This is a story about me and God. I realize that this opening sentence is enough to put some readers off right away, but I hope that they will bear with me for just a little longer. I am not trying to write an evangelistic piece. I never was good at that sort of thing. This is a very personal account of a very personal relationship that exists between myself and someone who many people don’t believe is real. That is all right. I don’t ask for anyone to believe in God in order to enjoy this story. It’s all about me anyway, so how can you go wrong?
I was not raised in a religious family. Apart from a period of probably less than a year I do not remember seeing my parents in a church. My mother was apathetic about the whole thing and my father thought that only the simple minded could believe stories about lions that didn’t eat people and furnaces that didn’t burn people up. Perhaps my father was on to something; we could debate the Bible as being literally true or symbolic all day long, but that is not the goal of this tale. The point is that I had little reason to believe in the Christian God or any other god, and therefore no reason to direct my life based on any such belief.
That one year, more or less, that my family attended church happened when I was nine or ten years old. It would be a lie, more than simply a stretch, to say that the experience made much of an impact on me. I managed to dodge many of the sermons by artful means but could never escape Sunday School. That eternal and, to me, infernal hour was spent fidgeting on my hard folding chair and thinking more about how much I wanted to get my squished and aching feet out of the too-small leather shoes I was forced to wear at church than the patterns made out of felt that were being used to tell Bible stories. At school I could wear “tennies”, as athletic shoes were then called. During most of the year when I was not at school or church I wore no shoes at all. I grew up in San Diego after all. But for that one hour of trial and pain I had to squeeze my poor feet into shoes that I was too big for and would have hated even if I wasn’t.
So from my pre-teen years I emerged with little to recommend me to the faith, and it remained that way until the tenth grade. That school year I had the good fortune to sit next to the most beautiful girl in Hoover High. I thought so anyway. This angel was bright and pretty and friendly and asked me if I wanted to go with her family to a Billy Graham Crusade. I had never heard of Billy Graham, but would have agreed if she had asked if I wanted to walk over hot coals and eat live slugs with her and her family. I was not at all accustomed to girls, beautiful or otherwise, asking me to do anything with them, so I agreed in a heartbeat.
At the crusade I actually liked what I heard and went forward, identifying myself as a Christian, and began to attend the same church as the Beautiful Girl. I really did believe what I was taught and continued to attend that church even after it became abundantly clear that pigs would fly before the Beautiful Girl would ever look twice at me in a romantic fashion. Eventually however I simply lost interest in the church and for my last year and a half of high school my focus returned to girls, who continued to be generally unimpressed with my overtures, and hanging out with my friends in the neighborhood.
I had the misfortune of graduating in 1966 at the height of the Vietnam War, and the military was casting a broad net to procure men enough to fight that war while still holding the Soviet Union at bay in Central Europe and Communism in general elsewhere in the world. I was not married, had no aspirations to enter college or become a police officer or firefighter, and so the only option seemed to be to join the Army before it joined me. This was quickly accomplished and I spent the next three years in the U.S. Army, with two of them in Vietnam where any and all restraint against indulging my own personal pleasure in any way and in any form that I could find it was removed.
This is not a tale about my dirty laundry; I’m writing a story, not a book. My belief in the story of the Bible had deteriorated into a belief that two thousand years ago an unmarried teenager had gotten herself pregnant (no miracle there) and cooked up a story about how God did it and, to my utter astonishment, people believed it! The crafty conniver in me, one of my Army nicknames being Weasel, did admire that scam just a bit. The Old Testament was simply a collection of Jewish fairy tales and life after death would be if my friends would remove my head after I overdosed on something and used my skull for a planter to grow a marijuana plant in. My friends could then point to the weed growing out of my unused cranium and state “there’s Glenn, still getting his head.”
This was the condition that I was in when one day I decided to ride my bicycle away from most of the nearby habitation and smoke a joint in the open sun. I lived then in El Cajon, just east of San Diego, and nearby was a road which climbed the hills east of that city up to a town appropriately named Crest. It was a long and fairly steep hill and I rode my bike about a quarter of the way up when I decided that I had gone far enough. I walked my bike through the low, sparse chaparral and perched myself on a pile of large rocks under the warm sun. I could see a house several hundred feet down the hill and nothing else anywhere near me. Feeling safe I pulled out a book that I was reading, lit a joint, and settled in for what I expected to be a pleasant hour or two of relaxation.
The joint was long finished and the book engrossing when I heard my name called. That’s all it was: Glenn! I jumped a little and looked around to see who had found me in what I thought was an isolated location. There was nobody anywhere to be seen. I looked down at the house and saw nothing stirring but a dog trotting across the yard. I knew that that this voice could not have come from there because it was too far away, there was nobody in sight, and nobody there, including the dog, knew my name. I tried to account for this experience by thinking “I’m just stoned,” and went back to my book. I was unsuccessful however. I had been stoned before; a lot more stoned a lot of times before, and I had never had any experience like this. Contrary to most Hollywood representations of drug-induced hallucinations I never believed that any of mine were real. I sat on that rock a short while longer but my uneasiness continued to grow until I stuck my book into my back pocket and walked my bike back to the road. I pedaled home and then proceeded to forget about the experience as quickly as possible.
