Elaine came home from youth group at the church and said, “ Hey, Wendy was there tonight. I told her you had mentioned her and she said to give her a call.”
Now, I had a mission.
I looked up her address. Back in those days we had actual phone books. Over the next few days, I drove by several times. I had to use a map the first time. Back in those days we didn’t have GPS.
I finally got the nerve to stop. I parked at the curb, knocked on the door, and a stern woman with a jet-black beehive hairdo answered.
“Is…is Wendy here?”
“No. She is at modeling.”
She’s a model. Wow! “Would you tell her that Randy Epps came by?”
No smile from her. I guess she said yes.
We talked the next day in her front yard for a couple of hours.
Two days later, around August 10, 1972, we had our first date, moved in together in Houston in September, married in December.
Because my eyes were drawn to a picture in a yearbook.
Our daughter, Chelsey Morgen was born, we moved back to our hometown, had typical struggles of a young married couple, negotiating the daily life events as they came.
We lived in a house at the edge of town, backing up to a cotton field. I remember, one day, standing in the back yard with Wendy, looking out over the field, saying, “We need to get back in church. It’s good for kids to grow up in church.” I had, Wendy hadn’t.
We went back to the church In had grown up in. I remember snapshots, singing in the choir, sitting next to Art Hill, so I could hear the tenor parts and blend my voice with his, church dinners, but nothing about ever being moved inside by something I heard or experienced.
My sister, Elaine and her husband, John used to come over to our house to talk about “religious things.” Wendy would get into the debate, I would doze off on the couch, untouched. Unmoved.
One day, one of our elders asked me if I would teach the high school Sunday school class.
How hard could that be?
I said yes.
They were in the gospel of John. They had just started, and I would come in at the second chapter of John.
Just to be clear, now, I had never read more than an occasional scripture, had definitely never studied the Bible in any way.
The youth room was filled with couches and comfortable chairs. Very casual.
As I “taught”, I saw the watches being checked, the eyes rolling back in their heads, the dozing off from boredom.
I figured, maybe I needed some help. So, after church, I went to the church library, and checked out a big reference book, a commentary, to help me bring this class to life.
Wendy and I were in the process of trying to buy a bigger house, in a nicer neighborhood, with a fenced yard, trees in the yard. Her dream house. The guy selling it, Gary Frazier, was going to seminary to become a missionary. I knew him from high school. He was two years older than I. Our financial situation, well, it wasn’t very strong, and we knew we wouldn’t be approved for the loan.
Gary said, “I know you are good Christian people, and I am going to help make this happen.” We met with his banker, he agreed to co-sign for us, and I was ecstatic . Wendy and I went to the car, waiting for Gary to come out and take us home, and Wendy looked at me and said, “God doesn’t want us to buy this house.” I remember this. I don’t remember any conversations before, ever that we brought into our conversations about what God did or didn’t want from us.
So, we didn’t agree to buy the house. Gary was very kind. I felt a funny kind of peace, that I did not understand.
As I began to read the 3rd chapter out loud, for the first time in my life, I saw what I was reading as a story. A true story.
A man named Nicodemus came to Jesus at night so none of his friends would see him, and tried to flatter him with praise of how God must be with him since he was doing these amazing things.
Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
Nicodemus said, “What?” (My paraphrase)
I thought, what the heck does he mean?
A couple of lines down, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”
Nicodemus said, “How can this be!!??”
I thought, what the heck does this mean?
So, I skipped on down, talked a little about 3:16 (a familiar verse), continued to see the watches raised, the eyes roll, the yawns, until class was over.
“Kids just don’t want to learn ,” I thought.
The next day was Monday, May 8, 1978.
I didn’t know why I was depressed. I figured it was because it was Monday.
I was a route salesman for Pepsi-Cola, and was driving my truck to my first stop.
Something was wrong. “God, why am I so depressed? I went to church, I taught Sunday School. Shouldn’t I feel good on Monday if I go to church on Sunday?” Good question, right? But the next words surprised me.
“And, what does it mean to be born again?”
Up to this point, I was probably in agreement with Nan. (Remember Nan?Part 1?) She told me she had done all the Christian things and had finally figured out that it was all a mirage. I may have been teetering on that brink. I probably could have been convinced of that as well.
But, for the first time in my life, a scripture had shouted at me. “You must be born again!”
I parked my truck, walked into the back door, head down, feeling like I was about to break into tears, and I stepped over a pile of dirt and trash that the floor crew had swept onto the back dock.
On top of that pile was a little “pamphlet” with the words “HAVE YOU BEEN BORN AGAIN?”
What would you do?
I picked it up and put it into my pocket.
I walked across the back aisle of the store and stepped over another pile of dirt and trash.
On top of this pile there was a little pamphlet with the words “WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE BORN AGAIN?”
I know! Weird, right?
Yep, I picked it up and put it in my pocket.
When I finished my work in that store, I got in my truck, started the engine, and took the first pamphlet out of my pocket, read it all the way to the end. There was a prayer. I read it out loud.
I put it down in the seat, took out the other pamphlet, read it to the end, read the prayer out loud, and put it down in the seat.
I gave my life to the One who put the prayer in my heart, because He had already prepared the answer for me to find.
This is the part that Nan never did.
When I looked up, the depression was gone, and I felt like I was seeing color for the first time.
I was born again!
Still am, to this day.
Wendy is too.
All these memories of God sending people my way came back to me after this day when I could “see” for the first time.
I realize now, He had been pursuing me for years.
My blind eyes were opened, my spirit became alive, and I could now see the kingdom of God.
Oh, and Nan?
Well, Nan just left a little too early. She doesn’t have the Son.
“And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
1 John 5:11-12 NIV