In 1976 my parents moved to Atherton, CA. I (Bob) was three years old. When my parents bought our house, the real estate agent recommended a local church, Menlo Park Presbyterian Church (MPPC). Our family began worshiping there. I remember Sunday School, church camp in the summer, and going to “big church” with my parents. I remember my Mom encouraging me for months to go to JH Ranch in the summer with the high school group; after a few months of her persistent encouragement, I finally said “Yes Mom, if you think I should go, then I will go.” Sadly though, I cannot say that I loved being part of church as a young person.
During my high school and college years I fell away from church and also from my faith. At one point in my college years, I remember telling my Mom that I wasn’t sure if I believed in God anymore. My life in college became rather reckless. My Mom and her friend Sandee began praying for me daily. An accident and the death of a young woman from my hometown led to the revocation of our fraternity’s charter. A major part of my life slipped out from under my feet. I began to wonder about my faith and what I believed. Though I was interested in learning more about what little faith I possessed, I had largely dismissed the God of the Bible as a worthy alternative.
However, in early January 1995 I hit “rock bottom.” I sat in the bathroom, alone in the house where I lived with five others. I cried. I cried out to God. Although nothing happened immediately, it was a moment of intense and profound spiritual and emotional catharsis. I wept like I hadn’t wept in years. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, something significant had happened inside of me.
I began sharing feelings of despair and disillusionment with a few friends and with my parents. Though their efforts were sincere and meaningful, the giant chasm of emptiness, heartache and despair in my heart was not pacified. At this point I knew that I was in trouble. If my parents didn’t have the answer to this growing anxiety, if they couldn’t help “fix” this dark alienation in my heart, where else could I turn? At this point I resigned myself to my lot as a depressed person. I had read a few self-help books, listened to some inspirational tapes, read through some of the Bhagavad-Gita about Hindu beliefs and mysticism, all to no avail. I began to simply live out my life as best I could, trying not to think about the darkness and uncertainty in my soul.
When the school year ended, I went home to California again to spend some time with my parents. One day while home, my Mom invited me to watch a couple of videos from a five-part series entitled “Life on the Edge” with her. The video showed Dr. James Dobson addressing a large group of young people in an auditorium. In the video series he addressed all the major issues young people deal with: sexuality, pornography, drugs and alcohol, love and marriage, career, etc. What I appreciated about Dr. Dobson was that he addressed these issues with wisdom, candor, humility, and nuggets of truth from the Bible. His presentation was winsome and captivating. He spoke truthfully, knowledgeably, and lovingly. I was transfixed. Later that day my Mom also gave me the Life on the Edge book, authored by Dr. Dobson. I devoured this book over the next 48 hours - highlighting, underlining, and writing in the margins. I began to see the value in following God’s principles for living a meaningful life.
The following week I was back in Boulder, Colorado, where I would live for the summer and finish out my last year in college. The week I returned, some of my former roommates had moved out and new roommates were moving in. One afternoon I volunteered to go to the store to buy a new adaptor for our phone. I first went to Sears, located in the large Crossroads Mall. When I entered the indoor mall, I noticed a man who attempted to gain the attention of shoppers passing by. Somehow, this man caught my attention. After not finding what I was looking for, this man approached me and greeted me kindly. He asked if I had a few minutes, and if I could respond to a couple of questions. I complied. He candidly asked me “Do you believe in Jesus Christ?” I replied that I knew about Christ but wasn’t sure that I truly believed. “Fair enough,” he responded. “It is a difficult question. Well then, let me ask you another question. What happens when we die?” I told him I wasn’t sure. “Fair enough,” he again responded. “That also is a difficult question.” He then began telling me the story of a sower of seeds. He shared how this ‘sower’ dropped seeds on four different surfaces: a hard path, a ground with rocks, a ground with thorns and thistles, and then a good ground. He explained how only the seeds that fell on the good ground were able to grow well. "Why in the world was this man telling me this story?" I gently thought to myself.
He then explained the meaning of the story. He shared how the hard path represents the heart of a person who hears the Word of God, but this person quickly forgets what he has heard. He explained that the ground with rocks represents someone who also hears the Word of God. This person responds with great joy, but when troubles and hardships come along, this person falls away. He then shared how the ground with thistles and thorns represents a person who also hears the Word of God, but that wealth and the longings of this world pull this person away from his/her faith. Lastly, he shared how the good ground represents someone who responds with joy to the Word of God, and yet this person remains faithful and committed, serving God and doing good things to help other people. He then asked me, “Does one of these ‘grounds’ represent your life?”
“Yes,” I instinctively replied. “The ground with the thorns and thistles best represents my life.” I knew in my heart that my longings and dreams were ‘worldly’ dreams. I wanted to work on Wall Street and makes lots of money. And, as far as I knew, I was doing nothing for God.
“Thank you for your honesty,” he replied. After going down to Radio Shack to find the adaptor I had been looking for I returned. I found my new friend just inside of Sears, playing with a display computer. He told me his name, Stan Wagner. I remember looking into Stan’s eyes. One word describes what I found – “love.” I could tell that he cared for me. Stan suggested that we walk through the mall and find a place to sit down. As we strolled through the mall, Stan began to tell me his life story. He told me how he grew up in an abusive home. Because of this abuse, Stan grew up with a tough exterior. At one point in Stan’s life, he ran into trouble with the law and was sentenced to prison. While in prison, Stan came to a point of crisis. He found himself at the lowest ebb of his life – spiritually, emotionally and physically. At this defining moment, Stan heard Jesus say to him, “Stan, this is what the world has given you. Will you continue to choose the ways of the world, or will you finally choose Me?” In that moment, Stan gave his life over to Jesus Christ. His life became changed and transformed and he was eventually released from prison.
When we sat down at a table, Stan demonstrated how sin separates us from a holy God. Because of our sin, we reject God. Yet, God in God’s mercy and grace, provides a way to salvation through God’s Son. Stan opened his Bible to certain scriptural references and had me read. Stan discerned that I was open to God. He asked me directly, “Bob, would you like to make Jesus Christ your Lord and Savior?” I thought about it for a while. My whole life crossed before my mind’s eye. I thought about my Mom’s prayers and my parents’ love for me. I thought about my current depression and seeking answers. Finally, rather impishly I said “Yes, I would like that very much.” We prayed. What felt like electricity began coursing through my body. I felt a wave of peace wash over me. I knew in the deepest part of my being that I had found the Answer I had been searching for.
Stan and I continued to talk. We agreed to meet again. We met every Sunday for the entire summer. We would spend hours together in Chatakua Park under the veil of the Flatiron Mountains. I slowly grew in my faith. Twenty years later I am still growing. I praise the Lord for my Mom and Sandee’s prayers, for the Life on the Edge video series and book by James Dobson, and also for Stan Wagner. Of course other significant persons and events have crossed by path since 1995, but that year marked a change in the trajectory of my entire life and I am forever grateful. May the Name of Jesus Christ be praised!