Monday, April 27, 2009

Once Upon a Time

Even my close friends are generally unaware of this particular chapter in my life, but in comparison with other more tawdry parts of the tale, it does carry some rather unique interest. The time was the fall of 1969; the place was southern Colorado; and I was working as a reporter for the Trinidad Tribune.

No kidding; I was once a journalist!

It was (while it lasted) an exciting and important time in my life, covering stories on the anti-war movement, the first draft lottery, music, and reactions to the summer's most newsworthy events - the Apollo moon landing and the Chappaquiddick tragedy.

For a young man who had wasted much of the early lead given him by parents, teachers and coaches, squandering it away in rebellious acts involving drink, debauchery and other decadence, this post on the Tribune represented a new hope that I could yet redeem myself and begin anew as a productive member of society.

It didn't happen.

You see, the aforementioned Trinidad Tribune was just a student newspaper, the twice-weekly publication of Trinidad State Junior College, a school located in a small, poverty-stricken mining town south of Denver some 250 miles. That was a pretty tough distance when you were hitchhiking it back and forth every weekend.

I had enrolled in September after returning from California (that trip certainly hadn't worked out like I hoped -- insert long, sad story here) but I liked the place. And, though landing a gig on the school newspaper may not seem a big deal to some, it represented a new, very interesting and worthwhile chance for me. It was, in fact, a terrific way to start a comeback and the school seemed more than ready to reward even the tiniest investment of diligence.

But again, that didn't happen. Because even a tiny investment ended up to be more than I could come up with.

So there in Trinidad, with seemingly no place to go but up, and with people available to help me with the climb, I still hurtled downward. Unable to put the brakes on my baser passions, I quickly grew restless again. And within weeks of receiving this brand new chance at making something out of my life, I had quit school and taken off.

In the weeks and months to come, I seemed to throw reason itself away (along with responsibility and self-respect), creating fresh disappointments for my family and plumbing new depths in a dangerously immoral lifestyle. In Alamosa, Colorado: then Pine Bluff, Arkansas; then San Francisco, California; and finally back in Denver, the young reporter-that-might-have-been retreated from real world events and deeper into the "purple haze" of his own delusions.

Logically, it was somewhere about there there that my story should have ended. A thrust of a knife in a fight outside a bar; a car careening over the side of Lookout Mountain after a night of innumerable Schlitz malt liquors; maybe even a pistol shot from a wronged lover - these would certainly have been the most plausible endings for a young thug's career. Anything else would seem too contrived, too escapist. Salvation from such a tragic farce would have required a deus ex machina that Euripdes himself might have thought too far out.

However, the stories which seem so predictable from the easy chairs of earth-bound critics, appear very, very different, when viewed from heaven. And the lives of even the most despicable and weak characters can be instantly, completely, and eternally transformed when the power of the original Author takes a hand!

No, it was not a "machine of the gods" cranked down from the rafters which provided the soteriological climax to this story. It was something more majestic and profound than human genius could ever create. For genuine salvation -- and that was what I found in the gospel message shared with me by caring Christians the following spring -- comes from but one source: the cross on which Jesus gave His life for such wandering, woeful sinners as me.

Think of it! Every ruined story, every tragic tale, every account of sadness and sin and hopelessness can be changed by the nail-scarred hands of the Lord Jesus. No mere editing of one's story will suffice; it must be changed and changed forever into a "miracle play" written by the love of God.

So here I am, just shy of four decades since my budding career as a journalist died (by own own hand) an ignominious death. That's too bad.

But, by Christ's mercy, there was another career waiting in the wings. One that proved to be even more adventurous and useful. One that proved even the most unexpected comebacks can, in fact, occur. And one that will take me into the very splendors of heaven. Thank You, Lord.