April is an awesome time of the year for me - it is the time that I remember that Easter weekend in 1976 when I gave my heart to Jesus. My journey to that weekend started in April 1972 when my new bride (we were married the previous June) Ellen came home from a visit to an ophthalmologist with bad news – he told her that the retinas in both eyes were hemorrhaging and she would be blind within a month. The next 3 years were painful years ... visits to eye hospitals ... failed laser surgeries ... losing hope about life as I watched as my beautiful perky wife retreated into painful despair. Several years later hope was returning ... Ellen was seeing in shades of gray ... she could somewhat function with a powerful magnifying glass. Then hope was crushed on a Sunday in November 1974 when Ellen awoke with dark spots in her eyes ... before the day was out everything was black again ... I was devastated!
The days were dark again ... sadness and despair ruled the day ... I medicated with beer and bourbon. Then something changed – I transferred to Houston Texas from Newark New Jersey in February 1975 ... Ellen and I moved in March. Within a week of moving to our new house Marvale, a neighbor, knocked on the door ... Ellen answered the door and Marvale knew instantly why they had move to Houston ... you see she and her husband Jerry (with their 2 children) were packing their moving van in Oklahoma that same Sunday that Ellen’s eyes were hemorrhaging ... they had no clue why they were being transferred to Houston ... but God knew and when she met Ellen Marvale also knew. A friendship began to grow with our new neighbors ... Jerry tried to talk to me about Jesus but I would have nothing to do with religion or God ... my wounds went deep.
On a Sunday in August 1975 Ellen capitulated to Marvale’s invitation to come to church ... after all I had to work that day and couldn't go ... and went to church with her and her family. The pastor did something different that morning ... before he gave his sermon he asked if anyone would like to invite Jesus into their heart ...Ellen’s hand shot up ... she was the only one and the pastor decided to speak to her after the service. He proceeded to give his sermon and asked people to turn to a bible passage ... as Marvale opened her bible Ellen looked down and pointed to the scrpture ... she saw the words of the scripture ... and could read the very small print ... she could not believe what had happened ... she could now see out of her left eye ... simply miraculous!
That evening I returned home from work to this wild and thoroughly unbelievable story and ... being a very wounded and skeptical man ... I shrugged it off as a part of the weirdness of our lives. A week later the reality of the miracle hit me in the face ... I came home to the news that Ellen had ... for the first time in over 3 years ... got her drivers license ... I was shocked and could no longer stay in denial of what had happened to her ... she had passed the eye exam. At her insistence we started going to the church where she accepted Jesus ... what a weird place ... people smiled and seemed to enjoy church ... there were no hymnals ... they didn’t kneel ... it made me feel quite uncomfortable. I quickly took control and announced that we would begin attending an Episcopal Church ... the denomination that I grew up in. Ellen acquiesced and we began a journey that encompassed several churches and many Full Gospel Businessmen’s meetings. I was beginning to see that faith was more than a religion ... I started to be lovingly ... and sometimes not so lovingly confronted ... with the scriptures.
On a weeknight in the fall of 1975 Ellen interrupted my TV time with a few questions ... ones that would impact me for the rest of my life. She started with “Do you believe in the bible?” I replied sarcastically “Of course I do ... Episcopalians believe in the bible.” ... I wasn’t going to let her get the best of me ... my religion was just as good as hers. She asked another question: “Do you believe in evolution?” I said “Of course I do ... it is science.” Then she said something that rocked me – “Then you don’t believe in the bible”. Of course being a New Yorker I had to say something, so I retorted “I don’t know about all that but whatever the Episcopalians believe is what I believe.” I had no clue what the bible said because I had never read it and for some reason this bothered me.
As the months passed I watched Ellen become stronger ... we would argue ... I would win but didn’t really feel that I had won. She was being transformed into something beautiful. Then Good Friday 1976 came ... by now we were watching the 700 Club almost every night ... I was often moved by testimonies of healings and miracles. That Friday night Pat Robertson invited us to take communion with him ... we used a hamburger bun and apple juice ... it was so moving ... my heart was touched and broken. The next night we attended a Full Gospel Businessmen’s convention with Jerry and Marvale ... a medical doctor spoke ... the message was endearing ... then came an altar call for healing ... Ellen still struggled with diabetes and went forward for prayer. As I watched her go forward my heart broke once again and I closed my eyes and prayed my first real prayer. I began to pray by saying “God if you will heal my wife I will stop drinking” ... as I spoke a presence came over me ... I became aware that I was a sinner ... I felt dirty on the inside ... I changed my prayer and told the Lord I would give up the booze because it was what he wanted me to do ... I didn't really know it but I was surrendering my heart to Him. A minute later I opened my eyes and there was Jerry standing in front of me – he told me that the speaker was praying for people and asked me to go down with him. I went down and the man put his hand on my head and blessed me ... that was it ... I thought that nothing had happened ... that is until the next day.
The next day was Easter and we went to church in the evening with our neighbors ... no one had a clue what I had done in the quietness of my heart the night before ... I didn’t plan to tell anyone. I remember, like it was yesterday, that night at a large church in Houston ... I was caught up in worship for the first time in my life. I remember we were singing a chorus from the Andre Crouch song "My Tribute". We were repeating the verse "To God be the glory" … I was in a state of surrender … singing my heart out … entering a most holy place of worship … then ... shock of all shocks ... I came to the realization that I was no longer singing in English … I was totally freaked out ... I tried to rationalize but I couldn’t – God had met me, given me a spiritual gift and assured me that I was His ... powerful transformation was beginning ... it was the beginning of the wildest ride of my life ... a ride with my friend Jesus
It has been fun remembering and writing about that season of my life some 30 years ago ... a sweet memory that I will celebrate this week as I remember Jesus’ week of passion ... a week that started with praises ... continued with betrayal, denials and death ... and ended with miraculous resurrection. What a difference between Good Friday and Easter ... back then and back in April 1976.