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This Level 5 page contains encouraging life stories of people's journey towards God

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Where to begin to tell the story of my salvation in Jesus Christ? I suppose a little background is necessary.

When I was 4, my parents divorce in a "mutual agreement." Very soon after, my mom remarried a man she had apparently already been seeing. This new man was young (16 years younger, in fact, than my mother) and immature. He never really was a father to me, or even a "father figure". During that time I was sexually abused by a neighbor, but had to repress it due to the unstable environment. This repression set a long pattern of repressed and unfelt feelings, beginning the long downward spiral into depression -- but that's later.

When I was 13, my mother died suddenly of a blood infection. She was in poor health; a classic type 2 diabetic, overweight and inactive. Her death devastated me for 2 reasons: I lost my mother, and I had to move 50 miles away to live with my father and stepmom, a man I barely knew and a woman I couldn't stand.

My stepmom is everything my mom was not; loud, a yeller, angry, and open with her feelings. She was very concerned with outward appearance; I was not. Like my mother, I am overweight, although not as severe. And at that time, frankly, I did not care very much about my appearance.

I went to a new school and got involved in the band program (I am an avid band geek and player of the clarinet), saw a counselor, and things seemed to be alright. In fact, things were far from alright; I was simply repressing my feelings, so learned a habit that it was unconscious by now.

It continued that way until stress from school (I am a "4.0" student), work, family, unresolved issues, and other things caught up with me: on November 29th 2005 I was checked in, against my will, to an inpatient psychiatric hospital for major depression, self-injury, and suicide plan.

Of course by now you're probably wondering what in the world this has to do with Jesus. I was raised in a very non-religious home. We never discussed God, Jesus, or religion in general, let alone set foot inside a church, for the entire time I lived with my mom and stepdad. Every other weekend when I would visit my dad and stepmom, we would go to church, something my stepmom thought was important for kids especially. But I hated everything about the church I went to: it was Lutheran Missouri-Synod, and a huge congregation (6000+). Put these things together, and it was an impersonal, cold, and distant experience... and I hated every minute of it.

That Jesus had died on the cross for my sins was always something I had wanted to believe in but was somehow unable to. I heard people talk about a "personal relationship with God," but I was unable to connect to this loving, caring God -- I prayed all the time and got nothing in response: no great booming voice from heaven, but also no quiet whisper in my heart. Nothing. Looking back, I realize it was a great source of unhappiness.. there was always something missing in my life. I realize now it was Jesus.

Well fast forward back to the present... or almost. When I was admitted to the psychiatric hospital, it was the first time I had ever been truly honest and open about my feelings. It was very scary, and hard, but at the same time very freeing. I began to think about my major sources of stress and unhappiness... one of which was my doubt in God. At this point I had clearly labelled myself as an atheist, having decided that there was no way God could exist... there was too much proof to the contrary, and my heart was too wounded to accept it.

I began by asking my dad if he minded me trying a different church. He said it would be fine, so I began to look around the area for churches. I live in a very big town, so there were plenty to choose from. For some reason, I felt pulled to one church in particular - our town's Evangelical Covenant Church. I knew one of my friends went there, as well as my band director. I also knew that they were so completely grounded in their faith, trusting it completely - and they were also caring, loving, beautiful people.

It took a very long time to muster the courage to try it, but one Sunday 5 or 6 weeks back, I had my dad drop me off at this church. It was very small, so unlike my old church - the congregation could only be 300 or 400, tops. The sanctuary was likewise small, and as I sat in service that morning with my friend, for the first time I felt connected with others in worship; it felt like we were all one voice, singing for the glory of God. When the pastor got up to speak, it was as though his message was tailored just for me - about the ups and downs guaranteed in life, and how we can have true joy always in Christ -- as he said, "Let my joy be your strength." I came away from church that morning with the seed of faith planted in my heart.

During that week I cracked open my Bible which had not seen the light of day in many years. I began to just page through the Gospels, trying to listen for God to speak to me. I was still fairly skeptical. During the middle of the week, the youth pastor at the church I went to took me out to dinner. I shared a lot of my worries and doubts with her -- how do we know God loves us? Why would a loving God take innocent lives? I also shared with her that I wanted to believe, but didn't know how.

The next Sunday I went back to the same church. My friend wasn't there but my band director and his wife were. During the service, there is a special time for prayer; the congregation is silent, except to offer up names to the Lord and to others to pray for. I was sitting silently, not even praying, just listening, and all of a sudden I broke down and started sobbing. I had just felt Jesus' peace enter into my heart, like He was sitting next to me, waiting for me to come to Him... like a longing in my heart had finally been fulfilled.

Afterwards my band director and his wife took me out to lunch, and we talked about what I had experienced. At one point my band director looked me straight in the eyes across the table, and asked me if I was ready to accept Jesus Christ into my heart as my Lord and Savior. I said yes! I finally felt ready to believe and have faith. That night after youth group, my youth pastor and I prayed, and I asked Jesus to come into my heart and make me one of God's children, sinless and glorified. What a joyous and emotional occasion!

It has now been about 4 weeks since I became a Christian, and I feel like a completely different person. I am a New Creation in Christ, and although I still sin, God loves me and will always be there for me, and when I repent of my sins, then I am taken into His arms and loved like His child.

A couple of nights ago I had another incredible experience. I was reading a book on Christianity, getting ready for knee surgery I was to have the next morning. I came across a story about a young pastor who was having a dry spell in his faith. The pastor whose point of view the story is in was at a loss at what to do for this young child of God who was so obviously suffering. So he simply held him. Soon the young pastor began to weep uncontrollably, and the older pastor simply stood there, holding him.

For as long as I can remember, all I have wanted is someone to hold me while I wept. Since my parents divorced and remarried, and especially since my mom died, my only wish was to be lovingly held in someone's arms. I started to cry, and instantly I felt this warm, soft ache starting in my heart and extending into the tips of my limbs. I knew that my Abba, my Heavenly Father was holding me in His arms while I wept so bitterly for reasons still unknown. All I know is that God held me that night for half an hour while I poured out all my sorrow and frustrations into Him. Afterwards, and the whole next morning during and after my surgery, I was completely peaceful, unworried and undisturbed, just letting the peace of Jesus rest in my heart.

I want to share my story about the power of the Lord's love so that others may come to know Him as well. Looking back at everything that has happened in my life, I am glad for all of it; I would not change a thing, because otherwise I would not have reached the place I am in as I speak to you.

In Jesus' name, amen.


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