Another in a series of excerpts from my new book, “Lost Boy.”

When I wasn’t sneaking off my high school campus to smoke pot, getting in trouble for disrupting classes or drawing subversive cartoons, I was scoping the halls at Harbor High. There was a girl who’d caught my eye. I’ll call her Sandy. It wasn’t that she was a beauty queen, but she had a glow that I hadn’t seen in other girls. She just seemed happy; there was something magnetic about her.

My invisible chick antennae were always swiveling, checking, calibrating to see if Sandy was nearby. One day I was walking to one of my classes, and there she was. The magnetic force pulled me … and then I saw the big leather Bible stuck under her arm.

Oh, no! I thought. She’s one of those … those … Jesus freaks! That’s so sad! What a waste of a perfectly cute girl! I immediately crossed Sandy off my list of potential girlfriends. Jesus freaks were just so weird. But oddly enough, the magnetism was still there.

The Jesus people were gathering under a big tree by the school bell tower. About 30 kids were sitting there, cross-legged, singing folk songs about being one in the Lord (whatever that meant) while a guy played on an old beat-up guitar.

In spite of the simplicity – or maybe because of it – the songs intrigued me. The kids weren’t singing for themselves; it seemed like they were singing to someone. That was strange. I sat at a safe distance, far enough away so that no one could possibly think I was connected with the group. That would be social suicide. But I was close enough to eavesdrop.

Other students walked by and snickered. Even when the skeptics cussed and said some pretty loud, obnoxious things, the kids on the lawn just kept singing. They really didn’t seem to care what other people thought. They didn’t seem self-conscious. They seemed like they were focused on something the rest of us couldn’t see.

It struck me that this was what kids at hippie love-ins aspired to, but never reached. I wondered if the fact that these teenagers seemed so sincere – and so secure – was because they had somehow found the real thing.

Then one of the guys in the group stood up. He had a Bible in his hand, and shoulder-length dark hair and a beard. His brown eyes blazed. It was Lonnie Frisbee, and he’d come to teach a Bible study to the kids at Harbor High that day.

He read a little bit from the New Testament, and then he talked about how Jesus wasn’t just some far-off, far-out historical figure. How He was real. How He could be known personally. I sat transfixed. This guy looked like a biblical character, and he related to me at that moment in my life.

Then Lonnie said something that struck my heart. “Jesus said that ‘You are either for Me, or you are against Me.’ There’s no middle ground with Jesus. You’re either for Him or against Him. … which side are you on?”

I’d never heard it put that way. Jesus was just all right with me, sure, and I liked His stuff about brotherly love and doing good. But I’d never thought that Jesus was actually real, relevant and right there with people, wherever they were. I’d never thought that I had to make a decision one way or the other about Him.

I looked at the Christian kids, sitting there, Bibles in their laps. They didn’t care what other people thought. They’d made their choice. They were for Jesus. No doubt about that. It was clear that I wasn’t one of those Jesus people. Did that mean I was against Him?

I was still trying to absorb that disturbing new thought when Lonnie Frisbee told the group, and those standing on the fringes, that anyone who wanted to decide to be for Jesus should come forward and he would pray with them.

My mind kaleidoscoped through my years of lost loneliness, broken homes, the empty promises of drugs and alcohol, the tantalizing search for something that I knew was real but could never quite find. I want to be for Jesus, not against Him, I thought. But it was too good to be true. What if it’s not real? What if I just can’t do it right? What if it works for everybody but me?

But I was willing to try. My body somehow acknowledged what my spirit was feeling, and before I even knew what I was doing, I walked forward to the Jesus freak preacher and stood with a handful of other students who had also been moved by his message.

Lonnie led us in a prayer. I repeated his words, asking Jesus Christ to come into my heart and forgive me of my sins.

The prayer ended. I stood there, not really feeling anything. Other people were crying and hugging. But I felt no spiritual connection, no wave of warm emotion, no tears, no big deal. I dropped my head. It was a Charlie Brown moment. Good grief! I thought. Everyone can get saved except me! I can’t even commit myself to follow Jesus Christ right.

I was convinced that God had turned me down … except there was one thing that I did notice. It wasn’t dramatic, but it was real. I felt as though a weight had been lifted from me. It was odd, because I hadn’t been conscious of burdens I was carrying around. I had felt pretty free before.

But now I realized I hadn’t been free at all. I’d been schlepping along with invisible bowling balls chained to both ankles. I’d had a cold core of gray fear in me since I was a small boy, cowering in my bed and waiting for my mother to come home and the fighting to start. I’d been dogged by guilt as well. I’d been raised without many moral guidelines, but deep down inside I knew right from wrong.

All the wrong things I’d done – but more than that, the wrongness of my selfish heart – had accumulated into a heavy weight of guilt I’d never even known I had. Now the fear and guilt were going … going … gone. I felt unusually light.

The school bell rang. Lunchtime was over. The Jesus people began to disband. I saw the glowing girl, Sandy, making her way toward me. She threw her arms around me. “Praise the Lord!”

I wasn’t sure what I’d just done, and there would be doubts and struggles in the days to come. But this was a good start. And I hugged her back.

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