Of All Days for a Downpour
Waking up on a Saturday morning, the rain pounded the ground outside of our retreat center. It was pouring. On a normal day, this was not a biggie. But it certainly mattered on this day, May 17, 1980.
Because, I was in Panama City Beach. As in Florida. The Gulf of Mexico. The rain was drowning any hopes of splashing in the Gulf. We arrived the night before, too late for beach time. We would leave Sunday afternoon. Time was already running out.
My mood? Dark. This was already a wasted weekend.
Fact is, a Christian retreat center was hardly my first choice for how to spend this weekend. It just wasn’t. But at least I had the beach. And now that possibility was fading fast.
A few weeks earlier, my plan for this weekend was to play in a golf tournament back in Auburn, Alabama. Where the sun was shining. But my older sister invited me to go on a beach retreat with her college ministry instead (I was in my senior year of high school). For whatever reason, I at least thought about it.
I hadn’t been to church in years and regarded Christians and the whole religious thing as only a crutch for the weak. Yet her invitation caused me to wonder if there really was a God out there.
So, doing the only thing I knew, I made a bet with God. I told Him that if the beach trip cost the same or less than the golf tournament, I’d go to the beach. As you can read in Part 2 of this 3-Part extravaganza, I lost the bet.
Now, here I was. Stuck. Nothing but a downpour to show for it. If there was a God, He was playing a bad joke on me. I could be winning a golf tournament, right? But instead I was on a bottom bunk, with a sandy tile floor and only my carry bag to keep me company.
Just to fit in, I had a paperback Bible my sister gave me two years earlier. I figured there would be a Bible lesson, study or whatever it was (isn’t that what Christians do on retreats, other than singing Kum-Ba-Yah?). Of course, I knew I couldn’t find “First Babylonians” if they called on me, but at least I had “the good book.”
But as I sat there, I realized I had nothing to do. Noth. Ing.
Fake it Till You Make it
I looked around. A couple of guys were reading their Bibles. Oh my, I thought. Do they do this all day?
With no other options, I pulled out the paperback Bible. Their Bibles were leather. And thick. I was already behind.
Because I didn’t know where to start, I opened to page one. I had no idea that for a beginner, it is best to start with the New Testament, where Jesus shows up. The truth? I didn’t know there was a New Testament.
So, I started reading, if only to look like I belonged. But after a few minutes, the stories jumped off the page. I couldn’t believe it, but I was actually . . . interested.
I kept reading, forgetting this started as an act.
Then, the miracle. Well, probably not, but here’s what happened. The pastor—the head of the group—wandered into our room, saw the pouring rain and said simply, “I think this will clear out. It should be fine by this afternoon.”
I believed him. He probably had a direct pipeline to God, right? Forget that thunderstorms don’t often last long in Florida. All I knew was, this guy knew what he was talking about.
A Ray of Sunshine
Sure enough, in an hour or so the rain stopped. The sun popped out. A Christmas miracle, in May. We were at the pool a few minutes later, then a group of us—me and some people I didn’t know—headed to the beach.
Surprisingly, none of the group carried Bibles in fanny packs. They weren’t handing out little pamphlets to tell other beach goers they were headed to hell. A relief, for sure. Going totally against my perceptions, they were . . . normal.
They laughed. I did too. They talked about all kinds of things. I listened. They had something I wanted. I didn’t know how to get it, but I wanted it. There was a confidence in them. A sense of purpose? Maybe that was it.
Later, in my room, I read more. And more. Voraciously. I never got to the New Testament while I was there, but I read. A lot.
I spent the rest of that day talking with the guys, walking the beach—doing a lot of listening. Funny thing, there were no “deep” spiritual talks. But watching these people, it seemed they had it together. I wanted to have it together, too.
A Change in Course
By the time we got back to Auburn Sunday evening, something was different. Funny thing is, I didn’t pray any kind of prayer, no one baptized me. None of that.
Yet, I had a new perspective. Had I become a Jesus freak? I didn’t think so. But I wasn’t the same guy I was two days earlier.
I wondered if this new thing would blow over, but it didn’t. On Monday, I went to school, then hit the golf course—just like I had before. But Monday night, back to reading. I didn’t slow down over the next week or the next month.
Then, exactly 40 days after I first opened a Bible on that Saturday in May, I closed the last chapter of the book. 40 Days. There was no “Bible reading plan.” It just happened. Who was I, anyway? Sometimes, even today I wonder.
I’m no Apostle Paul, that’s for sure. But like Paul, I started with a plan for where I was headed, then, “Boom!” In a matter of hours, everything changed. For Paul, it was on a road to Damascus. Me? A beach in Panama City, FL. The similarities probably end there, but I’ve always found it fascinating how lives can change in almost an instant.
Before that weekend, my biggest fear of God was that He would make me quit golf (most golf tournaments end on Sunday, so . . . ). He never did.
Instead, a crazy journey began which continues today. As with many stories, mine has plenty of plot twists along the way. As we go forward with 1st Faith, you may see more.
But that’s my story. At least, the beginning of it.
Anybody gets a shot at faith
I tell this story because if ever there was proof that any of us can have faith, I’m it. And, I’m one of a million examples to show there is no exact protocol for starting a life of following. Some begin with a particular prayer. I didn’t. Some start by going to church, listening, learning, then making a decision. Not me.
We’re all different. We can start anywhere, and we don’t need a scripted set of knowledge or a keen grasp of certain tenants. Some, like me, just start following.
So my question is, “What’s your story?” Now that I’ve put mine out there, tell me yours. It may be a story of faith, or it could be one where you’re having a hard time finding any faith at all. No judgment here, no worries.
Feel free to connect, because stories–whether joyful, challenging, awe-inspiring or even unfinished–bring us together.
Really. Connect. Drop me an email at kirk(@)1stFaith(Dot)com, or contact us here. It would be an honor to hear from you.
Like this story? Try the first in this series, The Wrong Guy to Launch 1st Faith.
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