Today marks the 20th anniversary of the most important day of my life. I realize that I wouldn’t even have a life without August 8th, 1974, and I don’t want to minimize the importance of my spiritual rebirth in 1985, or my marriage in 1995, or when my children were born, or when the Giants won the World Series in 2010 after 56 years of— (yeah, I heard the record scratch too).
The story starts in 1992, during my senior year of high school. I was sitting in a bible study, and my dad posed a question to the group: “What are some practical ways that we can be salt and light in the earth?” Not an earth-shattering question. Not even that compelling. But as I was trying to think of something impressive to say, my eyes fell on this kid across from me, and God spoke in a clear, undeniable way.
It didn’t come in words, like a voice in my head. The best way I can describe it is a mental download, a sudden understanding of something that required a lot of explanation and a couple good analogies to communicate. In fact, for the next couple of days, I drove to school and back preaching to no one in my car, trying to get my head around it.
The following Tuesday I was in a lunch meeting, and the president of the Student Council asked for prayer because he was supposed to speak in special chapel on Thursday, and he’d been too busy to prepare. I immediately volunteered, which was strange because I was not even in Student Council, and I had never spoken in front of anyone. He thanked me, and that was that.
So God speaks to me on a Sunday, and four days later I’m standing in front of my whole school trying to explain what he told me. This is a short summary of what he said:
The boy across from you, the one with the basketball that you try to avoid, the one that won’t stop talking about every play of every game—he is light to basketball. He loves basketball. He can’t help himself. The reason you struggle to be a light for me is that you do not love me. If you loved me, you couldn’t help but be a light.
The message was inspiring and insightful, but there was one catch: God told me that I didn’t love him. How was I supposed to move forward as a Christian after that? Could I force myself to love him? Could I even sing a worship song in good conscience?
I went to Azusa Pacific the next year, and spent many unhappy chapels squirming through worship songs, being jealous or judgmental of the free and happy Christians all around me. I wanted to love God, but I didn’t know how to get closer. He’s invisible, for one. And nothing like me. Was Creation supposed to inspire me? More Bible reading? More prayer?
I went with prayer. Basically I devoted myself to an hour a day, asking God to give me some sort of solution to our little impasse, an impasse that grew into a three-year struggle. Whenever I would share my struggle with others, they would shake their heads, assuring me that God would never tell a person that they didn’t love him. Of course we love God. We love him because he first loved us. That’s just what Christians do. Except . . . how could I argue with God? Besides, my heart betrayed me. If I loved him, why did I get so nervous around unbelievers when it came to sharing or standing up for my faith? Why was I embarrassed of more forthright believers?
During the last few months of those three years, Laurie and I started seeing each other. She was in Sacramento, and I was in Los Angeles. We would connect about once a month and talk all day, but never about our relationship. I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t sure it was the best fit, but dang, she looked too good to pass up, so we kept hanging out.
She came to APU to visit the campus on a weekend in February, 1995. That night, I had a rehearsal, so she made dinner for us. When I came back to my modular, she had set out a romantic dinner with Italian food and candles and all that. Since neither of us was ready to define the relationship, we tried not to think of it as romantic, just a nice, semi-awkward meal between friends.
Afterward, we drove into the foothills behind the campus to find some place to pray. Yeah, okay, it was kind of a move. She probably caught on when I parked in a spot that overlooked the city and suggested we hold hands while we prayed. Boom. Fingers interlocked. Romance secured.
We prayed for over an hour, back and forth, covering our issues, thinking of any way to impress the other with our spiritual insights and passions. Then we sat in that post-prayer silence that no one wants to break. Thankfully, it was the Lord who broke the silence. This is basically what he told me:
John, I am romantic. Consider the beauty of my Creation. Think of your friends, your family, the girl sitting beside you. Think of the good things in your life, your experiences and talents. These are like candles, food and table settings. They are not an end in themselves. They are there to draw you to the person across the table. Soon the dinner will be eaten, the candles blown out, and the dishes put away, but the person across the table will remain. Engage with me.
I didn’t just think it. I felt it. It was a charge of passion that made me tremble. My heart was beating with such intensity that I felt I couldn’t take much more of it. Just when I was about to open my mouth and try to explain what was happening, Laurie spoke up. “John, God is romantic.”
He had spoken to her as well. Same thing. Same time.
The experience persisted for three days. We didn’t sleep at all. I couldn’t read the Bible or sing a worship song without crying, and I never cry. Just thinking about the experience would make feel strange and I would start to shake all over again. When I took Laurie to the airport, we were just starting to realize the implications of that event. Before I dropped her off, we talked about getting married. That was how we defined our relationship.
On February 19th, I drove up into the hills of Glendora as one person, and came down on February 20th a different person. I had always been a fearful person, a natural worrier, but after that night I found myself confident, bold even, realizing that if God loved me like that, anything that came into my life was opportunity to make me stronger or draw me closer to him. I didn’t doubt his love. How could I?
It also affected the way I thought of the Trinity, the way I approached my relationships, the way I thought of the depravity of society and the mission of the Church. I tried to communicate those things in my previous post, but it wasn’t easy. I found myself resorting to poetry, trying to put words to such an elusive and penetrating concept.
I am not romantic or sentimental by nature. I would much prefer a night watching Aliens or Die Hard to Sense and Sensibility. But God revealed himself to me in those ways, and nothing has settled my heart and mind more than that one night in February, 1995.