You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."
August is often monsoon time in Tucson, Arizona. The rains can come quickly, bringing flooding to dry ground not primed to soak them up. He always looked forward to that time of year, to the brief respites from the scorching zephyrs. But not this year. This year was his "nowhere year," the one between high school and college, the one where he lost sense of self, God, and purpose. Most of his friends had gone to school or summer projects. He himself would finally do so in just a few weeks. There was excitement in that knowledge, but also much apprehension. All he had known was Tucson. All he had was there. His best friend and his girlfriend and his family -- he'd be leaving them behind.
The leaving was becoming even more difficult because there were rifts growing. His girlfriend had requested a break because, among other things, he had begun to put on weight. Things weren't good between them. In fact, things weren't good anywhere. This was supposed to be one of the best times of his life, but all he felt was lost, left out, and lethargic. The weather wasn't helping. Neither was the fact that his Triumph TR6 convertible, the one he had received from his dad, the original owner, had finally died. He'd gone from driving that prime machine to a hand-me-up, dented Volkswagen Dasher from, insult of insults, his younger sister. His parents had opted to provide her a more reliable vehicle, a shinier, newer, cuter Honda Civic. It took him a long time, sad to say, to get over that.
On this night, he was also house-sitting for a friend of his mother's. It was a depressing apartment, containing two very depressing dogs. One was very old and mostly blind, and would spend each night spookily wandering from room to room. He would wake up and see it stalking the halls as if in trance. Freaky. The other one was a three-legged little mutt who was so scared of him that the very reason he was housesitting became obsolete! Every gentle attempt to let the dog out created so much fear in the animal that it would do its business in the process of running out the door, meaning he not only had clean-up duty, but still had to convince the frightened critter to come back inside!
So basically, he was bummed. Bummed and lonely. And the last thing on his mind was the Lord, even though he'd known Him for 10 years. He knew he had to get out of there and gain some perspective. Maybe Jay was around. His house wasn't too far away from Dog Central. He decided to try his luck in the monsoon.
As soon as he got to the Dasher, he should have known it was a bad idea. He'd left his windows down. He sat down anyway, right in the puddle of rain and dog hair and his sister's ancient cigarette ashes. At least the car started. He pulled it out onto Alvernon Road, and headed south toward Grant.
Grant Road, when he got there, no longer looked like a street. It was a rivulet. I don't know why, but he pulled out into it. For a while, the old wheezy car made its way slowly through the water. But eventually, it could go no more. He'd killed it. He stepped out into knee-deep water and looked to the heavens. A couple guys who were standing uphill in a shopping center watching the action helped him push the Dasher out of the street and up into the lot. Suddenly he heard shouts of joy and glee. He turned his head in time to see two kids in an inflatable raft cruise down a side street and out onto Grant, laughing all the way. Nice. Did anyone else want to mock him?
Well, what next? He had no cash, no coins. No cell phones in 1989. No ATM nearby.
There was only one thing to do: walk the rest of the way to Jay's house. Why not? He couldn't suffer much more, could he? It was a good 25 blocks. He'd gone about 24 of those in the rain when it was finally starting to let up. But through the parting drops he saw that he made yet another error in judgment. Rather than staying on the main road, where there was a bridge that crossed over a wash, he had taken a side street that dipped right down into it. It was going to mean another half hour if he backtracked, so he made his umpteenth stupid decision of the night. He tied his shoes around his neck, waded into the dip... and swam to the other side (kids, don't try this at home. He got lucky the current wasn't strong).
Emerging, he imagined himself as the creature from the black lagoon. Only several more houses to go. He knocked on the door. Jay's mother answered. She looked confused, then concerned, then sprang into action. "Oh my goodness! Get in here!" She got him towels and something hot to drink, and let him know Jay wasn't home yet. He was out on a date. She was going to bed, but he was welcome, as always, to wait up for Jay.
He sat in a dark corner of the living room, wondering how in the world he had sunk to this. He heard a key in the lock. He saw his best buddy enter, saw him notice a blob sitting in the corner, saw him realize he'd seen no car outside. When Jay recognized his pal, he paused, looked more closely, then... burst into laughter.
What happened next was an all-night conversation that would change both their lives. The gist of it was, "We've been giving lip service to our God and our church for a long time now. We've been part of this great youth group, but at heart we both know we love the popularity more than the fellowship. We've talked about the guys in our group who we know are authentic, who really study, really live the Word. Maybe it is time for us to be that, too? Maybe it's time to stop sinning and start taking Christianity seriously?"
Yes. We decided it was. In the morning the mercy was palpable and freeing. We went to the bookstore and bought a study guide on James. We drove up to Mount Lemmon, just outside the city, praising the Lord on the way and praying once we got there. With James's help, we decided to begin with practicality. We put away childish things. We took our eyes off ourselves, and we recognized that God had been active in answering prayers we'd prayed over a year ago (flippantly though they were spoken) that God would get our attention, develop in us humilty and patience, and a genuine idea of what following Jesus was about.
Relatively speaking, we didn't suffer much, though our achings were deep and real for the time. God put us on our knees, gently but firmly, and turned us around, which is the essence of humility, repentance, and restoration. The Dasher was definitely dead... but we were alive.
Only a couple years later, God gave me a gift, an incredible, forever reminder of that night and what I learned and how it would carry me through the future. It came in the form of a song by Rich Mullins. To this day, I believe that Rich must have been there, must have seen what transpired. For he wrote:
I see the morning moving over the hills
I can see the shadows on the western side
And all those illusions that I had
They just vanish in Your light.
Though the chill in the night still hangs in the air
I can feel the warmth of morning on my face
Though the storm had tossed me
'Til I thought I'd nearly lost my way
And now the night is fading and the storm is past
And everything that could be shaken was shaken
And all that remains is all I ever really had
What I'd have settled for
You've blown so far away
What You brought me to
I thought I could not reach.
And I came so close to giving up
But You never did give up on me.
I see the morning moving over the hills
I feel the rush of life here where the darkness broke
And I am in You and You're in me
Here where the winds of Heaven blow.
And now the night is fading
And the storm is through
And everything You sent to shake me
From my dreams they come to wake me
In the love I find in You
And now the morning comes
And everything that really matters
Become the wings You send to gather me
To my home
To my home
I'm going home...
Intersecting Faith & Life: 1. If a storm were to shake your life, and "everything that could be shaken was shaken, and all that remained was all you ever really had," what would it be that remained? 2. What would you have settled for that God has blown so far away? What has He brought you to that you thought you could not reach? 3. What does it mean to go back "to my home," even if you're actually about to start a journey? 4. When was the last time you shared your testimony? Make an effort to write it down or share it today.
Closer to You Than to Me, David Jeremiah
The Finger of God, Os Hillman
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