Classic Christian kid, me. All grace before meals and prayers before bed. Sunday School gold stars plentiful as their astronomical similitudes.
Good stock too. Anglican on Dad’s side going back to Cranmer, or something. Baptist on Mum’s. Best of both worlds, me. Dad helped lead the church. Mum was theologically trained, a missionary, a chaplain, an offer to be the first female Baptist pastor in Australia... Good stock, that.
But then it happened. 17 happened. 17 and drifting. 17 and itching.
Mum, with Jesus for a decade by now, and Dad, still labouring to raise 4 kids on his own. They had done enough. 17 had come and it was all my fault.
Was the Prodigal Son a 17 year-old?
My Dad worked two jobs to send me to an elite private school. He scraped every cent. He scraped every plate to make dinner stretch further. He didn’t eat if we ate out. He didn’t buy clothes between ‘89 and ‘99. You get the picture—I’ve already embarrassed him.
But I made sure it was worth all the sacrifice. I studied hard and was made dux of the scho--
Not really. I wasted just about every day. I set up a couch in the 7-11 carpark near school and drank Slurpy syrup and smoked Marlboro Reds. I drank Foster’s Extra between classes and drew little pictures on my uniform. I skipped class but swindled marks by having an elite-level ability to talk rubbish.
Now I was 18 and everyone had gone to Uni. Except me. I hadn’t gone to Uni. Uni was for the studious and the cowardly. Instead I went to America. Land of the brave, and all that. I signed up to work at a Camp because they would give me a visa and meals and somewhere to sleep. It was a Salvation Army camp. The Salvos. The tin-shakers. The Red Shield Appeal. Good ol’ Salvos.
I didn’t know they were Christians. They didn’t know I wasn’t. We collided and I was fired. "We’ll send you to a nice Jewish camp in Cali."
Whatever. I’m just here for the longitude. I’m here because it’s not home. This is my "distant country" (Lk.15v13)
They ended up changing their mind. I could stay, but... But then all the Hell started.
"Grandad passed away." I hate when people say that. "Passed away"—like death isn’t a rapacious monster. Cyril Charles Smith. One of God’s own. Best Man without the bad speech. And then the girl whose pictures were all over my cabin dumped me. That didn’t take long. Week two. And then I got sick. Nearly died, they said. "Fever of unknown origin". And then I was healed. A 250 pound football player laid his mitts on me and prayed to his God and I got better all at once. And then the campers started freaking-the-hell-out. Kids from the ghetto. Kids from the projects. Black kids who carried guns and had the faraway gaze of old men. They started getting really scared. Scared enough to cower and to cry. They said there were ghosts in the room. Dark shapes and weird movements. Then a kid’s bag caught fire and the unplugged radio in my room started playing the Top 40. I heard footsteps at night over the sound of my thumping heart. I’ve never been so scared. I didn’t sleep with the light off for more than a year. Legit.
And then God just upped and saved me.
I had a Bible with me to make my Dad feel better. A family photo, an international calling card, a Bible. That’ll stop him worrying. It was given to me when I was 13, and it still had that ‘just pressed’ sheen. The gilt-edge pages were gleaming like it was 1993. I cracked it open and left it on my bedside table hoping it would ward off bad vibes, or ghosts, or Satan himself. It was my imitation leather amulet. My gilt-edged talisman. My holy juju.
My room mate told me to read it. To read Job. The one about suffering. The one about Satan. The one about God’s mysterious ways.
It took me a while. There’s a lot to get through. But the last chapter changed everything. It stopped me in my tracks. It hit me like a terrible lightening bolt of divine beauty. It made me fear God. And love Him.
I’ve underlined it in every Bible I’ve owned since. It made complete sense of everything then, and does to this today:
Then Job replied to the Lord: “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”
Photo: Red Arrow Camp, Wikicommons
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