Faith has always been an important part of my life. My father and one of my grandfathers were both Presbyterian ministers when I was very young, and the habit of going to church was instilled from the very beginning of my life. I grew up believing that Jesus was who He said He was – the Son of God, come to save us from our sins.
When I was young, I started experiencing what would turn out to be a series of serious losses. My parents divorced when I was 8, and later that year my grandfather became terminally ill. I prayed with all the faith that my eight-year-old heart contained that the divorce and my grandfather’s death wouldn’t happen, but they did anyway. Within the next couple of years, both of my parents re-married, but my new stepfather soon became terminally ill and died. I was devastated by all of these events and didn’t know how to respond to them. However, people around me seemed happy and seemed to want me to be happy, too, so I began to stuff the feelings of sadness and confusion, hiding them down deep, and tried to at least act happy.
At the age of 12 or 13 years old, I went through my church’s affirmation classes, the completion of which allowed me to be a participating member of the church. I could take communion and was able to vote on church matters and so forth. I thought that was what it meant to be a Christian, and I was very glad to have made that decision. However, very little in my life changed as a result of joining my church, and I still carried the sadness and confusion deep inside.
More tests to my young faith came as I entered the eighth grade and my high school years. More deaths were happening around me, and many of these were young people. A classmate was killed in eighth grade, leaving me shocked that death could even sneak up on someone my age. A young man from my church was killed in a tragic airplane crash. My great-grandmother passed away. Others who were more peripheral to my life also died. The sadness and confusion about how to cope with these events became heavier.
When I was 15, I once found myself in need of a ride home. An acquaintance from school offered to take me home, and I gratefully accepted. However, before we got to my house, he took me to a secluded area and raped me. I was filled with guilt and shame at what had happened, so I told nobody at all. I took shower after shower trying to remove the dirty feeling from my body, from my very soul. Nothing worked. I stuffed those feelings of guilt and shame down deep.
Around that time, I joined the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at school. Down inside, I thought that if I could be a better Christian, these horrible things would stop happening to me. I tried hard to read my Bible, but I couldn’t understand it and found it boring for the most part. I tried to pray more but all I heard from God was a deafening silence. I felt like I was “okay” in God’s eyes as long as I was successful at living the Christian life, and I feared what He thought of me when I wasn’t.
My senior year of high school came, and along with it came another huge loss. A very close friend of mine, Kelly, was killed by a drunk driver on New Year’s Eve of that year. My heart shattered into even more pieces as I learned this news. My mom and stepdad drove me to the hospital that night. On the way there, we passed a car that had flipped and was upside down on its roof, and yet all four of its occupants were standing next to it, unhurt. I became hysterical and began screaming at God in my pain and anger that He had taken Kelly but not these people. “If that’s the kind of God You are,“ I shouted, “I don’t want anything to do with You!” I quit going to church and quit trying to lead the Christian life. I still prayed when I needed something, but I certainly didn’t expect to get an answer from Him. More deaths happened to people that I loved, but I was so shell-shocked by all the losses over the course of my life that I barely even reacted to them.
I spent the next twenty years of my life trying to “fix” things. I tried to control my circumstances, which of course I couldn’t do. I tried to pretend that everything in my life was normal, but it wasn’t; I was still a hurting and broken person. I tried to find answers in spiritual ways but only found things that left me more empty and confused than I had been in the first place. I even attended a Billy Graham crusade and went forward to “rededicate” my life to Christ. That was followed by a brief return to church, but it didn’t last. I kept all of the pain and confusion in my life buried as deeply as I could and tried not to think about it. I felt hopeless and alone.
At the end of that twenty years, I was a mother to three young daughters and was on the brink of a second divorce. I was doing some deep soul-searching, and cried out, “God, how could you have let my life turn out like this?” This time, I heard an answer: “Remember, you kicked Me out of your life.” I was immediately taken back to the night that Kelly died and the horrible words I had shouted. I was filled with remorse, and begged Him to forgive me for that. I promised Him that as soon as I could, I would find a church where my daughters and I could attend.
I found that church a few months later, and for the first time I started hearing stories about a God who loved me and sacrificed everything to make a way for me to be with Him. This God was not distant and uninvolved; He was intimately involved in every detail of our lives. I wanted that. I began asking questions and trying to reconcile why my experience of God had not been like the experience that so many people around me were having. As I began sorting these things out, it suddenly hit me one night that the reason my experience of God was so different was because I didn’t know Him. I knew OF Him, but I had never had a relationship with Him. I was dumbfounded, but my next reaction was to thank Him for having preserved my life to the point that I could have that realization.
The next couple of months, I peppered my friends at church with my questions about God. I began to really hear His voice and realized that He was drawing me nearer to Him. I started asking Him to show me why He had allowed so much pain and heartache in my life and what He was doing during those times, and He showed me clearly how His heart had broken for me and how He had longed to hold me close during those times. He showed me that He had protected me in those circumstances from much worse than what I had actually experienced. I began to trust more in His heart for me.
A key moment during that time came with the tragedy of 9/11. As I watched the planes slam into the twin towers and watched those towers collapse, God allowed me to feel His heart breaking over the tragic events of that day. I felt as though the tears pouring down my face were His tears. I was amazed that He would show me His heart in that way, and I was amazed at how much He cared.
A few weeks later, I walked into church on a Sunday morning when I knew my pastor was going to offer people a chance to pray to receive Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. I knew that there were people who were praying that I would receive Jesus for myself that day, but I didn’t feel ready for that step just yet as I made my way into the auditorium. I still had so many questions about God that I thought I needed to understand first. However, God had other plans for me. As my pastor began his message that day, he was telling the story of a kid who was so good at hide and seek that nobody could find him, and he stayed hidden for hours. An adult who was watching the game wanted to yell out the window to him, “Get found, kid!” Those words inexplicably cut straight to my heart. I knew that I was that kid in hiding, and I could choose to stay in hiding for the rest of my life and to never be known or I could choose to step into real community and real relationship with Jesus. All of a sudden, it felt as though I could not breathe one more breath until I had Jesus in my heart. I waited anxiously for the message to be over and for the prayer to be offered. I wanted Jesus to not just be around me, but to live inside of me, and I could scarcely wait for that to happen.
Finally, my pastor led the prayer, and I prayed it. I have never prayed more earnestly for something in my whole life. I surrendered control of my life to Him and asked Him to lead me and guide me from that day forward. As soon as I said, “Amen,” I inhaled deeply and filled my lungs with air. It felt like there was a whole different kind of oxygen in the room that I had never breathed before, and it satisfied like nothing had ever satisfied. Immediately I felt a physical warmth in my heart, and as I sat there while the service ended, the feeling of warmth spread throughout my body. I was a bit afraid and prayed, “What is happening to me?” Immediately came the answer: “I’m washing you from the inside out.” Oh, what a relief!!! Finally, I had found what would wash the stains off my soul. The guilt, the shame, the confusion, the pain…all of it dissolved and melted away. There was only peace and joy in that moment. I felt light and free in ways that I had never experienced previously.
It has been almost seventeen years since the day I gave my life to Jesus. In those years, I’ve experienced some of the greatest joys of my life. I’ve also experienced the deepest heartaches that I could ever imagine. Through all of the highs and lows, though, Jesus has been with me. He has never once left me. I hear His voice as he leads and guides me. He celebrates the victories of my life with me and he cries with me during the heartaches. He is transforming me into the person that He made me to be. I certainly don’t follow Him perfectly, but even when I’m at my worst, He is still there and He still loves me. I am so glad that I stepped out and “got found” by Him.