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Friday, June 10, 2011

Rebirth (Part I)

You may have heard people refer to themselves as "born-again" Christians.  I heard it a lot growing up but never really gave it much thought.  It meant you had accepted Jesus as your Savior and been baptized.  The people who said it were usually really fired up about Christ and that was cool.  Sometimes they were also a little annoying and judgmental though, like they were really special Christians and I was just a regular old Christian, like they outranked me.  I only encountered a handful of these people, but it left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

Throughout my teenaged years, the bad taste in my mouth toward Christians grew into an outright revulsion.  Where I used to see joy, I only saw judgment; where I once saw hope, only hypocrisy.  By seventeen I had decided if there was a God, he wasn't doing me any favors and he certainly wasn't this guy they were talking about in church.  I became an agnostic.  Like many agnostics, I was also a nauseating know-it-all and looked at believers with a certain condescending "I, too, was once a lemming" attitude.  I read a lot of Jean Paul Sartre and Irish absurdism.  I was miserable.

When I was nineteen, my mother registered for a women's conference at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK.  There was a college weekend going on at the same time and she called me up to ask me if I wanted to go.  My initial answer, of course, was no.  I could think of nothing I would like less than hanging out with a bunch of whacked out Jesus freaks for a weekend.  I was a college sophomore and had just gotten a navel ring.  I was way too cool for Oral Roberts U.  My mom had been very patient with my attitude through my agnostic years.  I think she prayed a lot.  She also knew me very, very well.  So she said if I would keep her company on the road trip and go to the student stuff, we could go shopping in Tulsa on our off time.  It was a shameless bribe... I accepted.

After twelve hours or so at the college conference, I think everybody on staff at ORU was ready for me to go home.  I would not sign a statement saying that I would follow the honor code for the weekend, because I could not get anybody to show me the details and once they finally did I disagreed with half of them.  As far as I was concerned, they violated my right to free speech and expression and they were sexist besides.  They let me stay anyway; I think they, too, started praying for me a lot.  I would not participate in any of the ice-breaker games in the gym... they were stupid and I had on the wrong shoes.  I went to the talks on different majors and asked really annoying, challenging socio-political questions.  In short, I was a royal pain in the butt.

I skipped out on the evening's worship and activities with the pre-college/college crowd to go to worship with my mom.  I think that the group staffing the college weekend breathed a collective sigh of relief.  Mom's crowd was in a huge auditorium filled with people and the service was led by Richard Roberts.  I don't remember much about the first part of the evening.  I'm sure we sang songs, but I think I was totally preoccupied by how silly it all was and how much my new piercing hurt.  About mid-way through it all, though, Richard Roberts started walked around, saying "God's touch," and touching people on the forehead.  Some people stood their ground, usually with tears running down their face, but others fell down, some shaking convulsively.  It was absurd, I thought.  What a desperate bunch of fakers and freaks.

These were the sort of thoughts occupying my mind as Pastor Roberts approached my row.  I was standing up, out of respect for my mother and her misled religious beliefs.  I smiled patronizingly as he drew even with me, reached out toward my forehead, and said, "God's touch."  I don't remember him actually touching me because I blacked out.

I mean it.  Passed out, cold.  I woke up on the floor in my mother's arms.  She was laughing hysterically.  Her disbelieving, condescending, agnostic daughter had just been knocked on her butt by God.  I would have been embarrassed and even a little angry, if it weren't for the fact that I was awash in the Spirit of God.  From head to toe, inside and out, I was filled with Him, alive with Him.  He was speaking to me, as clearly as He spoke to Moses in the days of Exodus, and what He was saying was I AM.

People have a harder time with this story than they do with most of the other miracles God has performed in my life.  For some reason it is easier to believe the fact that He could bring my child from the brink of death, against all hope as far as the medical community was concerned, not once but several times, than that He knocked me on my hiney just this one time.  They want to believe all that stuff that goes on in "those" churches is fake or hysteria.  Some of it probably is.  Phillip and I went to one that definitely had some odd beliefs.  I will talk more about our times at what I affectionately like to call the Crazy Church in later blogs, I am sure.  People bring up mass hypnosis.  You can believe what you choose, but I know what I know.  I was not seeking; I was not receptive.  I was standing there thinking Richard Roberts was a hack and fool.  Then there He was:  God... in all His glory.

I am humbly grateful that God allowed me to have this kind of conversion experience.  The kind that decimates doubt and blows disbelief right out of the water.  I went back to that college weekend a new creature in Christ, born again and ready for action.  I gave my testimony before a crowd of hundreds.  They were all thrilled and cheered me on.  I didn't hear a single "told you so."  In a town full of Jesus freaks, I was among the freakiest.  And, amazingly, for the first time in a long, long time, I was really happy.  Crazy happy.

I rode this high for almost a year.  Then sin creeped back into my life, subtly and stealthily.  I started drinking again about eighteen months after ORU and all hell broke loose.  It would take me almost another decade of self-inflicted misery to figure out what I was missing and make my rebirth complete.  But I never doubted the existence of God again.  My Savior, My Deliverer, and the great I AM.        



  1. That's really awesome!
    I grew up with this sort of thing (slayed in the Spirite, I think it was called) and tongues, and miracles--I was born at the Jesus Ranch!
    Would you have believed without something so awakening happening?

  2. I think I would have come to believe eventually but I'm lucky it happened in such a dramatic way. Leaves little room for doubt...