I had been raised in church but not this kind of church. My religion was all about rules – rules I couldn’t keep no matter how hard I tried. When I left home at 18 I turned my back on religion, wanting freedom from the crushing weight of guilt and the certain knowledge that I could never measure up. Although I avoided church, I couldn’t escape the guilt. My shame accumulated as I continued to make more poor choices.
So what in the world was I doing at a Christian crusade? Simply put, I had nothing better to do. My roomies enticed me with promises of food and fun. For free! What impoverished college kid could resist that? Off I went.
Seated in the stands of the arena with thousands of others I saw various people step onto the stage. Some told their own stories of getting saved – “From what?” I wondered, in ignorance of the evangelical jargon – others sang about God. The Main Event was a preacher whose message I didn’t understand. At the end of his talk he invited people to come to the front. Since I had lost interest and was no longer listening I missed the details of this invitation. You can imagine my surprise when my roomies, with tears streaming, left their seats and made their way down to the open area in front of the stage.
Marooned in the bleachers, I waited. But instead of returning to “claim” me, my friends disappeared through doors at the back for further counsel. What now? That’s when I overheard some teens nearby say they were going to a coffeehouse in the basement of the church across the street. I got up and followed the crowd.
Following the crowd had become a habit. When I wanted to make up for lack of personal attention at home, I followed the crowd of troublemakers in school whose rowdy behavior guaranteed they could not be ignored. When I wanted to be more popular with boys I followed the crowd of girls who found ways to get noticed – ways our parents did not approve of. When I looked for answers after the unexpected death of my 19-year-old sister and found none I followed the crowd of those who lived for the weekend and medicated my senses in order to get relief from the pain of life.
“At last I can eat something,” I thought with relief, having been too rushed to eat supper. I squeezed through the boisterous crowd toward a refreshment table. Coffee and donuts. Nothing else. What did I expect from a “coffeehouse”? Even though I had discovered the wonders of caffeine during many all-nighters before university finals, I had never developed a taste for coffee. And donuts gave me gut pain. So much for that idea.
I sidled away from the table empty handed and darted glances around the room -- trying to look natural, comfortable, like I belonged. But my heart was racing and once again I was that ungainly child who woke up one morning in a woman’s body at age 11, feeling like a hulking freak amid the dainty, spindly, doll-like girls in my Grade Six class.
The inner voices hollered, “Too big, too clumsy, too brash – you don’t fit in!” My default position had always been toughness. Stay cool, act tough, don’t cry, don’t blush, keep your head up, smile and nod, smile and nod, smile and nod…I’m sure I looked like one of those wooden birds that bobs up and down until it dips its beak into a water glass and stalls for a moment.
After what seemed like hours but was only minutes, someone I knew entered the room. It was Jo, the only other female from Math class. She wasn’t exactly my type but since she was the only girl in a room full of men we sat together. At that moment she looked like the cavalry coming over the hill!
“What are you doing here?” Jo asked. I had missed enough Monday morning classes with a hangover to convince her church wasn’t my usual hangout. “Are you a Christian?”
I had always thought I was – wasn’t every Canadian? I mean, wasn’t this a Christian country? But I wasn’t sure anymore. I had never seen so many people who looked like they were partying but they had none of the elements I thought were needed for a good party – heavy music, illegal substances, low lighting and locked doors. These people knew something I didn’t and I wanted to find out what it was.
“I don’t know…maybe I’m not,” I admitted. “What do you mean by ‘Christian’?”
Jo found us seats at the corner of a crowded table and leaned in close so she could be heard above the din. “I grew up in a religious family and always thought I was a Christian,” Jo began, echoing my story right from the start. She talked about her feelings of alienation during grade school and her fruitless search for meaning in Junior High. I was riveted as it sounded like she was using cheat notes from my own past.
Finding no answers to life’s painful realities she chose a different path than I had. Instead of trying to drown her pain by following the party crowd she did something radical: she followed a Christian crowd and enrolled in bible school. By the end of the first week she knew she was not like everyone else and she wanted what they had. That’s when she heard, for the first time, about a personal relationship with a living God.
“What do you mean ‘personal’ relationship?” I interrupted. “It sounds like you’re saying you can be friends with Jesus just like we’re friends. How can you do this with someone who has been dead for two thousand years?”
“That’s what I asked too,” Jo continued. “Let me explain using this tract.” Taking out a small booklet she began to go through it one page at a time, reading bible verses and explaining their meaning.
“All have sinned,” she read. I was living proof! I nodded.
“The wages of sin are death.” I didn’t like the sound of that.
“The free gift of God is eternal life…” Free gift? This was news to me. I thought you had to earn your way into heaven by being good – something I couldn’t seem to do.
“…through Jesus Christ, God’s Son, our Savior.” There was that word “save” again.
Jo told me all I had to do was ask Jesus to come in and His Holy Spirit would take up residence in my heart. Jesus would give me the power to make the changes I had never been able to make. He would walk with me – personally – from that moment until I died and beyond, into eternal life.
“How do I do this?” I asked, skeptical.
“You start by confessing your sin.” I knew there had to be a catch! I hung my head, suddenly flattened. How could God ever forgive the things I had done, the people – especially my parents – I had wounded? Jo reached out and took my hand. “God promises in the bible that if you confess your sins He will forgive them. There is no sin that is too big for God to forgive.”
Feeling the need for more privacy, Jo suggested we move. The only place available was a dark broom closet where we were forced by rancid mops to hold our noses and make haste. Jo prayed and I repeated the phrases after her – never having prayed other than a rote prayer out loud in my life, I was uneasy and doubtful.
I said I was sorry for my life of sin and I asked for His forgiveness. I expressed my (yet shaky) belief in the reality of a living Savior and invited Him to come in to my messy world. “And good luck!” I thought, but didn’t say as Jo said “Amen.”
We stepped out of the stinky closet into a crowded foyer and Jo immediately recognized the pastor standing nearby. At least six foot five, he was impossible to miss. “Pastor, I’d like to introduce you to a brand new Christian.” When I heard Jo’s proclamation and saw the pastor who beamed at me from his great height, something supernatural happened. Even though, theologically speaking, the Holy Spirit had entered the instant I invited Him, when I looked up at that smiling preacher I “felt” that spiritual transaction. It was as real as if a sudden gust of wind had flung wide a poorly latched door. I was reborn. And I knew it. The tears I had held back for so many years overwhelmed me and I covered my face and wept.
That was November 19, 1973. And boy did things change! Did I become sinless overnight? No. I still have plenty of room for improvement. However, as my old friend Jack Conner used to say, “God changed my want-er.” Once I began following Christ, I no longer wanted to pursue those things that had simply added to my growing burden of guilt and shame.
Many changes were instantaneous. My foul language was replaced with outbursts of, “Praise the Lord!” That helped clear out the last of my old friends who thought I was nuts! New vocabulary, new haunts – I found a church and was baptized by Henry Blackaby and every time the doors were open, I was there. This gave me plenty of new friends, many who were also new believers. Jo gave me a bible and studied it with me. I learned about God and got to know Him – personally – through His Word.
Everything Jo told me was true. Jesus is real. He is alive today and He wants to be involved in every part of our lives. The Holy Spirit is our personal guide and the Bible is our guidebook. If you would like to know Jesus personally but don’t know how, click on this link and follow the steps. Becoming a believer..