Recently I was reflecting on two days in my life which I know I will never forget. The first was Christmas day 1985. Christmas as a kid and even now is one of my favorite days of the years. Certainly, I love opening gifts and also watching others open gifts, but I think what makes Christmas so special is I am around people I love and people who love me. Christmas day 1985 though was different.
In 1985 I was a part of the University of Arizona football team. We had a very successful year and as a result we had been invited to play against the legendary Georgia Bulldogs in the Sun Bowl. The game was to be played a few days after Christmas but because of scheduling and media events we were in El Paso the week before the game. I must confess that most of time in El Paso was spent partying rather than preparing for a game. On Christmas night I along with other players went to a local bar to celebrate Christmas day. I can remember sitting in a crowded bar downing one beer after another than coming to the realization that in this sea of people I was lonely and empty inside. The pain of this emptiness only intensified because of the fact I was far from home and far from people who loved me. For years I had turned to alcohol, drugs, popularity, sports and money to fill my emptiness. On Christmas night 1985 I realized they all left me very lonely in life. It would be 10 months later in which I would experience another night which would change all I knew about life and ultimately fill that void and emptiness which was so real Christmas day in a bar in El Paso, Texas.
Fast forward 10 months. In October of 1986 I got on a greyhound bus in Anaheim California. I did not get off the bus until Columbus Ohio. I had got on the bus in hopes of something different than the life I had. My entire life was a wreck. Earlier in 1986 I lost my scholarship to Arizona because of drugs and alcohol and simply a failure to go to class. I had lived in out of motels and sometimes out on the streets. A few people took me in, but I knew my life was spiraling out of control. So, when I got on the bus headed to Ohio I was hoping something was going to change. If it did not, I knew I was running out of option to move forward in life. So, in October of 1986 I moved in with my Aunt & Uncle in Lancaster Ohio. I knew they were religious. More than being religious I saw in them a peace and contentment which I did not have in my own life. I wanted to know more about this peace. One of the rules of living with them was that I would have to attend church. This was not a problem, not because I enjoyed church but because I needed a place to lay my head at night. It so happened that the little church I was going to was having a week-long revival. Each night I listened to what the preacher had to say. Than on Friday night something clicked. The preacher talked about finding fulfillment in life. He talked about filling the emptiness which we all have in life. Most people try to fill this emptiness with all kinds of things. Some try to fill it with drugs, some sports, others with money, some with careers and some with relationships. I had tried all these in my short 21 years of life. All of them left me empty inside. Than he mentioned that the only thing which was meant to fill that emptiness was Jesus. I grew up knowing about Jesus but never really paid attention to who he was and even if he wanted anything from me. The preacher went on to say that the only way to fill the void was to make Jesus Lord of your life. So, 10 months after that lonely Christmas night I walked forward in a church service and knelt down at an altar and told Jesus that I did not know much of him but that I had made a royal mess of my life and I needed to change. As I was praying I felt two sets of hands on my shoulders. Both my Aunt and Uncle joined me in support and prayed with me. For the next few minutes we wept together as I called out on God. That night my despair turned to joy. My hopelessness was replaced with hope. I was no longer empty.
Just as I will never forget that Christmas night in El Paso Texas and it’s loneliness I also will not forget the night in Lancaster Ohio when I came home and found what my life was looking for.