I felt inspired by the “Summer of Testimonies” to tell the story of how I came to be a follower of Jesus. I grew up in a non-religious home. I must have been about ten years old the first time it occurred to me that I didn’t have a religion to identify with. I asked my dad what we would say our religion was if someone were to ask, and his answer was, “Well, I guess I would say that I’m a Christian.” I was bewildered by his answer.
A Christian..a follower of Jesus Christ? Although my father was, by all societal measures, a good man, he never talked about Jesus. I asked him if he believed in the story of Jesus and he said, “Well yeah, I guess I do.” So I surmised that you could believe what the Bible says yet never open it and never go to church. My dad could tell that I wasn’t satisfied with his answers so he told me that whenever he felt a little lost, he would pray the Lord’s Prayer. He shared the prayer with me and I wrote it in my journal and repeated it nightly. It gave me some sense of religiosity that I was searching for, but I still felt lost. My heart was searching for peace. During my teenage years I prayed on occasion. I would awkwardly pray to God the night before a big exam so that I would get a good grade. I often promised God that I wouldn’t ask for anything else if He would give me what I wanted just one more time. Tragically, I treated God like a distant genie who would grant me a wish if I had good behavior. When I perceived that He didn’t answer my prayer, I felt hurt and betrayed by Him. I lost heart and decided that God was not going to be there for me. I never heard from Him in the way I was expecting to. The great Creator of the universe seemed a million miles away…if He was even there at all. My early twenties brought me no closer to answers in my search for God. I kept trying to fill the void that I felt in my life with fleshly pursuits. The enemy tried to tell me that I would find what I was looking for at the bottom of a bottle of alcohol or in the arms of a stranger. The more I pursued those hedonistic paths, the darker my life became. The loneliness was devastating. The lack of respect I had for myself brought me heart-wrenching guilt and pain. I felt completely and utterly alone, and worst of all, unloved. The dark veil over my life nearly choked out any chance I had to know my Saviour. Somehow, by the grace of God, I made it through that dark time and stumbled my way into my mid-twenties. At twenty-five, I found myself falling in love with a friend of mine from work. I was completely smitten even though he was totally wrong for me. His name was Travis and some part of me knew I was going to marry him someday. Something told me that he was special and set apart for me, even though we fought and got drunk and fought some more. I saw something in him that I was drawn to and knew that I wanted him in my future forever. As things got serious with Travis, we had many interesting discussions about God. I was aware that his background involved going to church and that his family were Bible-believing, church-going Christians. Good for them, I thought to myself. Truly, I thought how nice it must be for people of faith to have faith. Church wasn’t something I was against participating in, but I certainly had no plans of buying into the Bible stories for real. I did think that the “church thing” might be a good idea to help instill good morals in my future children and there’s no harm in that. During a serious discussion about religion, Travis revealed to me that he could never see himself marrying a girl who wasn’t a Christian. This really made me pause to reflect because he was completely serious. Did I see myself buying into this Jesus thing for real? I had to contemplate this because I was really in love with this guy! The first public appearance Travis and I made as a couple was at his brother’s wedding. The wedding was held at the Murrieta Bible College campus. During the ceremony the pastor mentioned what it meant to be a Christian. He said something along the lines of, “…and if you’re not a Christian, well, you should consider becoming one!” It was meant to be comical, but it caught my attention. For the first time ever it occurred to me that Christianity was not an exclusive club. I could become a member if I wanted to. Not only did it seem like it was an option that was available to me, but it actually seemed like these people wanted me to join them. It seems odd that I never thought of it that way, but I had never felt invited. I don’t recall that anyone had ever reached out to me with an invitation to attend church, and certainly never to join the church. This was an entirely new concept to me and I felt excited about the possibilities. It seemed that I could finally be a welcomed member in a church community. Not long after that wedding event, a co-worker of mine invited us to a mid-week Bible study where her husband was going to be teaching. Now I felt welcomed and invited! I told Travis and we were both delighted at the idea of going and supporting our new friend. It was a small church called Calvary Chapel Living Hope in Oceanside. Looking back, I don’t remember what the message was about that evening but I do remember that I was hanging on to every word that my friend spoke. It was as if he was speaking directly to my heart. I even wondered if my co-worker had told him secrets about me to work into his message. His words were igniting a fire inside my heart. He had the answer to every question that I had ever posed in the middle of sleepless nights. He spoke to the very heart of the aching mysteries I had posed in my soul. Do you know where your spirit will go if you die today? Do you want the assurance that you will go to heaven? My heart pounded in my chest and felt like it could almost burst, “Yes! Yes! A thousand times, yes!” This is what I had been searching for! This Jesus was the One that I had been longing for my entire life. It felt like I had been stumbling around in darkness my whole life and someone just turned on a light! I felt like the cold, dark, spaces in my heart that were calloused and scarred were now made alive again. I raised my hand and felt tears well up in my eyes. In that moment it didn’t matter to me whether Travis was raising his hand or not, but to my absolute delight, I saw that he was raising his hand as well! I had so many questions but I knew in my heart that a loving God was now available to me. As we walked out of that church I felt absolutely elated. Everyone was congratulating us and telling us how our new faith blessed them. I couldn’t understand it all. I kept asking Travis questions. He seemed to know how monumental the moment was but it was all very mysterious to me. He said that I needed a Bible and that we were now part of this church family. Family! Sweet music to my ears. I had finally found peace in Jesus Christ. From that day forward we took baby steps of growth in our faith. Travis moved out of our apartment and we tried to do right by God. It wasn’t always easy. Sometimes it was one step forward and two steps back, but our gaze always remained on Jesus. We got married shortly after we asked Jesus to live in our hearts. We made those marriage vows together with Christ in the center of it all. By the grace of God we have been married for eleven years and we now have four children. We attend Reliance Church on a regular basis and we do our best to teach our kids about walking with Jesus. I do not deserve to be called a child of God, but today I am grateful that I have a testimony to tell. God patiently waited for me with open arms as I wandered blindly through my life. The lyrics of Amazing Grace could not describe my testimony any more accurately. It does not surprise me to find out that the writer of these verses also grew up with no particular religious conviction and found God later in his life. There is a certain power in tasting the sweet victory of Jesus after the bitterness of living life without Him. Amazing grace! How sweet the sound That saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found; Was blind, but now I see.