I don't know when my search for G-d began, but I suppose I was actively looking for Him as a teenager. As I recall the "phases" and stages I went through in those years, they all revolved around music. As a child, I was raised on country music (Being born in Alabama, this should come as no surprise!) Country music was it. I honestly didn't realize that there were so many other types of music in the world. I was not allowed to listen to anything else. I remember the day when I was about 13 or so, and some of my closest friends in the neighborhood were sitting in the pickup truck (whose radio had probably never been turned off of the local country station) listening to "alternative rock" music. It felt as if we were doing something sinful by listening to this music... this foreign, corrupt, music.
G-d forbid that my father should find out what I was listening to.
This perhaps marks the beginnings of rebellion in my life. After listening (and liking) alternative rock, I moved on eventually to heavier rock, heavy metal, and then even death metal. This of course affected the way that I dressed: black clothing, chain hanging from my wallet, looking like a biker or sometimes like a corpse.. this was my "head banger" stage. I wish I still had pictures of myself from this age, but I got rid of all of them!
Then, somehow I toned it way down and became very mellow. It was at this point that I came across a group called Sublime. They were a mixture of alternative, reggae, and ska. They were the ones who introduced me to the infamous Bob Marley, and Bob introduced me to marijuana (which I first tasted on my fifteenth birthday) and rastafarianism. Interestingly enough, Bob also introduced me to a book that he quoted from constantly in his songs: the Bible. He drove me to want to read it and made me curious about what it was about. So in the course of the next year or so, I smoked marijuana from time to time, even tried growing dreadlocks without my father's knowledge, and I read the Bible from cover to cover, Genesis to Revelation. From that point on, whenever anyone would ask me what my favorite book was, my response was always the same: the Bible. I had never read anything like it, and I never will. The Old Testament, with its stories of families and war, prophets and dramas, was immediately my favorite. I fell in love with the Psalms and even memorized several of them during this time. The New Testament, on the other hand, seemed more "mystical" and mysterious, and I didn't know what to think of it. What it said about the Messiah, Bob Marley said about the Ethiopian emperor, Haile Selassie. I didn't know what the truth was or what to believe, but I knew that the Bible was a great book and I couldn't get enough of it.
I spent a lot of time with the Scriptures. Sitting out in the empty fields behind my grandmother's house under the trees, reading or reciting Psalms to the birds or the wind, whichever would listen. I meditated on G-d and on nature, being somewhat curious about the former and in love with the latter. I believed that there was a G-d. Why? I don't know. I'm sure at some point members of my extended family had told me about Him or that he existed, and I just knew in my own heart and mind that He did exist. I just didn't know who or what or where He was.
My belief was only strengthened one day as I was sitting at the kitchen table reading my favorite book and my father walked in. I don't remember how sober or how intoxicated he was at the time, but he said something to the effect of, "You're searching for something you will never find. When you've seen as many people die as I have, you realize that there is no G-d." My response was simple: "I don't believe that." The conversation ended there. His remarks, coming from an ex-marine who served five tours in Vietnam, and his daughter's response, from a stubborn, searching teenager are not surprising either way, but they drove me to believe even more that there was a G-d and I was going to find Him. After all, I inherited my stubbornness from my father in the first place! So there! ;) I was 16.
My father passed away just a year later, but my search didn't end. Neither did my rebellion. Isn't it amazing how teenagers want the exact opposite of what their parents want for them? Perhaps I was attempting to be different rather than admit how similar we indeed were. I think all teenagers have this in common: they don't want to be like their parents. I don't know how so many people survive those years, but here we are. In just over 12 years, I will have a teenager of my own! I can't wait...
A few years later, a close friend of the family began inviting me to church. After declining about 17 times, I finally agreed to go because she told me that if I didn't like it, I wouldn't be invited to go anymore. It was a Wednesday evening, the church was completely full, as there was a guest evangelist speaking that night. His name was Jamey Ragle, and that's all I remember about him. I spent the whole time wiping away and holding back tears, and I didn't even know why I was crying. Now, this wasn't the first time that I had ever been in a church service. No, I had been to Alabama churches a couple times with an aunt, and they weren't good experiences. I always felt "dirty" there, like I had done something wrong, people were looking at me, and whatever the pastor said was aimed directly at me. But here I was, maybe 22 years old, still experiencing those feelings, but there was also a glimmer of hope this time. I wanted to know what all those people were doing there, what they knew that I didn't know... what kept them coming back? In all those books on Eastern philosophy and Zen Buddhism I had read, not one of them made me comfortable with my biggest fear: death. But here, at this Baptist church, I felt something that I had never felt before: truth. All I ever wanted to know was what was true.
While spending an hour with the "new believer's" class, (I didn't choose to go there: I was left there by my ride) I heard a few people testify of their salvation experiences and how they had come to know G-d, the most moving of which was the associate pastor's story, and it was that night in January that I went home, and by myself on the living room floor, drenching the old wooden planks with my tears, met my Savior, whom I now call by His Hebrew name, Yeshua. Prostrated and broken, I went down fatherless, homeless, and lost, but when I got up, I had a Father, a Savior, and hope. I was a different person... immediately. No more promiscuity, no more drugs, no more going along with the negative influences...I was different. G-d simply took those desires away from me, and I am so grateful that He did. I had found what I was looking for.
have you found Him?
...to be continued...