If you aren't sure what this is about, go back and read this first.
One of the first things I did was talk things over with Nick (who was Catholic, but had never really encountered God at this point). Having watched me go through so many changes, and knowing my history, Nick was naturally a bit skeptical - was it real? Would it last? And as for his believing it, well, it hadn't been that long since I had been telling him how great drugs were, or how great NSA was - why this?
(Nick eventually came face to face with God as well, and made the obvious choice as I had.)
I thumbed back to Atlanta a few days before Christmas. One difference this time was that I was determined to really hear this God who had done such an awesome thing (and given me a last chance I didn't deserve). Among other things, He told me if I didn't get into the right local fellowship, I would end up just like before, only more so. But where could I go?
So I'm praying about where to go, and the name and face of Ben (the guy who picked me up on the way to the concert) pop into my mind. I found his number and called him up. I told him what had happened, and asked about a church. They lived a ways off, but he mentioned a coffee house run by ex-hippies that was nearby (his wife worked there), and said some of the people there might know of one.
Before I could get there (Midtown Light & Trust), I knew I needed to work there, even for free if need be. I was about to go to Augusta to see my family (the disowning had faded away), but went by MLT, and asked about a church. I also told Rick the Lord had told me to work there. He was mildly flipped out - here was this scrawny, barefoot (in December) guy hopping up and down telling him God wanted them working together. Sure. Come back when you get back and we'll talk, and we can take you to church.
I don't recall whether I actually told my family much the next week - they'd seen so many changes that I wasn't sure they'd listen or believe. When I got back, though, I went to work at MLT full time - for free (they were just starting out and had no extra money). And just like in the days of the Old Testament, God did miracles for me.
Joe showed up from Augusta (I had told him, of course) and we talked and prayed a lot. We went to the store and I took my last paycheck from Saks (the girl there who'd recommended hiring me had been reamed out after I disappeared. I felt lower than rat dung.) and bought bread, peanut butter & jelly, and hamburger (I'd only worked a couple of days that pay period). Enough food for a week - but with lots of prayer, it lasted well over a month. (Patti & Wendy at MLT occasionally bought me a meal, too. I recall in particular a couple of Eggplant Parmesians... yum! Thanks, y'all!)
The same week, I got rid of all my dope paraphanalia (no dope, though - all gone at that party). And, as much as it pained me, I felt I had to get rid of all my music. Music was as big a thing to me as drugs - and just listening to most of the stuff I owned brought back memories, feelings, sometimes flashbacks. So I busted up between 300 and 400 (I really can't recall better than that) record albums. You can imagine how my friends in the house felt about this! But it was something I had to do - a break with the past and all the holds it had on me.
Let me back up a second.
Everyone in the house was less than thrilled. All but Liz had seen me waffle before, and their reactions varied. David was annoyed. Rick was pretty nonchalant about it. Kenneth had a wait and see attitude (I'm pretty sure they all figured it wouldn't last long.)
When I first got back, I had to explain to her why we wouldn't be sleeping together any more. This went over like a uranium balloon. Rick let me crash on his floor until he left for his co-op job in a few days, and then have his room. Liz worked really hard to change my mind. She ultimately decided I had made the whole thing up as an excuse to dump her.
Which tore me up, because I had come to see just a little bit how I had treated her, but much more how much I did care about here. Loved her - as Christ did, but something more than that, too. But I also knew that unless she accepted Christ, we had no intimate future together - and that sex was out before marriage, anyway. The next couple of months were rather difficult, to say the least, at home.
I also burned my Gohunzen (the piece of paper I had chanted in front of) sometime this spring. It was weird. A little 6"x9" (something like that) piece of rice paper. Flames 2' - 3' high, and wherever I go on the porch, they chase me. The only Buddhist I told, Ted, froke. He didn't want me in his house - he was convinced I now had enough bad karma to draw lightning strikes with every breath. He was wrong, though - things just got better. (Ted eventually met Jesus, too.)
In Which Miles Meets The Church Monster
Around March or so, it finally got through to me that living with my doper friends (and Liz, who was still hoping to get me ``back'') wasn't working. I took Glynn (from church) up on his offer & moved in with him and a couple of other guys.
Meanwhile, the MLT gang had carried me off to the Midtown Mission Church of God (not without some trepidation). This started out as a Bible study at Mission: Possible, a place run by a bunch of people God called from Alabama to work with hippies, runaways, drug addicts, and so forth in Midtown Atlanta. Now rural, southern Pentecostals and I didn't have a history of strong togetherness, but the people from MLT were ex-hippies (some looked less ex- than others (me as much as anyone), but they all loved Jesus), so I chanced it.
