First Contact

I’m crying my way through The Chosen tv series again. No matter how many times I watch the dramatized account of Mary of Magdala’s encounter with Jesus, I still end up in a puddle of grateful tears. Such a broken, helpless, tormented woman who had lost all hope. Then, out of the blue, she meets Jesus, and Love changes everything.

I remember my first encounter with Jesus as if it was yesterday. I also remember, and always bless, the unlikely messenger he sent my way.

His name was Frank. That is a name I will never forget, even into eternity. My memory is fuzzy as to whether he was wearing a plaid shirt and striped pants or a striped shirt and plaid pants – it was one or the other. I remember that they were mismatched, in shades of muddy browns. His pants rode high; his shirt was tucked, cinched by a tight belt. Then there was the slicked-back hair and the heavy, black horn-rim glasses. Before I saw him, I heard him, standing at the balcony rail of an apartment building in North Miami, pointing the finger at me. 

It was June 1976. The great wrist-slashing suicide debacle of 1975 was in my rearview window, and I was back in school. Thanks to the skillful plastic surgeon who saved my hands, I was also performing in the orchestra again. I’m not saying I was out of the woods by any means. I was battling depression, self-loathing, constant suicidal impulses, drug addiction, you name it. But life goes on. 

I was no longer living in the Coconut Grove efficiency apartment where I had imploded. Now I had an actual apartment with electricity. No more cooking macaroni and cheese over a metal milk crate with a propane torch for me. My new living space had less character, and I missed having an avocado tree in the courtyard, but it looked more like a place a sane person might live. 

The friend who had rescued me on that grim day had moved into a much grimier apartment complex several miles away. He was a charming sociopath and decidedly not good for me, but I couldn’t quit him or the drugs he provided, so I thought I would visit his new place.

This was when I met Frank. As I stood knocking at my friend’s door, I heard a voice yelling from the balcony above. You! You there! I need to talk to you – the Lord has a mission for your life!  He came bounding down the stairs and right up to me, repeating the words, The Lord has a mission for your life. Please, can I pray with you?  In the most colorful language I could muster, and as unkindly as possible, I told him to buzz off. The door opened, and I disappeared inside the apartment, feeling flustered and ashamed. Why was I so mean to a complete stranger? I stayed only long enough to get what I needed, peeked out the door to make sure the man was gone, and made a dash for the parking lot. 

And that was that or would have been, if not for the fact that Frank was the apartment building manager who lived onsite. Every day I came to my friend’s place, there he was, wearing the same mismatched clothes. Every day he repeated the same words to me, pleading with me to let him pray with me. I stopped being so vicious and rude and tried to reason with him instead. I grew up in the church, I explained. Believe me, when I say I’m just not interested. I tried to steer him off-topic, but he was immovable. I tried to talk my friend into moving, but he just laughed at me. 

This went on for two weeks until finally, I said, Frank, if I let you pray with me will you leave me alone after that?  He promised that he wouldn’t say another word about my mission if he could complete his. I agreed, but he had one condition; I had to get on my knees. 

I wasn’t doing that out on the pavement with people coming and going, so he suggested my friend’s place. I opened the door and had second thoughts about kneeling on a filthy carpet in this cluttered room that smelled like God only knows what. My friend and his brother sprawled across a bed on the far wall, snickering and sneering. I looked at Frank and suddenly felt sorry for him. I also wanted to get this over with, so I dropped to my knees. Then he began to pray, quietly but with a spiritual power I couldn’t deny.

Words are insufficient to explain what happened next. Years later, when I was a guest on a radio show, the host asked, with a tone of disdain and disbelief: So you had some kind of mystical experience, huh? Did you hear voices? Did you have a vision?

Nothing like that. I only know that for the first time in my life, I was filled with peace. I felt like I was finally coming home to a place I didn’t know existed. I was coming home to a person I had never met but now knew I could never again live without. I met Jesus in that dingy, dank room, guided by a man who could not have been more different than me and who quickly got out of the way once his job was done.

I walked home that day, feeling like my feet were not touching the ground. I was sober but euphoric. I finally fit somewhere; I finally belonged to Someone. I finally had a reason not to die.

This inexplainable experience was a first contact of sorts. Frank told me, this is just the beginning. Now you need to get to know this Jesus – not just how he died but how he lived. Buy a bible and start reading the gospel of Luke. And that’s where it all began.

Do you remember your first encounter with Jesus?

But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. John 1:12-14 (NLT)

Photo by Amaury Gutierrez on Unsplash

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