“Jesus is as close to you right now as I am, but He wants to be here.” the kindly Assembly of God pastor said softly to me as we sat side by side on the front porch steps of the church parsonage in Manchester, Connecticut, in the summer of 1977 when I was just twenty years old with the pastor’s left arm lightly wrapped around my sagging shoulders and his right hand tapping gently my chest in the place above my heart.
I had just spilled my guts to him all the highlights of what I had been doing with my so-called sorry life in the past few years ever since I had changed from being a dutiful, obedient teenaged son of a good man and a good woman who were my parents to being a pitiful young man who lusted only for sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll and who couldn’t get enough and would never get enough of those things to make him happy no matter how hard he tried.
My praying, “God, please lead me to do Your Will” when I thought that I was God in my drug-addled, New Age bullshit delusion is what got me to this place . . . the last place in the world that I ever thought I’d be in or that I would ever want to be.
You see I had thought that I knew all about Jesus Christ . . . who He was . . . and what He was all about.
I had been raised Roman Catholic. As a boy, I had devoutly believed what I’d been told about Jesus by my parents, mostly my Mom, but also by my Dad, as well as by the many Catholic priests and nuns who passed through our itinerant family’s life with my Dad being in the United States Air Force and our family never living in one place longer than three years, sometimes just a year or so.
I had been baptized into our family’s faith as an infant when I didn’t have much say in the matter. But I had taken my First Holy Communion in the second grade at St. Anne’s Catholic Church in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and had first eaten His Body and drunk His Blood with a reverence that you could see on my face in my Dad’s home movie of the procession of all of us second graders with the girls in their white dresses and white sox and shoes and us boys in our white suits that our parents got us from Hess Brothers Department Store in downtown Bethlehem.
I was the only one in this procession of children with my hands pressed together before me, fingers all pointing straight up to heaven, and my eyes fixed straight ahead, like the nuns had instructed us to march from our classroom outside and down the sidewalk in front of our parochial school to enter the front of the church while all my classmates looked to the side at their beaming parents and smiled at them their big smiles and some even broke rank and waved to their Moms and Dads. At the time I was surprised that the miscreants weren’t incinerated there on the spot by a sudden bolt of lightning or the ground opened up beneath their steps to let demons drag their sorry souls to hell.
And, finally, in the fourth grade at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey, I had taken on at my Confirmation my own chosen name of “Joseph” like Jesus’ earthly father and my Dad’s first name and also my big brother’s to add to my own name that my parents had given me when I was born substance exposed to the drugs they had given my Mom to ease her pain of my delivery and everyone thought that I was stillborn. “Mark Edward” they had named me, and now I was “Mark Edward Joseph” by my own choice.
I had even aspired in the sixth grade when kids begin to think about what they want to be when they grow up to become a Roman Catholic priest . . . until something inside of me changed and I noticed girls for the first time as becoming women and all of a sudden so stirringly desirable. It would be at least five long, teenaged angst-filled years from when I first noticed women before I actually acted upon this desire that they had caused inside of me . . . but when I did so at almost eighteen, I was HOOKED FOR LIFE!
A little of sexual intercourse with a real live woman wasn’t enough and too much of it . . . well I never got too much of it to my way of thinking, so I couldn’t rightly say what that was like . . . but I was going to add that “too much was never enough.” My dirty little secret, however, was that by the time I was twenty years old and sitting beside the Assembly of God pastor on his front porch steps, I had actually barely gotten any sex at all, enough so that I wasn’t a virgin but not enough to brag about, I can assure you.
And yet now all the heartbreak that I had caused my parents, all the drugs . . . such as they were back then, which was mostly beer, some booze, marijuana, speed in the form of prescription amphetamines, which doctors used to prescribe patients for weight loss, and an occasional bartituate pill when we could get our hands on some out of some friend’s mother’s medicine cabinet, but never the hard stuff that is so readily available today and which I DO thank God that I had never been able to try because try I would have done back then . . . and, of course, premarital sex with the few willing partners I had found in our mutually wayward youths, it all sounded so cheap, and wrong, and, even, dirty when confessed by my own mouth in that holy moment.
After tapping me on my chest on the spot over my heart, the pastor proceeded to tell me that “God LOVES you, Mark . . . and He has a Wonderful Plan for your life.” Then he told me the exact same thing that Blossom had told me the week before that I had read the night after she had told it to me in the little booklet with her and her husband’s names written on the front that she had placed in my hands before I had left her home to resume my hated job of door-to-door book selling . . . or mostly NOT selling as it was in my case.
But this time when my evangelist reached the end of his Gospel pitch and asked me if I wanted to pray with him to ask Jesus Christ to forgive me of my sins and to come into my life . . . into my heart . . . to be my own personal Savior and Lord, I said, “Yes,” and as he led me in what I later came to know is called “The Sinner’s Prayer,” I prayed it knowing that the God of the Universe, the One Who had made me and then died for me and then rose from the dead to give me His Eternal Life and Who had, in fact, answered my desperate prayers to “lead me to do His Will” was asking me for a commitment as best I could make it.
No more prayer “just to be on the safe side” like I had prayed this exact same prayer in the privacy of my bedroom a week before but then forgot all about it. No more look my sales company recruiter in the eye and sincerely say to him that I WAS making him a commitment to stay on the job for the next three months no matter what but all the while really thinking to myself, “if this job sucks, I’m outta here!”
Our Father God in Heaven was asking me for a commitment that I knew in my heart even as I made it that I could never keep . . . but I simply prayed in my heart, “OK, Jesus, I’m making You this commitment . . . but so help me God . . . YOU are gonna have to keep it for me!”
And the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ rushed into my soul and set up His Eternal Throne inside of my heart . . .
and I have never been the same.
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