Nobody cared whether I dressed up. Nobody even minded that I just wore sandals or came barefoot. They loved me, anyway. They, in their polyester suits. My poor little mind was yet again blown. Someone (never knew who) bought me some nicer clothes - cool nicer clothes, that I actually liked! Ben found me a van and loaned me the money to buy it. One of the regulars at MLT, Mark Heard, found me a paying job when it was time to get one. The people at the Mission took me in as a long, lost son/brother. Where had the church been all my life?
The Mission was not your (then) typical Church of God. They did emphasize holiness (being like God), but also mercy and love. They weren't hung up on the rules of dress the CoG as a whole was suddenly finding had become as much of an albatross as a means of grace - people actually wore makeup and jewelry, and a few of the women even wore pants to church (I know, but in the CoG this was a big deal.) And very few times did anyone try to lay any rules on me they couldn't show Biblical backing for (fortunately, the few times someone did weren't right away).
One of the coolest things God did was let me meet Alice Gernazian. We met through a mutual acquaintance, I think, named Dennis. Alice and I really hit it off. We had a lot in common, especially our approach to life. We became extremely close brother and sister right away, and soon were discussing our love life (or lack thereof).
We both realized quickly that as much as we loved each other, we had no romantic feelings for each other. Instead, we came to lean on one another in other ways that helped us both through what would otherwise have been a more difficult time. The best way I can think of to describe this is God's version of what Liz and I had tried to do.
We went a lot of places together. Held hands a lot. Hugged, talked, cried, walked, rode around, went to concerts. We often sat with our arms around each others' shoulders. Everyone else probably thought we were dating! But we both had the companionship we wanted and needed, without demands, and it helped immensely when evaluating our interests and desires in other people. Outside of marriage, it was one of the most awesome, coolest relationships I ever had, ranking right up there with finding my spiritual/mental/emotional twins. We never even kissed - I only realized this much, much later.
Alice and I also kept each other honest. There wasn't anything we couldn't ask each other or tell each other. So when we wondered about something, we asked. When we saw a problem, we spoke. It was, in fact, a microcosm of the sort of thing I'd been looking for, longing for, trying to build in the hippie utopia setting. Somehow, it just worked a whole lot better when God was involved. On at least one occasion, Alice was the only voice I would listen to on a particular problem I wasn't dealing with - until she got onto me.
The job Mark got me was at Spinks Company. It was a small factory job, which paid the bills, left some extra, and started growing me up a bit. Here again, I ran into some old stereotypes. Homer (the foreman), his wife Irene, & son Mike, were Christians. They were from out in the sticks, and until now I might not have cared much for them (which would have been my stupid loss). But they were good people who didn't worry about outward appearances. They trusted Mark's judgment, and gave me room to make mistakes. Irene watched out after all of us almost like we were her own kids.
I started dating an older woman (with a kid, again) at church, Donna, kind of by accident. She told me about a good job where she worked, the HQ for the Presbyterian Church (US) in the assembly & bindery part of the print shop. This job really stretched me. Not the job itself, but the people. This place had the whole gamut, from real, awesome Christians, to hypocrites, to heathens - even someone into some black magic & voodoo. It was near home, though, & when my poor old van Shirley (Shirley the Lord has provided, and Shirley only the Lord keeps her running) wouldn't start, I could walk to work. Things with Donna didn't work out, but we remained very close friends. It started out as brother and sister, and that aspect of the relationship stayed there.
My roomies now were both from church. Ken was a burned out, ex-freak who'd been burned even worse by the Children of God . He was a Respiratory Therapist at a hospital in NW Atlanta. Andre' was in school at Grady Hospital to be an X-ray tech. He also worked there, and was another ex-freak. Ken ended up going elsewhere; he couldn't deal very well with closeness.
Two wild women our age moved into the apartment below us. One fell for each of us. It made life... interesting, us trying to tell them about Jesus, them trying to get us into bed. None of us ever got the other where we wanted them.
Andre' and I had to move after our landlady (an 80+ year old woman who'd lived through the tail end of the carpet-bagging years) couldn't deal with our having a black friend over. She was really trying to get over her prejudice, but all her friends refused to associate with her for it. Rather than torture a sweet, old lady, we moved.
