From AA to the High Tech Prayer Breakfast, God Works
Originally this post was published on Charlie Paparelli’s blog as part of an ongoing series called “Reimagine Your Life.” To read the rest of the series, go to paparelli.com and subscribe.
I couldn't stop thinking about Bill Leonard. I kept replaying his talk about Jesus. Standing at a podium on a slightly raised platform, he was the final speaker at my first High Tech Prayer Breakfast.
Bill spoke with a voice filled with conviction. I had never experienced anything like this in my life. And it wasn't only me. It was also true for the other eight hundred people in the room. The ballroom had this deafening silence. The kind where you can hear the air moving through the ductwork.
Bill said, "You can have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, his one and only son." And then he paused. It was up to me to make my decision. I could choose to believe, reject, or consider. I chose to consider what he said was truth.
It was something I wanted, but I had my doubts. Was what Bill was saying even possible? At eighteen years old, I made the decision to walk away from God. The religions around me seemed to produce guilt-ridden hypocrites. I became one of them at an early age and decided, "Not me." So I walked.
I became an enemy of God.
If the subject ever came up in conversation, I was prepared to crucify any idiot who would stand for God, including the "God of the universe" people. I always thought this expression was particularly annoying. I believed there either was a God and he was knowable or he didn’t exist. Anything else was a waste of time and energy.
But the AA experience bumped me off my belief track. I had tried to stop drinking for ten years and couldn't. Then I went to AA and came to believe a greater power could restore me to sanity, and I stopped drinking. It was almost eight months, and I hadn't had one drop of alcohol. That's when I asked the question, "Who is this higher power who did this miracle in my life?"
Right after I asked this question, to myself by the way, people who claimed to know God came out of the woodwork. People like Robert Dicristina, Robert Campbell, and now Bill Leonard. That's how I ended up at the High Tech Prayer Breakfast. Robert Campbell invited me, and Bill Leonard spoke.
Since it was Bill who had me thinking about a God who wanted a personal relationship with me, I had to meet Bill.
I was clueless about how to start a conversation about God.
I knew if I did, I would have to tell Bill I was in AA. That was the last bit of personal information I wanted to share. I was having a tough enough time trying to find my next business opportunity. I didn't need to add to my resume that I was a drunk. Some things just don't need to be shared, I thought.
But I had an idea. Bill founded a company called Wm. Leonard & Company. They were and still are an excellent tenant rep broker specializing in technology companies in Atlanta. Our company, Application Partners, was housed in a windowless sublet. It was downright depressing.
Bob Lasher was starting to sell. Revenue was increasing. I was becoming more hopeful this just might work. We were growing. We needed new space. Space with windows.
Bill and I meet in my windowless conference room.
He asked, "How can I help you?"
I told him I was looking for fifteen hundred square feet with windows. The space needed to be inexpensive but nice with the ability to expand within a short time.
"That's what we do," Bill said.
With the socially acceptable meeting agenda item completed, I said to him. "You seem to know a lot of people in the Atlanta technology community. I was watching you at the High Tech Prayer Breakfast. You are well connected."
"Would you like some introductions?" he volunteered.
"I am interested in the Christian people you know in tech. I was intrigued by what you said at the breakfast in your concluding remarks. I want to know more about this God who wants a personal relationship with me," I said.
"Would you be willing to go to a men's Bible study group being held at a restaurant?" he asked.
How great is that? I thought to myself. Until that moment, I didn't know people talked about God outside of church. If I could bypass religion and learn about God, this would be a great path for me to take.
"I might be interested," I said timidly.
"The guy's name is Chris White. He is a former IBM Branch Manager. He leads this Bible study at a seafood restaurant on the Perimeter. They meet every Friday morning from 7 to 8:30. I think you will like the men you meet, and you will get your questions answered."
A simple question I asked myself in an AA meeting, "Who is this higher power who did this miracle in my life?" opened up my life to a new world. A door was opened to a new network of men and women who would become life-long friends and business partners. A door was opened to read and study the Bible, a book I never knew anyone could read and understand. A door was opened to a personal relationship with God.
But let me not move too fast.
I decided to attend the 7 am study at the seafood restaurant.