I was in my senior year in college – the United States Military Academy at West Point – and on Christmas leave. Now my presence at USMA at all would be a shock to anyone who knew my life before then but that’s another story or two. I was staying at my mother’s apartment, sleeping on the couch. I had been reading a novel called, “The Robe”, which was made into a movie in the ‘60’s, I believe. I awoke with a start.
I had been in and/or around church all of my life, in one fashion or another. I had spent most of my Sunday mornings in Sunday School or CCD (Catholic Religion Classes), and moved into the evening CCD when I was in junior high. Due to my particular family situations, I never actually received First Communion or Confirmation. I could, however, tell you almost every Bible story (especially ones involving cool battles or amazing miracles of nature), knew all of my required prayers (Apostle’s and Nicene Creed, Hail Mary, Our Father, Glory Be) and the Ten Commandments, and could explain how Jesus Christ was the son of God, came to earth, died and rose again to save us form our sins, and that believing in him was required for entrance into heaven. I also believed in Him.
Not that it made a difference in my life, though. I also believed in George Washington, George Patton, and George H.W. Bush, with whom I got to have lunch (sort of – he sat at the table next to mine). The impact that my belief in any of them had the same impact on me that believing in Jesus did – minimal to none. I was the ringleader of my group of pals who lived the typical lives of young Americans in college (within the obvious constraints) of inebriation and debauchery. I was also currently ‘involved’ with a woman who was a bisexual drug addict that lived with another man. I was in great physical shape and truly had no complaints about any area of my life.
(I mention that last part because this is, after all, a conversion story. Many of my friends who were doubters attempted to ‘find’ something that was some kind of dramatic negative change or source of discontent in my life, because they felt that some kind of psychological explanation was available for the changes in my behavior. )
It was the kind of wake-up you get when a loud noise awakens you. In fact, I not only awakened suddenly, but shot up into a sitting position immediately. Now, I’m not one to say that ‘God spoke to me’, or even insinuate to someone that I ‘received a word from God’, and it wasn’t as if there were letters burning in the sky or something miraculous. The best way I can describe it without spiritualizing it is to say that I heard a voice in my head or heard a thought that was distinctly not mine. It simply said, “What are you doing?”
I was taken aback. Correction, I was spooked. It’s not every day that one hears voices, and as far as I knew it was always under a state of altered conscience due to mind-bending drugs. I hadn’t had any of those. In retrospect, you’d think I would have recalled the prophet Samuel, the Apostle Paul, or Saint Joan of Arc. Instead, I merely realized that I had better answer the voice. I went with the most common answer of any errant child:
“I don’t know.”
Brilliant, eh? Thankfully, the response was not what I say to my son when he gives me the “Ida Know” answer. Instead, the voice came back:
“You know what you are supposed to do, and haven’t done it.”
End of conversation, at least in that regard. The truth was that I knew exactly what the voice was referring to. You see, it isn’t ‘believing’ in Jesus that matters. I mean, the demons surely believe in Him, and they aren’t likely to inherit eternal life. It is a wholesale dedication of your life to Christ that is required, one that is evident to everyone around you and one that is unmistakable. I knew all of this. It is clear in the Bible and it was clear in the lives of those unmistakable Christians, both Catholic and Protestant – Billy Graham, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther, Saint Francis of Assisi. Not only was/is their faith evident in their words, but their post-conversion lives were without scandal.
I also knew what had to be done, and that the conversation must continue. I dropped to my knees and begged the Lord for forgiveness for my sins, asked Jesus Christ to come into my life as my savior and as my Lord, and pledged my life to Him.
The change was immediate and unmistakable. I went from being the ringleader of inebriation and debauchery to being nicknamed, “Friar Hammer”. I had struggled with foul language to that point, so much that had put Post-It notes up in my dorm room that said “Stop Swearing”, to no avail. I couldn’t have a conversation without them. They stopped instantly, as did the drinking and general debauchery. I showed up at the Baptist Student Union and announced to the assembled students that I had been converted over the break and would be hanging around.
While I continued to make some mistakes and sometimes choose poorly, I never returned to my old habits, but recognized my sin when I committed it and repented. My friend base also changed at that point. Thereafter, I never really made any good friends who were not Christians. Additionally, those who were acquainted with me knew who I followed, not because I preached, but because I didn’t hide it. The Change had begun. It was by no means complete, because it was also progresive, but it was entirely irreversible.