From the Prologue…
The sound of ringing disturbs my dream. As I grudgingly return to consciousness, I realize that the source of the sound is not in my dream, but is in the waking world.
There’s a phone ringing in the room. But, I don’t have a phone in my room! Where am I?
As I slowly drag myself from slumber to wakefulness, I hear a woman’s voice answering the phone.
Who is she?
I roll over and realize where I am, who she is and what I have done. In that moment, she hands me the phone with the words, “It is for you.”
I take the phone from her hands, trying hard to avoid her quizzical gaze. My voice is still heavy with sleep as I mumble, “Hello, who is this?”
I am jolted back to reality by my mother’s voice on the other end of the line. She asks who answered the phone. My fuzzy mind reaches for a convenient lie to cut her short, and I discover the reason for the call. She explains that I need to fly home to America because I have been selected to spend a year as a missionary.
My mind whips back and forth between these two opposing truths. I have just been chosen to tell people about the good news that God is real, He loves them and He wants to have a relationship with them. I have also just spent the night in bed with a woman I hardly even know. I cannot immediately reconcile these wildly different worlds. I tell my mom that I’ll call her back, hang up quickly and turn over to face yet more questions.
This rude awakening was not just a call from my mother. This was a divine ambush, an intervention by the Father of all, reaching out yet again to one of His children. At my lowest point, He awoke me from my slumber with a ringing phone. It was at this most shameful and debased moment in my life that God called me to Himself. I am so very grateful that He did.
From Chapter 2…
The summer of my fourteenth year, I was invited to attend a special leadership development camp. We went to Yosemite Valley and camped for a week. We studied the Bible and did various activities designed to encourage us and to train us to lead. Because it was a leadership camp, we were given a fair amount of freedom within the confines of the campground.
One afternoon four of us boys decided to search for caves to explore or rocks to climb. We left camp and followed some signs toward the base of a steep cliff called Royal Arches. As we approached the cliff, one of the boys decided to head back to camp for some reason. The three of us continued and started climbing over the loose stones and small boulders at the base of the cliff face. We were looking for caves, but couldn’t find any. We started to climb up the face. Tom led the way, as he had done a little climbing before. He was also the tallest and could find the handholds more easily. Mark followed, and I brought up the rear.
It was late in the afternoon when we started climbing. With the sense of invincibility that only teenage boys have, we crammed our fingers into cracks, slid across narrow ledges and found chimneys to climb. We did all this without any equipment, training or supervision. Soon, we were a hundred feet or so off the ground. We realized we were high but thought that it wouldn’t take us that long to climb the rest of the way up. After all, we had made it this far pretty quickly, or so we thought.
We continued to climb up and up. As the sun began to set and shadows started stretching across the valley, we realized we were in a tough spot. We knew that we either needed to get up or down the mountain quickly. Each passing minute left less of the mountain in the light and more covered by the rapidly encroaching shadows.
We decided to go up rather than down, thinking it would be safer. We thought we would be able to find an easy trail down the backside of the mountain. We were also much closer to the top than the bottom by this point. It wasn’t long before we came to some tricky spots. Eventually, even we, the invincible ones, had to admit we could go no further up.
We paused for an impromptu conference on the side of the mountain and discussed the trouble we would be in for missing dinner and being late to the evening meeting. Having no way up, we decided we would have to climb back down. It was already dark, so there was no use in hurrying. We rested for a bit and then started down.
As we rested there on the face of the cliff, we heard people out in the valley singing and wondered if that was our group gathered around the fire. We heard people in the distance and the general hubbub of a campground. We knew we had better hurry down but were not sure of the best way to attempt it.
Our route up had been the result of haphazard guesswork. Retracing our steps was impossible. We were now going to have to find a safe way down in the absolute dark of a mountain night. During the last part of our upward climb, we had been going up a small stream running down a cleft in the rock we could get our hands in. After what had become hours of adventure, my fingers were numb from the cold and rubbed raw from the rock.
So, with our adrenaline flowing, we started down, picking our way along ledges and shimmying down cracks. We followed Tom as he felt around corners and swung out into the dark. Tom disappeared around a corner and called for Mark to follow him. Mark scooted out along a ledge that couldn’t have been more than two inches wide. When he reached the corner, he slid his hand around and felt for something to grab.
