I am taking a break this week from sharing lessons I’ve learned from my husband to share with you the story of the most important lesson I have ever learned. The one thing I needed to know and believe before my eyes would ever be opened to the depth and truth of God’s Word: The Gospel. And in this case, I learned it from my sister. (I only wish she were alive today to read this.)
I’ve shared this story many times, but this is the first time I’ve sat down to put it into writing. So here it is, the story of my salvation. May God take all the glory for this ransomed life:
“Look at me and seriously listen: You are sinful and you are separated from God. If you don’t trust in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and repent, you will spend an eternity in HELL.”
Her words were firm and carried a sense of urgency. I rolled my eyes and continued to gaze out the car window, hypnotized by the Iowa corn fields flashing along the highway. The last thing I wanted to do was look at her. She’d gone CRAZY. I was sure of it. I was thirteen and had spent the summer watching my fun, awesome, I-want-to-be-just-like-her, eighteen-year-old sister dive off the deep end into the land of the holy rolling Bible thumpers. I had already heard her give this passionate rant to the rest of my family, and hoped she would spare me the horror and leave me out of it. I’d been warned about extremists like her, and now I was stuck in a car alone with one for three hours.
“YOU’RE GOING TO HELL AND YOU DON’T EVEN CARE!?” She yelled.
“Just shut up and leave me alone!” I wanted to jump out of the moving car at that moment, but I raised my voice instead. We rode the rest of the way in silence. What gave her the right to be such a b**** to me, I wondered. (Sadly, I used that kind of language at thirteen.) How dare she tell me I was such a bad person? How dare she say I would go to hell? Just because I wasn’t a lunatic like her with Jesus tattoos all over me and bible verses written on my bedroom walls? I was embarrassed [for her] by the entire conversation, the kind of embarrassment you feel when someone does something really awkward in a room full of people. ” The poor thing doesn’t realize how stupid she sounds,” I thought.
At home that evening I went to bed relieved that my sister would be leaving for college in the morning. I had no interest in repeating that uncomfortable conversation, and I never wanted my friends see the Jesus freak my cool sister had turned out to be. She was just getting weirder by the week, and weirdness would not help me in my quest to be normal and popular. As a girl from a low-income, food stamp dependent family, I couldn’t afford to let my sister’s new kind of crazy weigh in on my social ranks.
Afterall, my popularity had been on the rise at the end of my eighth grade year. Thanks to a few binge drinking opportunities and a [much older] boyfriend, my social life was looking quite nice as I entered high school. “Jesus Christ” was nothing more than a phrase I uttered in anger or irritation, and that fit in just fine with my friends at school. My freshman year was everything I had hoped it would be and more. I was active in sports, choir and drama, and making the honor roll every quarter. I was even invited to prom by a junior boy. Being skinny, pretty, and popular had officially become my religion of choice, and I was quite faithful to it. High school was treating me well, and even according to my teachers I was a good kid.
See, everyone else believed I was a good person! Why couldn’t my sister?
Of course, the adults in my life were completely unaware I was drinking on the weekends, experimenting with drugs, stealing from department stores with my friends, and serial dating older boys without boundaries. Pretending to be a good kid was as easy as breathing, and I had no shame in holding up my act. (Please note, in my single mother’s defense, she was working overnights to pay the bills and trusting I was home when I claimed to be.) I successfully had everyone fooled,and I felt no shame in that.
Fast forward to the following summer and you find me at the brink of my salvation. I had enjoyed an eventful freshman year of high school. Sure, I’d made some mistakes I didn’t care to make again. I’d hurt some people I wished I hadn’t hurt. I’d broken several of laws over the course of that year, but there was no harm done since I didn’t get caught, right? I chose not to regret anything, and I felt freedom in that decision.
Unfortunately, the next stage of this story is not as pretty as I wish it had been. It might have impressed you to say it was my own common sense or intelligence that led me to Jesus that summer. I could even puff up my ego and claim that my superior sense of morality convinced me that I needed a savior. It would even be cool to tell you that God placed more evangelists in my path that insisted on telling me the facts about Jesus, and I actually listened to them. None of that happened, however.
In all truth, I had made it through that entire year without thinking a single thought about God, my sin, or my sister’s gospel message. I was a completely and pridefully lost soul until the shameful night God himself lifted the veil from my eyes and brought me to repentance.
Zoom in on my fourteen-year-old self, passed out on my best friend’s couch in trendy hip hugger flares and an orange American Eagle tee. It had been a night of poor decisions that started with a cold beer and ended with me throwing up in my ex-boyfriend’s yard. Much of that night’s events were later filled in for me by people I couldn’t even remember talking to that evening. I had managed to lose control to the point that I could not regain control even if I tried, all by 10 PM on a Friday.
I had been passed out for several hours when suddenly I was jolted into a sitting position. It was 3 AM and I was alone. The scratch in my throat was screaming for water, but was quickly met by the lump that preceded my sobbing. For the first time in my life, I felt the overwhelming weight of separation between myself and God. I was sinful, and I knew it. I was guilty, and that guilt made it hard to breathe.
In that moment, for the first time, I felt the heaviness of sin inside my heart, and I yearned for salvation.
My mind raced, and finally landed on the words of my crazy Bible thumping sister: If you don’t trust in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and repent, you will spend an eternity in hell.” I needed forgiveness for my sin. I needed a new life. I needed a savior. I needed God. So there, in the early hours of the morning, alone in my friend’s living room with the smell of alcohol on my breath and cheap black eye-liner smeared across my face, my knees hit the floor and I cried out to God. I had never prayed before, nor had I ever been taught. There is no question in my mind, however, that prayer is an act of the Holy Spirit and my lack of experience did not hold me back.
Through my tears, I blubbered out desperate apologies and begged for forgiveness. I asked God to take over my life, and I made promises that He knew I would never be able to keep (to do nothing but good things from then on, for example). I remember believing at the time that I would owe God something if he answered my prayers by becoming Lord of my life. I definitely did not understand the depth of God’s grace then, but I understood I needed it. I understood I needed it so badly that I was willing to do absolutely anything to have it, even work to pay it back.
Thankfully, God’s plan of salvation is far better than my early understanding of it.
I received the free gift of grace that night that changed my life for an eternity, and I was never the same again. I woke the following morning surprisingly clear-headed and wanting to go home. I gazed out the window of the truck at the corn fields as my friend’s dad drove me home in silence. The world seemed very different and something inside of me was saying, “Let’s get started.”
And that, my friends, was the beginning of my new life. That morning I started living to know God’s will for me, and turning from the person I once was. The friends I once lived to please were not shy about telling me I had changed and that they missed who I used to be. I struggled that Fall to hold onto those friendships while not participating in their lifestyles. They found my new interest in the Bible to be quite laughable, and I realized I had become the kind of crazy that my sister had been advertising. My position on the popularity ladder fell quickly. I knew it was worth it, though. I lost many friends, but clung to new ones. I gave up binge drinking for small group Bible study, and curse words for scripture memory. I was not popular, but I was free and loved by God.
I will end the story there for today, though the years since that summer have compounded so many more stories of God’s grace and power in my life, in the hard times as well as the good, and I can hardly wait to share them with you. I thank you for reading my testimony and I pray that you know and believe the love of Christ that I am talking about above.
If you have read this and are not familiar with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, or you have never experienced the free gift of God’s grace, I encourage you to read this pamphlet and email me to discuss it further. I would love to hear from you.
Grace and Peace to you,