Wednesday, March 19, 2008

testimony (warning, this is very long and personal)

Back to wintry Wyoming after a week in South Carolina on the beach and watching for alligators in the lagoons of Hilton Head Island. The babies could fly for free on the airlines because they are still under 2 years... I wonder if we will ever be able to afford to go to Hilton Head again with 6 or 7 of us (depending on whether my stepdaughter is with us) flying? The drive is over 2000 miles. My husband and I did it once, back in 2000 BC (Before Children). It was a killer drive back then, can’t imagine doing it now with a vanful of children.

I actually did write some while in Hilton Head, almost 2000 words on yet another new first chapter for the Valley (this has to be at least my 12th or 13th version of that first chapter!). Added another 1000 this past week (thanks to a word war with N.L. Btw, I have yet to WIN a word war. She always beats me by at least a 100 words).

But, my spiritual life has taken a real slump. My prayer journal was completely devoid of anything until last night. The only time I’ve opened a Bible is to read the children’s church lesson to the kids on Sunday. At this point, I’m just praying that I would WANT to pray and study more.

But even during a dry spell like this, God still provides such blessings. Yesterday I drove my stepdaughter over to Cheyenne so she could spend some time with her aunt’s family, and during the 50 minute drive we had another great conversation about spiritual matters. One of my goals was to share my testimony with her this winter/spring before she goes back home. She was telling me stories her granny had shared with her about her family (Mormon family), and then I shared a little bit about my parents and their religious beliefs (or lack of, in my Dad’s case), and I said I wondered how people could make it through life without the comfort of knowing God’s love.

Then I shared my testimony with her, of how I got saved when I was 23 years old.

I always attended Lutheran Church as a child, but there came a point in high school when I didn’t believe in God anymore, for several reasons. First of all, there is no scientific proof of God, and that bugged me (I was planning a career in marine biology, at this point, and a scientist needs proof). Also, I think I had been a little disillusioned by the Catholic elementary school my parents sent me to (religion force-fed). Finally, though my parents always encouraged me to go to church with a close family friend, they never went to church themselves.

But in college, I met some great friends who were Christians, and active in sharing their faith. I went to a couple Bible studies with them, and over time I discovered that they were truer friends than my partying buddies. But I was still very skeptical. I didn’t like the fact that their God had complete control over our destinies.

Later, during graduate school, I found myself in a terrible depression for about three months after breaking up with my first real romantic interest (I’d dated some before him, but not seriously). From February through April, I remember feeling like time had stopped for me. Like everyone else was on a moving train, going forward through life, but I had stepped off, and stood by the tracks watching the train go by without any strength or desire to climb back on. I felt as if it would be winter forever, that spring would never come.

Spring did come, though, and my spirits started to lift, partly because of the encouragement of two Christian friends (D.W. and S.D.). I remember memorizing all the stanzas of Amazing Grace that spring, and singing it while I was out riding my horse Rebel in the fields and forests that were finally turning green. But I was afraid - what if that depression came back? What could I do to keep it from coming back? I had always thought I was a good and basically happy person before the depression, but now I knew I was weak, I could easily be broken. I needed something. I spent that whole summer and fall searching... reading books about different religions, talking with my friends.

It was D.W. who finally challenged me that if I was going to truly and fairly compare religions, I needed to study the Bible itself, not just what other had written about what they the Bible was about. At the same time another friend, T.G., shared an article with me called "Can you be good without God?" No, you can’t, the article said, and it had some really good points that for the first time made sense to me.

One night I opened my old Good News Bible that I received as a present from my pastor when I was 12 years old, after finishing my confirmation classes at Parkside Lutheran Church. I read through Matthew, and felt confused that the Jesus I was reading about was the not the gentle, fluffy sort of Jesus I remembered from my Sunday School lessons as a child. This was a stern Jesus who told Jews they were vipers and gave harsh commandments that said if one of you hates his brother it is considered the same thing as murder. I was confused by this Jesus... disturbed by Him. I was frustrated that here I was with a degree from an Ivy League College but I couldn’t understand what this darn book was talking about. I believe I actually said out loud, "God, if you are the real God, the God of this Bible, you have to prove yourself to me."

Then I started reading the book of Job. I don’t know how late I stayed up that night, but I read the entire book of Job, becoming even more confused as I read chapter after chapter of Job crying out for God to hear him, to clear his name, while his friends hammered at him, trying to get him to admit he was guilty of some secret sin and that was why God was punishing him so cruelly. And then finally, in chapter 38, God answers Job. Except it was not the answer I expected. It was not the kind pat on the shoulder, the "it’ll all be okay, Job, I’m sorry for what you’ve had to go through" that I expected. No, it was these words that I will never forget, these words that marked the changing point in my life:

Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:
2 "Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?
3 Prepare to defend yourself; I will question you, and you shall answer me.
4 "Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.
5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it?
6 On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone—
7 while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?

I don’t know exactly why these words sprang out at me (singing stars was a beautiful poetic image, but God speaking so sternly was also very humbling). I knew God had meant these specific words for me. He had answered me.

The next day I told S.D. about what I’d read, how I believed in God now. And she asked me, "yes, but do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?" And suddenly I remembered John 3:16 that D.W. had shared with me a couple years ago, and I knew God didn’t just want me to believe in Him, He wanted me to believe that His Son had died for me, for my sins, so that I could be free. I said my first prayer to Him that night, asking Him for that personal relationship.

I haven’t always been free of depression, of course. But it’s never had the stranglehold on me like it did before I was saved, over 14 years ago. I have always trusted that God would bring me out of it, and He always does. And He’s given me a church family to teach me and encourage me, a wonderful husband, my husband’s big, loving family, a sweet stepdaughter and my own 4 beloved girls. And, He’s also given me a few stressful trials (financial disasters, painful church splits, dear friends moving away, news of twins, then fears associated with very premature twins, more financial stresses, worry about my parents...) But He’s been with me through all of it, and even though trials are hard, I’m not afraid of them. They grow you into a better person. A more Christlike person. If you don’t have the dark in your life, you can’t truly appreciate the light.

Now the version of my testimony I shared with my stepdaughter was a bit shorter and simpler than this. But there is nothing greater than sharing how God has saved you and worked in your life. I can’t wait to share it again, and again.

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