A Coke and a Smile
Tuesday, April 02, 2013
John Pemberton, Georgia pharmacist, founded the Coca-Cola Company on March 24, 1888 after concocting its signature product (which did, in fact, contain traces of cocaine) in a three-legged pot in his backyard. Pemberton claimed it cured diseases. Doubtful. But it did play a role in God's healing me. (Also in March, but a few years later).
Which was a rather cheesy way for me to say that it was probably about time I shared my testimony.
I was born into a nonreligious family. We were Presbyterian, but what that meant was that that was the church we didn't go to. About once a year my Mom would have a fit of guilt and take my sister and I up and drop us off for Sunday school, and a few times I went to church with my grandmother, but that was about the extent of my exposure as a child.
I would have said that I was a Christian, but that was basically a process-of-elimination thing. I wasn't Buddhist, Jewish, or Muslim. So what else could I be?
I also would have said that I believed Jesus died for my sins. I knew that. But it was just a fact I had filed away for some putative later relevance. Kind of like I knew that Pierre was the capital of South Dakota, but never expected that to impact my life personally.
(And so far, in fact, Pierre has not.)
And I was, even as a fairly young child, intensely interested in science.
By the time I hit high school (after brief intellectual flings with geology and astronomy) I decided I wanted to understand life on its most basic level. I had been taught that man evolved (from germ through worm), and I wanted to understand completely how that happened. And to understand life on its most basic level, had to understand DNA. So, arriving at The Ohio State University in the fall of 19 (cough cough), I promptly signed up to be a genetics major.
But a funny thing happened on the way to intellectual fulfillment. I met the Lord.
It all started with Holly and Viv. I met Holly and Viv within the first few hours on campus at our dorm floor orientation. They were roommates and lived a couple doors down. While I was signing up for clubs like Buckeye Mensa, they were getting involved with the on-campus parachurch organization, the Navigators.
They were Christians. Real ones. Not the process-of elimination kind, like me.
We got to be pretty good friends. They must have ascertained pretty quickly which kind of Christian I was, because they soon starting dropping the name of Jesus into our conversations, and talking about the personal relationship they had with Him.
And that bugged the snot out of me. I knew that Jesus died for my sins, but I still thought, like most people, that it was kind of like God graded on a curve. If, when the roll was called up yonder, your 'goodness' average proved to be better than most of the rest of the class, you'd be OK.
So I was a shoo-in, since I happened to be a serious goody-two-shoes. (To this day I have never had a beer.) As my sister still likes to tell people, she was homecoming queen, and I, well, I had a rock tumbler. (I was also valedictorian, but she somehow never remembers to mention that.) But the rock tumbler I can't deny.
So I thought I pretty much had my bases covered. But the personal relationship thing? I had no idea what that meant. I was mystified. But I was real sure that I didn't want to pursue that snippet of knowledge. The discussion made me uncomfortable. So when conversations seemed to move in that direction, I changed the subject. Or had a sudden need to study algebra. I did NOT want to go there.
So the first quarter of my freshman year became the second quarter, and then it was finals week. Right before Easter. And Viv and Holly and I, all having late finals, were pretty much the last ones left in the dorm.
We went to dinner, and they started talking about having a person relationship with Jesus Christ. Again.
I dunno what it was. I guess Christ was preferable to Chemistry, and, finally, it got the best of me. I blurted it out: "I don't know what you're talking about."
Viv and Holly were armed and ready, and we spent the next six hours talking about what the Bible really says about salvation and holiness. It made sense to me-- I mean really, how much sin is too much? Tell a million lies you are ok, but a million and one and you spend eternity in hell? That doesn't make any sense.
And even though I was a goody-two-shoes, like all honest folk I knew that I couldn't live up to my own standards all the time, much less God's. And by the wee hours of the morning of March 17, I was washed in the blood.
But I still had to deal with chemistry.
So by the butt crack of dawn (as my older daughter, now in college, likes to say, and if you think about it it is crass but fitting), I was set up in the dorm basement study room, intent on doing some serious chemistry cramming. The study room thoughtfully equipped with sturdy tables, reasonably comfortable chairs, a pop machine, and a pay phone.
There was just one problem. I had just enough gas in my car to get home, but no more funds. And I needed caffeine to study. Caffeine, in the form of Diet Coke, which I had mainlined for years.
I needed a Diet Coke, and I needed it in the worst way. Too bad. So sad. No funds. So I opened my book and resolutely started studying.
And then someone else came down and bought themselves a diet coke.
"Hast God said?", the devil whispered in my ear, just like Eve. And I started to whine.
(It would prove to be a pattern in my spiritual life).
"God," I said, "Viv and Holly they said you would take care of me, and I don't even have 35 cents for a diet coke."
Some else came in and bought one. And opened it. And the sound it made seemed so refreshing.
I got a little more pointed. "God, if you were really there, I would have 35 cents for a diet coke. "
Enter two more girls. Diet cokes, both of them. And they had the nerve to sip on them on the way out.
The whine reached a fevered pitch. "God, I can't study without a diet coke! My friends said you would be there for me! I need a diet coke! I need one! And I don't have the money to buy one!"
Out of the blue the pay phone, which nobody had used, made a noise behind me. A weird jingly noise. I got up and walked over.
Straight up: 35 cents had fallen into the coin return. No lie.
And local phone calls, by the way, were a dime at the time.
I have chills as I type this, remembering, but my first response was sheer terror, waiting for the bolt of lightning (that I knew I deserved ) to strike me. I didn't even know there was a book of Isaiah at the time, but my first instict was basically his response when he was given a glimpse of the Lord: "Woe to me, for I am undone!"
The moment passed, and I lived. And more than a few years later, God has proven His faithfulness over and over, albeit never in such a spectacular way. Looking back (given that I was a disciple of evolution, from a family that wasn't remotely enthusiastic about my newfound faith), I think God just knew that I would need a little extra reassurance. And He provided for me even in that, with a "testimony of two witnesses", as it were. First --the witness of the diet coke.
A witness that said that God saw me, and cared about me personally. Said that God was, in fact, real and who would, in fact, take care of me.
Secondly, God testified to Himself as a Creator God. My genetics and biochemistry classes picked up again a week later, and it was the weirdest thing. I realized that I just didn't believe in evolution anymore. Nobody told me I couldn't. I hadn't read any creation science books over break. But it was gone.
I had met the Creator, and that changed everything.
I and my best friend Mary, who has also lived on diet coke since we were at Ohio State together, took our kids to Atlanta a few years back and we went to the World of Coca-Cola. It was kind of a pilgrimage for us. We took pictures of ourselves hugging giant bottles of Diet Coke.
I can’t hug God yet. But that one Diet Coke taught me so much about Him.
About Wendy Wippel
Last week: The Offensive Cross
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