Several years ago, I met a most exceptional man named Willie Smith. What sets Willie apart from so many others is the particular set of life circumstances that came together to make him the man he is today—a superb physical trainer with a huge clientèle. He is also a minister and a man with rare and rich wisdom, the type that takes your breath away. Several years ago, for example, Willie and I were out to breakfast and the subject turned to politics. More to the point, I changed the subject to politics and began carrying on and on about my very negative sentiments about the now former president. Willie said nothing as I tossed out one fact after another as if I was an attorney presenting a closing argument to a jury on a life or death case. Finally exasperated, I asked, "How can you be so passive about this president?"
Willie's response was simple, clear, and profound: "I've never prayed for the man, therefore I have no right to judge him."
I was knocked silent by Willie's response. Because he had never prayed for the man, he had no right to say a negative thing about him. I realized I had never prayed for him either, and in that moment, I shifted. I thought about my tendency to judge others in general instead of first offering a prayer, and not just for them but for me, asking for assistance in healing the knee-jerk response to judge another person. Willie's wisdom had opened a passageway for me deep into my soul. But this gift for wisdom did not come without pain. In his prior life, so to speak, Willie was a drug dealer, an occupation he fantasized about from the time he was a young boy. He told me that in his youth he had spotted a dealer holding a handful of money, wearing lots of gold jewelry and looking like a big shot. That dealer made such an impression that Willie began to imagine himself in that role, exchanging the gifts of $5 and $10 bills he would receive from his elders for single dollars so that he could experience the sensation of having a wad of cash in his hand. Soon, a handful of years passed and Willie was the drug dealer he had envisioned himself becoming. He told me that while he was a drug dealer, he experienced one of those rare moments in which he realized, as he held a wad of money in his hand, that he had fulfilled his fantasized image of himself. At the height of his drug life, Willie was consuming $3,000 worth of cocaine and heroine a day and dressing the part of the successful drug dealer. He still keeps photographs of himself draped in a fur coat and gold jewelry as proof of his previous self.
So how did Willie go from being in the entrails of the drug culture to a loved minister and successful body trainer? Willie had what's known as a "conversion" experience. What's does conversion mean?