No matter how hard or how far we run,
God hears our cries for help.
by Geno Lawrenzi Jr.
One starry night many years ago — more years than I care to remember — I found God.
Or maybe God found me.
Some traumatic events had taken place in my life. I had lost my job of eight years standing at a newspaper in Phoenix. My marriage had collapsed after nineteen years and two children. And I was drinking more than any person should if he wanted to keep his mind and priorities in order.
Priorities? What were they? My priorities were to survive, to find a female who was willing to spend the night with me, and to discover another bar where the nights were endless, the music never stopped, and the neon lights made me feel alive.
I had been living in Phoenix and working as a reporter for the Phoenix Gazette. The conservative newspaper wasn’t the most exciting in the world — certainly not nearly as beneficial to readers as the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, where I had invested four years covering top news stories.
But the writing job paid well. I was content to let the years slip by while I continued my nightly sojourns to the bars and lounges in Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Tempe.
Oh, I can’t forget another habit I picked up: gambling. With gambling, you almost always lose more than you win, except for a select handful. Well, I wasn’t one of those select few — not then.
I lost my employment with the Gazette because of the Newspaper Guild. The guild decided it wanted to unionize employees and was spending a lot of time and money to get the job done. Eugene Pulliam, owner of the paper, hated unions. He paid his employees well and didn’t want to deal with union bosses and the demands they would certainly make on him.
After resisting the guild’s efforts to recruit me through the persuasive arguments of a photographer on the newspaper, I weakened and signed a card stating I wanted the union to represent me. Big mistake.
From that point forward, my editor, acting on orders from Pulliam himself, made my life miserable. I got the worst assignments. My stories, even the good ones, were criticized unmercifully. Finally, in order to preserve what little sanity I had left, I agreed to resign and bought out my retirement for a paltry $2,500.
Jobless, wifeless, and in despair, I launched a frantic campaign to find work. Reverend Doug Pender, a minister who operated six wedding chapels in Laughlin, Nevada, had been the subject of one of my interviews.
Doug was a good man who had worked on the Navajo Indian Reservation before launching his highly profitable wedding ministry. He and his wife, Fayne (also an ordained minister), performed over two hundred weddings each year.
I called Doug and explained my plight.
“How would you like to be my publicity agent?” Doug asked. He explained that he wanted to publicize his wedding ministry, since Laughlin, Las Vegas, and Reno all prided themselves as being the “wedding capitals” of America. He offered me a salary and a place to stay in return for my writing articles about his ministry for newspapers and magazines.
I immediately accepted and drove to the town along the Colorado River, where there were nearly a dozen gambling casinos, neon lights, and enough bars to keep any drinking man satisfied.
And that was where I found the Lord. Or to be more precise, that was where God found me.
My life turned into a daily routine of working with the Penders, traveling with them in their “Wedding Mobile” (a colorful stretch limousine with a wedding chapel inside it), and writing publicity stories on what they were doing.
At the end of the day, I would walk down to the casinos, just a half mile away, and indulge in my nightly fantasies: drinking, gambling, and searching for the perfect woman who existed only in my troubled mind.
Disturbing phone call
One night when I was well into my cups, a security guard I knew at Don Laughlin’s Riverside Casino came to me with a phone.
“Reverend Pender on the phone,” he said, handing me the receiver. “Says it’s important.”
It was. In somber tones, Doug told me he had just received a call from one of my brothers. My mother back in Pennsylvania was near death because of a series of attacks involving her heart and other internal organs. Her doctors had given her 72 hours to live, if that.
Numbly, I handed the phone back to the guard. I left the casino and began the long walk back to the house.
Prayer for healing
The stars in the Southwest are different from the ones above Springfield, Missouri, where I now live. For one thing, the clear Arizona-Nevada air makes them appear much closer than they really are.
As I walked beneath the carpeting of stars, I could see the marvelous design of the Milky Way. And there was the North Star gleaming so brightly that it seemed like noonday instead of near midnight.
Halfway back to the house, I collapsed on the grass. I buried my head in my arms and began sobbing. I did what countless of others have done over the centuries: I prayed to an unseen God to heal my mother.
“Lord, keep her alive along enough for me to see her face just one more time,” I prayed, “and I will give You my life. Everything I do from this moment on will be for You, Your glory, and Your kingdom.”
The moment I said that prayer, something happened to me — something I still cannot describe, even though I can still feel the afterglow.
I felt God’s Spirit surround me on that starry night in Laughlin. The warmth filled me with a softness and a love I never knew existed. I felt safe and alive for the first time in my life. The neon lights of the glittering casinos had absolutely nothing to do with it.
My mother survived her ordeal. Amazed, the doctors called it a miracle. I traveled back to Pennsylvania, and we had a wonderful family reunion. Mother lived a number of years before passing on at the age of 76.
Like many journalists who seem to have a cynical nature regarding faith, I didn’t settle down right away into a pattern of asking myself, What would Jesus do? after my conversion. But I discovered the more I adhered to the principles of the Ten Commandments, plus one (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”), the happier and more joyful life became.
I am presently sharing a house in Springfield with my daughter and three grandchildren. I love attending Bible study class at my church. Our discussions are wide-ranging, and the Holy Spirit gives us direction, for which we certainly praise the Lord.
I have tried to keep the pledge I made to God on that starry night so long ago. It hasn’t been easy, but it has been worthwhile. Thank You, Lord, for promises made and promises kept.
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