A Holy Gift

It started with a tingling sensation in my hands, not unlike the feeling you get when your arm falls asleep – except it was in both hands, gripping the steering wheel of my 1985 Toyota Celica GT hatchback.

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The day I bought my 1985 Toyota Celica GT Hatchback (1996)

It was 3am and I was driving through the deserted streets of my hometown – Menasha, Wisconsin – listening to some music, smoking cigarettes, remembering what it felt like when I first got this car back in high school. Those days seemed so distant, but not because of the years that had passed, but because of the innocence lost. I was now 22 years old, a senior in college at UW Madison. I was hungover yet again from the previous night of drinking and drugs, and as usual, I couldn’t sleep. I came home from college for the weekend to see my girlfriend Wendy.

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Steve and Wendy  (2001)

She was a Nurse and had just left for her 12 hour shift, which started at 3am. I was staying in her parent’s basement, and she came down to say goodbye before she left for work. I decided to go for a drive since I couldn’t sleep and was sick of lying around with my racing thoughts. What followed was the weirdest, most physically intense experience of my life. What I experienced that night, on March 1, 2003, alone in my car, changed the course of my life forever.

So what happened on that night?

I realize much of the information here will require you to believe I am a truthful and credible person. If you don’t know me personally, that obviously presents some difficulty. If you do conclude that I’m simply making this up, I understand. This world is full of liars and fakers, so maybe I’m just another one to add to your list. But at least consider what my motives would be for doing so. I’m not trying to sell you anything (in fact, I would love to send you a free gift). And telling a story like this does not exactly paint me in a flattering light, as you’ll see later on when I recount how I impaled myself on a fence while drunk. Putting detailed, personal information about yourself on the internet isn’t really a prudent idea either, but I feel compelled to do this in the hopes that my story could encourage you to seek God. Anyway, I better get to it, I know attention spans are short these days. First, just a little background on myself.

Ullmers_1991
Ullmer Family (1991)

Audio version if you prefer, click here

I was born on June 7, 1980 and I grew up in Menasha, Wisconsin (USA). I come from a family of 6 children (that’s me in the back left, rocking the sweet mullet). We didn’t have a lot of money, but my parents provided a loving home, and they were sincere followers of Jesus. I guess I would have considered myself a believer growing up, but by the time I hit high school, I was done with God. I knew there were many religions, and my concept of God was pretty generic. I honestly never gave it a lot of thought and at that point in my life, I don’t think I cared much. I wasn’t much of an athlete, but I got good grades in school. I started drinking around age 15, and that lifestyle soon became central to my identity. It seemed innocent enough at first, but as the years passed, the hangovers worsened and the consequences became more severe. I was arrested for drunk driving at age 17, and had several other alcohol-related legal issues before I turned 21.

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Steve, age 18 (1998)

I was never what I would consider an alcoholic, because I didn’t drink every day. I was a binge-drinker, which meant that I would get hammered Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night and then swear I would never drink again by Sunday. I was not what you would call a “social drinker.” Many of you can relate, I’m sure. If you’ve ever been hungover, you know how much it sucks. When you first start drinking – especially if you’re young – the hangovers aren’t bad at all. But they steadily get worse with age and experience. By the time I was 20, the hangovers started to not only get worse physically – but also mentally. There was a “darkness” to them that I could feel, and sleeplessness usually accompanied that. It’s hard to describe exactly what I mean, but it was almost as if I felt like a machine, like I had no soul, very aware of the mechanics of my breathing – if that makes any sense. My friends and I were also experimenting with drugs, some of which offer their own dark experiences that are inescapable when you are under the influence of them.

A series of physical injuries would ultimately provide the motivation to take a step back from this lifestyle and start asking questions. I want to detail each of them, as they are both critical for reasons you will understand just a bit later. I’m sure it all sounds a bit confusing, but bear with me. Here’s the first injury.

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Scar from my hand injury – May 15, 2001

It was May 15, 2001. Somehow, the Milwaukee Bucks were in the playoffs and were tied in a best-of-seven series with the Charlotte Hornets, 2 games each. As I mentioned, I am from Wisconsin, and the Bucks are the professional basketball team from our state. For most of my life, they have been terrible, but that year they were in the playoffs, so we were pretty excited to watch them. It was a Thursday night, and I was getting drunk as usual. I shared a house with 4 other guys, and we were watching the game. The Bucks lost that night, and apparently I was quite upset about this. I went outside on our back deck and started throwing things (yes, I am an idiot).

