In my last post, (sorry I've kept you on the edge of your seat so long!), I talked about the book I was currently reading by James McDonald entitlted Come Home: A Call Back to Faith. If you want to read my last post to catch up on the story, here's the link:
Bill Marx was a co-worker of mine in my early 20's while working at a County Juvenile facility for wards of the court who had been removed from their homes. I'm not sure how Bill knew that I was a "wanderer" who was far away from "home," but he did. As we sat in the staff room or at the staff dining table for a meal, Bill would ask what I did on my days off and I returned the question. He was a gentle, genuine man who loved his family and loved God, so he often talked about them. Somehow the conversation would often turn to what his pastor taught on Sunday or what missions project they were undertaking to help in their community or around the world. I knew Scripture due to my upbringing, and was familiar with certain passages Bill would reference, but I was a bit uncomfortable. The dissonance inside me seemed to mount with each conversation.
Bill was one of the most joyful persons I'd ever met. I can still remember his laugh to this day! He'd throw back his head and seem to enjoy his own laughter. He wasn't pushy, judgmental or a know-it-all. He was just a loving, kind man who felt compassion for a young woman whose life was obviously out of sync. To this day, I don't know if he set out to go get this "wanderer" and bring her back home, or if it was just his nature of following Jesus that drew me. I wanted what Bill had, but I thought it was too late for me. I'd gone too far and sinned too much, and something inside me said "you can never go back."
Bill was also persistent in an endearing kind of way. He would invite me to go with he and his wife to church on Sunday occasionally, but I always seemed to have other plans. He didn't give up. After two years of zealous appeals I finally agreed to go. I remember thinking, I'll go this one time and then he'll stop asking me!
I persuaded a girlfriend to accompany me in case the church members encircled me and held me captive against my will. My fears were outlandishly unwarranted. We met Bill and his wife, Pat, outside the church and proceeded into a small sanctuary where close to two hundred people were gathered. The congregants began singing robustly as a pianist accompanied rolling from one song to the next. I remember thinking, these people are just like Bill. They seem joyful and full of vitality. I don't know exactly what I was expecting, but it was different than what I remembered about my church growing up. There were no "sour-looking" old ladies and stodgy old men. I looked around at men, women and children of all ages but they looked vibrantly alive.
Then something strange happened. A man came across the stage up front and spoke into a microphone. He said something like this: "You've been like a merchant ship wandering from port to port and God desires that you set your ship to rest today!" And then, he simply walked off the stage. I immediately burst into uncontrollable tears as the music and singing resumed. I sat down and my girlfriend looked mystified at me as if to say, "what's wrong with you?" As tears poured from my eyes, I remember thinking, I have no idea- that man talked about a ship and now I'm a wreck. I looked up at Bill whose gaze was fixed forward, with the biggest grin on his face while continuing to belt out the chorus being sung.
I don't know why I did this, but I shot up a prayer to God in that moment. God, if what that man said about a ship has anything to do with me, have the pastor point me out among all these people. Have you ever prayed a prayer like that? Eventually the pastor took the stage and I had gained my composure, still unsure why my emotions had rushed to the surface. While sitting there, I remember thinking I was probably so emotional because I had not been in church for several years. Or maybe it was just something I ate. I don't remember much of the pastor's sermon, but I knew he was winding things up and I was just thankful I was calm and in control.
That is until the very end. The pastor looked out into the audience and it was as if a beam of light was directed at me and then he said, "There's a young woman here between the ages of 19-22 whose been rebellious with God and her parents. And God desires that you come back to Him today." I am telling you the absolute truth! The waterworks of tears began again and I made my way up to the front of the church after the service where the pastor was waiting. He looked at me with caring eyes and said, "the Lord showed me your entire life--and He wants you to know that it's not too late for you." He shared things about my life that no one else knew-- not Bill, his wife or even my girlfriend. I knew God had shown him and that showed me how much God loved this broken young woman.
I sat on the steps of the stage and prayed a simple prayer:
Lord, if you can do anything with the mess I've made of my life, I give you my life.
This wanderer came home that night. All because a man named Bill was willing to "go get the wanderer."
My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. James 5:19-20
Bill went home to heaven in 2012 and I never got to share with him what God did with that lost young woman's life. But, this is my tribute to Bill Marx and his wife, Pat who loved and prayed for me, invited me to church and let God do the rest. To Him be the glory!