It was fourteen years ago this month–the exact date escapes me.
My friends and I were on our way to Peoria, Arizona for a Padres Spring Training game, with a stop along the way at my friend Ken’s father’s vacation spot on the Colorado river, somewhere between Blythe, CA and Yuma Arizona. Not really that far, relatively speaking, from Martinez lake. A little place called Walter’s Camp, which was not a lot more than a small store selling bait and tackle, and renting boats. There was a small park for mobile homes, and perhaps a couple dozen (I’m guessing) fishing cabins and halfway decent vacation rentals along the river.
During the day, people water skied some, or kayaked. You could swim in the river if it wasn’t too cold, and a little ways down was a sandbar where people would hang out and drink, and enjoy the sun. At night, though, it was a little bit different. The cabins were far enough apart and it was dark enough that you could have a good amount of privacy while still getting your party on. I don’t know about everyone else, but we would usually indulge in almost medieval amounts of beer, and often were still in fairly bad shape when we headed off to the game the next day.
It was the sort of fun that it seemed only single young men could have, and with the exception of Ken, the other three of us were exactly that. This particular trip, though, was a little different for me.
Over the past year or so, I’d developed a healthy curiousity about God, thanks to a good friend I’d met at Grossmont College, otherwise known as Harvard on the Hill. It would have been a fair statement at the time to say I was seeking in earnest. I wanted answers to what in the blue heck I was doing on this weird, sad, and sometimes outright tragic planet. To that end, my friend introduced me to his pastor and friend, an ex-chaplain named Tim Wakefield. He was a really great guy, and had a lot to say about Jesus, and what he could mean to a life. My friend was a great example. He’d come from a serious drug addiction and almost losing his marriage to leading worship and beginning his own road to pastoring.
I was developing a friendship with Tim as well, and was started to feel comfortable at his church (Calvary Baptist, in Linda Vista). Then the week before our trip to Peoria, he was killed in a motorcycle crash, while in Arizona.
I thought about cancelling my trip, but I knew my friends were counting on my being there (and also on my car), and decided to go anyway. I couldn’t stop thinking about Tim, and how messed up it was for God to take him when I had barely gotten the chance to get to know him. I also knew his family would he utterly destroyed, and wondered what would happen to them as well. And to me, for that matter. Who would help me find my way to God, if that would even still happen? I was angry, and sad, and looking forward to getting into my 30 pack of Bud Light and forgetting about things a little.
I remember driving up and unwinding on the back deck a little, looking down at the river and talking about whether or not the Padres were ever going to get back to the level of excellence they’d shown back in 1998. Right about sunset, my friends went to the fire ring in front of the cabin to get a bonfire going (because alcohol and fire sound like a great combo when you’re in a certain state). I remember hearing them call to me to bring the beer coolers, and I stood up from my chair and lifted a cooler in each hand. I looked down at the river, and for some reason, I decided to walk down the short ramp to the boat dock.
(That was pretty much the view I had, although I didn’t take that picture. I Googled Walter’s Camp, and selected the image–it was perfect)
I thought about Tim, and thought about God, and thought about all the shit that had happened in my 32 years that to all intents and purposes pointed to the absence of God, rather than the presence. It actually surprised me when I started crying.
I remember crying out something almost primal, more sound than words, and then dropping the coolers at my left and right and dropping to my knees on the dock, ripping out both knees on my Levis. It was about as simple as that. I would later read something from CS Lewis talking about his own conversion, and he referred to it as giving in and admitting that God was God. That’s what it was like. There was no voice from above (at least not then), but it did feel as if a blanket or maybe a strong arm dropped over my shoulder and I remember slapping my palms onto the dock and saying something like, “God, please…”
My tears cut the wood beneath my bowed head and I waited for…something. I could hear a cabin maybe three down having a party, and smell their fire as well as the one in front of our cabin. The Rolling Stones song “Midnight Rambler” was playing and I could see people milling around on their deck and down on the dock when I turned my head to the side:
(I’m pretty sure this is the exact cabin, but it was fourteen years ago and I was tipsy and emotional so I can’t say for certain)
and then it was like…being enveloped by a sense of peace about things. They weren’t totally OK then, and weren’t even the next day, or for a while after that. In fact, our weekend continued on our planned course. Something was different, though. I stood up, and I knew God was real, and wanted to know me, and have me know him. I hadn’t known that when I fell to my knees. It gave me hope, and that was something I hadn’t really had before. I knew I had a long way to go, but now I also knew I would not be alone on the journey.
That was how it started, fourteen years ago.
Today, things are different. I live a short drive from Walter’s Camp, but I’ve only been back once since that time, and it was over a decade ago. I’d like to go back sometime, and take the kids and Jen. I’m doing about as well as I’ve ever done, and life is pretty good.
I love God, and I love my family. My wife is my best friend, and we’re coming up on five years of marriage. It never would have happened had it not been for that day in Walter’s Camp.