It amazes me how much God loves us. It also amazes me the lengths He will go to to help us find our way to Him. For some the road seems easy and straight. If we could only see what they have really had to go through, we just might be surprised to find out that their road was not as straight as it appears. Then there are those who seem to end up on a road that is leading them down to destruction. Are we surprised to learn that those roads also lead to Him? Along the way there are forks in every road and we have to make decisions which fork to take. Some forks look so very tempting while others look hazardous. Is there more to it than what we think we see?
Sometimes when we are seeing others going through many struggles and difficulties we question God, or we more likely will question their choices they have made. It is such a common thing to question what a person must have done wrong to have ended up in such a mess in life. But is it a mess in God's eyes, or is it being used to strengthen and mold someone into the person God created him to become? And why are we humans so very quick to judge?
1999 was my year of rebellion. Rebellion against all I believed in including God. I was angry at God for letting me down and for allowing my family to fall apart. Don't misunderstand me. I had not completely turned away from Christ. If you can picture an upset child refusing to talk to her father because she is angry with him, you can understand a little of where I was. If you can picture this child throwing a temper tantrum, you can really understand where I was. I was not getting my way and I decided if I couldn't have it the way I had wanted it, I would just do whatever I wanted to do. I was tired of everything and decided to just forget all the rules. God apparently didn't care, so why should I? That was my frame of mind for most of 1999.
But life wasn't working out any better in my rebellion. As I have been thinking about how I would proceed from this point on in this story, I have also been doing some bit of photo organizing. In doing this last night, I came across some pictures of some of the people in my life in 1999. One of them was of a young woman who I had met through a self-help group I was a member of. She attached herself to me but as we talked and visited with each other, I grew more and more unable to trust her. Just before I had come to know her, I had contact with someone else who pretended friendship with me and then when I allowed her to use my computer she managed to get contact with my online friends and one by one destroy all those relationships. I don't know what she said to them that they chose to believe her over me when they just met her, but after she had access to my computer most of them would not even speak to me and I could do nothing to change their minds. So, when this new friend entered my group of local friends, and things she did were inconsistent, I became cautious. She and I remained friends through the end of 1999 and into the early weeks of 2000. I can't even remember her name at this point. But over New Years' 2000 as I was thinking about the previous year and all that had happened, as well as my life up to that point, I started thinking about why my life was such a mess. I had tried to be a good Christian believer. What was wrong? Why couldn't I live the way I thought a Christian was supposed to live? Why had everything fallen apart for me?
By the end of January, this friend and I were talking about going back to church. First we had heard of a singles dance that was held on Friday nights somewhere in town. We had also heard about a singles group at a church in town. We decided I should call to find out about the dance and the group. I found out that the dances had been discontinued due to lack of interest, so I let her know about that. That Friday morning when I got up and started my day I was so tired of staying home all the time. I needed to get out of the house. Still rebelling to some extent, and yet also trying to figure out how to live as a Christian, I "told" God that I was going to get out of the house that night even if it meant going to a bar! You have to understand that our little "city" has nothing to offer anyone in the way of entertainment where you can just go out and find something to do anytime you want to. It is either the local WalMart, or a bar. That's about it for the social life. I knew there was no dance that night so I called the church to find out information about the singles group. What I found out was that the singles group sponsored a Divorce Recovery Group once a year for 6 weeks and that it had just started the previous week and is held on Friday nights. Coincidence? Or an answer to a desparate prayer? I was given a phone number of the lady in charge and was immediately welcomed and invited to come join the group that night which I did. On Sunday, I went to church for the first time in a long long time, joining the singles Sunday school class and sitting with some friends I knew from the church for the main service. From that day on for the next seven years I very rarely missed a Sunday service.
My friend decided to check out the singles group, but she eventually decided she did not like the way it was run. She thought it didn't have enough social activities. Somewhere in this same time period I was thinking again about my life and why nothing was working right. Whether it was the Holy Spirit's gentle whispers or something else, I am not sure. I tend to think it was the Holy Spirit. I started thinking that I was living my life sitting on a fence with one part of me trying to be a Christian and the other part of me playing around at life with all non-believing friends. I realized that I had no Christian friends at all that I could really call good friends. And I also realized that my non-Christian friends were dragging me away from God more and more. Finally I made a firm decision that I was not going to participate in any non-church activity or continue with non-Christian friends until I knew I was strong enough to deal with the pulls of temptation.