Thirteen years, two businesses, two marriages and two children later I found myself in a very small rental in Washington State. My family was still in San Diego, as I had graduated and taken my first job as a vascular technologist and had gone ahead to prepare a place where my family could join me. The last several years had been extremely difficult for me. My first marriage had dissolved painfully, and for most of my second I was struggling to provide, first by working in construction and then by working in a pathology lab while attending school full time. The stress was terrific and for a short while a doctor had me on mild antidepressants. I had long since quit using any sort of drugs, legal or illegal. I felt an urge to find peace in a non-chemical way and began to read everything I could get my hands on that might help me to make sense of life; everything except the Bible that is. Been there, done that. I read about Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. I read Plato, Aristotle, and other guys whom I couldn’t make heads or tails of. I finally stumbled on Alan Watts and was drawn to the Tao, an ancient Chinese spirituality. I still could not fully buy into the Tao because of its airy-fairy (to me) nature, and so I graduated with a degree in vascular technology but no degree that could explain why it was worth it to stay alive.
During the two months between graduation and my first job the pressure inside my head continued to grow. Externally I continued to do the things that made daily life seem to work; get up, got to work, watch the kids while my wife went to work. But inside I could feel my stomach tied in knots and a tension in my neck and shoulders that wouldn’t release, no matter how much I tried to will myself into some kind of rest.
My wife at that time attended the church which I had once attended with the Beautiful Girl. That girl had long since gotten married to a very nice guy and moved away to start a new family. My wife had a Bible which she would sometimes read and frequently it would be lying on a table in the front room when I returned home from work. I would get home at about 11:30 PM and my wife would be lying in bed, waiting to hear my key in the lock before she could relax and fall asleep. At some point during those two months I picked up that old, leather covered Bible and started reading from Genesis 1. I found it familiar and comfortable, although I still couldn’t believe it and had no intention to read about that Jesus stuff. I read through the first two books but stalled out badly on Leviticus. I put that old Bible down and didn’t pick it up again for the rest of my stay in Southern California.
When I received my first job offer I was ready to leave the rat race of Southern California. A couple of weeks later I was alone in the Northwest with no family, no friends, and nothing familiar to anchor my miserable self to. The result was muscles so tense and a stomach so knotted up that I could barely eat or sleep and the bridge over the Columbia River which I crossed twice each day began to look more and more like a good place to make a one-way visit. Only two blocks from my rental there was a very large Catholic cathedral. I had only the smallest knowledge of the Catholic version of Christianity and had no idea why I would walk into that building. I was so miserable however that I was no longer able to figure out why I should do one thing or not do another. Rather than making a rational decision that I would walk into that large, ornate building I instead found myself walking in that direction as if I was watching from outside of myself. I walked up the stone stairs and through the massive doors, and stood inside to see what could be found there. There were a few people sitting in the wooden pews and someone kneeling at a rail up at the front. There was a great deal of art on the walls and I began to walk slowly around the inside of the building.
That was when it happened. I felt God all around me. How do I explain that? It wasn’t like being in a room with one person you really like or love; it wasn’t like being in a stadium with a hundred thousand fans watching your team seal a victory. The closest that I can come to describing it is a warm and comfortable sense of peace and rest for my agitated nerves that completely surrounded me and even seemed to press into me. More than that, I knew more certainly than I knew my own name that this feeling was nothing other than the presence of God, whom fifteen minutes earlier I didn’t even believe in. I stood there in that place marveling at this experience and expected it to go away. It did not go away. I began to walk again slowly around the inside of that building while the sense of the presence of God continued to work it’s way through my exhausted mind, body and soul until finally I was convinced that this was real and even if that feeling departed, which it eventually did, my mind knew beyond a doubt that the God responsible for it was real and eternal and would always be there for me regardless of the bumps and bruises that life would continue to bring me. I stayed in that cathedral for at least an hour and finally left to go home to get some sleep before I had to go to work the next day. That night I slept pretty good, and the next day I crossed the bridge without any thought of taking a short hike off the middle section where the bridge is highest.
The third meeting which I had with God occurred a couple of years later. I was now a regular church member and learning more about what it means to be a Christian. I have slowly learned that it is not at all what non-Christians think it is, nor what most professing Christians think it is either, but that’s meat for another story. I determined that I would read the Bible cover to cover and was diligently engaged in that pursuit one evening while lying in bed when once again I heard only my name: Glenn! This time it was a little different however, for the voice that I heard was easily recognizable as my dad’s. Dad, at this moment, was sound asleep 1,500 miles to the east in Kentucky. I knew instantly who it really was, and the fact that the voice was my earthly father’s made it just that much more comfortable and welcoming. I felt like that one word was an affirmation that God and I were on a journey together that would take me places that I never expected to go. That is how it has turned out and it has been a hard but completely satisfying ride.
So there you have it. I know that many people will not believe that these visitations were an actual encounter with a benign supernatural entity of any type, much less the God of the Bible. I do not blame anyone for that and will not think one bit less of them if that is the case. I would not have believed such a tale if it was told to me before I had experienced it myself. It is sufficient for me to write that this is what I have experienced and is therefore worthy of writing as one of the stories of my life. I hope that you, reader, can take it for what it is worth and enjoy the story, even if only as a story. For my part, every word of it is true.