A Warm September Night in Nashville
When the offering had been collected, the pastor approached the pulpit again. He introduced the evening’s speaker, Eddy Bottoms, who walked over to the pulpit, unhooked the microphone, and held it in his left hand. The pastor sat back down in his wingchair.
“Listen up everyone. Tonight could be your night for a second chance,” said Bottoms as his dark eyes scanned the crowd. The tall, broad-shouldered African-American played six years in the National Football League as a defensive back for the Dallas Cowboys, but was now a traveling evangelist.
Bottom’s words about tonight being “your night for a second chance” echoed off the cliffs and ridges of my mind, unleashing an avalanche of fear inside me. No way, Jose, I thought. I’m getting out of here now.
I inched slowly to the edge of my seat, ready to sprint out of there. Then I felt the iron grip of mama’s hand on my arm. She never looked at me, but I knew all escape routes were closed down for the evening. I relaxed and shrugged my shoulders. However, mama showed little trust in my surrender because she kept her arm on the back of my chair, staying within quick striking distance throughout the message.
Bottoms told about his struggles as a young man, growing up in Louisville, Kentucky, and how his hanging out with gangs almost landed him in prison several times. But his athletic skills tilted the scales of justice in his favor whenever he stood before a judge for sentencing.
“As unfair as it may seem,” said Bottoms, “I received second chance after second chance while my gang friends went off to reform schools and prisons. You would’ve thought I’d have learned something from those experiences, but I didn’t. You see, I was knocking on the door, but it was the wrong one.”
The evangelist talked about his four years at the University of Tennessee.
“Yes, I was an All-American on the football field, but a druggie and a thief off it. I robbed dorm rooms and apartments so I could buy cocaine and marijuana. And yet, as unfair as it seems, I never got caught. Who was watching over me?”
Bottoms talked about his pro football career and how he wasted his earnings on cocaine and parties which diminished his skills and shortened his career.
“Tom Landry called me into his office at the end of training camp my last year and said, ‘Eddy, we’re dropping you from the team. You’re too slow to cover the deep threat anymore,’” said the evangelist. “My second chances had all been used up. My football career ended that day. ”
Bottoms then talked about the night he stood on a ledge outside his downtown Louisville apartment and how he was ready to commit suicide.
“As I looked down, I heard a voice speak to me. It said, ‘I’m your second chance, the One who can turn your life around. My name is Jesus.’”
The evangelist paused for a moment, allowing his words to hit their targets.
“Now, I could have ignored the voice and jumped anyway, you see, it was my choice. But I listened and gave my life to Jesus that night. He turned me around. Today I’m happier than I ever was playing football or doing drugs or partying all night. Jesus is now my life.”
Bottoms looked over the crowd, seeming to check each person. Then his eyes locked on mine.
“Me?” I said.
“You need a second chance, just like I did. Do you know that?”
I broke off our staring match and looked down at my feet.
“Come down here, young man and I’ll pray with you. The Daddy that you’ve never known will cheer for you tonight. He’ll say, ‘That’s My boy. He’s the best. I love how he throws a football.’”
The words about a daddy loving me pushed aside my fear. I stood up and walked to the stage and bowed down in the sawdust in front of him. As I knelt there, a quick vision of a man looking at me with loving eyes crossed my mind. I knew it was Daddy, the One who was cheering for me at that moment.
The evangelist encouraged other people to join me at the altar. Six others came forward and knelt down nearby.
“Repeat after me, okay?” said the evangelist in a low voice as the pianist played softly behind him.
We nodded in unison.
“Lord Jesus, I need You. I repent of my old ways and I ask You to come into my heart right now. Be my Savior and Lord from this day forward.”
After saying the sinners’ prayer, I felt like I needed to pray something else. What it was, I had no idea so I lingered there, waiting for the right words to form in my mind. Finally, I added, “Lord, whatever You ask me to do, I promise to do it without complaining or whining, even if it means giving up my football career.”
As the vow escaped my lips, I felt the powerful presence of the Father hugging me close to Him. It was as if the Father wanted to assure me that my words pleased Him. When the presence of God lifted, I wiped the tears from my eyes, stood up, and walked toward my chair in the second row. Mama stood there, waiting with her arms opened wide. We hugged and held each other.
“Luke, I’m so proud of you. Would you like to stop at McDonalds for a hamburger and chocolate shake to celebrate your new life?” she whispered in my ear.
I nodded, wondering whether my new life would have football in it.
(The above is the conclusion of the first chapter for a new novel I’m writing, The Day LA Died, © Larry Nevenhoven, 2012.)
(Continued in Part 4)