As I slowly started to come back to God, as a tearful repentant child returns to her father's forgiving arms, I found a new facet to my relationship with Christ that I had never experienced before. God put a kind gentleman in my path from the singles Sunday school class. We became fast friends and he did several kind things to help me out in ways that generally women need a man to do for them. I needed help with car issues...he was a mechanic by profession. I needed help with a drain problem in the pipes under my kitchen sink and he was able to help with that. Aside from those things he did, he talked to me about God and his own ideas about human relationships. He was younger than I by a few years so he had musical interests a bit more youthful than mine and he introduced me to Rebecca St. James, her music, and her message. He also introduced me to Joshua Harris' books and videos I KISSED DATING GOODBYE which talk about the difference between what the world sees as dating and what God prefers which is courtship. With all of this friend's influence in my spiritual growth and return from my rebellion, I, for the first time, had seen a glimpse of Jesus in someone else's life. This is the way Christians are supposed to be. Why don't we see it more often? I stopped and tried to think of anyone else in my life who showed Jesus through his life and I saw my grandpa. What amazing men these two men God placed in my life were! Eventually my young friend married a young lady he had met in a singles group in a nearby city and they moved to her hometown. Through the music he introduced me to, and the reading materials he provided for me, and through the friendships I developed at church, I felt God was actually washing me clean from all the filthy stuff I had gotten myself into during that previous year of 1999. I needed that cleansing. Also, He provided me what people sometimes now phrase, "a soft place to land". I had a place I could fall and not be ashamed. I had a place where I could take time to rest and heal from all the hurts of the past...hurts that went back to my earliest childhood.
I am not sure of the date, but sometime prior to May 2000, we had a special revival service where an evangelist came to speak and he spoke on sanctification. Although I had heard that word many times before I did not know what it meant until that revival. After he spoke and taught on sanctification for the first few nights, the last night I knew that I had to do something to take the next step with Jesus and getting myself on the right road. I knew I was getting closer. But since I had been a Christian since I was 14 and had not been properly taught how to live the way I should, I knew it was time for a committed change to how I was choosing to live. As briefly as I possibly can, sanctification to me meant that not only am I set apart for God, but I make a conscious choice to be set apart...to live for Him...to accept and do His will in my life as He guides me into it...and to put away all parts of my life that do not fit into His will for me. That last is the hard part. But I knew it was time and if I were to get beyond this mess I had made of my life, God's way was the only way. I went forward and declared my commitment to sanctification to my Lord and I have tried my best ever since that time to stick with it. It is a day by day process which we never complete until that time He calls us home. Little by little, baby step by baby step, the Holy Spirit showed me things that I needed to change in me. It amazed me that whatever He would be dealing with me about throughout any given week, that following Sunday, the pastor's message would be about that very same thing. Even the songs that would come to my heart and mind during the week would be the same songs the worship leader would have chosen for the following Sunday services. Confirmation of what God was teaching me was right there in front of me each week.
Changes such as what I need in this messed up life of mine take lots of time. In May 2000 I formally gave up membership in the church I had been a member of for 26 years so I could join this new church that had so welcomed me into its arms. I know some people may disagree with me on this point as it is a common disagreement between Christians. I know that I never lost my salvation in 1999. Just as children do not lose their parents each time they do wrong, but are continuously forgiven with open arms, my loving heavenly Father never let go of me. I had come to the end of my rope, or tree root, or however you want to say it. I had let go and I fell into the softest place I could possibly land. In my Savior's arms.
For questions about my belief that I did not lose my salvation, check the parable of the Prodigal Son. Most of us think that is talking only about people who were never saved, coming to Christ for the first time. I don't think that is what it is saying at all, although that could be part of the story. The story talks about a son who rebelled and left home while his father waited and waited for him to return. He was already a son...a son who had left the path, but returned to a joyous reunion. He never lost his sonship. He was still the son of the father. The next place to look is the passage where Jesus washed the feet of His disciples. When told that they didn't think they were worthy to have Jesus wash their feet and that they were too dirty, Jesus replied that they had already been washed, but since they are walking in the world, they needed their feet washed. I believe that means that even though we are saved, we still mess up from time to time, and when we do, we need to have our feet washed. Sometimes our feet get more filthy than at other times.
This is not the end of the story by far. In fact, the most important parts of this story are still to come. More next time.