I can’t even count the ways God tried to get my attention over the years. If we went to a sales award dinner, the Number One National Salesman in the company would thank God in his acceptance speech and tell the crowd that it was prayer and faith that got him to to the top. When I had to go the hospital for a mysterious illness, my roommate in the next bed was the most angelic person you ever met, with her bible on her tray table. She would save me treats from her tray. She would come straighten my covers. She would check on me. Honestly, her side of the room seemed to glow, and when she was released, it felt like the light left the room with her. ” See?” God was saying. “See how dark it is without me? Pay attention.”
If I was searching for a book to read, I would come upon a biography of a great missionary like Corrie Ten Boom whose family hid Jews from the Germans during the war. They were all caught and sent to concentration camps to die, but somehow Corrie survived. Years later she came back to Germany to preach forgiveness to the very Germans who killed her family. I would read and cry and read some more. Looking back through the years, I see God was everywhere I turned.
So when He spoke to me through Archie Bunker, that did it. I was sitting in my little family room in Toledo, Ohio just two weeks before my first baby was due, watching All in the Family on television. It was the episode where Archie was beside himself because his son-in-law “Meathead” refuses to let baby Joey be baptized. Despite Edith’s objections, Archie takes his grandbaby out in the carriage, down the street and into the side door of the church. There, in typical outrageous Archie style, he tries to bribe the priest to baptize Joey without his parent’s consent. The offended priest turns him down, and in the next scene Archie goes sneaking into the baptistry with baby Joey. He says to God “I may seem a little strange in here because I haven’t been to church lately but don’t worry, I’m still Archie Bunker, and I still believe deeply in Thee.Thoo. This here’s my little grandson Joey. . . I wanna do dis while we got the chance because I don’t want him growing up widout religion in dis rotten world of yours, although we all know you did Your best in only 6 days.” He lifts the baby up and introduces him to the Lord. And in a the most touching Archie scene I ever saw, he sprinkles the baby himself in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, kisses him on the forehead, sighs and says “I hope that took, Lord. Cause they gonna kill me when I get home.”
So the pregnant lady is home crying at an All in the Family episode, saying “What about my baby? Who’s going to sprinkle him? I haven’t been to church in years. Maybe I should go, just in case.”
Two weeks later Zachary Lee Johnson is born. And about 18 months after that, because of some home repairs, and scaffolding,and plaster dust, my husband thinks I need to get the baby out of harm’s way, and take him to spend a couple of days at my old friend Christine’s in Dayton. So off Zach and I go, and on the way I feel a sense of anticipation, a lifting, a cloud passing, the sun shining. When we get to Christine and Bill’s, and their charming but creaky 100 year old house, all I see are Bibles. Two or three of them. Scattered everywhere. The Gideons must have been through here, I think.
I get up early in the morning with Zach and try to read one of those BIbles, opening it randomly to . . . .Job. Job. The one who loses his wife, all his children, his land, his cattle, and has boils too. O my word, this is awful I think. I start asking Christine questions about Job, about God, about whether or not Paul was a chauvinist. She says I’ll have to ask her pastor those questions.
So she gets him on the phone, and I go back in the guest room and talk to him for over an hour. Questioning, challenging, scoffing. He gives me the Reader’s Digest version of God’s plan to save His people from themselves. I say “Well, I still don’t see why anybody had to die for me.” And he takes me through the Bible and explains it. Shows me the rebellion, the sin, the pain, the disease, the inhumanity, the wars, the murders, the immorality. He asks me how such fallen creatures could ever be united with a perfect, holy God they can’t even see and don’t know? Telling me that’s why He sent His son to earth to say “follow me and you can find the Father.” The pastor tells me a story about a horrible ice storm when all the birds were freezing, and the farmer thinks “if I could just be a bird I could lead the other birds into the barn to be safe.” The farmer couldn’t be a bird, but God could be a man, to show us, to lead us, to die for us.
Next the pastor says “Now I would like you to pray with me.” I say “Oh I can’t do that.” He says “Why not?” I don’t know what I thought I was going to say, but what comes out of my mouth is “Because I’ve been such a shit.” I could not believe I said that, to a church guy, no less. Then he says it. Tells me it doesn’t matter if I was a shit, because God forgives and forgets all our mistakes, through Jesus. I do pray with him then, just repeating after him that I would like to know this Jesus, this Godman, who could make me clean and whole, and not a shit at all.
We get off the phone, and out in the kitchen, Christine says “how did it go?” I say “I don’t think anything happened.”
Later that night, I tiptoe up the back stairs with little Zach so he won’t wake up. I put him in the crib Christine borrowed, and start back down those spooky, 100 year old, dark creaky stairs. I hear a mysterious groan and creak that sounds like something alive. But I keep going. Suddenly, it dawns on me that I am not afraid. Not a bit afraid. Not spooked. That I know I’m not alone, and will never be alone again. That’s when I realize something has indeed happened to me. Something new is pouring into me, like liquid love or light. I’m new inside. Peaceful, unafraid.
That was June 1, 1978. Thirty-two years ago. That’s the day I met God. Had an encounter with Him. Found out, to my amazement, about His unconditional love and protection. And in all these years, He has never left me or let me down. Even when I drifted away from Him, He never moved.
You don’t have to sneak into a church, or talk to a pastor to have an encounter with God. You can just talk to Him. Tell Him you want to meet that Godman, Jesus. And if you want somebody to pray with, I’m here.
See Archie baptize Joey here. *
* Archie’s character was under the impression that without sprinkling or immersion, there is no salvation. But the Bible tells us salvation is by faith alone, and that if you say and believe that Jesus is Lord, you are saved, and the angels have a party. This scene was no doubt meant to be satirical, but there was a beauty and simplicity in it that changed me, the nervous pregnant lady who didn’t even know she was yearning for God.