of dates and numbers than almost anyone I know. I remember the exact date, and day of the week, of many important events in my life; I remember people’s birthdays and sometimes their phone numbers years after they are no longer a part of my life. And yet I do not remember the exact date of the most important event in my life.
It was 35 years ago this month that the Lord very unexpectedly came crashing into my life. It was a different world in 1979, and I was a different person—somebody I hardly recognize today. I was married then, and my wife Tiffany, step-son Jeremy and I lived in a dilapidated mobile home on 5-acres in the Black Hammock area near Oviedo. She was a student at Seminole Community College and then at UCF. We lived on acreage because she had horses and because she had horses we were always broke. We barely got by on my salary from a stressful, low-paying job as a staff counselor at a community mental health center.
That summer our air-conditioning unit broke. An unshaded mobile home in the Summer Florida sun is essentially a little aluminum covered cooker. We didn’t have the money to even have an A/C guy come and look at it. But we did have a large tree, I think an elm, on the east side of the trailer which gave us good shade till around noon. We kept all the windows open and had rotary fans to blow the air around. If I got really overheated doing some chore outside like mowing, I’d go sit in my car and turn the A/C on, or I’d find an excuse to drive the three miles into town and go to Oviedo’s little supermarket, Meat World. It was always nice and cool there.
But we were all much younger and more resilient then and so we didn’t die of heat stroke, tho today I can’t imagine that I lived that way. Our 17-inch Zenith got four channels. We watched it from about 8-pm till midnight, but during the day my main form of recreation was sitting by the open window reading. The Summer of ’79, I was reading several books concurrently: I read a book about Zen titled “A Vision Of Nothingness” and a New Age book by Brad Steiger about end-time prophecy, plus an extremely disturbing book “Cosmic Trigger: The Final Secret of the Illuminati.” In 1979, pretty much nobody had heard of the Illuminati and all of the conspiracy theories about that secret society.
The Illuminati book was written by Robert Anton Wilson who I’d vaguely heard of as he was a regular contributor to Playboy Magazine. “Cosmic Trigger” was a book so perverse that it was life-changing. I was not a Christian then, but I’d been raised one, and I had a sense of morality and occasionally when I was feeling perplexed or worried, read the Bible—tho the one I had was an old King James and made very little sense.
Wilson and his too-hip for their own good, free-thinking buddies were into taking hallucinogens. They believed that they were communicating with some cosmic intelligence far beyond earth. They invented a pseudo-religion called “Discordianism” that essentially mocked real faith, mostly Christianity. They had even made up holy days such as Harpo Marx’s birthday, etc. Agnostic as I was then I could see the evil in what they were doing. The book was more or less an autobiography of a part of Wilson’s life and it’s ending was rather shattering. When I finished the book I sensed the pervasive evil in the world more strongly than I ever had before. And it was clear to me that there was a being that underpinned the world’s evil. Like I said, it was life changing, but I suspect in a way that Satan could never have anticipated.
Around the same time a book titled “The Beginning of the End” made its way into our sweltering mobile home. I do not recall if I brought it home or if my wife did. As far as I knew it was just another New Age book. It was by Tim LaHaye. I had never heard of him, but this book on end time prophecy quickly caught my interest. It was written in 1972, and by 1979, a mere seven years later, it appeared that Rev. LaHaye’s interpretation of prophetic scripture was already coming true.
Toward the end of the second chapter he asks the reader if they had never accepted Jesus as their personal savior to pray a short prayer: “Oh God, I am a sinner and need the forgiveness You offer in Your Son, Jesus Christ. Please come into my life; save me from my past, and become the Lord of my future. I give myself to You.”
This a version of what is usually termed the “Sinners Prayer.” I had never heard of it and I’d never even heard of the idea of being “born again.” I am a university trained skeptic with a master’s degree in Experimental Psychology. Being a cynic and a skeptic is almost a part of my DNA, and yet I read the prayer with sincerity but with no real expectations. I thought, “I’ve got nothing to lose.” All of my reading that Summer, and most of my adult life, had been a search for meaning and it had led nowhere. Though relatively happy in my marriage, my days were still often suffused with anxiety and an existential dread. I truly had nothing to lose and so I read the prayer. I was totally unprepared for what happened next. My hair stood on end and a wave of electricity coursed thru my body. It was like a channel in my brain was suddenly activated, and I heard a voice in my thoughts quite unlike any other. The voice said, “Carl, I’ve been waiting for you all of these years. Where have you been?” I knew Whose voice it was and I knew that asking “where” was rhetorical—a gentle chiding. In that instant I knew that my life would never be the same again.
I had been lying in bed reading. It was early evening. I was waiting for my wife to finish studying and come to bed. We would watch some TV, maybe Nightline, about the Iran hostage crisis. But when I sat the book on the night stand I knew that something remarkable had happened and that the Lord had indeed been waiting for me all those years. I didn’t mark it on the calendar or even make a mental note of the exact date. It was several weeks later that I mentioned it to my wife. But from that day on prayer was a daily occurrence and a week or two later I bought “The Book” a paperback version of the Living Bible to go along with my incomprehensible King James and I started reading it for the first time in my life.
Christian maturity was slow in coming. It was another 14-years before I joined a church and began having weekly worship and fellowship with other believers. Like any, my life has had its ups and downs, but what happened that September evening 35-years ago was so powerful and so unexpected that I have never had a serious doubt that God existed and that I mattered deeply to Him.