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Hospital Report – Hand Injury – May 15, 2001

I picked up a large broken shard of wood from a piece of furniture and tried to throw it like a Frisbee with both hands. The jagged end came around as I let it go and slashed open my right hand. The cut was deep and my friends took me to the hospital where they stitched me up. I lied and told them I cut my hand washing dishes, as you can see on the hospital report. This event didn’t really slow me down at all in terms of drinking. I was actually very fortunate that the cut missed vital tendons and arteries. All that remains today is a scar and some nerve damage, but otherwise my hand is fully functional.

A year later, I would injure myself again, only this time it was much more serious. It was Friday night, April 5, 2002. I had been drinking since the previous day, stopping only to sleep for a few hours. We were hanging out at a bar on State Street near the university campus in Madison, Wisconsin. One of my friends wanted to leave and I followed him. He hopped a fence that was across the street from the bar.

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Actual fence from this event, located on State Street in Madison, Wisconsin (2002). This fence was removed a few years later when a new building was constructed on the site.

I don’t have a clear memory of the exact series of events that followed, but I know I tried to climb the fence and got stuck, I believe from my belt. There were two individuals who pushed me up over the fence, but I don’t remember if they were trying to help me off the fence or hurt me. My full weight came down on one of the fence spikes, driving it deep into my body in the very upper part of my left leg, essentially…my ass. I don’t know how I got off the fence, or really how I got home. I remember getting punched at some point, but I’m not sure if it was the same guys by the fence or someone else. When I arrived at my house, located at 322 West Wilson St, I immediately fell asleep in my bed. I woke up the next morning and hurt everywhere. When I looked down at the sheets, there was quite a bit of blood, and that jolted me awake as my mind raced to remember the events from the previous night. Everything kind of felt numb and swollen around the wound area, and I was still bleeding. I showered and hid my bloody clothes. I didn’t know how bad it was, and I didn’t even tell my roommates because I was embarrassed about the whole thing. I had a swollen face and black eye as well from being punched. As the day went on, and the bleeding continued, I finally conceded to myself that I needed medical attention. I made up a story about my sister coming to town, and told my roommates that I was going to meet up with her and would be staying with her for a few days. I packed a change of clothes and walked to Meriter Hospital, alone.

At the hospital I was admitted to the ER and examined. They asked a lot of questions, and were very skeptical of my story. I said I hurt myself trying to climb a fence, but they kept asking if someone had attacked me or stabbed me. They were also concerned since it had been nearly 24 hours since the injury, and the risk of infection was high. They said I would require surgery immediately to close the wound and they called in Dr Jacquelynn Thompson (now Jacquelynn Arbuckle) to perform the surgery. I had to call my dad for insurance purposes, and I also called my girlfriend Wendy. I was ashamed and scared, but did my best to hide it.

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Hospital Report – Fence Injury – April 6, 2002

When I awoke from surgery, Dr Thompson came in and informed me of the severity of my injury. She said she could fit her entire hand inside the wound. She was also very concerned about potential infection. If infection set in, because of the area of the injury, there was potential for permanent damage, impacting my future ability to have children. I had to sit in a warm bath every few hours to help the wound heal, and I remember sitting there, alone and naked. This was the lowest point of my life. I hated myself. I hated who I had become, and I hated the life I was living. I was released a couple days later after a heavy dose of IV antibiotics, with no signs of infection. The healing process was slow, and required multiple follow-up visits.

I gladly left Madison after that school year and spent the summer in my hometown with Wendy, working at Neenah Foundry as an intern. Wendy and I spent a lot of time together that summer, and really solidified our struggling relationship. When I returned to school for my senior year of college, I could tell things were different. I was more withdrawn from my friends, and would sometimes just stay in our apartment at 620 N Carroll St to drink and get high by myself. I had become disillusioned with the whole lifestyle I was living. It had taken so much away from me, damaged relationships, and caused a great deal of harm to my life – and for what? Was it fun? Sure, at times. But in the end it was a waste. It was empty.

I started searching for answers, searching for truth because I knew the life I was living was getting darker as I continued down this path. I had watched the movie Fellowship of the Ring over the summer and I was intrigued by the contrast between good and evil. The ring was particularly fascinating, in the effect it had on whoever was in possession of it. It could corrupt anyone, no one was immune. I wasn’t much of a reader at all really, but I thought I might try reading the book since I liked the movie so much. I was hooked.

Reading became a way for me to withdraw and escape from a life I was quickly becoming disillusioned with. I could relate to the characters, and I loved the depth and wisdom of Tolkien’s writing. Reading helped me cope with the long sleepless nights – especially when I was hungover. I ended up reading all three books in the series, and I was thirsty for more. I wanted to read something deep, something heavy that I could relate to real life.