In Which Miles Meets The Marriage Monster
It was through Andre' & his girlfriend that I met Sharon. Between Jeanette (downstairs) and some other women in bizarre situations, I got fed up, and prayed that I wouldn't even meet anyone else, especially the opposite sex, unless God had a reason for it. Andre' & his girlfriend Darlene set me up with my second blind date ever (neither of which I wanted), mostly in desperation to get this girl to leave Andre' alone. I finally agreed only because he & I were so close.
So here's this ex-hippie, still with next to nothing to his name, and they set me up with... a girl from Emory University. Prep City.
Now I don't like stereotyping, but this girl fit the stereotype of the rich kid at a rich kid's college. We were going to a movie & a burger, and I walk out in my best jeans (no holes!) and a shirt with actual buttons on it, and Andre' freaks and asks, ``When are you gonna get ready?!''
To my stunned reply that I was ready, Andre' franticly starts explaining that this girl is from Emory, and you have to dress up, and... so we argue a bit, and I stalk off and get one of his shirts, and his sky blue tie with Snoopy holding balloons on it, and my one pair of slacks (someone gave me, remember?), and on a thoroughly disgruntled note, we leave, but only after I question Andre's sanity in setting me up with this... this... preppie!
So we go to Darlene's dorm, and we call upstairs, and even though we're on time, we'll have to wait a while. This goes over just great with me. Meanwhile, he introduces me to the father of another friend from school. Soon said friend appears. Her name is Sharon. She's in jeans, she's cutting up, she's just real people, it seems. Nice chick even if she's from the sticks .
So finally Darlene and Debby arrive. This girl has on a dress that costs more than everything I own. Same with the jewelry. We're introduced, and both of us have the same thought: it's going to be a long evening.
In fact, it's an unmitigated disaster (as was my other blind date).
But a couple of weeks later, Andre' & I are returning from somewhere around 10PM when he recalls he was supposed to take Darlene out for a quick bite. So we drop by the dorm, and on the spur of the moment, I suggest, "See if that other girl, what's her name... Sharon? wants to go." He calls up.
They say it's gonna be a while.
Great. Another one. 15 minutes later, they get off the elevator. Hair dripping. Sharon barefoot, in jeans, with a flannel shirt, & a bandana on her hair. They were in the shower when he called! Cool! She's real after all!
We go to the Varsity (``the World's Largest Drive-in'') for a bite. While there, I'm accosted by a former (not really lover or girlfriend, more of a ``partner'') who lets go of her starting lineup football jock boyfriend, plants her body right smack up next to mine, and starts gushing about how happy she is to see me.
I back off and introduce Sharon, and turn back to the menu. I apologize, explain this is someone from my past that I broke off with after I got into a relationship with God, and... Sharon accepts that. It's true, but it sounds like a line. Sheesh.
Andre' and Darlene had never bothered to introduce us, because they knew we wouldn't get along. After all, I had no interest in ``sticks chicks'' (girls from out in the sticks), and she had no interest in hippies - even ex-hippies. But it turns out she'd been through some of the same sorts of weird relationships lately, and had been praying the exact same prayer I had. Even a month earlier, we wouldn't have been interested in each other.
We sort of casually went out, sort of started dating, sort of became an item without intending or realizing it, and as God is my witness, after 3 1/2 months of dating, I, with NO forethought or planning, heard the following words come out of my mouth, even as my brain screamed at me to shut up:
``If I asked you to marry me, what would you say?''Sharon, ever the wise one, retorted with, ``Are you asking?''
As my brain screamed, ``NNNNOOOOOO!!!!'', my mouth said, ``yeah! Will you marry me?''
``I'd love to!''
4 1/2 months later, we were married. On my birthday. And I can honestly say it's the best birthday present I ever had or can imagine getting. It hasn't always been easy, but it's always been good - even when I was too dense to recognize it.
Hey, it's not OVER yet!
A lot has happened in the years since, but what really matters is the fact that God is real, and that He never abandoned me, even when I abandoned Him. And despite all the hypocrisy and bogosity I'd seen in the church, He had a place for me. Still does. He knows me better than I do. He knows my needs better than I do. When I listen to Him and do it His way, things turn out much better.
Feel free to contact me with questions, comments, observations, whatever.
Copyright 1995 Miles O'Neal, Austin, TX. All rights reserved. Free redistribution is allowed in intact form (including this copyright) as long as authorship is acknowledged. Miles O'Neal <roadkills.r.us@XYZZY.gmail.com> [remove the "XYZZY." to make things work!] c/o RNN / 1705 Oak Forest Dr / Round Rock, TX / 78681-1514