A few weekends ago I had the opportunity to speak at a women’s retreat, and I started out by sharing my testimony – my story of faith. Today I thought I’d share it with you…
I grew up in a believing family, the oldest of five. I can’t really remember a time when I wasn’t aware of God and drawn to him. I loved being at our little Lutheran church where there was Vacation Bible School, and potlucks, and lots of relatives. I especially loved singing – hymns on Sundays, and praise songs accompanied by a guitar on Tuesday nights. The summer I was twelve years old I went to Lake Beauty Covenant Bible Camp with my friend, Gail, and it changed my life. I was already awed by God, but at camp I heard clearly the story of Jesus – how he loved me, and died for me, and wanted to be my friend, and I fell hard in love. To this day I associate the smell of pine and the breeze off a lake on a cool summer morning with Jesus wooing me to himself. And it wasn’t just Jesus I loved that summer at camp, but his people. So many people, kids and teens and adults all singing loud and clapping their hands, and hugging each other. A girl in my cabin who was older than me tried to curl my hair with a curling iron – it was as stick straight then as it is now. And my counselor gave me an elephant kiss. It’s funny the things you remember and how love has so many faces.
I came down from the mountaintop that was camp just in time to start the seventh grade, and life in the valley was a mean old thing. I meant to share my Jesus love with my public school classmates, but I met a bit of resistance. Our school was all grades, 7-12 together on one wing of the building. And my most horrifying story is about the day someone planted a goat’s head in the girl’s bathroom. The same day someone put Gospel tracks in all the kids’ lockers. And later that day the rumor started about a Christian seventh-grader, Sonya, responsible for both, and someone came up with the nickname “Goat’s Head” and it about broke my heart… not just for a little while, but it followed me all the way up to my senior year of high school.
I’ve worked now in churches with teens for well over 25 years, and I hear stories all the time about kids being bullied, and I know because I’ve been there, the pain is real. I’ve always been grateful that instead of hurling me to dark places of regret, the torment sent me straight to Jesus. When He said He’d be my best friend that summer at camp, I took him at his word, and I held Him to it. I’d cry myself out in my pillow many nights, knowing He saw me and cared. I was in the eighth grade when my Campus Life leader, who was our school principal’s wife, read us Psalm 139, and I clung to His Word like a lifeline. He saw, and He knew, and He cared. And it was enough.
I survived high school in small town Minnesota, and then after my senior year I headed off to Bethel College. University now, but still just college back then. I drank up the Bible teaching, and tolerated my elementary education classes which I thought were a bit boring, and all the while I dreamt of the day I could return as a seminary student. I met Kyle at Bethel, halfway through my sophomore year and he was a senior. We fell for each other pretty quickly, and got engaged at the start of my junior year. He’d by then taken a grown-up job as an actuary with Hewitt Associates in Lincolnshire, Illinois, and I accelerated my education, finishing in 3 ½ years so we could get married in December of 1989. I joined Kyle in the northern suburbs of Chicago where we lived in an apartment, and then two houses, and we gave birth to two sons, during the seven years we were there. We attended Village Church of Gurnee, a church where we were known and loved and belonged, and when we decided it was time to move back to the land of our Minnesota Grandmas and Grandpas and cousins in the spring of 1996, it was Village Church we’d grieve the loss of most.
We’d been in Andover, Minnesota for about five years when I experienced what I like to call “my miracle.” It was fall 2001, almost the exact same time as 9/11. I remember that, because it was also the same fall I was diagnosed with a nasty parasite from a camping trip and my doctor asked me if I’d been stressed. And I remember thinking how many things there were in my life just then that were fairly stressful. So it was fall of 2001 when this awful and beautiful thing happened. We were in a small group with other young couples, and over the course of time some people in the group confronted Kyle and me about some concerns. About us. They said they had some concerns about us being prideful and insensitive and intimidating to the group. It was one of those experiences that just rocks your world, and thinking now about all the things that can and do rock people’s worlds… it almost seems silly. Except that it wasn’t. So there I was reeling and weeping three or four days after this confrontation when the miracle happened. When I brought my broken heart and my broken pride to God and asked Him, “What do you want me to do?” And He answered. I can hear Him still, and feel His touch. Like His hand on my shoulder. “Stay, and see what I’ll do.” That was it. And I responded. “Okay, I’ll stay. But I want you to give me what I’ve been missing.” And everything after that, for the next days, and weeks, and even years… all of it was a miracle. Everything I’d been missing, only up until then I hadn’t known I’d been missing it. He breathed new life in me and the life He breathed (I know now) was GRACE. It was grace.
You see even though I’d grown up in the church and in a home where God was respected and honored, being a Christian was more about something I did, than something I was. And I did it well. A firstborn daughter. A people-pleasing, perfectionistic, performer. I call them my P’s. And they owned me. Up until the time of my miracle, everything I did… as a Christian… I’d been doing like this. I was a people-pleasing, perfectionistic, performance driven Christian. Who really and truly loved Jesus. Which is the part of my story that’s a bit confusing, and why for a long time I didn’t really know what to call what had happened. Salvation part two? Soul revival? The Spirit’s filling? Looking back at it now, I’d say it was probably surrender. Falling into the arms of Jesus and finding everything I’d been missing.
And all I knew was that there was a before and after, and I felt like I was really truly a new creation. Awake and alive like never before. He rewrote my story. As the years passed, this new season of new life just kept going. I remember thinking, “I’m in God’s seminary, and He’s my teacher.” And He was. Every day soaking up His Word and His Spirit like I’d been starving. Every morning waking up with a song of praise in my head. It was very special, and it lasted several years, but not forever. It was a season. I know that now. When I was in that season I’d ask God, “Why did you wait so long?” And now that I’m in a different season, I’ve asked him often, “Why didn’t it last forever?” And I don’t know the answer to either question, except to say, I trust Him. I trust His timing, and I trust His ways. And every day for the rest of my life I’ll be glad for what He’s given.
There’s more to my story, of course. A lot more. Stories of refining and freedom from sin. Stories of Shalom and adoption and daily manna. Boymom stories you’ve maybe read; the stories of His faithfulness still to come. But that’s where it started. A little girl at camp. A goat’s head in the bathroom. Psalm 139. And many years later, a miracle.