My mind kept going to the Bible that my parents had given me 4 years ago as a high school graduation present, days before I went off to college. I remember reading the note my mom wrote in the front cover, and trying not to roll my eyes when they gave it to me.

Front page from the Bible my parents gave me on August 27, 1998 when I went to college.

I didn’t want to throw it away or anything – that was bad right? – but I never considered reading it. It just sat in my dresser drawer year after year. Yet now, it seemed to be calling me – okay, that’s an exaggeration, maybe a little too much Lord of the Rings reference right there. But seriously, I couldn’t get it off my mind. So I gave it a shot. I started reading in my room with the door locked. This was top secret! I went through Proverbs, then started reading about Jesus in the New Testament. Over and over again I would read something, and my mind would instantly flash to moments from my past or people in my life. The Jesus depicted here in the Bible was nothing like my notions of him that I had gathered through my childhood. He was so real, so human, yet he was obviously much more since he performed miracles and appeared to his followers after he was killed. He wasn’t “religious” at all. On the contrary, he actually seemed to have some serious issues with religious hypocrites. My heart would pound when I would read certain parts, there had to be something to this ancient book. If all this was true, then I had no excuse. If all this was true…I was lost.

I finished reading the New Testament and I had more questions than answers. Was all this Jesus stuff real? I wasn’t sure about that, but I did believe in good and evil. I had seen too much over the last few years. Things like the Columbine school shooting, the September 11 attacks, and even some of the people I had encountered in the world of drinking and drugs, it was clear that something had gone very wrong with this world. I had felt it inside myself too. The darkness in my soul that I experienced seemed to be occurring more frequently. The thoughts in my head. The self-hatred. It felt like a war in my mind…a war that I was losing.

And that’s where I found myself on March 1, 2003 at the age of 22. Driving my car in the middle of the night. My mind restless. Searching for answers, searching for peace.

Then I felt it.

It started in my hands, just a light tingling sensation. It was like they had fallen asleep, or maybe I was just cold? But it intensified, and I could feel it in my neck, my head, spreading through my body. Now please understand. I’ve done drugs, I’ve experienced all kinds of unnatural highs and things like that. This was nothing like that. The only way to describe the physical intensity I was feeling was like some sort of electricity – but it wasn’t painful.

I blurted out the words ‘It’s God, it’s God’, and the moment I did, the intensity increased to a point that I didn’t think I could physically handle it. I seriously thought I might die. It wasn’t painful, but I was scared out of my mind, and started hyperventilating. I pulled my car into Butte des Morts Park, shut the engine off, and turned off the loud music on the stereo as I tried to hold it together.

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Butte Des Morts Park – site of my experience on March 1, 2003

I remember saying out loud ‘call dad’ and struggling with my cell phone because my hands were somewhat rigid. My dad was sleeping and would soon be getting up for work at Miller Electric. When he answered, I must have sounded like a crazy person I’m sure. I was scared, and I wanted him to come get me, since I didn’t think I could drive home in this state. I described my location the best I could, and he said he was coming. I think he believed I was suicidal.

There I sat. Alone, but not alone. Sitting in a car, unable to fully comprehend what was happening to me. I knew it was God. God was very real. He was also very powerful. I had felt just a tiny fraction of His power, and it was more than I could take. The physical intensity started to subside, and I wept. I felt very aware of myself and my sin in that moment. I felt so unworthy that God would do something so personal and reach out to me. Why me? I was not a good person – at all. I was full of pride, self-hatred, and had done many shameful things in my life. But I was faced with a decision, one that would determine my life going forward. I was at a crossroads. I could continue to live for myself and ignore this God who reached out to me. Or, I could give my life to Him and embrace the free gift that I was being offered. By the grace of God, I surrendered.

I said I wanted to keep this as short as possible, and I want to get into the evidence I have for this experience as quickly as possible. So I will get right into it with the first piece of evidence I have.

Myself.

My life changed on that night. I proposed to my girlfriend Wendy two weeks later. We stopped having sex, until we were married the following year (at which point we had a lot of sex, resulting in a lot of children).

Steve and Wendy Wedding – July 17, 2004

I stopped getting drunk, stopped getting high, and did my best to live a life that reflected what I knew from the Bible. I started reading books about God, spirituality, religion – anything I could get my hands on. I wasn’t perfect. At all. God was “cleaning me up” and it was not a quick process. But life change, real life change, is hard to fake and there is no denying that my life changed on that night. Those around me saw it and were witnesses to it. So I want to offer that as a piece of evidence in regards to the authenticity of this experience. No matter what it was that actually happened on that night, there is no denying that it changed my life.

