I will always remember that March day, 1982, at the beach in Los Angeles, CA, when I had a supernatural encounter that altered my understanding of a God who knows me! The short story: though I had a full time job I was addicted to alcohol; I was married and having an affair; I had multiple personalities. I was in severe emotional pain, crying out for relief. In the previous months playing at the Bonaventure Hotel (I was a musician/singer) I found myself at the Vineyard Church (at Emerson Junior High), among famous musicians, such as T-Bone Burnett, who led the worship band. God captured me with my passion for music.
I didn’t remember being baptized as a child so when the Vineyard held a baptism I signed up. On that baptism Sunday, behind schedule, I was running across the vast white sandy beach towards the ocean when I heard a voice say, “Stop.” I kept running and suddenly I felt a hand on my chest, stopping me. There was no one there. I stood there panting, looking around, curious and irritated, like, “What?” I heard a voice inside my head say, “Go back and pick that up.” I looked back and there was about 100 yards of white sand going in all directions. I laughed and sarcastically exclaimed, “Yeah, right! Go back and pick that up.” I heard that voice again, quiet, clear, firm, “Go back and pick that up.” Feeling afraid, I turned back towards the way I came and trudged through the sand. After twenty or so paces the voice said, “Stop, pick that up.” I looked down, saw nothing but sand, felt humiliated, a kind of dread filling my guts. Gently that voice said, “Pick that up.” In resignation I bent over, put my hand in the sand and grasped at nothing. But, I felt something, lifted my hand, opened it and there it was: a white plastic cowboy, white hat on his head, guns raised in surrender. I was shocked, frozen, breathless, time was suspended. As my brain tried to find order in the chaos that was roaring in my head I felt tears rolling down my cheeks. I started laughing. I knew in those long, charged moments that God was real, that He Knew Me. That is was Him who got me to the Vineyard, connected to specific musicians whom I admired, who spoke about God in deeply personal ways. Only God knew that I thought of myself as an outlaw, but as good guy in my heart, that the cowboy with the white hat is how I saw myself. God knew I felt I had to fight to protect myself. And, only God knew I would understand that He was showing me, by the cowboy holding his guns in surrender, that He wanted me to surrender.
By revelation God transformed my feelings of toxic shame into wonder and amazement. A sense of love came over me so deep and wide it swept away every curse, lie, and vow I had heard, or was spoken against me. I felt held in an embrace I had dreamed of, had glimmers when hugged by my grandmother when I was small. And yet, so much more was rushing through my being when I realized I was kneeling in the sand gazing at the small, white plastic cowboy, guns in surrender.
Looking up I suddenly realized I was on the wrong beach, miles away from where the baptism was taking place. I put the plastic cowboy deep into my pocket while rushing back to my van. My heart, mind, and spirit were buzzing from the spark that was lighting my soul afire with wonder. When I finally was immersed into the freezing cold Pacific Ocean I came up warm. Impossible!
God’s DNA was waking up! A strange season began, with unknown dimensions of spiritual life and how that affected my day-to-day living. His Great Adventure continued . . .