John is an actor, writer, and entrepreneur interested in the search for truth and meaning in the world.
I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that wills, nor of him that ru
It was a sunny day in 1980 when my wayward friends and I decided to skipped fourth through sixth periods and go to Sugarloaf Mountain, Maryland. As the annual right of passage had it, on the first hot day in the spring, everyone went to Sugarloaf to hang out and get away from the routine of confined learning. It was my first visit to the mountain; boy, was it impressive! As we drove up the narrow, meandering two-lane road to Picnic Areas I and II, I could see the mountain’s jagged western slope emerge out of the tree line. Two minutes later the road came to an abrupt end at a large rectangular-shaped parking. Upon parking, the guys and I exited my car to begin the short trek through the woods and over the rock quarry to obtain a better view. Then there stood before us Sugarloaf Mountain in all its glory. At that point, I assumed the visit was over and we would go grab some brews. But, lo and behold, some bloody fool said, “Let’s climb to the top.” Common sense dictated we should use a rope and safety harness. Nevertheless, since everyone else was climbing freestyle, I also started in like manner the perilous journey to the top.
In the beginning, the climb was easy; however, I began to encounter increased difficulty about one hundred feet off the ground. Places to get traction or grab onto became narrower and slippery. I soon started thinking that this would probably be the last time I would do something so foolish. It was like a moment of a Texas-size gut check. I had to decide to either descend down the mountain or continue as a novice to climb and potentially imperil my life. Nevertheless, I kept on climbing so as not to embarrass myself. I will never forget that harrowing climb. Then, after climbing about another ten feet, what I feared most happened—I began to lose my grip as my footing crumbled out from beneath me. At that moment, I yelled to Tor Evans, who was climbing right above me, for help. Immediately realizing my precarious predicament, he reached down his hand and held onto me until I could reestablish my footing. Tor Evans saved my life that day, and I have never forgotten it. From there, I proceeded to climb to the top without further incident. As we rested from the tough climb, other friends from school began arriving at our gathering place. I asked one of them, “How did you get up here? I did not see you guys on the way up.” He laughed “We took the steps. Didn’t you?” “No” I said sheepishly and proceeded to change the subject. I thought to myself how stupid I was for risking my life when a simpler way to the top was already available. As a result of that incident, the often recited Bible verse that says, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6) became abundantly clear.
Three years later by happenstance, as a sophomore at Georgetown, I returned to Sugarloaf Mountain to picnic with a date (Nancy) and an acquaintance (Bret). I took the footpath this time. After eating lunch and conversing with my companions, I went to find a place of solitude so that could pray for guidance. I found a little nook on the western side of the mountaintop where I could quietly sit and read my Bible. The view was breathtaking. I looked from west to the east and beheld a panoramic view of nature’s beauty that late spring afternoon. I felt at peace because I had found a safe place for an intimate communion with God. Then, I earnestly began to seek God. I wanted to thank God for saving me three years earlier from falling to my death. Tor, who had served as God’s instrument of my salvation, was dead but somehow providence had saved me from death and self-destructive behavior during my intervening visits to the mountain. I knew then that I was called to live a different life from my peers. I knew Jesus Christ was the Son of God who had delivered me from my sins. God’s hand was on my life for a purpose. Moreover, as long as I obeyed his will, God would see to it that everything I put my hand to would prosper. The peace of that moment surpassed all understanding; no words can describe the experience. I had suddenly discovered my life’s calling in the space of a two-hour visit to Sugarloaf. I am called to be a counselor and encourager to the Body of Christ.
As I finished praying, I was startled by the footsteps approaching me from behind. I quickly turned around and discovered it was Dave Sampson. He, like me, felt led to come to Sugarloaf Mountain for a quiet time with God. I was glad to see Dave because we had become good friends since graduating from Winston Churchill High School and attending a Christian ministries retreat called Fishnet in Front Royal, Virginia. Dave and his younger brother came from a broken home. Notwithstanding, his mother poured a lot of love into those boys. I think because of the pain he suffered from seeing his parents split and his mom working so hard to support them, Dave was a humble and kind person. You could just sense something good in him
“Hey,” he said. “How are you?” I said, “what are you doing up here?” He told me he wanted to spend some quiet time with God so that he could get direction for his life. However, after praying he felt led to walk to the western side of the mountain. I told him I was glad he did so and that I told him I was there for the same purpose. As a result, we talked intensely for several minutes about our plans for the future and encouraged each other to continue passionately seeking God’s will for our lives. We both agreed to stay true to the call. Shortly thereafter, since we both came with other people, we decided to say our goodbyes and return to our respective friends.
I often remember that day as a testimony of God’s desire to fellowship with believers and give us His will for our lives. The second visit to the mountaintop gave purpose, meaning, and order to my life. I, as a black man, had beaten the odds by God’s grace and survived the numerous infractions of my youth. Several childhood friends were not so lucky because their momentary lapses of judgment caused their deaths, divorces, and financial ruin. At one time, they were all men of some renown but in death their lives, reputations, and family fortunes were left in shambles. It is a fearful thing to reject God’s commandments or call to repent. In the end, no good can come from disobedience. Thank God, I was broken and humbled on the Rock named Christ. In one day, I went from being a hopeless wanderer to being someone destined to pursue a Christ centered life. Consequently, I will forever be grateful to God for His mercy and compassion in redeeming the ill-fated life of a sinner like me.
© 2021 John Remington Pierce