Now let’s get weird. All right, this story is already weird, but this is where you might start to think I’m insane. Hopefully I can present this in a somewhat rational way, but I will understand if you write me off after this. Remember that loud music that was playing during my experience in the car? I remembered it only because it was freaking me out at the time, and that caused me to shut if off. The song was by a band named TOOL, and the name of the song was Parabola.

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The song Parabola by TOOL was on the Lateralus Album – released May 15, 2001

TOOL is a rock band that has a pretty large following. They aren’t exactly mainstream, but they definitely aren’t obscure. A Rolling Stone readers poll put them in the top 10 metal bands of all time. At that time in my life, I was into heavy rock (Deftones, Disturbed, Mudvayne, KORN, Alice in Chains, Linkin Park, Rage Against the Machine, System of a Down, etc.) and TOOL was just another band that I really enjoyed. Their lyrics are usually pretty weird, I would even say nonsensical at times, and it’s often hard to understand what lead singer Maynard James Keenan is saying. But his voice is phenomenal, and their sound is very unique. Anyway, the only reason I know the song Parabola was playing is because at the end of the song there is a very heavy guitar riff with no vocals. It stands apart from the rest of the song and has an almost ominous sound to it. That is the particular part of the song that was playing during my experience in the car, and actually caused me to shut it off – because it was freaking me out! So when I got home early that morning, just hours after my experience, I had this song Parabola stuck in my head and I felt compelled to look up the lyrics. Here are a few lines from the song:

Hold on, stay inside this holy reality, this holy experience

I am not alone in this body, this body holding me

Recognize this as a holy gift and celebrate this chance to be alive and breathing

Now clearly, these lyrics could apply directly to my experience, and remember this is not a “Christian” band. Check out some other lyrics and songs from this band TOOL, and you won’t see content like this. Maynard’s lyrics are usually very confusing, and fans are left wondering what exactly he is talking about. But here, the phrase ‘recognize this as a holy gift‘ can even be taken as a direct explanation for what I experienced. I have come to view my experience as exactly that.

A holy gift.

There have been many times over the years where even just remembering this experience has given me strength during times of doubt. To be clear though, my faith is not based solely on this event. Rather, my faith has grown steadily from that moment as God has transformed my heart and continually proven Himself faithful in my life and in the lives of those around me who know Him. So I offer these lyrics from the song that was playing during my experience as further evidence that what occurred was more than just some sort of natural phenomenon. Now of course you can say that I just searched for some lyrics that sounded spiritual by a popular rock band, and invented this whole story about a song playing during my experience. Well, let’s look a little deeper into the song at something that would be much more difficult to fake…

This next piece of evidence from the song Parabola will connect with some of my previous experiences. First, just a quick reminder of the two injuries I sustained. My hand in 2001, and the fence incident in 2002. Now, let’s look at the music video for Parabola. Yes, I am an adult, and I’m actually going to present a music video as evidence for God’s interaction in my life. Really.

I don’t remember seeing the music video until a week or two after my experience, when I was back at college. We didn’t have Youtube back in 2003, so I had to download music videos off the internet. During that time in my life, I loved to sit around in my apartment, smoke weed, drink and watch music videos – my roommates from that time could confirm this. So I finally got around to downloading the music video for the song Parabola, and again, I was presented with something that is extremely relevant to my experience. Now most of the video is pure nonsense, the entire beginning is just random weirdness – typical of most TOOL videos. But fast forward to the end of the song around 8:40 (click here) and watch the video sequence during the heavy guitar riff I referred to earlier.

Freaky? Yes. But the parallel to what I experienced is undeniable. Let’s look even closer at what’s going on here.

At 8:54 (click here) you have the subject looking at his right hand. Now recall back to my hand injury in 2001

Coincidence? Maybe.

Here’s another one. This song, Parabola, was from a TOOL album called Lateralus…released on May 15, 2001, the same day I lacerated my hand.

Let’s keep going with the video…The flaming eyes in the video enter the subject’s body from the feet and make their way up. At 9:09 (click here), you see one of the eyes (with a red trail) pierce through the subject’s body at the same location as my fence impalement from April 2002.

Red arrow correlates with location of my injury from fence impalement in 2002

Continuing with the video sequence to 9:18 (click here), you can distinctly see a cross form in the subject’s heart. Again, I think the symbolism speaks for itself. If my experience on March 1, 2003 was an interaction with God, and I surrendered my life to Him, then the Spirit of God took up residence in my heart on that night. I know that probably sounds pretty religious to some of you, but I really don’t know how else to describe it based on what I know.

