Most of you are familiar with the hymn from which those words come. If not, go watch this new take on it, and then come right back 🙂 I’m not going anywhere. I’ll wait, but be warned: grab your tissue box.
Are you crying now? I am. I’ve had that Big Daddy Weave song for at least a year and never watched that video. God does not play! When He tells me to do something and it gets hard, like wading through the past to write my story, He always gives me just what I need at just the right time to keep me moving forward. So, onward!
At age eighteen, about a month after graduating high school, I moved from Pennsylvania to Indiana with my youth pastors and their three young kids. In my mind I would be helping them out with their kids, but the reality was, they became my family and took care of me. It wasn’t until years later that I really appreciated the enormity of what they had done for me. It still blows my mind. It was also a bit of a difficult adjustment. I went from pretty much having no rules and being autonomous, to bunking (in literal bunk beds) with their eight year old (I think she was eight at the time…the memory you know, it’s not so great), to sharing a station wagon with the family, and having a curfew. I need to publicly apologize to them for the moody, mess of a teenager I was, and thank them for their love and care of me!
This next part is the most important part of my whole story, but it does require a little backstory that I purposely skipped over. I have one other memory of my early years. I remember my dad leading me in prayer to accept Jesus as my Savior and King at the age of five. We were part of a church family until my early teen years. I have no idea why we stopped going. I believe something happened, possibly a church split, and we never found a new church home. That’s their story to tell, and I don’t have many memories of that time anyway. As with most kids raised in the church, my faith was that of my parents. Meaning, I believed the gospel to the best of my young ability and tried to walk it out as my parents did. I call it “faith mimicry” (I just totally made that up) which is based on observational learning theory. That’s how we teach and train our children though. They learn by doing what we do. Good or bad.
There comes a point in any person’s walk of faith where they have to decide to make what they’ve been practicing, faith, their own. Every person on earth has to make this choice at some time. Will you put your faith in God, or keep trusting that you can do it all on your own? That point came for me in August of 1992. The family I was now part of found a church home, and we went every time the doors were open. After a few weeks of being reminded of how much God loved me, and how the emptiness I felt was because of sin, and that I needed Jesus to bridge the gap between me and His Father, I made my choice. Best. Decision. Ever.
Life did not immediately get better. It was still hard. None of my circumstances had changed, and I didn’t start making the right choices right away. It was, and still is, a process of growing in God’s grace. But this was the turning point. A pivotal moment. Clarity didn’t come right away, but looking back from where I sit today, I can see that it was God that led me to leave Pennsylvania, through an unlikely situation. Much like what it says in Genesis 50 as Joseph (the one with the colorful coat) is speaking to his brothers who sold him into slavery, “what was meant for evil, God intended for good.” I may have thought I was running away from my past, but I was really running toward my Heavenly Father. I just didn’t know it at that time.
There aren’t adequate words to impress upon you the importance of that ultimate decision. To accept what Jesus has done for us in taking our sinful nature, and in doing that, allowing us to have a relationship with God. If you’ve never heard the gospel, which means ‘good news’, I can’t say it any more plainly than Amanda Jenkins does on page 156 in her book, confessions of a raging perfectionist:
“God created life to be perfect…Eden was perfect. God gave Adam and Eve the choice (in the form of a tree) to believe Him or to not believe Him. From the first moment Adam and Eve chose to go their own way, guilt, shame, and brokenness were the result. With defiance came consequences, including that Adam and Eve were removed from the garden. But not because God was angry– quite the contrary. When Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, their relationship with God had been broken. They couldn’t be permitted to also eat from the tree of life because if they did, they would have lived forever in their broken, cursed state. And so, to protect them from spending eternity in the mess they’d made, God drove them out and set a guard at the tree.
God made clothes [for them], which is an easy part of the story to overlook, but it reveal something extraordinary. In the midst of this tragic moment, when relationship with God had been broken, God saw that Adam and Eve were embarrassed to be naked and were struggling to cover themselves–so He clothed them. He loved them and showed them mercy, even in their disbelief. He covered their sin and shame–a precursor to the cross.”
When Jesus died on the cross, He got rid of the internal mess we’d made–our sin. We’re stuck with the external consequences until He comes back, but the other good news is that if we accept His help, we’re not alone in it. It’s not my job, or anyone who claims to follow Jesus, to convince you that this is true. Our job is to tell you our stories, introduce you to our good God and His story, and then let you decide for yourself. Choose wisely.
In the next chapter: why getting married at 19 is not the best idea.