This new series was born out of inspiration. Our small group has been starting off the year by sharing testimonies from each couple one week at a time. Since we are a new group, this has been such a great time of getting to know each other beyond the surface. And by great time, I mean it has been awesome. We have also found ourselves making some new friends as well as getting to know old ones a little better. There have been so many stories exchanged over the pasted few months. It’s made me get the itch for a few good stories. I’m starting with the most important one, and from there…they are in no particular order. If there is one story from my life you need to know, it is this one.
My family always went to church and I knew that my parents loved the Lord. Every morning before school I woke up to my mom putting on her make up in the living room while she watched the news with her bible study book open to the day’s study she just finished with her bible and journal stacked over it. On car rides home from youth group I would talk about certain worship songs from the night and if the lyrics for some reason didn’t sit right with me. My dad used that as an opportunity to try to explain basic theology to me. I vividly remember my dad driving on this huge dark curve in the road near Berry Middle School while he explained TULIP to me, and where our family stood with Calvinism. So now that I have gotten a little ahead of myself on the timeline, you can see that faith was a staple of my life as a child and teen.
When I was seven, I decided I was ready to follow Jesus. It’s funny because I don’t remember where I heard the gospel for the first time, but I knew that you had to pray and talk to God about it. Another thing I don’t remember any detail about is that for some reason my mom had been babysitting a couple of kids for a short amount of time in our tiny duplex. I remember being the oldest and announcing that I was going to become a Christian and asking who wanted to pray with me. Later that day I told my parents, and they decided that I should sit down with them and our pastor and talk about what that meant. Now that I think about it, it’s really sweet and touching that our pastor would do that. Our church wasn’t enormous (at the time), but it was still pretty big. I can picture the conversation with Pastor Steve happening in two different places. I vividly remember sitting in a conference room around a huge, long, shiny, cherry wood conference table. But I also remember eating Fritos in a plastic bowl on our tiny concrete porch, waiting for Pastor Steve to arrive at our home. So like I said, I don’t remember the details well at all. I do remember this little booklet that illustrated a little stick person (me) and the word “God” on two cliffs facing each other. The only way to get across the divide was by Jesus who would bridge the gap. I carried that little booklet with me everywhere. After I prayed with my dad, and knew for sure what I was actually praying about…I looked at that booklet with such happiness because I knew I was on the other side.
It wasn’t until much later in life that I was able to discern between wanting to look good for people and wanting to BE good like Jesus and for Jesus. At my last summer camp after my senior year of high school, there was a worship night out in the mountains in Colorado in May surrounding a big wooden cross. I don’t remember any of the sermon that was preached that night or any of the songs we sang. What I do remember is kneeling face down in the dirt, praying and feeling absolutely overwhelmed that Jesus, being who he was, endured death for me, just as I was. I think it was the first time as a young adult that I really let myself think deeply about the pain and sacrifice of the gospel. I will never forget the beauty of that moment. As I lifted my head from prayer, I looked up to see snow flurries falling down. I know that in Colorado, especially in the mountains, it probably isn’t that crazy for a few snow flurries to fall in May. But to me, it was like hearing God say “I’m so glad your mine.”
When I went to college, I was working out the difference of “God the Savior” to “God the Lord of all my heart and life”—I just didn’t know it yet. I had grown up my whole life with a special needs sister, and had no idea how deeply ingrained her life was into mine. I didn’t realize how different our family was, I didn’t realize how much harder it was for us to get out and do things; I didn’t realize how far reaching the differences in our daily life really were. When most kids go to college they get kind of intoxicated with the bliss of their freedom. When I went to college I got that…and then I got mad. When I realized how much freedom and spontaneity were missing from my life and my family’s life, I was mad. When I realized that my sister would never experience the ecstasy of independence that I had, I got mad. When I realized that most people are naïve, and lots of people are plain ignorant about anything outside of perfect health, I got mad. I had many crying, screaming, ranting conversations with God. But you know what? It was the first time I had passion in my relationship with God. I kept pushing to find the Truth and find Jesus and find goodness in the midst of my confusion. There were moments I wondered if Christianity was just a cult that threw clichés solutions at trite little problems. I wanted to find the people who fought for the hard answers, I wanted to find the churches that went further than emotion, I wanted Jesus to be real and I wanted him to give me some answers. One day in the car, waiting to pick up a friend from the dorms…I got my answer. It came clear as a bell. And you know what? It brought peace beyond my understanding…because honestly when you see what it was…you will wonder why it didn’t just make me more mad. For the (probably) one thousandth time, I shook my proverbial fist at God and asked “Why her?!” And then it came. “Because I’m bigger than her. You need to see that I’m bigger than all of it.” And that was it. As painful as it was to hear, the truth is that God is no less God because my sister has special needs and He is no less God because I don’t get how it all adds up in the end. That was when I started believing that God hadn’t forgotten or overlooked us. That was when I cracked the door open just a little bit, to believing that God could still be a big sovereign God and be good and be loving, and not heal my sister.
I want to be very clear that my process was not an over night thing. But this was the catalyst of change for me. This was when I took ownership for my own relationship with the Lord, regardless of how it looked to the outside world. This was when the grace of God stopped being about checking boxes and starting being about authenticity. Over the next few years, there were a few more catalysts of change for me. Transferring to a large liberal state school changed my approach to spiritual discipline. Moving across the country to do ministry with my husband changed the way I viewed obedience. And the list goes on. I struggled very much when I started writing this out, because I wanted to plump up some parts and make sure that people saw that just because my story wasn’t dramatic, didn’t mean it wasn’t interesting. But the truth is that my story is somewhat simple, and yet still miraculous. This is the story of my soul’s life.