There was nothing. Mark refused to go further. Tom reassured him that there was plenty of room on the ledge where he was now standing, but we couldn’t see a thing. I volunteered to go around the corner next. Mark and I had to backtrack to where it was wide enough for us to change positions. We did this without any particular trouble.
As I made my way to the corner, Tom’s disembodied voice called to me, offering reassurance. I stood with my back to the cliff and inched ever closer to the corner, the ledge narrowing as I went along. As I approached the corner, I felt around it and found nothing to hold on to. Tom told me that I was going to have to swing around the corner and that he would grab my hand and pull me to the ledge. He told me that he could see my hand but couldn’t reach it until I swung around. It was just too far. There was no way back. So, I turned my right foot and dug my toe into what remained of the ledge where I stood. I gripped the corner with my right hand and swung my left foot and arm out into the darkness, hoping there was a ledge for me at the end of their arc.
Sure enough, the ledge was there, as was Tom. He and I agreed that it would be best for us to change places and for him to guide Mark around the corner. We had to climb down quite a distance before we found a place wide enough to switch. Tom went back up, while I waited on a ledge just wide enough for my feet turned parallel to the cliff face. It was three or four inches wide. Tom patiently coaxed Mark toward the corner. I called out that I had made it and I was sure that he would as well.
“Nothing to worry about! It’s not as hard as it sounds! You can do it!” I called.
Mark was scared; you could hear it in his voice. Tom kept assuring him it would be fine. I still remember the panic in Mark’s voice as he said, “Tom, I’m slipping!” I heard a slip, a bump, and felt a whoosh as something went by me. Just to my left, I heard a grunt. It was like the sound when the wind is knocked out of you.
I remember Tom calling out for Mark and then yelling that Mark had fallen. I remember Tom, in a near hysterical panic, scurrying down the mountain and suddenly appearing where I stood. We stood on that tiny ledge calling for Mark, yelling for Mark. When no answer came back, we started screaming for help. Tom was in a frenzy to find Mark and help him. I remember trying to pin him to the mountain and telling him to calm down because we couldn’t help Mark if we fell too. We needed to calm down.
We spent the next while shouting for help. I don’t know how long we screamed. We hoped our voices would carry at least as well as the sound of the campfire singing we had heard earlier. After a while, Tom decided no one was coming and that he would have to try to make it down. We didn’t know where Mark was or what his condition was. I told him I didn’t think I could make it down. I wasn’t sure he should try either. He said that he wouldn’t do anything foolish and that it didn’t hurt to try. He would come back if he couldn’t find his way down.
We decided that I would keep calling for help while Tom would try to make it to the bottom. Tom climbed across me and started down to my left. I edged along the ledge with him for a bit, and then we kept in contact as he made his way down. Just as he made it to the bottom, a light emerged at the edge of the forest near the base of the cliff. I called out to Tom to alert him that help had arrived.
From Chapter 8…
I was beginning to recognize the problems with a performance-based version of Christianity. Our behavior is certainly important, but it isn’t the core of who we are. Our behavior isn’t the problem. It merely expresses who we actually are. I’d spent most of my life either trying to conform to or rebel against standards of behavior, and that was all I’d ever known. I was beginning to think differently about these things, to see the holes in what I’d been taught.
Once again, I was seeing the danger of half-truths, or partial truths. I’d been taught, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” I’d been taught the importance of knowing the Scriptures and of knowing God. The problem was that the definition of “knowing” was skewed. The typical Westerner thinks of knowledge as information to be intellectually grasped. To know something is to be able to answer a question on a test, to fill in the blank. Those in the East, along with the ancient Hebrews, hold a different perspective on knowledge. Information in the head is only the first step to knowing. Real knowledge is that which takes up residence deep inside you and flows out in how you live your life.
I excelled at the acquisition of head knowledge. I was given leadership positions and received awards for my prowess at mastering information. According to my community, my theology was good, but it was still far from my heart. My choices in Europe exposed the glaring disconnect between my intellectual beliefs and my real beliefs.
Our creeds and statements of faith are of little value in discerning what we truly believe, which is made clear by the choices we make. We never act in ways that are inconsistent with what we truly believe. I was beginning to recognize the problems in the system of belief around me. I was also realizing the growing disconnect between the new me and my Christian community.