Okay, enough of the music video, I probably lost a lot of you on that one. I have shared that with a few of my family and friends and I usually just end up with blank stares. Anyway, final piece of evidence for you. March 1, 2003 instantly became a very special date to me. Every year my family would acknowledge this day as my spiritual birthday. So two weeks after my experience, I got engaged to my girlfriend, Wendy. We were married in 2004 and welcomed our first child (Liam) into the world on March 1, 2006 – exactly 3 years to the day after my experience.

Steve Wendy 2006

Another coincidence? Well, I suppose you can find a way to explain this entire story away if you want to. There really is no way for me to prove that my experience on March 1, 2003 was from God. Let me summarize the evidence I have presented here again briefly

  1. My life changed dramatically on that night. While this certainly isn’t evidence for God, it does help my credibility a bit – especially if you are inclined to think I made this whole thing up. Life change is hard to fake, especially for nearly 20 years since this event took place.
  2. The lyrics from the song Parabola by the band TOOL. This is the song that was playing in my car during my experience. Of all the songs that could have been playing in my car at that time, why this one? Lyrics that speak of ‘holy reality‘, ‘holy experience‘, and even a line that says ‘recognize this as a holy gift
  3. The music video to this song Parabola shows visual correlation to the two injuries I sustained in the years prior to my experience (hand laceration, fence impalement). The sequence at the end of the video depicts an individual being filled with some sort of presence – which is remarkably similar to what I experienced. Please note that I have read some of the commentary and background on this video as well. It was meant to depict a mystical Hindu experience called the Kundalini awakening. So you might ask why I interpreted my own experience as an interaction with God – particularly the God of the Bible. Well, that would be an entirely different discussion, and one that I would love to engage with anyone who is interested (contact me here). My primary objective here is to present evidence that would lead you to conclude that my experience was supernatural in origin.
  4. The TOOL album which contains the song Parabola was released on May 15, 2001, the same day I lacerated my hand. This by itself is certainly not overwhelming evidence, but I wanted to include it because it does seem relevant to this discussion.
  5. My son Liam was born on March 1, 2006. This was exactly three years after my spiritual experience on March 1, 2003.

For me, these bits of evidence only helped to enforce what I was already certain of that night…

I had an encounter with the living God.

But how can I know that? How can I be sure? Maybe I just had a panic attack, or maybe some sort of seizure or mini-stroke. I’ve heard all kinds of naturalistic explanations for this experience – but the only thing they attempt to explain is the physical sensation I felt that night. They do nothing to explain the pieces of evidence presented above. But it’s not those pieces of evidence that convinced me of God’s involvement in this experience. I was convinced in the moment that it happened. It’s quite simple actually. Since God is both all-knowing (omniscient) and all-powerful (omnipotent), He is the only one who can make us know something.

How does God make us know something? I don’t know. But I think back to that night, and to the words that seemed to fall out of my mouth;

It’s God, it’s God’

In that moment, God made me know.

I would love to hear your feedback. Seriously, even if you just want to tell me I’m insane, I honestly want to know what you think of my experience. You can contact me here.

I would also like to send you a free gift that I hope will help you on your own spiritual journey. If you are a skeptic, or perhaps just have questions about God, let me send you this book (click here)

This book has helped me answer questions I had about God. One of my fears when I became a Christian was that I would have to “check my brain at the door” when it came to issues of science, history, and the Bible. But faith is not a matter of intelligence. There are brilliant people on both sides of the matter, and this book is one of the many I have read that has strengthened my faith. What do you have to lose? (click here)

My decision to read the Bible changed my life. I mean that. If you’ve never read the Bible for yourself, I want to encourage you to do that. No matter what you think of it, the Bible is the number one best seller in the human history. It has changed the lives of millions, including myself. It can also be a bit intimidating to just pick up and read. Any book that contains fulfilled prophecy is worth looking at. If you do decide to try reading the Bible, I would encourage you to start in the New Testament with the book of John. This is a simple biography of the life of Jesus. Another thing I have found extremely helpful is to use a study Bible. A study Bible contains lots of helpful notes on the bottom of every page that will help you understand what you are reading. If you are serious about wanting to read the Bible, let me send you one that will help you! Click here

So now that I am a follower of Jesus, life is perfect right? God just wants me to be happy and rich and stuff like that, right? God would never allow anything really bad to happen, right?? If you’ve been told that line of bullshit, I’m sorry. To continue reading my story, click here.

Ullmer Family - June 2016
Steve and Wendy Ullmer Family (2016)

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